Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lenten Devotional – Day 10

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Luke 17:20-25

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you." (Luke 17:20-21, NRSV)

Christianity is not a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of all others. Rather, it’s a call to a relationship that changes all other relationships. Jesus told us a new relationship with God also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. But we don’t always hear that from the churches. This call to love our neighbor is the foundation for reestablishing and reclaiming the common good. Which is fallen into cultural and political - and even religious-neglect. - Jim Wallis, “On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good”, Brazon Press, 2013, pp. 3-4.

Slide17  We often don't recognize the moral crisis and spiritual conflict of our age, until something "shakes us up" to the reality of our present condition. The Chinese character for signifying the idea of “crisis” combines two other characters, the one for “danger” and the other for “opportunity.” Crisis is made of both, and so too is the current situation of the church. Dangers lurk on all sides for churches, but probably the greatest dangers lies within. Dangers lurk for us because we may be looking in the wrong places. We expect God to do something very specific for us so we can live comfortably as the church, but God is at work in another part of our community and we miss the opportunity to join God as God’s partner.

  The Pharisee’s expected the Messiah to bring the kingdom or reign of God with a great deal of flashily drama and the mighty arm of God who would crush their enemies and establish His rule forever. Jesus was not what they expected and they failed to see the kingdom in their midst, because they were looking for something else.

  The reward for doing what is right and just and the penalty for sin and wrong-doing are not always experienced in this life. Scripture assures us that someday the day of the Lord and the final judgment will come. Though at the present, Jesus tells us that there will be persecution, suffering, and difficulties in this age until he comes again at the end of the world. God extends grace and mercy to all who will heed his call. Do we take advantage of this grace and mercy to seek God's kingdom and to pursue his will?

  An erroneous translation often used by other versions of scripture have said that “The kingdom of God is within you." The more precise translation is "The kingdom of God is among you." (v. 21) The implication of the new translation is that God's Spirit is most active in our relationships with one another.

  Jesus used parables to describe the Kingdom in part because you simply can’t give a definition of the Kingdom. The kingdom of God defies any definitive definition, but you come realize you are living within it in the presence of Jesus, in the presence of other disciples and you recognize you have come near to it. Hopefully, we have all had the experience of feeling we are in a special place, a place where the kingdom has come near. A place where we feel joy in the fellowship of others, we experience the power of the compassion, love, and support shared with us, the facility, the restrooms, and the coffee might not be very good, but the people are a treasure and to leave seems so hard to do.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day Nine

Friday, February 27, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 18:21-35
"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves…. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?'” (Matt. 18:23. 33)

A [man] had a particular besetting sin, and he used to confess it and God would forgive him. But no sooner had he been absolved than he would trip up and sin again. One day this happened, and he rushed back to God and said, "I'm sorry, I've done it again." And God asked, "What have you done again?" For God suffers from amnesia when it comes to our sins. God does not look at the caterpillar we are now, but at the dazzling butterfly we have in us to become. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus bids us ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who have wronged us. Not to forgive others is to shut the door to our own being forgiven. - Desmond Tutu, An African Prayer Book (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 38.

0511_BLSlide01_standard  In his book Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, Lewis Smedes says that the parable of the unforgiving servant is about God and us. It promises that if we act like the unforgiving servant, then God will act like the king. “Jesus grabs the hardest trick in the bag, forgiving, and says we have to perform it or we are out in the cold, way out, in the boondocks of the unforgiven .… He is tough because the incongruity of sinners refusing to forgive sinners boggles God’s mind. He cannot cope with it; there is no honest way to put up with it.”

  In the gospel of Matthew, Peter walks up to Jesus and says, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (18:21-22). Then Jesus tells this parable about the unforgiving servant.

  Now some will object to this open-ended approach to forgiveness, saying that it turns Christians into doormats, fails to hold sinners accountable, and invites abusers to continue their abuse. The Chinese consider Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness unmanly.

  A Chinese Christian was once explaining forgiveness to a group of people gathered in the chapel by the mission hospital. He said, “I will tell you how we obey this commandment. When you are sick or hurt, you come to the hospital and we nurse you, dress your wounds, and care for you, but you go away and revile us and lie about us. Then, when you are sick once more, you come back and we nurse you, and care for you again and again. That is forgiveness.”

  Jesus is saying that forgiveness is at the heart of life in the church — it creates a distinctively merciful community. Why is this? The parable of the unforgiving servant answers this question by revealing the reason we must offer forgiveness to one another. It has nothing to do with the pursuit of justice, and everything to do with the character of God. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven “may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves” (v. 23). So Jesus is saying that we can learn a little something about life in God’s kingdom by paying attention to a story about how this king deals with his debtors.

  The king begins by calling a debtor to appear before him. The man owes him 10,000 talents, which is an insanely large sum of money. The king orders the slave to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, so that a payment can be made. With nothing left to lose, the slave falls on his knees before the king and says, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Surprisingly, the king shows pity and releases the slave, forgiving him the entire debt (vv. 24-27).

  That’s the kind of God we have, says Jesus, a king who has mercy on us, and who forgives us our debts. Now that’s a pleasant parable, but we haven’t reached the end. That freshly forgiven slave races out comes upon a second slave who owes him a hundred denarii, a significant sum, but it’s positively microscopic compared to what the first slave owed the king. The first slave seizes the second slave by the throat and demands that he pay him what he owes. The second slave falls down and pleads with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you” (v. 29).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day Eight

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30

“'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.” (Matt. 13:27b-29)

God is often faulted for creating a world full of suffering and evil. The issue is complex, both philosophically and theologically; but surely it is inappropriate to blame God for a problem He did not initiate, and [that is] in fact, one which He has sought to alleviate, at great cost to Himself. God sent His Son to inaugurate the Kingdom and to "destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14). God is not the cause of suffering and sickness; He is its cure! Jesus' ministry and death guarantee this. - George Malone, "Those Controversial Gifts"

matthew.13.24-43Weeds  This parable is a description of a reality we would rather not admit. Can’t God do something about the enemy and do it now? What is God good for anyway if God can’t see to it that evil is eliminated? The parable of the wheat and the weeds is not told for the sake of action but for the sake of honesty. Our presence in the world as Christians is not about a full-blown plan to get rid of evil at every turn.

  Some disciples of Christ tend to believe that their calling is to seek out and purge sin and evil. Frankly, I don’t want that job. I don’t trust myself. But I do trust God. Our presence in the world as Christians is to be the good, loving and compassionate. To live the Gospel. To be the light. To be the salt. Because we are, says Jesus to be his disciples. This should be good news. This parable calls us simply to be. To be the good in the world, even it seems more profitable to be bad. To be light when darkness will surely try to snuff us out. To be salt when blandness and conformity and acceptability seem like the easier path.

  God intended His creation as good from the beginning and thereby the Kingdom, but sin, greed, lust, violence, revenge contaminated the good creation. To uproot the bad now would destroy the good. Or, to put this in the language of Jesus, we're going to have to put up with the weeds among the wheat, the phonies among the pious, the false among the true, the fake among the genuine, sinners among the saints.

  The good news is that Jesus describes this field, which is the "world" (v. 38), as a field of wheat, not as a field of weeds. When Jesus sees the world, he looks out across not a field of weeds in which there is wheat growing, but a field of wheat in which there are weeds growing. This should be encouraging news for us. We can view the world around us with all its violence, terrorism, and hatred and be discouraged and to believe that evil is all around us, about to overwhelm us and about to win. In fact, Jesus reminds us that there are more of the faithful, more of those who have not bowed the knee to Baal, more of those whose core values are still biblical ones, than we sometimes realize. Yes, the "children of evil" exist and they do damage to the crop, but they exist in a field that is predominantly a field of wheat, not weeds.

  Remarkably, Jesus doesn't offer a grand plan for getting rid of the weeds that plague the field of wheat. There's no protocol for waging war on weeds. There are no rules of engagement about marching into a field of wheat to root out the weeds. In fact, Jesus says that we should go about our business. Our job is to be wheat, not weeds. We're not called to be the farmer. Rooting up weeds is not part of our job description. We'd like to rain down hellfire and brimstone, but Jesus counsels us otherwise. Wheat farmers say that at harvest the dry weeds will just blow right through the combine.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day Seven

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Today’s Scripture Reading:   Luke 10:1-12
“But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’" (Luke 10:10-11)

“If we're going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of "Little Jesuses" to follow him into the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing kingdom of God.” ― Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church

thLAL6Y2F2  Sometimes the Kingdom of God may come near to us and we miss its appearance. Something great comes our way and we fail to recognize it. We may be looking for the extraordinary miracles of healing, power, and wonder, when the reality is that the extraordinary often comes wrapped in the ordinary, in the small, seemingly simple things.

  In 1863, a newspaper editor from Harrisburg, PA only 35 miles away from Gettysburg, heard Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which was not even the main speech of the day’s activities, when the president was to make only a few brief remarks. The next day the editor wrote in his paper: "We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they should no more be repeated or thought of."

  One of the worst things that can be said of people is that greatness passed them by, and they did not recognize it. Yet in the words of Henry David Thoreau:

    The morning wind forever blows;
    The poem of creation is uninterrupted;
    But few are the ears that hear it.

  Every one of us at some moment in our lives have felt that morning wind blowing by; every one of us has been partakers in that uninterrupted poem of creation. Yet how many of our ears have really heard it; how many of our eyes have truly seen it? What is preventing us from seeing the kingdom of God and letting it into our lives? Are we relying on seeing only the extraordinary miracles of God’s presence in our lives and missing the wonders, we can behold in the simply ordinary things of life, the seemingly insignificant moments.

  At times, we let the kingdom pass us by because the wonder of its greatness threatens our own sense of importance. We so enjoy ruling our own private kingdoms, no matter how small and insignificant they may appear to others. While pre-occupied with our own accomplishments, we fail to witness the wonders of God unfolding before us and they remain just out of our reach because we do not wish to let go even for a moment what we feel is more important.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day Six

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Today’s Scripture: John 3:5-10
  Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5, NRSV)

African-American slaves were not allowed to have their own worship and were rarely allowed access to the Bible, so they "held clandestine religious gatherings at night, a practice that continued after emancipation. The slaves saw in Nicodemus' night visit proof that it was possible to come to Jesus even when those in power forbade it. Nicodemus was a model, someone who was willing to act on his own against the will of the authorities. The slaves' faith surpassed that of Nicodemus. Nicodemus' night visit was only exploratory, and in this story in John 3, he does not understand the invitation Jesus extends to him. The slaves, by contrast, understood and embraced what Jesus had to offer. They were willing to risk their safety and their very lives to come to Jesus. The slaves are a powerful example of those who "come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God" (3:21). — Gail R. O'Day, "The Gospel of John," The New Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 555.

fish_4631c  The story of Nicodemus is the only place where John has Jesus using the phrase, “Kingdom of God” both references are related to “being born… (either above/again or water and Spirit, vs. 3, 5). Yesterday, we covered verse 3, today we will take a look at verse 5. These two verses both speak of the kingdom of God and speak about it in two different ways. Verse 3 states we need to be “born from above/again” in order to be able to “see” the kingdom of God. Verse 5, states “no one can enter (as opposed to “see”) the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

  Then Jesus tells Nicodemus, in the next verse, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (v. 6) Jesus is attempting to get Nicodemus to understand that this new or second birth is a spiritual birth coming through the Holy Spirit. We all come into this world as flesh and blood humans, but we need to have life breathed into us by the Spirit in a birth from above, in order, to “see” and “enter” the kingdom of God. Paul, states this same idea later in First Corinthians when he states, “What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15:50)

  Jesus is talking, here, about being born. If there’s one thing in life we don’t do on our own, it’s being born. We burst into this world screaming and kicking and thoroughly dependent upon others for everything. How can we ourselves possibly arrange to be reborn in the Spirit? It’s not our doing, we can avoid it or reject it, but the actual birth from above is the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a holy mystery, an awe-inspiring gift. And that is why we have a whole sacrament to commemorate it: the marvelous, grace-filled sacrament of water and the Spirit called baptism.

  What does it mean to be born of the water? Water is the symbol of cleansing. When Jesus takes possession of our lives, when we love him with all our hearts, the sins of the past are forgiven and forgotten. To have our sins washed away. We never outgrow the need for having our sins and imperfections washed away daily and continuously. The water in baptism reminds us of our need for daily cleansing and washing.

  What does it mean to born of the Spirit? The Spirit is the symbol of power. When Jesus takes possession our lives it is not only the past that is forgotten and forgiven; if that were all, we might well proceed to make the same mess of life all over again; but into life there enters a new power which enables us to be what by ourselves we could never be and to what by ourselves we could never do without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Making an affirmative decision to follow Jesus wherever he leads us. It means to have the love of Christ, the joy of Christ, the peace of Christ, the patience of Christ, kindness of Christ, the goodness of Christ, the faithfulness of Christ, the gentleness of Christ, the self-control of Christ living inside of us. It is having the Spirit of Christ taking up residence in us and living within us.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day Five

Monday, February 23, 2015

Today’s Scripture Reading: John 3:1-17

“Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." (John 3:3)

What "born again" in the gospel means, however, is literally to begin all over again, to be given a second birth, a second chance. The one who is born again doesn't all of a sudden get turned into a super-Christian. To be born again is to enter afresh into the process of spiritual growth. It is to wipe the slate clean. It is to cancel your old mortgage and start again. In other words, you don't have to be always what you have now become. Such an offer is too good to be true for many, confusing for most, but for those who seek to be other than what they are now, who want to be more than the mere accumulation and sum total of their experiences, the invitation, "You must be born again," is an offer you cannot afford to refuse. — Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1996), 188.

40-days  When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he said that no one could help being impressed with the signs and wonders that Jesus did. Jesus’ answer was that it was not the signs and the wonders that were really important; the important thing was whether a person’s inner life had experienced a new birth. In verse 3:3, Jesus tells us new birth is necessary to see the Kingdom of God and later in verse 5, he says that new birth is necessary to entering the Kingdom.

  When Jesus said that a man must be born anew or born again or born from above, depending upon the translation you use. Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus’ description. Nicodemus took Jesus too literally. The Greek word used here is challenging to translate into English. In English, it comes across to our understanding in different ways, meaning; from the beginning, anew, a complete radical change or it can mean again, or the sense, for the second time or from above, therefore from God. To undergo a radical change, like a new birth. It was based not on human achievement, but exclusively comes from the grace and power of God alone.

  This being born anew or above runs throughout the New Testament. Peter speak of being born anew by God’s great mercy “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3) and later he again talks about being born anew not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)

  In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that new birth comes from the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life comes through belief in God's only Son. Nicodemus, however, was so focused on the "How to" questions that he was confused by Jesus' answer to him. Nicodemus wanted to line up proofs and arguments in order to arrive at a clear conclusion and thereby become a believer. Nicodemus assumed that this was how faith is born and sustained. Consequently, Jesus' rebirth story was completely incomprehensible to Nicodemus.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lenten Devotional – Day Four

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 13:24-53

"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place. (Matt. 13:51-53)

“Many people think of Jesus as our Savior, as the one who will get us into heaven. So the question often is “Have I accepted Jesus as my Savior?” But we never ask the question “Have I accepted Jesus as my teacher?” ― Dallas Willard, Living in Christ's Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God

the-disciples-call-title-slide  In His parables Jesus spoke of the kingdom in many different ways. He said that the kingdom is like a farmer (Matt. 13:24), a seed (Matt. 13:31), a yeast (Matt. 13:33), a treasure (Matt. 13:44), a pearl merchant (Matt. 13:45), a fishnet (Matt. 13:47), an employer (Matt. 20:1), a king inviting people to a marriage feast (Matt. 22:2), and ten young women (Matt. 25:1). He spoke also of the glad tidings of the kingdom (Luke 8:1) and of the mystery of the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11).

  Have you understood this? Jesus asked this question of his disciples and Jesus asks us this question also. Are we starting to “get it?” Are we starting to grasp the kingdom of God for and in our lives? Jesus asks us are we understanding his parables, he tells us the kingdom is “like” something, or can be compared to something. Jesus wants us to understand his parables so that we will begin to live out those parables in our daily lives. Jesus is trying to teach us, which is primary activities with his disciples then and now.

  We recall Jesus’ first parable in Matthew 13 about the Sower and the Seed and the emphasis on the good soil. People are to be like good soil who “hear the Word of God, understand it, and bear much fruit, a hundred, sixty, and thirty fold.” Jesus wants us to understand the Word of God and also to bear much fruit as a consequence.

  They (the disciples) said yes, to Jesus’ question, "Have you understood all this?" This is the answer that Jesus wanted two thousand years ago and this is the answer that Jesus wants from us today. Who teaches you? Whose disciple are you? You are somebody’s disciple. You learned how to live from somebody else. There are no exceptions to this rule, for human beings are just the kind of creatures that have to learn and keep learning from others how to live. Jesus wants us to understand the parables about the kingdom and teach us as his disciple so we can live within the kingdom.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day Three

Friday, February 20, 2015

Today’s Scripture Reading: Mark 1:14-15
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:14-15)

“Think of (the Kingdom) like the sun. As it peeks through on a cloudy day, we do not say the sun has grown. We say, 'The sun has broken through.' Our view of the sun has changed, or obstacles to the sun have been removed, but we have not changed the sun.” ― Kevin DeYoung, What is the Mission of the Church?: Making sense of social justice, Shalom and the Great Commission

ash wednesday  Jesus made the Kingdom of God or Heaven central in His ministry and his messages to his disciples and others. Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God most frequently in telling a parable. So what is the Kingdom of God, basically the “kingdom of God refers to the reign of God or the sovereign ruling of God over His creation.

  Giving an exact definition to what the Kingdom of God is, is difficult, because you can only in part understand it with our intellect, it is best experienced as something that comes near to us. It is helpful to first understood what Jesus did not mean by the Kingdom of God.

· He was not speaking of a geographical area such as the Holy Land or the Temple.
· He was not speaking of a political entity such as the nation of Israel or the Sanhedrin.
· He was not speaking of a group of people, such as, His disciples or the church.

Rather, the kingdom of God is God’s ruling.

· It is the sovereign reign of God.
· This rule is independent of all geographical areas or political entities.
· It is true that the rule of God implies a people to be ruled, and Jesus called upon people to enter the kingdom.
· The kingdom itself should be distinguished from the people who enter it.

  Exactly what is this kingdom or reign of God, that Jesus so routinely announces? All the synoptic Gospels convey the sense that the reign of God has a certain indefinable quality in Jesus’ own teaching. Always a mystery yet an open secret, it was best passed on by way of parables, whose intent was to reveal and to hide in the same breath.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day Two

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Today’s Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:25-34

”And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?...  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matt. 6:27, 33-34)

Serenity Prayer
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen. - Reinhold Niebuhr, longer version of the popular Serenity Prayer

10941846_795078527249001_4545279517913463268_n  In this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus poses the question about adding to our span through worry, he wants to make it clear that rather than worrying he is calling us to trust God. He pointed to the birds that do not sow or reap the fields, but are fed by the heavenly Father nonetheless. He pointed to the flowers that do not toil or spin, but are clothed in beauty by the heavenly Father anyway.

  Jesus’ listeners understood how God takes care of his creation, for the birds in the air and the flowers in the field. While at the same time, Jesus understood, that his words were directed to people who, in fact, did have to sow, to reap, to toil and to spin. He wasn’t telling them they needed to stop doing those tasks. He simply wanted them and us to understand that their lives were a lot more than the sum total of our sowing, reaping, toiling, spinning, or the length and depth of our Facebook profile.

  Jesus never said that people were to build the Kingdom of God. On the contrary, the establishment of the kingdom is exclusively the work of God. God will reign, and people can contribute nothing to that reigning of God. Jesus was telling us we can’t build the kingdom through things like worry but we need to focus our attention on striving to enter the kingdom and worry will not achieve the goal. “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Strive for it.

  “Strive” means to exert a lot of energy and effort toward a goal. So, far from simply saying we should rely on the eventual coming of God’s kingdom as an antidote to daily worry, Jesus is saying we should actively work for the spread of the kingdom. And as we do, some of the things we fret about are going to become non-issues because we’ve got more important things to be focus our efforts each day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday–Lenten Devotions

Today’s Scripture: Mark 4:26-32

“He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." (Mark 4:30-32)

O, to be like one of the disciples, to whom Jesus explained everything in private as the Gospel lesson in Mark tells us. What did he tell them about the Kingdom of God that he did not tell the crowds of ordinary people to whom he spoke through parables? Did he make God's message clearer to them? I don't know the answer to that. But what can be much clearer than the image of a tiny mustard seed growing to become a large plant or a kernel of corn growing to a plant that yields a thousand fold in the harvest? Even a child can understand these images of the Kingdom of God as a reality that expands miraculously as our faith grows. - by Barbara Dilly

ashwed_3609c  Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God at first may seem unimpressive to many who witness it, but the Kingdom of God has great potential in growing into something quite tremendous. Jesus tells those who are willing to listen that the kingdom can be compared to a tiny mustard seed which grows into a bush large enough to provide shelter for all of God’s creatures.

  To Jesus’ listeners in Palestine they would have easily recognized the comparison that Jesus is describing in the mustard seed. To a first century Jew, a grain of mustard seed stood proverbially for the smallest possible thing. In Palestine this mustard seed did grow into something very much like a tree. A traveler frequently may have seen a mustard plant which, in its height, overtopped a horse and its rider. The birds were very fond of the little black seeds of the tree and many of Jesus’ listeners would have witnessed a great gathering of birds all over a mustard plant.

  Jesus in this parable is telling us to never be discouraged by small beginnings. Faith which begins as small as a grain of mustard seed is sufficient, even the smallest conceivable amount of faith is a beginning despite its size. We may suffer moments when we believe our efforts are producing little results; but if that small effort is repeated and repeated with faith and reliance on what God can do through us that the small effort will become very great indeed.

  We often feel that for all that we can do, it is hardly worthwhile starting a thing at all. Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom must start somewhere with someone with even the smallest of faith, everything must have a beginning. Nothing emerges full grown. As a disciple of Christ our duty is to start where we are with what we have available even if small and the cumulative effect of all the small efforts can in the end produce amazing results.

  Elizabeth Fairchild writes about her first Christmas without her mother and the small beginnings she was seeking, “It was the first Sunday in Advent and my husband ... rather gingerly, brought up the subject of Christmas, knowing that I was immersed in the full bloom of grief. Mom had died on Labor Day and this was the first Christmas to be marked without her. I did not "feel" like Christmas.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Introduction to 2015 Lenten Devotionals

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” ― Frederick Buechner

KingdomOfGodLent  The theme I selected for this year’s Lenten devotionals is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:33. In chapter six, Jesus is speaking about worry and he comes to his conclusion about worry by stating, we are to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (v. 33) I became interested in exploring what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God or Heaven a couple of years ago and started to read, study, and collect information and notes about the kingdom.

  I work persistently for months to get these devotions done before the beginning of Lent. Each day I worked diligently and my work would keep getting bogged down. As my work progressed, I would find new avenues and ideas to explore, more scripture to read and study, and more references to study to understand particular ideas which would develop in my mind. Eventually, it came to me that God was trying to tell me something important. God seemed to say, “Lee, slow down don’t be too quick to get these devotionals done. Take the time to speak with me in prayer about the kingdom. I have many things to teach you along the way about the kingdom.” God was telling me they would get done in time, but at God’s choosing not mine.

  Lent for me over the years has become a special time for spiritual reflection and growth. For several years, I have written daily Lenten devotions, which I initially did only for my own personal Lenten journey. Then, around 1999, I started to share my devotions in a printed Lenten Prayer and Devotional Booklet, which I generally shared with whatever congregation I was serving at the time, if finances were available. The cost of printing a Lenten booklet eventually got too expense and I started sharing them on my blog, by e-mail and Facebook. So, please feel free to share these devotions with family, friends and neighbors.

  Lent is chiefly about growing in our love for God and our neighbor. Jesus teaches that these are the greatest of the commandments. To love is worth more than all of the offerings, sacrifices, and penitential practices that we could do for the next thousand years. But Jesus is not speaking of a cheap love. It is a love that we receive and give with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Love is the main focus for our lives lived in the kingdom of God. This is truly Lent.