Nature’s Song

Read Psalm 19:1-6

A few months ago we moved to a new state, a new city, a new neighborhood, and a new house. We are fortunate to live in a quiet portion of our city. The sounds which usually can be heard after dinner are the sounds of nature. Our new house has a spacious deck on the back for which we recently purchased some new outdoor furniture. This has led to a new, favorite pastime of sitting on our deck quietly while listening to the sounds of nature. Our neighborhood  is full of trees so the sounds of birds, later to be joined by sounds of frogs, make a beautiful melody. Nature reminds us of the wonder and power of the Lord.

In a song of praise to God, the writer of this psalm proclaims the greatness of the Lord demonstrated in nature. The proclamation which nature makes is not by using flowing words but instead through the greatness of its display. The wonder of the cycles of nature, the vastness of the sky, and the feelings generated in the life of the observer, puts before us the magnificence of the One who created and maintains  all of nature.

As I sit on my deck in the evening, experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of God’s creation around me, awe overwhelms me. My soul joins in the chorus of praise sung by nature and the psalmist. It is important for each of us to take the time to truly experience the wonderment of what the Lord has created. Soon, you will be moved  to join in the praise song for our God.

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.

Believing

Read John 20:24-29

People accept information in different ways. For some individuals, if a trusted friend or relative tells them something, they accept what is shared as truth. Other people need to see some type of physical evidence before they trust new information. In between are what may be referred to as “situational acceptors.” These individuals examine the situation, i.e., the person who is sharing, the circumstances surrounding the information, and the impact of the information upon them, before deciding if physical proof is necessary.

In the passage from John’s gospel account, we encounter Thomas who is definitely a physical evidence acceptor. Jesus had just appeared to the Apostles for one of the first times since his resurrection. Thomas was away doing something at the time of the appearance. When Thomas returns, the others tell Thomas that Jesus is alive and they have seen him. The information seems illogical to Thomas. Even though he has spent almost three years with the disciples, he was not willing to accept their verbal declaration of Jesus being alive. After all, he had watched him die on a cross. Thomas demands physical evidence that who they claim to have seen was truly Jesus and that he was indeed resurrected. Jesus appears again and provides Thomas with the physical evidence which he needs. Then Jesus refers to you and me.

What type of person are you when it comes to believing information? Are you like Thomas who demanded the physical evidence before accepting? Maybe you are a situational acceptor. Jesus says to us that it is great if you come to believe after seeing but it is even better to believe without seeing. Belief in Jeans requires us to go beyond the evidence and to see with the heart, or spirit. Belief in Jesus must be within our very spirit; it must be deeper than just a factual knowledge.

Lessons to Learn

Read John 21:15-19

One of the more interesting post-resurrection stories is the one found in our reading today. Jesus had appeared to his closest disciples and they were all sharing in a meal. When the eating was done, while the cleaning up was underway, Jesus asks Peter about the love the disciple has for Jesus. In this interaction, there are a few lessons for us.

The first lesson is the connection Jesus makes between words and actions. After each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter to feed or tend Jesus’s sheep. Of course, Jesus is talking about the other followers, both present and future. What is obvious in Jesus’s words is the expectation not to just declare a love for the Lord but to show that love by caring for others. Our love for Jesus must be manifested in our acts of love toward others.

The second lesson here is one of grace. Jesus asks Peter three times to declare his love for the Lord. Three times Peter denied any relationship with the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Now in an act of grace and redemption, Peter is given the opportunity to not only acknowledge a relationship but to declare the depth of his love in the relationship. While Peter became frustrated by the repetition, Jesus knew the necessity to counter Peter’s previous actions. We learn of the efforts Jesus will make to offer us grace and redemption. Even when we do not see a necessity in what our Lord asks of us, our Lord knows what we need to overcome the guilt of our past.

The third lesson illustrated here is the need for us to give up control. Jesus tells Peter that there will come a time when someone else will make decisions for him. He indicated that Peter will need to surrender control. Jesus then says, “Follow me!” If we are going to follow Jesus, we must leave behind our previous, or “younger,” attitudes of being in charge of our destiny and choices. Following the Lord requires us to surrender control of our life to the Lord, go where the Lord takes us.

Becoming Possible

Read Ephesians 3:20-21

What are some things in life which seem unimaginable? As time moves forward, things which humans have thought impossible have become possible. History records an endless number of situations when humans have declared something impossible which today we take for granted. Human airflight, speaking to someone over five thousand miles away instantly, living in space, are just a few examples. While some feats take many years to become possible, we are witness to the impossible becoming reality. Yet even as far as humanity has come (and will go), humanity still has limits.

At the end of a prayer which Paul is writing for the believers in Ephesus, we read a benediction in today’s verses. Paul is speaking of God’s ability to do more than we even ask or can imagine. Notice that this great power of God is in conjunction with us. Paul says that this power to do the unimaginable works in us, or through us. Because of God’s choice to work through us, Paul goes on to say glory should be given in the church and in Christ.

Paul places perspective on the achievements of humanity. The advancements which have been made through discoveries, inventions, and work of humans are possible through the power of God. What humanity imagines into reality is God working through us. Because of God providing the power in abilities, skills, imagination, challenges, and wisdom, the impossible of yesterday becomes possible today. This truth is reason enough to give God the glory.

Gethsemane

Read Mark 14:32-51

Today marks the day when we recall all the events of Jesus’s last night with his disciples before his resurrection. We remember him bowing to clean the feet of his closest disciples. We hear the prediction which he makes in regard to this betrayal. We are witnesses to his telling Peter that this man who swears his dying allegiance would deny even knowing him, not once but three times. We sit at table with the Lord as he gives us the institution which we now call the Lord’s Supper, a partaking in and remembrance of the giving of his body and blood for love of us. Finally, we follow along up a hill in the Mount of Olives to a place known as Gethsemane. At this place we witness his full surrender and complete commitment to the greatest act of love we could ever know. Even though he is conflicted and in great despair, he commits to what he does for love.

Come to Gethsemane…

A Choice

Read Mark 12:1-9

There are concepts which in their complexity can be difficult to understand. When we are younger, teachers take complicated concepts and break them down so we might understand the parts before understanding the whole. Teachers also learn that a student may need a concept explained in a different way in order to gain understanding. As a wonderful teacher, Jesus understood this. Jesus used parables, or storytelling, to communicate complicated messages in an understandable way.

A parable which Jesus told was about a vineyard owner and the tenants who worked his vineyard. The owner sent some servants and his son at harvest time to collect some of the harvest. As each one was sent, the tenants beat them, put them back with nothing, and even killed some of them including his son. The owner came himself, killed the tenants, and recruited new tenants.

This story was Jesus’s attempt to explain God’s viewpoint of how the Hebrew people have behaved and the coming response. All the prophets, angels and messengers had come to the people to give God’s message and bring the people back in relationship with God. The people rejected and even killed these servants of the Lord. Not wanting to give up on the people, God sends the Son. At some point, after endless rejection, God will let the people go to their own destruction and welcome in those who have chosen a relationship with the Lord.

The proverbial ball is always in our court. God will never reject any one of us. We will be sent messenger after messenger who invites us to share in the final harvest. Jesus came so even if we choose to reject God’s servants, we are given the ultimate way back to God. However, it remains our choice whether to accept or reject those who God has sent.

Authoritative Upheaval

Read Mark 11:15-19

The passage chosen for today is filled with many interesting details. This is also a passage which many people can relate to since Jesus displays the emotion of anger which everyone deals with frequently. The scene which unfolds creates a dynamic in regard to necessary customs, authority, and greed.

The custom of the time when this scene plays out is that after centuries of the Hebrew people offering sacrifices as delineated in the scriptures of Moses, the availability of needed sacrificial animals and offerings was reduced. A shift from a purely agrarian lifestyle to a mix of tradespeople, merchants and farmers had taken place. Jesus, himself, was not of an agricultural or merchant background but was part of a family that plied the trade of carpentry. This led to the custom of people purchasing the necessary elements for sacrifices from merchants in the temple courts. In addition, outside the temple the people had to use the currency of the occupying Romans while in the temple, conly the Hebrew currency was allowed. This necessitated someone to make the conversion of currency. Why then was Jesus so upset?

The issue for Jesus is that some of the merchants and money exchangers were profiting large sums from there necessary services. In addition the high amounts, the poor utilized these services at a disproportionately higher level than the wealthy because they needed approved sacrificial elements more often. For Jesus, this taking advantage of the poor stood in sharp contrast to God’s instructions.

Observing the responses of the chief priests, teachers, and the people indicate that an issue of authority is playing out here. Jesus is seen by the chief priests and teachers as a threat to their authority. His apparent upheaval of long-standing customs is evidence of his devised attacks upon them. The people, however, see the matter differently. They are amazed at the authority which is inherent in his teaching. Jesus connects actions and words in a consistent way which is not what they have witnessed from the leadership of others. This gives him authority  in their viewpoint.

Another interesting aspect is the timing of this outburst on Jesus’s part. It appears that this scene occurs during Jesus’s final visit to Jerusalem prior to his arrest, crucifixion, death and resurrection. Could the overturning of the merchant and money exchanger tables be a foreshadowing of the overturning of the whole sacrificial system which Jesus’s death will bring about? Jesus will become the final and fully sufficient sacrifice for the redemption of humanity. After his crucifixion, there will no longer be a need for these merchants and money exchangers in the temple courts. The temple will truly become a place of prayer and worship.

Our takeaway from this passage could be three-fold. The first is to not use necessity to line one’s pockets, especially at the cost of the less fortunate. Second, the connection between words and actions gives us a better perception of true authority.  Third, remember the all-sufficient sacrifice has been made in Jesus Christ. You are fully redeemed and no sacrifice on your part is demanded any longer.

Renewed

Read Isaiah 40:27-31

There are some weeks when Friday arrives and a person can be mentally and/or physically exhausted. This is the reason that T.G.I.F. (thank goodness it’s Friday) came into existence. In some situations, this level of exhaustion  can be brought on in a single day. Whether it is one day or a series of days, this type of exhaustion can lead to irritability, mistakes, depression, or all the above. At this point we have to search outside ourselves for the strength to move forward.

The Hebrew people clearly were feeling this way when Isaiah was writing the words for today. A sense of exhaustion and abandonment prevail in the thoughts of the people. They feel God is not even paying attention to their plight. In response, Isaiah says that God never faces exhaustion and is very aware of what is happening. It is God who is the source of revitalization and strength when human power fails. The weariness and stumbling of people of all ages can be overcome by the Lord. The energy provided by God will cause those who believe to soar and go forward unfailingly.

Next time you are drained, feeling as though you are unable to take one more step forward, turn  to the Lord. Take some time to spend in the presence of your inexhaustible God. The Lord is very aware of what you are experiencing. The One who loves you desires to restore you. You will find renewal which will allow you to soar once again.