Telling Our Story

Read John 4:39-42

The passage for today is one which always amazes me when I read it. The concept that by one person telling her story, a whole village is curious about Jesus, and many came to believe even before meeting him, is astonishing. The door of opportunity has been opened because instead of keeping silent, the woman shared her story.

This passage follows the telling of Jesus’s interaction with a woman at the well of Jacob. All of this takes place without any witnesses. It is recorded here only because the writer learned the story from the woman just as the villagers had learned it. If the woman had not shared this story of love and redemption, we would not have known about it.

The words in this passage convict us. When we choose not to share with others our stories regarding Jesus in our lives, we are preventing the possibility of others getting to know Jesus deeper. The Samaritan woman puts forth an example of how we are to share our encounters with the Lord. When we do, amazing results can occur as we read about here.

Only Bare Necessities

Read Mark 6:7-11

When going on a trip, I have a tendency to overpack. This tendency may be attributed to my desire to be prepared for whatever may come my way. I pack a complete extra outfit in case I spill on myself or I have to unexpectedly stay for an extra day. Wanting to have the right outfit, I tend to include a casual outfit for each day as well as one dressier outfit in case we go to a fancier restaurant. Naturally, each outfit may require different shoes and different belts. Then there is also the need to have something to wear for just hanging out in the hotel room or the house where I am staying. You can see why I have a habit of overpacking.

Jesus feels that some of his disciples are ready to go out on their own to teach and heal. He sends them in pairs (probably for moral support). His instructions include what they should take along. They are basically to head out with the bare minimum. Leave almost everything behind is Jesus’s direction.

Jesus may have wanted the disciples to learn the value of dependency upon others. Today as I read this passage, I thought of another lesson Jesus may have intended to teach here. Possibly Jesus is teaching the benefit of leaving life’s trappings behind. By not taking so much with them, the disciples had less of a burden to carry as they traveled. They also did not approach a house with a lot of stuff to haul into the house when invited. A freeing could provide a better opportunity to focus on the needs of the ones who the disciples encounter.

What extra baggage may you be carrying when the Lord sends you? There are times when the trappings of the church should be left behind. For many of us, we have emotional  baggage which we carry with us as we journey. Our opinions or judgments may be something we take with us into situations when we are sent. All of these cause our focus to be less on the ones to whom the Lord is sending us, and more on ourselves. Jesus tells us to leave these things behind.

What do you need to leave behind? How can leaving these things behind free you to be more focused on those to whom the Lord  sends you? Afterall, do you really need to take anything but Christ where you go on your ministry journey?

Remembering Is Important

Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9

How do you make sure that you remember important things? I am a person who is very grateful for technology serving as a memory aid. Alexa helps me keep track of my various shopping lists. Google Calendar syncs with all my electronic devices and laptop so that I remember appointments, birthdays, and anniversaries. Microsoft To Do is on all my electronic devices to assist me in remembering the various tasks which I have each day. While the system is not perfect, i.e., I have to remember to add things to these various platforms, I would be much less successful in remembering things without this technology.

God wants the Israelites to remember the commands, laws, and decrees which they have been given. Like the various methods I use to remember important details, God gives the Israelites a variety of ways to remember. God instructs the people to integrate these guides into every aspect of their lives. They are to talk about them, create visual reminders, and incorporate them into their daily activities.

As the Israelites were instructed to remember God’s guidance, so we too are instructed. The teachings  passed down to us through the prophets, Scripture writers, Apostles, faith leaders, and especially Jesus, should infiltrate every aspect of our lives. We should talk regularly about these teachings with our family and fellow believers. We should think about them throughout our daily activities. We should place reminders where we see them on a regular basis. This is how we impress them upon our hearts as God instructed the Israelites to do.

The Invite

Read Romans 10:9-13

It is always exciting when you go to your mailbox and find an invitation in the stack of mail which you received that day. For some reason, receiving an invitation creates joy in one’s life. Maybe it is because being the recipient communicates that you have value to the sender. An invitation tells you that you are thought of and included. There is also excitement which accompanies an invitation since usually it is connected with some joyful celebration.

The passage today presents an invitation. Particularly, this invitation is to be saved from a sinful life and the consequences of such a life. Instead of making an RSVP like other invitations request, this one makes the request to declare and believe. The believing is done with the heart, or the core of one’s being. The declaring is done with the lips, an outward acknowledgment. What we are asked to declare and believe is “Jesus is Lord.” By fulfilling this request, a guarantee is given that the one doing so will be saved.

Each day, we are invited to call upon the Lord for this guarantee. We have received our invitation to redeem the promise. Each day, we have the opportunity to declare and believe, whether for the first time or as a renewal.

The Why

Read 1 Peter 3:13-16

A question that presents a challenge to us at times is, “Why do you do (fill in the blank)?” There are times when our answer to the question is simple and fairly straightforward.  However, other times we struggle to answer the question because we struggle to come up with an explanation which satisfies even ourselves. Having the ability to answer this question may prove beneficial to our growth and even to the growth of others. Some occasions lead to great introspection which can develop self awareness. Our answers may open doors to insights and opportunities.

As followers of Christ, we are to emulate the behaviors and actions of our Lord. In reading Scripture, we see Christ was always serving and teaching others. One would certainly describe Jesus’s words and actions as good. If we are working to be an example as our Lord has been, our words and actions should be labeled as good by others. When/if this occurs, it is quite possible that we will be asked why we are doing/saying these things.

In the midst of the discussion in 1 Peter, we encounter the author speaking about explaining ourselves. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” This hope is clearly linked to the good being discussed here. The reminder is that the good we do stems from the hope which we have in Jesus Christ. This good is going to cause others to ask questions. We need to be prepared to explain in a gentle and respectful way. What a wonderful opportunity to open others to the love of our Lord.

Are you prepared?

A Lesson and Hope

Read Luke 23:39-43

Many famous leaders and celebrities become concerned about the legacy which they leave after their time in the public spotlight is over or they have died. There is a part of each one of us desiring to be remembered. One of the reasons we erect grave markers is to ensure we are not forgotten. Monuments and memorials of every shape and size are scattered throughout our land, our schools, our churches, and our institutions. We expend a large amount of time and money to remember.

A very poignant moment in Luke’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion is when there is a conversation involving two criminals and Jesus. As the three men hang on crosses, one of them  appears to be belligerent and mocks Jesus. The other criminal has a much different view of the situation. He sees Jesut as innocent  and undeserving of this cruel punishment. He sees Jesus as who others claim him to be. The man rebukes the other criminal, acknowledges his own guilt, and then makes a request to Jesus. He asks Jesus to remember him. The man wished to be remembered by the King of Kings, who he recognizes even as he hangs in agony. Jesus not only promises the man that he will remember him but promises that the man will be with Jesus in the kingdom.

Throughout the gospel recordings of Jesus’s ministry, we encounter Jesus promising the disciples that he would prepare a place for them, they would one day join him where he is, and he would always be with them. The criminal who hung on a cross beside Jesus is unknown to us until we meet him in this passage. There is no mention by Jesus or the man or Luke that this man had been a disciple of Jesus. Yet he receives the same promise that Jesus had made to his followers.

The criminal provides us a lesson and a hope. Observing what the request was from the criminal is important. He did not ask to be released from his punishment. He did not ask for some type of a miracle. The man asked to be remembered. A request that is not unfamiliar to us. Jesus’s response to the man provides us hope. We have not spent years physically walking with Jesus. We have not stood in front of the Lord declaring our commitment to him. We have come to know Jesus at what may be determined as the end of our world understanding. Yet the promise Jesus made to the Apostles, the disciples, and this man on a cross is our promise as well. Jesus promised not to only remember us but that we will be with him in the kingdom as well.

The Core

Read John 15:9-17

Yesterday I provided my readers with a series of questions to respond to after reading this passage. I benefited from the responses which I received. My promise yesterday was that I would write a response today.

This passage allows us to be insiders to a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples prior to his death and resurrection. He is trying to prepare them for what will come soon and how they are to respond. This conversation provides a core for us as we strive to live life post Jesus’s death and resurrection as well.

As I look at this passage, I have two images which emerge for me. The first image is one of a package completely wrapped in a red cellophane. The second image is one of dough with red food coloring flowing completely through it. Both images involve the color red because it is the color that for me is connected with love. Love is the main point of what Jesus says here. A love which surrounds and is fully integrated in a person’s life.

A friend of Jesus is anyone who is surrounded by and infused with the love belonging to the Lord. Since this person lives all of life in Jesus’s love, this love flows naturally out to others. Jesus chose us to be the recipients, receptacles, and bearers of love. Because this love became a part of who we are, we naturally share it with others. While we continue to be imperfect in consistently sharing love, we see here that the Lord desires us to continue in the effort.

We also see Jesus makes a connection between joy and love. Joy and love are expressions and experiences of the soul. Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting and is a reaction to events around us. Love can be an emotion which is also fleeting but the love Jesus references here is lasting as described above. When thus love envelopes us and penetrates us, as Jesus’s love does, it enhances and partners with the joy of our soul.

All of who Jesus is and does finds its core in love. Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, that anyone who is a friend of the Lord has love as their core. When love is your core, your life expresses it and your joy is complete.

Never Alone

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

(Matthew 28:20b, NIV)

The writer of Matthew’s gospel account ends with the words above. It is part of the scene during Jesus’s physical leaving. Jesus has just given all his followers their marching orders and he tells t hem this. This was a comfort at that time. Thesewords can be a comfort to each of us as well.

The difficulty can be to remember this promise when life brings on challenges. We can feel alone as we try to navigate the brokenness of our world and our lives. It is in the brokenness where we will find Jesus.

Hope for Tomorrow

There are times when facing tomorrow can seem like a daunting task for many people. We live in a world which has experienced over two years of change and uncertainty through a global pandemic. Many times there have been glimmers of hope only to experience setbacks when new strains of the virus emerge. Our world began to breathe a sigh of relief as it appeared vaccines were able to manage the effects of the virus. Then in the midst of our sigh, one large nation  begins an unprovoked, aggressive attack upon a smaller, neighboring nation. Now it is not a virus in nature killing innocent men, women and children but the weapons and tactics of humans used on fellow humans. Tomorrow can easily look rather bleak.

Yet even in the midst of all of this, Easter still came. In Easter, and during this Easter season, we are reminded that death no longer has a final say. Viruses, diseases, bombs, weapons, aggression, and violence no longer stand in control of today or tomorrow. No, Easter tells us that Christ is risen and because he lives we can face all of our tomorrows.

Shame Free

Read Romans 8:1-4

A challenge which is ever before us is to move beyond the shame of our past. Each one of us can easily come up with a list of actions we have taken or words we have spoken which we regret. Since not one of us can claim to live a sinless life, there are sins which we can recall without much effort at all. We are instructed, and Scripture clearly states, that when we have sinned we are to confess our sin and seek forgiveness. Most of us follow that instruction regularly. The challenge comes after we have confessed. More often than not, we continue to carry the shame associated with our sin way into the future. When we do, we are forgetting the rest of what Scripture teaches us and the full meaning of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Paul is attempting to teach the believers in Rome about Jesus’s death and resurrection. He is trying to help them understand that a significant change occurred during that three-day period. Paul wants them to realize that there is no need to carry the shame of their sin into their future. In Jesus’s death, he removed the condemnation of sin. The death associated with sin and the shame associated with sin has been removed. In place of death and shame, a new life led by the Spirit has emerged. This is affirmed in Jesus’s resurrection, a new birth into a new life.

The challenge each of us face is to let go of the shame associated with our sin. Shame is a remnant of death because it kills a portion of our spirit. When we carry shame, we are living our old life. Accept the gift Jesus gave to each of us, the gift of complete forgiveness and a new way of living. Accept the resurrection not solely for the time after your earthly life but now. Leave shame in the old life before your acknowledgement of the Lord. Live in the new, abundant life of forgiven sin, free of shame.