Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lent ~ Easter Sunday ~ Go!

More surely than ever before, I know now that we are called to give our very lives to one another and that, in so doing, we become a true community of love.
Henri Nouwen from Life of the Beloved (pg. 115)

In The True Vine, Andrew Murray writes of Christ's joy: His joy is nothing but the joy of love, of being loved and of loving. It was the joy of receiving His Father's love and abiding in it, and then the joy of passing on that love and pouring it out on sinners. Christ is Perfect Love offered to imperfect people. Like His disciples and His closest followers, we are imperfect people yet perfectly loved by Jesus.

Read John 20:19-23 (for the complete story of the resurrection, see John 20-21.)

As He spoke, He held out His hands for them to see, and He showed them His side. They were filled with joy when they saw their Lord! He spoke to them again and said, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.
John 20:20-21 NLT

On Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection, Jesus appears to several people, each Gospel giving a similar but varying account of all those who witnessed the risen Savior. John writes of Jesus coming in the evening to the disciples who are meeting behind locked doors fearing the Jewish leaders. Jesus offers them peace and joy; He reminds them this assurance comes from the Father. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them. They are prepared to take the Good News of redemption and reconciliation into the world. The root of Christ's joy is the Father's love.

Jesus gives us the same command today, saying as the Father has sent Me, so send I you. We are to carry the Good News of His amazing grace into the world. We are to build up the community of faith by sharing His love. Christ prepares us with His peace and affirms us with His joy. After Christ returned to Heaven at Pentecost, the Spirit came to dwell within the hearts of all believers. The sure foundation of our joy is Christ ~ Perfect Love.

consider this!
  • Imagine being in the room with the disciples when Jesus "suddenly" appears. Describe their joy!
  • How does Jesus model the task of sharing the Gospel?
  • Have you experienced the resurrected Jesus? How will you share such Perfect Love?

Blessed Assurance ~ You are Eternal Love! I am overwhelmed that the love of the Father and the grace of the Son and the presence of the Spirit are mine! You choose me and love me and send me to be a witness for You. Your unfailing faithfulness and enduring love prepare my heart with peace and joy! You empower me to tell my faith-story. With the joy of Christ, I go! Amen. ~dho

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lent ~ Waiting!

And He departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here. Augustine

The Sabbath began at sundown on Friday, and this one even more special as it was the beginning of Passover. Passover was celebrated by the Jews to recall the time the plague of death 'passed over' their homes as they were delivered from Egypt. To prevent having the first born males die, they were to take the blood of the sacrificed lamb and place it on the door frame of the house. (Exodus 12/complete text) But this particular Passover the Lamb of God had been sacrificed, Christ's blood shed for all.

Read John 19:38-42

And so, because it was the day of preparation before the Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Just before sundown Friday, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, secret disciples of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus' body, quickly prepared the body and carefully placed Him in the tomb. Fearing the Jewish leaders, these members of the Jewish high council had kept their following of Jesus a secret until now. And Jesus' body lay in the tomb as Passover began.

There was little written about that Saturday - the Jewish Sabbath that fell between the crucifixion on Friday and the resurrection on Sunday. There would have been no work, only time for worship and rest. For those who mourned Jesus' death, there was much time for reflection of recent events, remembering of times shared, and recollections of countless miracles. They did not understand what had happened. They waited.

consider this!
  • What risks did Joseph and Nicodemus take?
  • What thoughts might the disciples have had during this time?
  • Does Jesus live within your heart? If yes, do you ever keep your faith a secret?

Lord ~ What happens when the world denies You, and I keep silent? What happens when the world mocks You, and I turn away? You must weep at my selfish response. What happens when You offer hope that is eternal, and I do not share this Good News? What happens when You love with amazing grace, and I do not share this forgiveness? You must weep at my casual faith. Forgive me when weakness wins the battle inside my soul. In these times of struggle, I call to You and always find You waiting for me. Amen. ~dho

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lent ~ Good Friday ~ "Crucify"

We have seen what we are not, and what God wants us to be, but are we willing to be battered into the shape of the vision to be used by God? The beatings will always come in the most common, everyday ways and through common, everyday people. Oswald Chambers from My Utmost for His Highest

The account of the trial and crucifixion of Christ is in all the Gospels. Like reading the Christmas story in Luke each year, this is the day we remember, listen to or read ourselves the recorded history of Jesus' last hours on earth. Unlike the Christmas story, this one is harder to hear. Full of partial truths and truths ignored, betrayals and beatings, cowards and cynics, guilt and innocence, the story lets us walk the Via Dolorosa with Jesus and the crowd as we call, "Crucify! Crucify!"

Read John 18:28-19:42

Jesus fulfills the Scripture, lives God's Plan of salvation for us, willingly and obediently in detail. He is crucified between two thieves, a picture of disgrace and disillusionment for those who doubt Him, those who believe in Him, those who love Him. And the crowd? From Hallelujah! to Crucify! in a week's time, the crowd scatters and scorns with uncertainty. We stand in the crowd, both watching and wondering, fickle and frightened, confused and concerned.

Today, we are still standing in the crowd - we are the everyday people. We either endure the everyday beatings or participate in them. We either determine our worth and applaud our own plans, or we confess our sins and need for Grace. We either seek the world's approval or humbly accept God's plan. We are arrogant or obedient, either rolling the dice for a piece of Jesus or embracing the completeness of Perfect Love. We are the everyday reasons that Jesus is broken bread and poured out wine.

consider this!
  • Why did the Jewish leaders say they wanted Jesus put to death?
  • Did Pilate find Jesus guilty?
  • Matthew 27:35-44; Mark 15:25-32; Luke 23:32-43; John 19:18-27: These are the Gospel's accounts of Jesus being placed on the cross. List all the people around the cross. What names are missing from the list that you would have expected?


Holy Father ~ My heart comes to the foot of the cross and recognizes Jesus as the Son of the Most High, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. I kneel and bow and weep that my sins nail Him to the cross, place the crown of thorns on His head, mock Him and reject Him. And still, He loves me more than I can understand. He willingly is battered and endures the beatings for me, for all of us. Forgiveness is mine. Grace reigns. Help me seek Your vision for my life. Let me endure what I must to honor You, to give You glory. Holy! Holy! Holy! You are Lord! Amen. ~dho

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Lent ~ Betrayal and Intercession

"You will know which one to arrest when I go over and give him the kiss of greeting." Judas Iscariot (Matthew 29:49 NLT)

Betrayal robs more than loyalty; it robs the soul. Judas, one of the twelve disciples, one of the inner circle of Jesus, accepts thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Afterwards, disgraced and without reconciliation, Judas takes his own life. His actions demonstrate a lack of sincere commitment to Jesus. Judas, the pretender.

"I swear by God, I don't know this man you're talking about." Peter, the disciple of Christ
(Mark 14:71 NLT)

As Jesus gathers His disciples together one last time, He tells them that they would all desert Him. Peter's loyalty disagrees, "Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will." (Mark 14:29) But just as Jesus predictes - three times Peter denies knowing Christ. When he realizes he has betrayed his own vow, Peter breaks down and cries. Later, after the resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love Me?" Peter responds each time, "Yes, Lord, I love You!" Jesus restores Peter, tells him, "Follow Me." Peter becomes the first great leader of the early church. Peter, the rock.

Read John 17

consider this!
  • Meditate on this beautiful prayer that Jesus prayed. For whom was He praying?
  • This prayer is called the "High Priestly Prayer." Why do you think it is called that?
  • Do you ask Jesus to intercede for you?

Eternal Intercessor ~ My prayers rise to You, full of wordless gratitude for undeserved grace. Forgive me when I betray You in my deeds and with my words. Sin is the easier choice. But You have restored me with Amazing Grace. You call, "Follow Me!" I reply, "Lord, I love You!" Amen. ~dho

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lent ~ Believing or Not

This is and has been the Father's work from the beginning - to bring us into the home of His heart. George MacDonald

Despite the miracles Jesus performed, there were those who did not believe He was the Christ. There were those who did believe but were afraid to speak up, afraid of rejection or punishment. And still there were others in the crowd who believed, but their faith was fragile and weak. We, too, are standing in the crowd today. What do you choose?

Read John 12:37-50

Many people, including some of the Jewish leaders, believed in Him. But they wouldn't admit it to anyone because of their fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God. John 12:42-43 NLT

Jesus shouted to the crowds, "If you trust Me, you are really trusting God who sent Me." John 12:44 NLT

God's plan from the beginning was to offer us a way back to Him, to offer us salvation. We can read all the books ever written and ask all the questions ever wondered and still not have the evidence that our human minds crave. Grace came into the world in the form of Perfect Love, not in the way the world found logical. How often we choose human praise over God's praise! How seldom we really place our trust in God! Yet, God still chooses us!

consider this!
  • What evidence is necessary to secure your belief in Christ?
  • Using Jesus' words (vs. 44-50), explain Christ's purpose in coming to earth the first time?
  • How does your desire for human praise stand in the way of trusting in God's Plan?

Lord ~ We stand in the crowd watching. Some around us choose the world, and others choose You but are afraid to tell. Then, there are those like me that choose the Grace that only Perfect Love can give. Forgive us when we find the world's applause more appealing than the Spirit's whispers. Forgive us when we stand in the crowd , and no one knows we stand with You. Amen. ~dho

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lent ~ Listening to the Father

Jesus' obedience means a total, fearless listening to His loving Father. . . We will never understand the full meaning of Jesus' richly varied ministry unless we see how the many things are rooted in the one thing: listening to the Father in the intimacy of perfect love.
Henri Nouwen from Show Me the Way (pg.112-113)

Time after time we find Jesus alone praying to the Father. When Jesus predicts His death on the cross to the crowd, He again seeks the Father's power. Nouwen writes, "This inexhaustible love between the Father and the Son includes and yet transcends all forms of love known to us." God is the Source of everything for Jesus ~ power, direction and love. Jesus seeks the Father in all things; He listens to the Father in the intimacy of perfect love.

Read John 12:27-36

"Father, glorify Your name."
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again." John 12:28

Jesus tells the crowd that God has spoken for your sake. There are questions and uncertainties about what it all means. Jesus wants them to understand that He is the Christ, the Messiah. He declares himself Light, calling them to believe and become sons of light. Jesus longs for those in the crowd who follow Him to become a community. Today, Jesus still desires for Believers to join together, to be an intimate community that worships and seeks the Father for all things. How do we achieve such unity and intimacy? By listening to the Father.

consider this!
  • What did the people say they heard when a voice came from heaven?
  • How did Jesus describe His death? Did the people understand?
  • When do you go to the Father? Do you listen for His reply?

Father of Light ~ You fill my darkness with fireworks of possibilities and wonders that exceed my imagination. You call me to share this light with others. I am listening more and more to Your whispers and the Spirit's promptings. I want to be obedient to Your best for me. Forgive me when I settle for good enough. Amen. ~dho




Monday, April 06, 2009

Lent ~ The Crowd

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327): The temple God wants to be master of is the human soul, which he created and fashioned just like himself. We read that God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” . . . He made each soul so much like himself that nothing else in heaven or on earth resembles him as much. . . God wants the temple to be pure, so pure that nothing should dwell there except he himself. And that is the reason why he is so pleased when we really prepare our souls for him.

A growing crowd had followed Jesus these last weeks, watching and testifying to what they had witnessed ~ Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, His many miracles of healing, His parables and teachings. The religious rulers were threatened, fearing the crowd was beginning to follow Jesus, struggling with supernatural possibility and personal pride.

Read John 12:17-19

The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him."
John 12:19 NKJV

The crowd, like the Pharisees, came with their own agendas. Some caught up in the excitement of the moment, some looking for something extraordinary and some skeptical but curious. The Pharisees thought the crowd was foolish, but wanted to find something to discredit Jesus' popularity. We are sometimes the crowd ~ watching, wondering, looking for more! We are sometimes like the Pharisees ~ cynical, doubting, expecting less!

consider this!
  • Picture yourself in the crowd. Who are you? What do you expect from Jesus?
  • Consider yourself a Pharisee. What rules would you enforce? What questions do you ask?
  • How are you preparing your soul for the living Christ?

Holy Father ~ Prepare my soul for the journey it must take. Help me step away from the crowd to be with You, to listen for You, to feel You near. Take my cynicism and make it compassion. Take my doubt and make it trust. Take my soul to Your high places of blessing. Amen. ~dho

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Lent ~ Palm Sunday

A life of complete faith propels one to live not by his own ideas, impulses, or abilities, but by the leadings of the Spirit that have much the same ebb and flow and unpredictability that wind and waves do."
John Haughey

Those who watched for the Messiah, their King, anticipated much more pomp and circumstance, grandeur and power. They thought the Messiah would rule on earth. Instead, God's plan called for Jesus to enter Jerusalem on a donkey with His disciples following but not understanding. Often times God's plans for us come in unpredictable ways, like on a donkey, and we do not understand at the time.

Read John 12:12-16

"Fear not daughter of Zion;
Behold, your King is coming,
Sitting on a donkey's colt." John 12:15 NKJV

This prophesy was foretold by Zechariah but those looking for the Messiah must have forgotten. They did not recognize the Messiah riding a donkey into Jerusalem while the crowds waved palm branches shouting Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! The King of Israel. Like the Jews, sometimes we don't recognize Jesus ~ when He wears the tattered clothes of a beggar or the tears of an abused child or the hunger of a distant land or the loneliness of an empty life. Like the disciples, we don't always understand in the disappointment or the crisis or during the parade. Only afterwards, do we recognize Jesus and the Providence and Grace of a loving God.

consider this!
  • The crowd was shouting words from a Psalm. Read Psalm 118 and find the words.
  • When DID the disciples understand?
  • As you read the verses, imagine yourself standing in the crowd. How might you react?

Faithful Father ~ Your Wisdom exceeds my best ideas. My heart's desire is that You find me faithful. Help me see You in all things. Amen. ~dho

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Lent ~ Anointed and Prepared

For God himself works in our souls, in their deepest depths, taking increasing control as we are progressively willing to be prepared for His wonder.
Thomas Kelly from Devotional Classics by Foster/Smith (pg.177)

During these weeks of Lent, the intention is to be a time of reflection, a time for the soul to be prepared to once again to consider the sacrifice of the Perfect Lamb for sinners, imperfect in every way. This is not to suggest that the Easter Season is the only time for reflection or study; certainly it is not, rather it can be a time of spiritual renewal. As the last week approaches and the familiar story unfolds, be prepared to listen, be prepared for His wonder.

Read John 12:1-8

But Jesus said, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial."
John 12:7 NKJV

As you read this account of Mary's anointing Jesus feet with expensive perfume, consider the extravagance of her gesture. Commentaries tell us this expensive perfume equals a year's wages. Mary receives criticism from one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot. Jesus intercedes, once again reminding that He will not be with them much longer. Mary's soul somehow understood the gravity of the time at hand. She abandons the expected role, steps outside the boundaries. Mary sensed the wonder of Jesus and the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.

consider this!

  • List all those Scripture mentions as being present at this dinner.
  • What is your reaction to Judas' comment?
  • Now, consider the extravagance of Jesus love.

Lord ~ In Your presence I find unspoken joy, wordless praise, endless thanksgiving. You draw me to Perfect Love, and I long for more. Prepare my heart and mind and soul as I once again walk the dusty roads up to Jerusalem, stand in the crowds watching, listen to the mocking, see the Body broken for me, contemplate the cross, find the empty tomb. Amen. ~ dho

Friday, April 03, 2009

Lent ~ Spiritual Sight

For the grateful man knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. Thomas Merton from Thoughts in Solitude (pg.33)

Jesus hears about the Pharisees throwing the formerly-blind beggar out of the synagogue. He finds the man and asks, "Do You believe in the Son of Man?" The man does not recognize Jesus as he was blind when they previously met. Jesus invites this man to become part of the Kingdom. With a desire to know Jesus, He accepts. His roadside experience begins his change with a physical healing, but the real transformation ~ the spiritual sight ~ happens on the inside.

Read John 9: 35-41

Then Jesus told him, "I have come to judge the world, I have come to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind. John 9:39 NLT

The Pharisees present are indignant that Jesus would suggest they are spiritually blind! And once again, we find ourselves dressed as a Pharisee. Yes, we believers can be spiritually blind ~ when we choose our desires instead of being obedient to God's will, when we justify our busyness inside the church instead of reaching outside the church walls into the community, when we rationalize our sins instead of acknowledging that the world has us in its grips. It is only through Jesus that we can overcome spiritual blindness!

consider this!
  • Read verse 35; what gives you comfort?
  • Explain who these two groups of people are that Jesus refers to as "the blind" and "those who think they see."
  • What experience with God makes you grateful?
God of Might and Mercy ~ You find us, care for us, love us. Your compassion exceeds our need, heals our wounds, offers us tenderness. Our response to You can be one of humility and gratitude or self-righteousness and self-assurance. Forgive my blindness, my egocentric bows to the world's applause. It is You, and You alone, I long to see clearly. Amen. ~dho

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Lent ~ Holy Surprises!

When we are truly open, we will be surprised by something in the encounter. And that surprise - that unique presence of God - can be called . . . holiness.
Robert J. Wicks from Living Simply in an Anxious World (pg. 51)

The Pharisees continue to question the beggar, "This man who opened your eyes - who do you say he is?" This miracle has caused much controversy and questioning, much examination and concern. Even the man's parents must face the inquisitors. We can identify with this man and his parents if we are willing to stand up and share our experience with Jesus. There will always be those who question and doubt.

Read John 9:17-34

[The beggar responds] "I don't know whether he is a sinner . . . but I do know this: I was blind, and now I can see!" John 9:25 NLT

When we encounter the Living Christ, we are changed from the inside; we are transformed. Christ puts a robe of righteousness around our shoulders and welcomes us into the family. Do we suddenly have all the answers? No and we never will have all the answers. As followers of Christ our response must be to simply tell our faith-story.

consider this!
  • Why was it important that the Pharisees shed doubt on the beggar's healing?
  • Remember a time when your faith was challenged. What did you say or do?
  • Tell your faith-story ~ it is the most meaningful tool for sharing the Gospel you have.

Holy One ~ The world denies You, attempts to minimize Your power. Sometimes the task to tell my story seems daunting ~ does MY story really matter, isn't it God's story I should tell? what if they mock me? what if they do not listen? Make my faith bold enough to stand and share my own God-story with another. Make me humble in the telling of Your Faithfulness and Grace. Amen. ~dho

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Lent ~ Self-righteous Divisions

The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation. Charles Spurgeon

The Pharisees were an influential religious authority in Judaism. They enforced the Jewish laws. Knowledgeable and well-versed in the Scriptures, the Pharisees quoted the law and prided themselves on living the law. In some ways, we who attend church and Bible studies, teach Sunday School, serve on church committees and sing in the choir can act the same as the Pharisees. We, too, can be self-righteous in our actions to those we think are less religious than we are.

Read John 9:13-16

Some of the Pharisees said, "This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath." Others said, "But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?" So there was deep division of opinion among them. John 9:16 NLT

Churches and religious organizations and Christians struggle with the same issues as the Pharisees. In our desire to represent God to the world, we create a deep division between ordinary sinners and religious sinners. There is none. Our pride gets in the way and often can be a wedge instead of a lever; we hinder instead of encourage. In our disagreements, we plod on in our 'certainty' without love or compassion or gentleness. How like the Pharisees we can be!

consider this!
  • What was the Sabbath? To what law were the Pharisees referring?
  • Give an example of a deep division in a religious group today.
  • How do you know Jesus is from God? Give a Scripture to support your statement.

Lord ~ Forgive me when I find more delight in knowing about You than in 'knowing You". Give me eyes to see my neighbors as You see me ~ a sinner in need of grace. Amen. ~dho