Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guided Prayers

  If you are weary of some sleepy form of devotion,
probably God is as weary of it as you are.
~Frank Laubach


If you're looking to engage God and explore different forms of prayer, check out pray-as-you-go.

They offer a daily podcast (10-13minutes) that provides space for stillness, silence, reflection and simply being with Christ.

There are many different expressions of prayer found in Scripture. There are times to come to God with our lists of needs and concerns. There are also times to simply follow the Spirit's leading in prayer. Another form of prayer is simply allowing another guide our times of reflection and prayer. Pray-as-you-go offer daily reflections of such a genre. I'm committing utilize these guided-narrated prayers several times a week simply as a means of engaging God in a different manner than is typically a part of my weekly/daily rhythms...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Journaling Resources

Journaling slows down the mind to the pace of the hand
so the soul can catch up to the speed of life.

Here are a few online resources to explore journaling...

Examen.me
This is a website that allows you to create a user profile and save all your reflections. It offers daily readings, prayers, etc. You can reflect on a passage, or engage a prayer of examen. You can search entries, as well as export them to you hardrive.
http://www.examen.me


Journler
Journler (spelled as is...) is a downloadable program that allows you to save entries to your computer. You can integrate images, sound and video into journal entries. They can be searched by text, date or tag.
http://journler.com

Ommwriter
Ommwriter is a downloadable program that over-rides your screen - pushing all other programs and notifications to the background (and silent)... I has various background tracks that can be played as you write.
http://www.ommwriter.com

Monday, October 17, 2011

PRACTICING THE PRESENCE OF GOD :: PRAYER OF SURRENDER

PRAYER OF SURRENDER

A prayer of surrender is simply a point early each day when you give your day and self over to God.

It could be as simple as, “Today, this is Your day… Today, I am Yours… May Your Spirit lead, guide and prompt me throughout my day… May I be sensitive to Your prompting and respond accordingly… Today, I surrender my life to You…

Saturday, October 15, 2011

PRACTICING THE PRESENCE OF GOD :: NAMES OF GOD

God took the initiative in revealing himself to humankind. God showed himself to Moses in a burning bush and then told Moses his name – Yahweh – I AM WHO I AM. God’s name revealed the transcendent immediacy of a God who was present. Flippant or magical uses of God’s name was forbidden by the third commandment. 

God revealed himself to Israel in a variety of names. In the bible, names carry particular significance. They are sources of revelation and a glimpse into the mystery of the bearer’s identity. Names and titles for God express something of the character, presence, authority and nature of the divine being. It should not surprise us that images for and names of God can be more mysterious than comprehensible. They invite us into contemplation of the holy One. They compel us toward worship rather than explanations. Behold. Look. See. Meditate. Open wide to the God who is beyond and above, yet at the same moment God in and with us.

SUGGESTIONS FOR MEDITATION ON THE NAMES OF GOD


Friday, October 14, 2011

RECOMMENDED READING :: ENGAGING SCRIPTURE :: MEDITATION

Here are a few books that you may find helpful in learning how to engage Scripture more reflectively.

Recommended Reading:

The Message Remix : Solo by Eugene Peterson

Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation by Richard Foster

Eat this Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading by Eugene Peterson

Sunday, October 09, 2011

ENGAGING SCRIPTURE :: THE ART OF MEDITATION :: LECTIO DIVINA

Marination, also known as marinating, is the process of soaking foods in a seasoned, often acidic, liquid before cooking. This is a technique of adding flavor by immersion in liquid. It is commonly used to flavor foods and to tenderize tougher cuts of meat or harder vegetables. The process may last seconds or days.

During this process, the acid causes the tissue of meat to break down, allowing more moisture to be absorbed and giving a juicier end product.

There is a form of prayer that we can engage in that functions a lot like the process of marination... it's a form of prayer that adds flavor to our souls and tenderizes the hard areas of our hearts...that in the process of causing our inner-tissues to break down - becoming more absorbent and more saturated with the Presence & Life of God.

It's called Lectio Divina. In short, Lectio Divina is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God.

For centuries, people of the text have understood that Scripture isn't merely meant to be read or even understood, as important as those components are - but Scripture is to be-lived.

Lectio Divina is a way of approaching the text that “...intends the fusion of the entire biblical story and my story. A way of reading that refuses to be reduced to just reading but intends the living of the text, listening and responding to the voices of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ telling their stories…” (Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book)

Lectio Divina comprises four elements:
  1. Lectio: to read the text,
  2. Meditatio: to meditate the text,
  3. Oratio: to pray the text,
  4. Contemplatio: to live the text.
A European monk, Guigo the 2nd in the 12th Century elaborates on the form of prayer by saying,
“Reading, as it were, puts the solid food into our mouths, meditation chews it and breaks it down, prayer obtains the flavor of it and contemplation is the very sweetness which makes us glad and refreshes us.”

Thursday, October 06, 2011

ENGAGING SCRIPTURE :: A Manifesto of Reading the Bible as Scripture

We often read the Bible as a text to be mastered... Yet, perhaps we should read Scripture as a text to be mastered by. We attempt to get through-the-Bible, when in reality what we really need is the Bible to get-through-us. We have been seduced into an approach to the Bible that is very informational driven, when it seems that the essence of Scripture desires to bring about an in-formational reorientation...

The following is a manifesto I put together of perhaps a more conducive posture towards engaging Scripture.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

ENGAGING SCRIPTURE :: EXPLORATION OF STUDY

"What do I need to do to grow as a Christian?" This is a commonly asked question by sincere followers of Christ. And the response? Often is something to the effect of "read your bible and pray." On the surface this sounds like a solid answer. After all, who could go wrong with reading their bible or praying. Interestingly though, how many times does the bible actually tell us to "read" it...? We're hard pressed to find any reference that instructs us to do so (at least in the context of what "read" means to a western mindset). On the contrary, Scripture encourages us to study, reflect and deeply meditate.

Exploring Scripture through Study is more of an art form than a science. Scripture is simply amazing!


The Puritan writers said that, “the Bible is so shallow that babes cannot drown, yet, so deep that even the most asute of theologians cannot touch the bottom, yet.

The rabbis spoke of the text being like a gem with seventy faces, and each time you turn the gem, the light refracts differently, giving you a reflection you haven’t seen before. And so they would turn the text again and again because they kept seeing things they missed the time before.

The following are a few ways practice the exploration of study.
  • Pray, asking God to teach you.
  • Discover the context - this is very important to accurate interpretation.
  • Look for the obvious - facts about people, places, events.  Often these will be repeated making them easy to see.  This provides a framework for the text.
  • Be objective - let scripture speak for itself. Don't try to make it say what you've always thought it said.  Ask God to make His truth obvious to you and then adjust your life accordingly.
  • Read asking questions of the text.
Approach the Scripture as a detective looking for clues to a mystery.

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”
-Proverbs 25:2

Here are some questions to consider when studying Scripture:
  • Who wrote it?
  • Who did he write it to?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • What are the main events?
  • What is the meaning of the message?
  • What are these people like?
  • What is his purpose in saying this?
  • When was it written?
  • When did this event happen?
  • When will this take place?
  • When did he do or say this?
  • Where was this done?
  • Where was this written?
  • Where will it happen?
  • Why was this written (Why did God want me to know this?)
  • Why did the author say so much, or so little about this?
  • Why should they do such and such?
  • How did it happen?
  • How did they do it?
  • How do I do that?
Record your answer in a notebook. 

You will be amazed at how much you learn that you did not realize was there.

It may also be helpful if you use a Bible that you are willing to mark in.

I often photo copy a passage I'm studying on a 11 x 17 sheet of paper and use the margin to take notes, connect thoughts and ask questions...

I also find it helpful to create a Word .doc. I copy/paste the text at hand and as I study out the words/phrase/passage, I enter in findings, questions, insights, etc underneath the verse in the document.
  • Identify key words.
Marking key words consistently throughout the text will help you quickly identify common themes.

A couple of resources for growing in the practice of studying Scripture:


to be continued...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ENGAGING SCRIPTURE :: THROUGH THE LENS OF HIS-STORY

There are a number of ways of engaging Scripture...

One is to engage it through the Lens of His-Story.

To look at engaging Scripture through the Lens of His-Story

Stories are powerful. They shape how we see the world.

All of human life is shaped by some story.


I can only answer the question
“What am I to do?”
if I can answer the prior question
“Of what story do I find myself a part?”

(Alasdaire MacIntyre)


The way we understand human life
depends on what conception we have of the human story.
What is the real story of which my life story is a part?

(Lesslie Newbigin)

Scripture is the most powerful story ever recorded.

It is literally, HIS-STORY. It is the Story of God’s pursuit of humanity. In fact, you can take the first 3 chapters of Genesis and the last 3 chapters of Revelation and you have pretty much the complete story in and of it self. Now much happens, we know in between…

If Scripture were a Drama or a Play, it could be broken up into 6 Acts.

Scripture as a 6 Act Drama
  1. Creation: God Establishes His Kingdom
  2. Crime/Crisis/Fall: Rebellion in the Kingdom
  3. Israel: The King Chooses Israel
    1. Scene I: A People for the King
    2. Scene II: A Land for His People
Interlude: Intertestamental Period 

       4. Jesus: The Coming of the King - Redemption
       5. NT & the People of God
             Scene I:  New Testament and the Early Church – Jerusalem to Rome
             Scene II:  the ongoing story of the Church – To the ends of the Earth

       6.   Restoration of all Creation: The Return of the King

Helpful tips for engaging Scripture through the lens of His-Story.
  1. Begin to see Scripture as more than a collection of stories in which we can extract morals and principles from. It is useful for this, as well as for establishing doctrine and teaching. But, all of that needs to be framed in the context of the over-arching narrative of Scripture.

  2. Begin simply by reading through the Bible.(systematically // chronologically).
    • Bible Reading Plans.

  3. The following are some books and resources I've found helpful in this area:

NEW SERIES :: SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

Pretty stoked about the new series we're kicking off at New Community tonight.

Four weeks dealing with a few central Spiritual Practices....

Friday, September 09, 2011

Images of the Cross

Often the phrase "Jesus died on the cross for my sins" is used to explain the purpose of Jesus' death. This is true, but it seems that this pat-answer is a bit flattened for what really transpired. Interestingly, the writers of the New Testament utilized a number of images, words and metaphors to communicate what happened on the cross. It's almost as if in each instance there were saying, "the cross... it's like this.... and it's like this... and it's like this" Each time pulling from another sector of life, culture and understanding. The following are a few of the images of the cross and what transpired that are found in the New Testament.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Voice in Silence

Silence your body to listen to your words...
Silence your tongue to listen to your thoughts...
Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart beating...
Silence your heart to listen to your spirit...
Silence your spirit you listen to His Spirit.

In silence you leave many and be with the One.

-Mama Maggie

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

LIFT :: Leadership Institute for Transformation

It's easy to get caught up doing good stuff... All the while not realize the atrophy that's beginning to take place deep within one's soul.

Moreover, it can be challenging to find venues conducive for helping us to facilitate on-going learning and spiritual formation. The LIFT courses are a great way to be challenged as a leader, interact with others on the same journey and engage spiritual practices for a healthy soul and sustainable rhythms of life and ministry.



Jamaica :: Stories


Jamaica Missions Trip 2011 from Palm Valley Church on Vimeo.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jamaica :: Friday Wrap-up

It's amazing what can happen in just one week. Over the past several days, we've seen God begin to do some tremendous things within the lives of the young people who gathered from around the community of Greenvale, just outside the city of Mandeville, Jamaica.

We finished up with about 150 people (not including helpers/leaders) ranging from 2-years-old to seventy-something. While the majority were under 20, there was a group of adults that showed up each day from the community to take part in the activities, as well as join in a class specifically for adults.

Today (Friday), as we wrapped up the week, each age-group came to the stage with a song, skit or summaries of what they have learned this week. This indeed was a special time.

Tonight, tears began to flow out of the eyes of many as we sat around worshiping, praying, reflecting and sharing about this week's experiences. Each of us is extremely grateful and honored to have been able to share the Gospel and our very lives with those we've encountered this week, not to mention getting to know some of the Rio Grand's very best...

Below are a few pictures from the past few days...
Palm Valley Team after ministering at Deaf Fellowship.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jamaica :: Wednesday

Today was another great day of ministry. More and more chairs are added as children keep coming. The entire tent is now full of chairs - which I have to admit is a beautiful sight. We have two more days in the mornings with the children.

Continue to pray for hearts to open up to the powerful message of the love of Christ and what it means to follow Him.

Thursday night, we minister at Mandeville Deaf Fellowship. This is a gathering of Deaf adults from around the city of Mandeville and beyond. Pray for clarity of communication along with the Strength of God's Spirit to minister...

Here's a few Pict's from today...

Mari is amazing with these little ones...!















Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jamaica :: Triple Tuesday

Triple-Tuesday... There were about 55 children and young adults who joined us Monday. Today (Tuesday), we had over 130. Nearly tripled the number of kids in 24-hours. Crazy! What’s so exciting is how many of these are not Christ-followers or even know what that means, much less “go to church.”


Tonight, the team experienced a powerful time worship, prayer and sharing together. We feel that tomorrow is going to be significant, especially for the ten-years and older folks. We are praying that many will experience a “moment” with God. After tomorrow morning’s teaching there is going to space for the older ones to reflect and pray. Pray with us that God will help us communicate clearly and powerful, and that the Holy Spirit will speak ever so specifically to each individual in a life transforming manner.


Sunday morning, Sylvia shared her story of discovering the reality of God in her everyday life after many years of devout religious rituals. She then talked about what walking by faith has looked like in her very recent life transitions. As she shared the remarkable ways God directed her paths for this coming fall, you could sense encouragement and hope being released into the hearts of those currently experiencing challenging and difficult times.







Monday, July 18, 2011

Ministry in Jamaica...

It was just before 8:30 this morning. 

Children begin trekking up dirt paths, crooked roads and step hills toward the site of this weeks Bible Camp in the small township of Greenvale (Jamaica). 


For some, this was their first time stepping foot on the property of where this church gathers. The church meets on a small plot of property under a tent.
 

Friday, July 08, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Engaging Scripture...

How do you engage Scripture...?

Is it something you try to "read through" is some chronological, systematic, chapter-by-day manner?

Each of these have there place, but often it seems in our fervor to "get through" Scripture, we may not always experience Scripture "getting through" us.

What would it look like for us to read and engage Scripture in light of the following parable?



One traveler to another:

"I have come a great distance to listen to the words of the Teacher, but I find his words quite ordinary."

"Don't listen to his words. Listen to his message."

"How does one do that?"

"Take hold of a sentence that he says. Shake it well till all the words drop off. What is left will set your heart on fire."
 
~Anthony deMello

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Daily Surrender

"It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind." (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

  • What are some practical ways in which we can "shove" all the voices, wishes and hopes that "rush at us like wild animals"?

  • What are some practices that can better posture us to keep in step with the life-flow of the "stronger, quieter life" that comes to us in the Spirit of Christ?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Power of Words

More often than not... It's not what we say... It's how we say it...



    A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
    in settings of silver. (NKJ)

 The right word at the right time
is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.

~Provers 25:11 MSG


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter

“I have seen the Lord!”
John 20:18

“The disciples had seen the strong hands of God twist the crown
of thorns into a crown of glory, and in hands as strong as that they
knew themselves safe . . .
They had expected a walkover, and they beheld a victory; 
they had expected an earthly Messiah,
and they beheld the Soul of Eternity.”

Dorothy L. Sayers

In the book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee said, “Christianity begins not with a big DO, but with a big DONE.”  He continues: “We begin our Christian life by depending not on our own doing but upon what Christ has done.  Until you realize this, you are no Christian; for to say: “I can do nothing to save myself; but by His grace God has done everything for me in Christ,” is to take the first step of faith.  If I put a dollar bill between the pages of a magazine, and then burn the magazine, where is the dollar bill?  It has gone the same way as the magazine – to ashes.  Where the one goes the other goes, too.  Their history has become one.  But, just as effectively, God has put us in Christ.  What happened to Him happened also to us.  All the experiences He met, we too have met in Him.


“Our old man was crucified with Him,
that the body of sin might be done away,
that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin.”
Romans 6:6

This verse is not an exhortation to struggle.  That is history: our history, written in Christ before we were born.  Do you believe this?  It is true! Our crucifixion with Christ is a glorious historical fact.  Our deliverance from sin is based, not on what we can do, nor even on what God is going to do for us, but on what He has already done in Christ.

Action: Based on this reflection, give thanks to God for what He has done.


“The crowning evidence that Jesus was alive was not a vacant grave, but a Spirit-filled fellowship.  Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried away church.”
Clarence Jordan

Join a group of Christ-followers, and together celebrate the risen Christ.

“The death of Jesus is for us nothing if we have not died with Him;
the resurrection of our Lord is for us nothing
if we have not been raised with Him.”

Swiss Theologian, Emil Brunne

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 40 of Lent :: Tombstone

“Mary stood outside the tomb weeping.”
John 20:11

The disciples had left everything to follow Christ.  Many had abandoned personal aspirations, hopes and dreams.  They had placed all their trust in this Rabbi – Jesus.  They believed He was about to establish a new kingdom, but now He lies lifeless within the tomb.  “What will we do now?” they wondered.  “I suppose I can go back to work with my dad,” added another.  Others sat despondently on the verge of depression, unable to sort out the events of the past seventy-two hours.

Have you ever wondered what they would have done had Jesus never risen from the dead?  I imagine they would have somehow found their way back into the rhythms of life, as they had once known it.  But who knows?  After all, Peter had once said, “Where else can we go?”  What if the tomb remained darkened with death?

Reflection: Take a few moments to reflect on this dark question:

  •  What if Jesus had never risen from the dead?
  • What would your life be like today, had Jesus never invaded the darkness of your soul?
  • What struggles, pain, wounds, and addictions would still have you entrapped?

This may, indeed, be a dark reflection, but do not be too quick to climb out of the grave.  Allow yourself to feel the darkness of sin and death without a Savior in sight.  Allow yourself to experience the ambiguity that these first disciples felt.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 39 of Lent :: Good Friday

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said,
‘It is finished!’  And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.’”
John 19:30

“Good Friday,” Virginia Stem Owens writes, “is the day when you can do nothing.  Bewailing and lamenting your manifold sins does not in itself make up for them.  Scouring your soul in a frenzy of spring cleaning only sterilizes it; it does not give it life.  On Good Friday, finally, we are all, mourners and mockers alike, reduced to the same impotence.  Someone else is doing the terrible work that gives life to the world.”

Today, we recognize we are powerless to change ourselves or to make amends for our sins.  We stand in awe of the One Who is suffering for our sakes.  We gaze at the One who willingly laid down His life so that we may live.  Today, we are reminded again that He is everything that we need.

“As you sit and gaze, it will be born in you
that only a crucified Savior could meet your need.”

William Sangster

Prayer:  Spend a few moments gazing at the One Who suffered for your sin and died so that you may experience true life.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 38 of Lent :: History in the Making

“These who have turned the world upside down
 have come here too.”
(Acts 17:6)

“Not only countless individual lives but civilization itself was transformed by Jesus Christ.” 
These are the words of Dr. Paul Maier, professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University.  Professor Maier continues,

In the ancient world, his (Jesus’) teachings elevated brutish standards of morality, halted infanticide, enhanced human life, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired charities and relief organizations, created hospitals, established orphanages, and founded schools.

In medieval times
, Christianity almost single-handedly kept classical culture alive through recopying manuscripts, building libraries, moderating warfare through truce days, and providing dispute arbitration.  It was Christians who invented colleges and universities, dignified labor as a divine vocation, and extended the light of civilization to barbarians on the frontiers.

In the modern era, Christian teaching, properly expressed, advanced science, instilled concepts of political and social and economic freedom, fostered justice, and provided the greatest single source of inspiration for magnificent achievements in art, architecture, music, and literature that we treasure to the present day.1

Prayer: Spend time reflecting on the influences Jesus Christ has had on the history of civilization.  Think about what the world would be like today had Jesus never come to earth.

But as we gaze, it is not pity that we feel,
but a profound reverence,
for there on Calvary is the great turning point in the course of human affairs.


Hughell Fosbroke


1 Quoted by Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence, 8.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 37 of Lent :: Unlikely Candidates

He appointed twelve that they might be with Him 

and that He might send them out to preach.

(Mark 3:14)

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He spent all night in prayer, seeking God’s direction, and He then chose twelve individuals to be His disciples.  Consider His perspective.  As the Son of God, He was going to choose twelve men to carry on His mission on earth once He returned to the Father.  For what character and temperament qualities should He look?  What type of selective process should He use? 

Suppose Jesus had consulted a local employment agency to assist Him in His selection of future leaders.  How would this agency have assessed the twelve men Jesus selected?  Consider the following as a possibility:

Memorandum

TO:
Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop
Nazareth

FROM:
Jordan Management Consultants
Jerusalem

Thank you for submitting the résumés of the 12 men you have chosen for management positions in your new organization.  Each of them took our battery of tests, and we analyzed the results.  Our psychologist and vocational-aptitude consultant then interviewed each one.
It is the opinion of the staff that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.  They do not have a concept of working as a team.  We would recommend that you continue your search for people of proven capabilities and managerial experience.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.  Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.  Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.  We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau.  James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both register high manic-depressive tendencies.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential.  He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places.  He is highly motivated, ambitious and innovative.  We recommend Judas Iscariot as your comptroller and right-hand man.  All other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new venture.1

Reflection: Are you glad God does not see things the way humans do? As you go through your day, reflect on the following verse.  As you meditate on it, ask God to increase your ability to see situations and people as He does.

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, 

Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—
What God has arranged for those who love Him.

(1 Corinthians 2:9)

1 Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, 77.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 36 of Lent :: Hope Deferred

“But we were hoping…”
(Luke 24:21)

The two disciples walking along the Road to Emmaus were confused and disillusioned.  They had possessed great hope that Jesus was indeed the One Who was going to “redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)  But, that was before His arrest, the trial, the flogging, and, most notably, the crucifixion.  After all, this was the “third day since all this took place.” Their hope had begun to fade.  The wisdom writer, in the Book of Proverbs, reminds us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs13:12)

Reflection: In what ways are you like the two disciples walking along the Road to Emmaus?  Are there prayers you have been praying, perhaps even for years, that have yet to be answered?  Is there something you have been hoping for from God that has not come to pass?  How has this deferment affected you, your outlook on life, your view of God, and how you interact with others?  Has your heart grown sick?  The tomb reminds us that things are not always as they seem.  Jesus’ body was inside the tomb, wrapped in burial clothes, void of life.  But death was not the final word.  The tomb reminds us that regardless of how things currently look, Sunday is coming!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 35 of Lent :: Roadside Reflections

“What do you weep at, if you do not weep at this?”

(Dante Alighieri )

Reflection: Read the following passage from the Gospel of Luke. Read it slowly. Read it prayerfully. Read it responsively. As you read, listen to what the characters say. Feel what they feel. Imagine you are one of the disciples.

13Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. 14And they talked together of all these things which had happened. 15So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. 16But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.

17And He said to them, "What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?"  18Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, "Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?" 19And He said to them, "What things?" So they said to Him, "The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
20and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.

21But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. 22Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. 23When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see."

25Then He said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" 27And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. 29But they constrained Him, saying, "Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." And He went in to stay with them. 30Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.

32And they said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?" 33So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" 35And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fasting Focus :: Week Six of Lent :: The Tomb & Beyond




Time

The Gospels are the narrative of the Eternal God stepping into time and space in the Person of Jesus Christ.  This week, we will be reflecting on the time Jesus was in the Tomb.

We will be fasting time this week. Get up a half-hour or an hour earlier to read the Bible and pray.  Spend your time serving others rather than indulging yourself.  Make it a goal to bless someone through your words or actions daily.  Give someone the gift of your listening ear.

Resist the urge to share your troubles, but instead, focus on bearing someone else’s burdens.  Commit to a specific task to help someone. Perhaps help a friend move or paint, serve the poor, or stop to help a stranger, especially if you are in a hurry to get somewhere.

Keep journal entries of what it is like to spend your time on others.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 34 of Lent :: Fish and Bread

Jesus said to them,
“Come and have breakfast.”
(John 21:12)
Just before the arrest that would lead to His death, Jesus gathered His disciples together for a meal of preparation.  Shortly afterwards, they all fled in fear and dismay.  After Jesus rose from the dead, He gathered His friends together for another meal, this time for restoration.  At this meal, they brought the fish, and He brought the bread.  They brought their shame-filled brokenness.  He brought the resurrection power of forgiveness and acceptance. 

In ancient times, bread was not merely the substance of a meal, it was what they shared to make a covenant.  Jesus specifically addressed Peter in a heart-penetrating conversation. Kenneth Wuest’s translation offers one of the richest renderings of this passage found in the Gospel of John 21:15-19:
“Then when they had breakfasted, Jesus says to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a love for me called out of your heart by my preciousness to you, a devotional love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for me?  Do you consider me more precious and thus love me more than these [fish]?’  He (Peter) says to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, as for You, You know positively that I have an emotional fondness for You.’  He (Jesus) says to him, ‘Be feeding my little lambs.’ Jesus says to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a devotional love for me called out of your heart by my preciousness to you, a love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for me?’  He (Peter) says to Him, ‘Yes, Lord. As for You, You know positively that I have a friendly feeling for You.’  He (Jesus) says to him, ‘Be shepherding My sheep.’  Jesus says to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a friendly feeling and affection for me?’  Peter was grieved that He said to him the third time, ‘Do you have a friendly feeling and affection for me?’  And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, as for You, all things You know positively.  You know from experience that I have a friendly feeling and affection for You.’  Jesus says to him, ‘Be feeding My sheep. Most assuredly, I am saying to you, When you were younger, you were accustomed to clothe yourself and to walk where you were desiring to walk. But when you grow old, you shall stretch out your hands, and another shall bind you around and carry you where you do not desire.’  And this He said, indicating by what kind of death he will glorify God. And having said this, Jesus says to him, ‘Be following with me.’”[i]

Reflection: What do you notice about Jesus’ interactions with Peter? Jesus asks Peter some very poignant and piercing questions.  Pay attention to the honesty of Peter’s answers.  This is quite a contrast to the boastful claims made just a few days earlier.  Peter now stands before Jesus, a humbled man.  As you go through your day, reflect on the following statement:

Victory begins with the name of Jesus on your lips;
but it will not be consummated
until the nature of Jesus is in your heart.

Francis Frangipane


[i] Kenneth Wuest, The New Testament  : An Expanded Translation (John 21:15).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 33 of Lent :: At a Distance


“Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.”
(Matthew 26:56)
At Gethsemane, the angry crowd “seized Jesus and arrested Him.” (Matthew 26:50)  Jesus, fully expecting the mob to come, did not put up a fight.  In fact, Jesus said this had happened so that “the Scriptures would be fulfilled.” (Matthew 26:54) At His arrest, “all the disciples deserted Him and fled.”  No one was closer to Jesus than His disciples.  If anyone should have stood with Him, it should have been one of them.  They had seen and been a part of more miracles than anyone else, but they caved in.  They forsook Him.  They fled.  They left Jesus alone. 

Soon Peter would deny Christ three times.  It is easy to criticize Peter for his outright denial, but there were others who were not even close enough to the scene to disavow knowledge of Him.  Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “Peter followed Him at a distance.” Tricia McCary offers an insightful reflection on this scene:

“We often think of Peter as the one who betrayed Christ, but in reality, he was one of the few who stayed near Him after the arrest.  What might have been his thoughts, feelings, and fears as he followed at a distance?  Place yourself in the courtyard that night.  See yourself being asked about your relationship to Christ.  How would it feel to deny Him as Peter did?  Do you at times deny Him by your life?  By your words or lack of words?

“Jesus was neither surprised nor discouraged at Peter’s failures – He knew it would happen.  In fact, after His resurrection, it seems He may have sought out Peter.  Their conversation is not recorded – just the fact that it took place. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)  Imagine those moments together.  If it were you, what would you want to say?  What would you want to do?

“Consider your own weaknesses, failures, and sin.  Christ is not surprised or discouraged.  Come to Him today and receive His love and forgiveness, and pour out your heart in love.  Write a prayer of response.”

Prayer: “Oh, Lord, how often I follow You at a distance. The cost of staying by Your side at times seems too great.  I have denied You – maybe not with words, but in a thousand deeds of disobedience.  I need to see Your eyes of love across the courtyard of my life, but too often I find myself running away, tears of regret coursing through my days.  Seek me out, Lord – draw me to Your side with the lovingkindness I sorely crave.”[i]



[i] Ibid., Tricia McCary Rhodes, 45-46.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 32 of Lent :: Turning Back

“I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.
And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
(Luke 22:31-32)

Satan requested to sift Peter as wheat.  Jesus did not deny that request. Instead, Jesus prayed for Peter.  Jesus knew that Peter had to be sifted as wheat because He knew that Peter had his share of chaff that needed to be blown away.  Peter was blinded by his own pride.  Rather than thanking Jesus for His prayers or inquiring about how he could withstand the sifting, he rebutted Jesus by saying,

“Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.”
(Luke 22:33)

Jesus foresaw Peter’s denying Him three times (see Luke 22:34, 54-62), but Peter would not hear it.  After all, just a few minutes earlier, he was in the running to win the dispute concerning which of them was the greatest.  Jesus knew Peter did know his own heart, yet Jesus accepted Peter just as he was—blinded by presumption and pride.  Jesus does not give him three tips for resisting Satan’s sifting or five steps for standing firm.  No, Jesus knew that as long as there was chaff, sifting was unavoidable.

The understanding grace of Jesus is unmatched and astounding. Knowing full well what would transpire, He prayed that Peter’s faith would “not fail,” and that “when he turned back” he would “strengthen his brothers.” Just as the wounds of Christ bring us healing, God intends to use the lessons we learn from our being wounded and our overcoming our shortcomings to help others.

Reflection: How does it make you feel to know that God can take what was once your lowest, deepest, darkest moment of life and use it to bring strength, healing and encouragement to others? This is your story, and He wants you to share it with others.  Stories remind us of who we are, from where we have come, and to where we are going.  Take a few minutes and reflect on how far God has brought you, how He has changed your life, and how He is currently directing your steps.  Thank Him for what He has done and is doing in your life.

You and I may give one another the impression of being earnest, godly Christians, but before the cross we have to admit that we are not that sort of person at all.  At Calvary the naked truth is staring down at us all the time from the cross,
challenging us to drop the pose and own the truth.
Roy Hession

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 31 of Lent :: Satan's domain

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.”
(Luke 22:31)

As far as we know, Simon (also known as Peter) had not gone out and initiated a fight against Satan.  Jesus indicated that in some form or fashion, Satan had initiated an attack, or at least had permission to do so against Peter.  The Bible does not give us details of this exchange between Jesus and Satan.  Jesus does not say that He rebuked Satan or denied Satan access to “sift” Peter, but rather it says Jesus prayed for Peter.   Jesus did not refuse Satan’s request.  Why?  Did Jesus see a greater purpose in allowing Satan access to Peter?  Was there something going on within Peter that Satan saw as an entry point of attack?

To this day, Biblical scholars debate whether Satan is on earth or in hell.  Can he dwell in people or only in the world?  As inconclusive as some of these arguments may be, one thing seems to be agreed upon: Satan, the devil, is darkness. Therefore, we can rest assured, wherever spiritual darkness exists, there the devil is.
“If we tolerate darkness through tolerance of sin,” writes Francis Frangipane, “we leave ourselves vulnerable for santanic assault.  For wherever there is willful disobedience to the Word of God, there is spiritual darkness and the potential for demonic activity… Satan has legal access, given to him by God, to dwell in the domain of darkness. We must grasp this point: The devil can traffic in any area of darkness, even the darkness that still exists in a Christian’s heart… Let us recognize, that the areas we hide in darkness are the very areas of our future defeat.”[i]

Reflections: Do you know the areas where you are vulnerable to Satan’s attacks?  Is there an area of your life that is hidden in darkness?  If so, are you willing to ask for forgiveness and rid yourself of that darkness?

The greatest defense we can have against Satan
is to maintain an honest heart before God.
Francis Frangipane


[i] Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 6-7.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 30 of Lent :: Sifting as Wheat

“And while they were eating, He said,
‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray Me.’”
 (Matthew 26:21)

Jesus had gathered His closest friends to share the Passover meal with Him.  More important to Him than eating was His wanting to share His heart concerning the impending suffering and death He was facing.  He also announced that one of them would betray Him.

Can you imagine the feelings in the room?  Hearing that Jesus was going to suffer was a blow to the emotions, but hearing that someone among them would betray Him, compounded their anxiety.  Eyes began to roam around the room, locking on sudden expressions creeping across the faces of others.  Immediately, some pulled up mental scorecards kept over the last three years as they traveled together.  Who made the most mistakes?  On long days, which one showed a testy attitude and secretly grumbled?  The lists go on and on as each scanned his internal files for a perfect match for a possible betrayer. 

“Then they began to question among themselves,
which of them it was who would do this thing.”
(Luke 22:23)
Someone finally had the guts to speak up, “Not I.”  Then another chimed in, “Well… don’t look at me.”  In a matter of seconds, there was a buzz of grunts and self-supporting acclamations.  Looks turned to comments. Comments turned to defenses.  Finally, defenses turned to accusations.  Fingers began to point.  Emotions began to rise.  They were no longer whispering, instead, roaring voices clamored to be heard.

“Now there was also a dispute among them,
as to which of them should be considered the greatest.”

(Luke 22:24)

The best way for a disciple to prove that he was not going to be the one to betray Jesus was to prove himself to be the greatest in the room.  All those skilled at arguing employed this tactic at one point or another when they began to lose the battle of words.  This was not merely a mild disagreement.  The word translated as dispute, actually means “an eagerness to contend,” even “lover of strife.”[i]  We do not know how long this argument ensued.  We are not told what line of rationale they used to secure the upper hand.  We are not told whose voice was the loudest; however, it seems at the end of the round that Simon Peter may have been in the lead.

Jesus interrupted their petty squabbling, instructing them concerning true greatness, and demonstrating what pure service to others is.  Changing the subject rather abruptly, He turned to Peter, looked him in the eyes and said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Reflection: Do you find yourself talking over others to add your thoughts and comments?  Are you prone to contentedly listen in order to understand another’s perspective, or do you quickly insert your own opinions?  Do you typically answer more questions than you ask?
   If so, you may suffer from the same ailment that afflicted the disciples.  That night in the Upper Room, they seemed to have lost the ability to truly listen to what Jesus was saying.  They could not hear Him over the voices of their own hearts.  They were unable to see past their own expectations, plans and desires to accurately decipher what He meant.
   The thought, “Could it be I who will betray Him?” does not seem to cross anyone’s mind.  Rather than hearts being broken that someone would actually betray Jesus, each became defensive: “I could never betray Him!” 

Prayer: “Lord, show me my heart.  When I interrupt and talk over others, convict me.  Help me to listen—truly listen—rather than become defensive.”



[i] Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 29 of Lent :: cloud of Smoke

“And while they were eating, He said,
‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray Me.’”
 (Matthew 26:21)

Jesus had gathered His closest friends to share the Passover meal with Him.  More important to Him than eating was His wanting to share His heart concerning the impending suffering and death He was facing.  He also announced that one of them would betray Him.

Can you imagine the feelings in the room?  Hearing that Jesus was going to suffer was a blow to the emotions, but hearing that someone among them would betray Him, compounded their anxiety.  Eyes began to roam around the room, locking on sudden expressions creeping across the faces of others.  Immediately, some pulled up mental scorecards kept over the last three years as they traveled together.  Who made the most mistakes?  On long days, which one showed a testy attitude and secretly grumbled?  The lists go on and on as each scanned his internal files for a perfect match for a possible betrayer.

“Then they began to question among themselves,
which of them it was who would do this thing.”
(Luke 22:23)

Someone finally had the guts to speak up, “Not I.”  Then another chimed in, “Well… don’t look at me.”  In a matter of seconds, there was a buzz of grunts and self-supporting acclamations.  Looks turned to comments. Comments turned to defenses.  Finally, defenses turned to accusations.  Fingers began to point.  Emotions began to rise.  They were no longer whispering, instead, roaring voices clamored to be heard.

“Now there was also a dispute among them,
as to which of them should be considered the greatest.”

(Luke 22:24)

The best way for a disciple to prove that he was not going to be the one to betray Jesus was to prove himself to be the greatest in the room.  All those skilled at arguing employed this tactic at one point or another when they began to lose the battle of words.  This was not merely a mild disagreement.  The word translated as dispute, actually means “an eagerness to contend,” even “lover of strife.”[i]  We do not know how long this argument ensued.  We are not told what line of rationale they used to secure the upper hand.  We are not told whose voice was the loudest; however, it seems at the end of the round that Simon Peter may have been in the lead.
Jesus interrupted their petty squabbling, instructing them concerning true greatness, and demonstrating what pure service to others is.  Changing the subject rather abruptly, He turned to Peter, looked him in the eyes and said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Reflection: Do you find yourself talking over others to add your thoughts and comments?  Are you prone to contentedly listen in order to understand another’s perspective, or do you quickly insert your own opinions?  Do you typically answer more questions than you ask?
   If so, you may suffer from the same ailment that afflicted the disciples.  That night in the Upper Room, they seemed to have lost the ability to truly listen to what Jesus was saying.  They could not hear Him over the voices of their own hearts.  They were unable to see past their own expectations, plans and desires to accurately decipher what He meant.
   The thought, “Could it be I who will betray Him?” does not seem to cross anyone’s mind.  Rather than hearts being broken that someone would actually betray Jesus, each became defensive: “I could never betray Him!” 

Prayer: “Lord, show me my heart.  When I interrupt and talk over others, convict me.  Help me to listen—truly listen—rather than become defensive.”



[i] Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fasting Focus :: Week Five of Lent :: The Disciple's Responses



Fifth Week of Lent
The Disciples’ Responses





Social Media and Internet

This week, we will be exploring how the disciples responded to the events that surrounded Jesus’ death.  Though they made bold claims to never deny Him, in the heat of the moment there were many other things clamoring for preeminence in their hearts.

We are surrounded by noise.  Everything is saying, “Look over here,” or “Listen to this,” or “This is what you need.”  These voices, even though they may not be inherently evil, often have the ability to distract us, even numb our hearts and cause our bold declarations of dependence and trust in Christ to become diminished.  We will be fasting all forms of social networking media and Internet this week.  Turn off Twitter, FaceBook, blogs, and news.  Deal with work emails and nothing else.  Put a Lent, Out-of-Office, reply on your personal email, letting people know you will get back to them next week.

Keep journal entries of what it is like to unplug and disconnect.  Do you feel disconnected, or do you feel free?

Instead of spending time connecting with others, use that time to bond with Christ and others to advance His Kingdom here on Earth.



Saturday, April 09, 2011

Day 28 of Lent :: Place of the Skull

“Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull
(which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).”
(John 19:17)
Jesus was lead outside of Jerusalem. This is where He was crucified. The events of Jesus death and resurrection are the most significant in all of history. While there is still some dispute over the actually spot Jesus was crucified, it is well documented that He indeed was. Scripture says it was at a place called Golgotha. Calvary is the Latin form of this word. Golgotha is the Aramaic word mean, “the skull.”
Some believe, that this hillside where Jesus was crucified, was named such because the side of it looked like that of a skull. While it is uncertain, we can substantially conclude, that it was named this because it was a place of execution, where skulls and bones of criminals lay scattered. 



For Jesus, Golgotha - the place of the skull, is where His battle ended. For us however, it is at the place of the skull, where our battle begins. In other words, if we are to be effective in following the ways of Christ, the first arena of conflict where we must learn to become victorious, is the battleground of the mind; i.e., the place of the skull. It was on this hill, as Jesus breathed His last breath, that the last round of an unseen war was waged in the realm of the spirit. And, it is in the place of our own skulls, that the unseen battle of thoughts emerges. “The territory of the uncrucified thought-life,” writes Francis Frangipane “is the beachhead of satanic assault in our lives. To defeat the devil, we must be crucified in the place of the skull. We must be renewed in the spirit of our minds.”[i] The words of Andrew Murray are helpful in knowing how to pray. He writes, “As you gaze upon the cross, and long for conformity to him, be not weary or fearful because you cannot express in words what you seek. Ask him to plant the cross in your heart. Believe in him, the crucified and now living one, to dwell within you, and breathe his own mind there.”
Reflection: Meditate on the following verses:


When the Messiah was executed on the stake as a criminal,
I was too; so that my proud ego no longer lives.
But the Messiah lives in me, and the life I now live in my body
I live by the same trusting faithfulness that the Son of God had, who loved me and gave himself up for me.
[ii]
(Galatians 2:20)

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.
(Ephesians 4:23 NKJ)
Prayer: Father God, help me to take every thought captive and to be renewed in my mind. Spirit of God, make me aware of thoughts that are not surrendered to the cross of Christ. Son of God, help me to set my mind on Your Word.

My Jesus! Loaded with contempt,
nail my heart to Your feet,
that it may ever remain there,
to love You and never leave You again.

(Alphonsus Liguori)



[i] Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 3.
[ii] David Stern, The Complete Jewish Bible, Galatians 2:20.