“It Doesn’t Really Matter Who….”

 “Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again;  but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”  A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.”  But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.  So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted.  He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.”

 Luke 23:20-25

I read this and become so angry. I am angry at the injustice. I am angry at the weakness of the government officials. I am angry at the ignorant crowd. And I am very angry at the religious leaders. How could all these people allow an innocent man to be tortured to death? It is disturbing.

However, we must also remember that it was necessary. As twisted and hate-filled as it was, it was God’s plan to reconcile US back to Him. That’s right friends, this most horrible event was allowed to happen so that you and I could one day live in paradise.

So, if I am to be disturbed, I should be disturbed by my own sinful nature. If I am to be angry, I should be angry that an innocent man had to die in my place. Because, certainly, if there had been any other way to save my soul, God would have found it. But there was none. There was no other way to secure my salvation because my depravity is too deep. My nature is to love myself above others, and my heart is not fully surrendered to God.

So Jesus chose to come and die for my sake. And it doesn’t really matter who pronounced judgment or who hammered the nails.  He did it to save me.

What am I to do with that reality? How am I to respond to such a gift that I cannot completely comprehend it? What should my life, which was bought with someone else’s blood and agony, produce in this world?

I hope you are meditating on these questions today my friends. For they are the heart of what today is all about. And the answers to these questions are the foundation of our relationship with Jesus. They deserve as much prayer and deliberation as we can give them. For today, we have been redeemed.

Grace to you.

 

 

 

“As Sacred As You Make It…”

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”

 John 17:20

Maundy Thursday. The last day of Jesus’ earthly life. How did He spend it? Do what all faithful Jews do, celebrating the Passover. Of course, we know it to be so much more than a normal Passover meal. Jesus took a day that was already greatly meaningful for His friends and turned it into something deeply sacred.

He created something sacred by what He did, what He taught, and how He loved on that final night. And it was not only for the twelve insiders. Jesus created this sacred moment for all of us who would believe in their footsteps.

The next two days were meant to be holy and set apart for us, friends. They are meant to be a time of reflection, prayer and repentance. I pray that you allow the Spirit of God to take you to such a place today. I encourage you, do not let the ordinary take the place of the sacred in the days to come. As much as you can, tune out the world and draw near to the Savior.   It is only in this way that we can truly be made new. On this day, when He could have chosen to do anything, He chose to pray for us. I hope, on this day when you can choose to do anything, you choose to honor Him.

I am attaching the following link to the chapters that recall that Last Supper. There is so much richness and grace to be had in these holy words. I hope that you can spend some time in quiet reflection today on what He did, what He taught, and how He loved.

Grace to you.

The Gospel of John, chapters 13-18

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2013&version=NLT

 

“My Heart Condition…”

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

 Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus had a great way of making the religious people look sort of ridiculous. He took a complicated system of laws and statutes and expressed them in a way that was simple and easy to follow. And this confounded the priests. After all, they had spent generations constructing these laws down to the minute detail, and He was able to brush all that away and get down to the heart of the matter.

And yet, the truths He spoke were very deep and full of meaning. The difference between the man-made laws and Jesus’ interpretation, I believe, comes down to an “action vs. attitude” scenario.

For example, one of the big laws was “Do Not Commit Adultery.” I understand that. I can do that and feel very confident that I have done what God wants of me.

However, Jesus said it wasn’t about the action itself, but about my attitude, or heart condition, regarding the action. He said that if I even looked at anyone other than my spouse (with lustful thoughts) that I would be committing adultery. That is a whole other issue. Controlling my thoughts and emotions creates an internal struggle within my soul. Sure I can walk away from potentially adulterous situations. That is easy. But once I have been tempted, it is going to be almost impossible to stop thinking about it. All of a sudden, when interpreted through the lens of my Savior, my “good” actions have transformed into a sinful circumstance.

For me, the same is true with the Great Commandment (both sides of it.) I can follow all the rules, keep the Sabbath, have no other gods, don’t kill, don’t lie, etc. But where does my heart lie?

Am I truly loving God with everything I have? Is He truly first in my life above everything else including my job, my family and even my own comforts?

And am I truly loving my neighbor as myself? Or do I placate this requirement by doing a volunteer day every once in a while and giving money when asked for a missions offering? Do I love the neighbor that I don’t like? Am I Ioving people that make me uncomfortable? Is my daily life a reflection of His love for all people?

On this last day of “formal” teachings, Jesus said many things. However, above everything else, He said this was the most important. With only 2 days left with us, I believe He chose His words very carefully. So I have to take time today and dive deeply into this Commandment. I am compelled to seek His opinion on whether I am living up to it. And what HE would have me do in my pursuit of it.

Our Savior is a God of grace and mercy. His grace sustains us in our relationship with Him, and His mercy is poured over us with an expectation that we will pour it over others. Let us not allow His greatest commandment go unfulfilled, friends. Let us seek Him deeply and allow ourselves to be used as instruments of His grace and gospel message.

Amen.

Song of the Day: Amazing Grace

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDdvReNKKuk

 

 

 

 

 

“If You Had One Week Left To Live…”

“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.  He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them.  The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.”

But the leaders were indignant.  They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’”  Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight.”

Matthew 21:12-17

As disciples of the Lord, Jesus Christ, let us re-trace the steps and actions of our Savior during this Holy Week.

On Monday of that week, scripture records this episode in the Temple. Remember, this was a Holy Week for Him too. It was the week that all Jews came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, one of their most holy days.

Thousands upon thousands of good, God-fearing people coming to offer their sacrifices and worship. Coming to find healing, forgiveness, or peace. Coming to connect with the Great I AM. And what did they find?

Swindlers, cheaters, and spiritual prostitutes. People who were more concerned about taking their money than providing a meaningful worship experience. And these pilgrims were at the mercy of those who would take advantage of them. This system was set up to require a certain type of sacrifice and a certain kind of money. And the only place to get these required items were from the merchants and sellers conveniently set up in the house of worship.

No wonder Jesus was angry. No wonder He was moved to throw an epic fit in the midst of the chaos. Can you imagine it? Could you imagine your own pastor storming into church, turning over furniture, and throwing people out because of the farce we had made of worship?

Let me ask you a question. If you only had a week left to live, what would you do? What would you say? Only the most important things, right? And so did Jesus.

So I encourage you to spend time each day this week, immersed in the scriptures that document His activities. Search them. Pray over them. Ask the Lord what He is saying to you. And finally, meditate deeply on how you are being called to respond.

This is the deep work of the Spirit, my friends. Drink deeply from the fountain of our Lord’s revelation and be blessed by it.

Amen

If you are truly serious about keeping this week holy, I suggest you start here. This song and video are not easy. But they speak truth into what this week is all about .

Song of the Day: Yes, I Will… –Bebo Norman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrVsbbGk29A

“How Is Your Hallelujah?”

So where are we from our experience yesterday? You know, those sorts of experiences of God are not ones that can be done in 10 minutes and then move on to something else.

To dive into our spiritual reality sometimes takes us places that we don’t want to go. For others, it may come as a comfort, long forgotten in the midst of daily challenges. However, no matter where it takes us, it is a place in which we should stay for a while and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us.

What does He have to say to you? Will He speak words of grace and healing into a current struggle? Will He whisper, “well done, good and faithful servant” over a lifetime of faithfulness? Will He take you to a place of rejoicing?

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to find your place of worship today and open your hearts to the indwelling of the Spirit. He is waiting there to commune with you in a most personal way. It doesn’t matter if your Hallelujah is full of joy and adoration, or if it broken and painful. He is faithful to show up in all circumstances.

I have heard this song twice in the last 12 hours. That is a sacred echo. I believe I was meant share it with you today. I tried to pick a couple of versions that would speak to any of us, and believe me, there are about a hundred out there. So I hope this takes you to a place of worship today in which you come face-to-face with the risen Lord.

Hallelujah – The Canadian Tenors – WOW!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpxsJ-_vdPU

Hallelujah – Kurt Nilson – Amazing – But a bit more earthy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu3Gg2K_n0g

Hallelujah – Bon Jovi – For all you 80’s children

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSJbYWPEaxw

“I Have No One…”

We talk a lot about Jesus in church circles. We sing about how mighty He is to save. We celebrate His resurrection with joy and flowers and family meals. But what is it really all about?

How do we take an intellectual understanding of grace and salvation and make it something that has an impact on our daily lives? How does it become real for us in this moment?

I don’t know about you, but it is incredibly difficult for me to fully embrace the promise of heaven. I believe I am going there one day (hopefully in the very distant future.) However, that promise doesn’t really speak to my needs in the present. Life in eternity is all good and wonderful. However, I have more concrete concerns and worries today. How does Jesus play into this picture?

When I think about my needs for this day, Psalm 23 comes to mind. Most of us will recognize it as the “funeral psalm.” But look again. It is the everyday, living psalm. In it, we find the promises of God for us in this moment. We don’t have to wait until our crossover comes to experience the vastness of God’s love and grace toward us. We can have them now.

Today’s exercise is incredibly deep. It takes us to our deepest fears and needs, and then presents us with the opportunity to trust in God for all of them. It bears truth to the reality of our relationship with our Savior – is it real and life-giving, or is it all academic, without root or substance?

Try it. Take this version of the psalm and write it out. Then, write it out again, but with the exact opposite meaning. For example, my alternate line one might read:

“I have no one watching over me, I don’t have everything I need.”

You can do this for the entire psalm (which I highly, highly recommend.) Or you can choose the verse that speaks to you the most. Don’t worry about getting right.  Your spirit will create the words for you.  Once you have finished the exercise, then read both versions.

Which one is the reality of your life today? Which version is the expression of your soul?

Many of us Christ-followers say and sing all the right things, but do not trust the promises with our hearts. Many of us show up at church with smiles on our faces while we are overcome with doubts, fears, and anxieties on the inside.

Take the time today. Meditate on this psalm. Every word of it, as if it is the first time you have ever seen it. Your interior work for the foreseeable future is to stay with these promises until you are living them and believing them. It will not be easy. And for many of us, not quick. But this is what the spiritual life is all about. This is what we are living for. Do not let the world take it from you, dear friends. Embrace the assurance as if your life depends on it. For it surely does.

Grace and peace to you.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.

 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.

  He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.

 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid,

 for you are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

    My cup overflows with blessings.

 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the Lord forever

 Psalm 23

“Staff Sabbath…”

 Let us go out into the wilderness for a while and rest ourselves.The crowds gathered as always, and Jesus and the twelve couldn’t eat because so many people came and went.  They could get no peace until they boarded a boat and sailed toward a deserted place.”

 Mark 6:31-32

Last Thursday, the staff of our church had a great day. Staff Sabbath, a day which we take 3 to 4 times each year, is a time when we load up our chairs, blankets, ipods and books, and head off to the wilderness for a day of rest.

It is not a planning day, or a strategizing day. Normally we don’t even speak to each other. It is just a day to “be.” Our rule is, do whatever renews your soul. And it is a day that we all look forward to. Some of us read. Some of us hike. Some of us nap. But the best part (for me, anyway) is the worship.

I put my headphones on and head for my favorite swing on the other side of the lake. And there I sit and connect with my Lord and Savior. It is a magnificent experience. The others sometimes share that they do the same thing, although in different places. My friend Laura heads for the rocking chairs on the back porch. My friend Andrew climbs to the top of the mountain. But regardless of where we have chosen to be, it is our sacred space. And God always meets each one of us there.

In the past, I have heard others comment on how nice it must be to get to do that “on a work day.” And I am very quick to share that our church staff doesn’t get a weekly worship time. We don’t get to simply walk into God’s presence every seven days and lose ourselves in prayer and worship. We are too joyfully busy creating that opportunity for others to enjoy. Therefore, it is an imperative that we schedule time away for ourselves, or we would quickly become a church led by people with very little connection with God. Can you imagine how terrible that would be?

But my whole point is,

Everyone needs Sabbath

Everyone, including Jesus, needs a periodic time of rest, reflection and personal worship. God established this time for us early in Genesis. He knew, and modeled for us, a seven-day cycle in which we have time for all the necessaries in life: work, enjoyment, and rest. And in His earthly ministry, Jesus continued to teach this important lesson.

First, physically we need rest. We can’t run all the time. We live in a world that tells us we should. However, eventually everything breaks that doesn’t get proper rest and maintenance. And that includes us.

Second, spiritually we need rest. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our spirits were created for worship and communion with the Creator. And if we don’t get it, eventually our souls dry up, and a restlessness is created that can’t be remedied with the things of this world. To be spiritually deprived is just like physical hunger. It affects us in every aspect of our lives. And it is a miserable existence.

My friends, I hope that you are fully taking advantage of the “renewing” opportunities offered by your local church each week. Not just as a place to go out of habit or obligation, but as a refuge and sanctuary. As a sacred place where you can leave everything else behind for a day and connect with your one, true power source. And when you get there, I hope you embrace Him and open your heart to fully worship Him. The amazing thing about opening our hearts up to God, is that He immediately fills them with His Holy Spirit. And we walk away knowing that we have experienced His magnificent presence. True worship is a life-changer.

Heavenly Father,

I come today to worship You in spirit and in truth. I open my heart fully to experiencing Your presence and to the word You have for me today. Help me, Lord, to leave the concerns of this world behind for just a little while, and to focus entirely on You. Teach me to be a true worshiper. Lead me to that path of abundant life You promised.

 In the Lord’s name I pray,

Amen

 

Today’s Lectio Divina Passage:

 Your prayers, rather, should be simple, like this:

    Our Father in heaven, let Your name remain holy.

 Bring about Your kingdom.

    Manifest Your will here on earth, as it is manifest in heaven. 

    Give us each day that day’s bread—no more, no less—

 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who owe us something.

 Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

But let Your kingdom be, and let it be powerful and glorious forever. Amen.

 Matthew 6: 9-13

Today’s song: Here I Am To Worship – Israel Houghton & the New Breed Choir