Saturday, April 19, 2014

4/19 by Ann Wetzel

This year’s Lenten theme is “to follow Jesus”.  I have to admit, I am a bit of a nerd as one of my favorite phone apps is the dictionary/thesaurus.  I further investigated the words follow, follower or following.  The thesaurus includes these synonyms: to chase, ensue, pursue, to be a disciple, and to tailgate!  As I pondered on the word tailgate, I was reminded of a reckless driver who is much too close to me, or of enjoying a party at a football game.  Am I recklessly chasing too close to Jesus or in celebration with Him or am I pursuing meaningless things that have no eternal value as Solomon so well describes in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes:  “Meaningless! Meaningless! …” ?   In Matthew 4:19-20:  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed Him; they recklessly tailgated Jesus, and no doubt are celebrating with Him today!  

As I meditated on this, I began to question myself.  Either I am following Jesus or I am not.  I cannot follow Him with my agenda.   It is His way or no way.  I must follow him to the cross and die with Him. As John the Baptist said, “He must become greater, I must become less.”(John 3:30)  This creates tension, as much of life seems to be about waiting or living in the “gray.”  I am always waiting for someone, waiting for something or waiting for the next season before following Jesus. Following Jesus is also not “gray”, either I am or I am not. Following Jesus requires action not tarrying.

The time of Jesus’ ministry was short and it demanded full, perhaps even reckless, attention and commitment from his disciples.  Is this any different today?  Our time is also short!  James 4:14:  “What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Our days are numbered and time moves by in a flash. Although the time is short, the consequences are of eternal value.  A decision is required: am I following Jesus to the cross, the empty tomb and the resurrection or not?  Amen!

Friday, April 18, 2014

4/18 by Marion Kuszyk

In Psalm 22 and Lamentations 3, the prophets wrote about what would be Jesus' struggles on Good Friday.  As I ponder what it means to really follow Jesus this Good Friday, I am struck by the supreme sacrifice he made for us.  What is profound is that Jesus knows our struggle with sin because he took it on himself!  At the Journey With Jesus event last week, Heather Henry discussed sacrifice and helped our understanding of what sacrifice really means.  So, in simple terms, a sacrifice is when you think of something you really value and you give it up to help others.  Being a mother, I think about this in new terms.  I value my sleep and my free time.  When my children were babies, I sacrificed sleep so that they could be fed.  Now, I sacrifice my sleep to care for them when they are sick.  I sacrifice my free time so that they can attend lessons, games and other events which will shape their lives.  So, in order to really love, one must sacrifice.  When the meaning of sacrifice is put in these terms, I realize now just HOW MUCH Jesus loves us!  He sacrificed his LIFE for us, not just sleep and free time!  When I stop to actually internalize his suffering, I become overwhelmed.  I have difficulty even grasping the amount of physical and emotional pain he endured all so that we are free from the bondage of sin.  One comment Heather made really sticks with me.  She said that while the physical sacrifice of dying on a cross was great, the bigger sacrifice was taking on our sin and being separated from God because being united with God is what he values the most.  When we sin, we become separated from God so the fact that Jesus was willing to be separated from God just so we never have to be apart from God is the very embodiment of sacrificial love!  His love for us makes me want to follow him to the ends of the earth and to sin no more!  Yet, as I even write these words, I struggle with my sin.  It is a comfort to know that Jesus actually understands that I struggle with my sin.  He knew that Peter, even though he pledged to lay down his life to follow Jesus, that he would struggle with his own sin.

John 13:36-38:
Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?"
Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."
Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you."
Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me?  I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!"

Even though Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, after the resurrection, Peter did follow Jesus to the ends of the earth!  Why?  Because he understood he was free from the bondage of sin and that God gave him grace.  He understood that God gave us ALL grace!   Peter did lay down his life so that people would know about Jesus and to teach them how to really follow him.  He instructs in 1 Peter 1:13-20:
"Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  "Be holy, because I am holy."
Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake."

In Psalms 22 and Lamentations 3, the prophets also reveal God's glory.
Psalm 22:22-31:
"I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you.
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the LORD will praise him-
may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him-
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generation will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn-
for he has done it.

So, if Jesus shows love for us by his supreme sacrifice, we can show love for him by our sacrifice as well.  We can sacrifice our self-serving desires and follow Him!  We can care for the suffering people and it shows that we care for Him!  We can give people hope by sharing the good news that he loves us so much, he sacrificed his life for us!  Certainly, following Jesus has challenges because he does not go down an easy road.  However, following Jesus is the only way to find the true meaning of grace and love.  Jesus is the way to eternal life!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

4/17 by Kim Cox

Following the Right Leader

Whenever anyone tells me to follow them the first thing my brain goes to is (truthfully) not the bible but
DISNEY! For days I can’t get the darn “Following the Leader” song from Peter Pan out of my head. That
song is actually quite ironic as you have the followers (The Lost Boys) angering bears, monkeys, etc and
the leader (John) is ignorantly unaware that he is about to lead them into an ambush. And I can’t help
but think, “Isn’t that like us”.

Some “John” who is a persuasive, well spoken, possibly good looking person stands up exclaiming that
they have the newest, brightest, piece of heaven that is going to save humanity and we follow them
full hearted only to find out too late that it wasn’t quite what we had in mind. The extra hours at our
job didn’t lead to that promotion (or the feeling we wanted from it), our new iphone is about to be
outdated in 2 months by the iphone45, or there really wasn’t a brand new wagon outside the house and
your older brother and sister had lured you out maliciously to lock you out of the house while they were
“so-called babysitting” (true story).

The POINT is that we should be wise with who we choose to follow in showing us the purpose of our
lives. There is only one GOOD leader and his name is Jesus Christ. The hope would be that if we were
hearing wisdom from our trusted friends and comrades around us that they too would be following
Christ as well. I (follow) Christ, THEY (follow) Christ, I (follow) Them that (follow) Christ. After all, Christ
actually wants to take care of you. Lk: 22-24

Now I, who know to follow Christ with my life, fall into the “The Lost Boys” category. While I am
following Christ with my life, I keep poking at those around me. And while I doing those things that we
know that we do, those “stuffing our umbrellas in people’s nose” things, I realize I’m not showing the
best side of the person I follow. We have the great privilege to be a reflection of Christ’s love. Titus 3:3-8
Reminder for this Lenten season: Follow Christ, Reflect his love… stop hitting others in the nose :p

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

4/16 by Josh Horton

As most of you know because you've either read it about me or have heard me proclaiming it from the mountain tops, I'm a HUGE fan of a professional soccer team from London: Chelsea Football Club. Now, my passion for Chelsea means a few things.

The first, is that I read just about every piece of writing that is available to us Americans on the team. I wake up and it's actually one of the first things on my mind (partially because the first half of their day in the UK happens while I'm sleeping). I scour the web searching for analysis on the previous match and predictions for the next one.

The second is that almost everywhere I go I'm talking about the famous CFC. I talk to my girlfriend about it all of the time (she's kind enough to listen to me blab), I'll explain parts of the game to people that they sometimes don't care about. And, when there are fans of other teams who bad mouth Chelsea, it wells up this desire in me to fight their every negative statement. 

Lastly, it means that I'm connected to Chelsea fans all over the place- all over the world even. Through outlets such as social media, I can talk to British fans who attend games and can learn from their expert and experienced knowledge. I can gather with fellow Chelsea supporters at local pubs and restaurants to cheer on our team together. Sometimes supporting Chelsea means I will love complete strangers just because they're part of the Blue Family.

Interestingly, while in America we call ourselves "fans" when we like a sports team, Englishmen and women refer to themselves as "followers." Pretty wild, isn't it? Now, following Jesus is and will always be more significant than following some soccer team (even if they are amazing). However, I think that many of the principles that are pivotal to being TRUE followers of a team are also irreplaceable when it comes to following Jesus. 

When we follow Him, it means we take in every piece of information we can about Him. Truly following Jesus means that within us there is a passion to consume all things Christ! To want to learn all we can out of admiration. This passion is followed by a consuming desire to share Christ's awesomeness with everyone we meet. To give them the stats- whether they seem interested in them or not because of how much it excites us. We can't contain it! And following Him means we engage with other followers over the great, great thing that unites us. Our incredible salvation- the ultimate victory- that Christ himself offers. 

To follow Jesus, we must not just be "fans" who like teams, but followers, whose every breath IS laced with joy of simply being allowed to follow. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

4/15 by Darrell Fernandez

Hmmm…  A Lenten blog…  What can I write about when the topic is “Follow?”

This is a particularly good question when I am doing a lot of following but don’t know what it is I’m following.  And, it feels a lot more like chasing then following! 
It’s also a good and necessary question when my “chase” is not focused with a vision that looks anything like the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.  My chase doesn’t include:
·         Continual thankfulness for Jesus’ pain and suffering for those of us reading this (and those not reading this.)
·         Jesus’ teachings that He lived and died for.
·         Following – Listening, hearing, learning and living by His teachings.

As I think about this topic, I can see that “Following” is easier said than done….  But if I can put a spin on this, I think there is a way that will help all of us “follow” (myself included.)

I think for many of us…. We need to lead to follow.  I know, you’re saying… “What??????”
Take a minute to read on, as this will hopefully make sense and hopefully have some ROI of your time.  Keep “Lead to Follow” in mind and let’s think about that!!

We’ll start with a few examples…
1.       A few weeks ago, Phil Van Horn mentioned that he was nervous about his commitment to lead a “Men’s Group” but he felt a calling.  While he has influenced many men, it’s important to mention here that he has also shared that he has learned to trust and follow in the process.
2.       While I was excited to lead the “Foundations” class with Michele, I was also nervous.  However, the role caused me to spend time praying, reading, planning, and removed me from my daily “chase” to follow by leading.
3.       I was talking with Doug Givens this past Sunday and I mentioned that leading others related to roles in our church has a way of making us very accountable (I think some more appropriate words to use in my case are unqualified, lost, weak, distracted and broken.)  Interestingly, with a grin on Doug’s face he was quick to recognize that truth as he described that he was going to be leading a service that has already caused him to “look within.”

Sooo…. I think that as we take on opportunities to lead in some way where we may have a calling, we also learn to follow.  This has been especially true in my case and as shared by Phil and Doug in the way we have each truly “followed” with more time in prayer, reading of scripture, and listening to follow God by leading.  These are only three very recent and personal examples.  But without a doubt, I believe that we have all seen big ROI received in following as a result of leading.

In the ongoing struggle between chase and follow, this blog is just another example…
Thanks Lee, for asking me to write and the opportunity to think and pray about my walk.

And for those reading, I hope I have not left you ragged with my writing but instead, have given you some return on your time spent reading about following through leading.  (Yes, I know…. Hard to imagine an engineer would have wrapped it with a rhyme.)

God Bless your walk and your pondering of “Follow.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

4/14 Matthew 19:16-30

 16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
 17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
 18 "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony,
 19 honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' "
 20 "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"
 21 Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"
 26 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
 27 Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"
 28 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

4/12- Psalm 119:9-16

 9 How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.
 10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
 11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
 12 Praise be to you, LORD; teach me your decrees.
 13 With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
 14 I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
 15 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
 16 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

Friday, April 11, 2014

4/11 by Jim Granier

2 Corinthians 4:11-12
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

When Lee E-mailed me to write something for the blog a lot went through my head, mostly fear. I set out to outline my thoughts and make a rough draft.  Then I participated in Journey with Jesus at last Wednesday nights PEAK. The first room I went to with my group was the Student Center where we sat down at tables in small groups then someone turned out the lights and a small black light revealed a blackboard filled with all types of sins. Wow I immediately  saw myself as not the follower of Jesus I like to think I am but as the person who all those words accurately describe,  why is that. We talked about sin and our weakness but I think it is just me choosing pride and ego over humility, anger and impatience over compassion. The next room I went to we hammered nails into wood and talked about sacrifice, His sacrifice, Jesus on the cross to pay for our sins. As I drove nails he was wiping my black board clean, as he has done many times in my life. 

Another Easter Sunday is just around the corner and I have eaten a lot of Sees chocolate bunnies I remember when they were solid. How will I make it different will I prune the things in me that need left behind. Give him praise for all the blessings? In disagreements lay down my sword of anger and seek to understand, communicate. I should love the people he has in my life today rather than embrace the hurt of those passed on. His grace and forgiveness is endless and is there waiting for us all of us. I know that to be true I learned it here at LCPC I am thankful to all of you for what your fellowship has given to me as I follow. I pray that this Easter as our church fills with those seeking and we are there with an answer.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

4/9 by Libby Brown

The decision was made.  My sister, Ann, and I would wait one more year to go and spend a year in California.  It had been a desire, since childhood, to go from North Carolina’s frequent rain to the land of sunshine, and to meet Doris Day, whose movies had helped us through a difficult childhood.  We wanted to thank her.  We had made one trip to visit our mother’s college roommate and her husband, Virginia and Wes Idol, and, in a week, had seen the best of Los Angeles, making us even more determined to spend a year, getting it out of our systems before we settled down and got married.  

I drove from Ann’s Chapel Hill apartment to my Charlotte apartment, where I was a teacher, without the relief that I usually felt for a decision having been made.  Opening the weekend mail, I found a letter from Virginia.  She said the words that changed our lives: “Your daddy and your grandmother are able to care for themselves now (Our mother had died when I was 19.), and that may not always be the case.  If you’re ever coming, we think this summer would be a very good time.”  I said, “THANK YOU, LORD!” and called Ann to tell her that we were going  “this summer”!  It was just the sign that we needed, having been praying for some time for right decisions.  Ann was 23; I was 26.  Our family showed some concern, but only a few of the townspeople tried to talk us out of it.  (Monroe was a small town.) We were certain that we were in God’s plan.

If we hadn’t been certain before we left, we surely were, when our car (Ann’s new Saab) broke down in the early morning hours, on the border of Arizona/New Mexico, and the only way we had to get it fixed was to find a flat-bed truck to take us into the nearest big city.  We prayed and read and waited, as the trucks came and went.  We were even told about the square dance, at the nearby tiny town, that night, as the border agents figured we’d still be there.  

But prayers were answered, when a man, whose wife was traveling with him, as she sometimes did in the summer, came through, empty, because his load in Dallas wasn’t ready, and he had a pick-up in L. A.!  We were next to railroad tracks, and two boards were found on which the driver drove that Saab onto the truck. (We were all praying silently!) 

With one of us in the bed behind the seat, the other between the driver and his wife, and their Catholic cross dangling on the rear view mirror, we set out for an all-night drive to L. A.. The driver had no license to haul in California, yet. (He was from Minnesota and was planning to get one before picking up the L.A. load.)  So he stopped at every truck stop to learn which weights were closed overnight.  We made it into L. A. on the day originally planned, and a call to Wes, who owned two steak houses in down-town, directed the driver to an off-load area of the train station, where Wes met us.  Were we following the Lord?  Absolutely.  Was He with us every step of the way?  He certainly was.  (Oh, yes, I even met Doris Day, several years later.  More important, I met Jim Brown!) 

The Lord doesn’t always give us the easiest route.   In fact, if we didn’t have to rely on Him, throughout our life-journey, we would think we didn’t need Him.  But, when we follow Him, life can be a wonder-filled adventure!  As 2 Corinthians 2:14 tells us:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

4/8 by Frances Mencia

“I follow Jesus – The End. How does that sound?” I asked my teenaged daughter when I was describing what Lee had asked me to write about.
“That’s great, mom; A+ for you. Way to take this seriously.”  She’s right (teenagers are right more often than they get credit for). With so many things going on in life, it is hard to slow down and really think about what it means to follow Jesus. I mean, I am not a deep thinker and being asked to write something alongside many of the great deep thinkers of our church is intimidating. Also, if I do think deeply, am I going to like the answers I find? With the many challenges I have faced this past year, have I followed Jesus in the way He commands, or have I doubted?
Feeling inadequate when quoting scripture – I always feel I am quoting out of context - there has always been a poem I reference since I was a teenager. The final passage echoing through my thoughts whenever I am in times of trouble:
Footprints in the Sand (adapted):

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.

Many scenes from my life flash across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two set of footprints, other times there was only one.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could only see one set of footprints,

So I said to the Lord,

"you promised me Lord
That if I followed you, you would walk with my always. But I have noticed that during the most trying Periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.

Why, have when I needed you the most, have you not been there for me"

The Lord replied,

" the year when you have seen one set of footprints, my child, Is when I carried you.”

Monday, April 7, 2014

4/7 by Marcia Randis

Ever notice how what God gives to each of us, He expects us to in turn, give to others? Things like love, understanding, faithfulness, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion?
        Psalm 119:73-80 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV):
Your hands made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn your
  commandments. May those who fear You see me and be glad, because I wait for Your word. I            know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. O may Your loving kindness comfort me, according to Your word to Your servant. May Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight. May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie; but I shall meditate on your precepts. May those who fear You turn to me, even those who know Your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in Your statutes, so that I will not be ashamed.

A number of years ago I was first challenged to "give up something" for Lent. Not taking it very seriously at first, I chose to give up "manipulation." With that, God quickly brought me to a place where I realized how serious my "addiction to manipulating others to get my way" truly was. Allowing God to transform me during Lent brought me along an interesting stretch of road as I chose to continue to follow His lead through a series of life altering shifts. 

The next year brought me to the understanding that I was relying too much on my "God given right" to ask for, and receive forgiveness when I would all too often act according to my own personal desires. Learning to ask Him for permission first (instead of waiting until I needed forgiveness), led me to a stronger heart for forgiving my enemies. The path also led to more readily being able to forgive myself and accept God's forgiveness. It should probably be no surprise that this made me a lot more aware of the need to seek forgiveness for my errors from those "enemies."

Following this path brought me out of an almost constant state of resentment, arrogance, and some amount of self-righteousness. It quite naturally gave me an even stronger desire to build bridges and restore relationships in Christ. By last year, God was challenging me to stop mounting my own defenses, and to stop judging others. He urged me to trust Him to shield me as He had promised He would. So I gave up self-defense for Lent.

I am still working at following. It is safe to say there is always another step, another twist to the path God lights for us. This year He is calling me to be less critical of others, to have more gratitude for more things in my life, and to love and affirm all that I can. This has been tough for me in a world where we have all gotten so good at finding fault almost everywhere. There is no end to what is wrong with the world and many of the people in it; but this is not what God has called us to seek. Is it?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

4/5 by Chris Nevlin

Mark 9:14-29
New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Whenever I read a passage like this, I tend to imagine how the story might sound if someone were telling the story today. Instead of saying that the boy was possessed by a spirit, he’d probably be described as having a disorder. From there, phrases like “Everything is possible for one who believes” could be directed towards promoting the power of positive thinking. It seems like we’re reluctant to take things literally anymore and reserve our faith for only the most basic theological ideas.

I like to dwell on the supernatural aspects of passages like this. Apparently the disciples and the teachers of the law thought the child’s problem could just be dealt with naturally, reluctant to acknowledge the real problem and the real solution. Even at the time, Jesus marveled at the “unbelieving generation.” Is our generation much different? We’re probably less likely to acknowledge the spiritual, especially in something as small as a child’s affliction. But the gospel is based in spiritual things. Do we often attribute parts of scripture to symbolism if we find them too difficult to believe? Jesus’ words seem pretty relevant, even to us today: “You unbelieving generation… how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”

I like the father’s response to Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Friday, April 4, 2014

4/4/14 - By John Schroeder

The season of Lent lasts 40 days to commemorate the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness resisting temptation by Satan and preparing himself for public ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11). I find the particulars of the temptations Satan placed before Jesus fascinating. They were not "fleshy" temptations, not wine, women, etc. They were temptations designed to play on Jesus' godly nature. "Show me just who you are - prove that you are God incarnate!" is the theme of what Satan attempts to get Jesus to do. And yet Jesus resists.

Paul put it so well in his letter to the Philippians:
Phil 2:4-9 - do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The theme of this blog is "follow." We always talk about following Jesus, but do we understand what that really means? Are we willing to follow Jesus here? Do we understand that to follow Jesus is not about discovering ourselves, but about denying ourselves? We have just seen two stories in which Jesus flat out denies his very nature.

Jesus even tells us this thing:
Matt 16:24-25 - Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
Lee preached a few weeks ago about the cost of following Jesus. Did we listen? Here is that cost laid out for us in no uncertain terms - we are asked to deny ourselves to the point of death. Again, the Apostle Paul:
Gal 2:20-21 - I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
To follow Jesus means to be crucified with him. We have to die!

It is easy to focus on verses like John 10:10 or Matthew 7:7-8, but do we really understand that the promises of those verses lie on the other side of dying with Jesus on the cross? Too often we assume they simply arrive at the doorstep and we can put them in our pocket and go about our merry way. Those promises can only be fulfilled when we allow the Holy Spirit to kill our desire for self gratification. Those promises can only be fulfilled when what we wish for is to be emptied. It is the moment that we take God's grace for granted, that we think ourselves somehow, in any fashion, worthy of it, that it most eludes us.

We talk a lot about worship in the church. Sometimes I wonder if we really understand what that means? Among the lectionary readings for this date is Psalm 22. When was the last time you read that from beginning to end? Some think Christ quoted this Psalm on the cross. Consider just the first three verses:
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.
Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
The psalm is in fact a psalm of praise - read the rest of it. Thus if Christ was quoting it when he cried out on the cross, then praise for the Father flowed from the deepest agony imaginable. There was no praise band or organ, no choir or worship leader. I doubt given the physical state he was in Jesus could have even held a tune. It would appear that worship and sacrifice are inseparable - in fact one could conclude that sacrifice IS worship - not a "sacrifice of song," that's too easy. If we are truly to follow Jesus and praise God we are to sacrifice life itself.

The good news of God's grace is not that we do not have to die - it is that death is not final. The good news of God's grace is that when we totally deny ourselves, when we do allow ourselves to die, we wake up to all those wonderful promises of abundance.

The hardest part is that we have to experience that death every day, every moment. We are saved but we are, for now, still sinners. When we experience those little small reminders of the abundance promised to us, it is too easy to think, "Well, I'm through that now!" It is so easy to take those tidbits of the promise fulfilled and assume that we can claim our rightful place. It is too easy to forget that who we follow denied his rightful place in the wilderness and then moved inexorably towards the cross. We have no rightful place - we only have our denial of it.

So what does this mean in practical terms?  We all sacrifice our money and most of us some of our time.  We hunt for the latest cause to pursue in the name of God.   But in the modern age sacrifice of time and talent is not deep enough sacrifice.  Remember, we are to follow Jesus all the way to death.

Dying to self is really about the little stuff not the big stuff.  Non-Christians volunteer and do charity work.  Not that we should not volunteer or do charity work, but it is how we do those things that should separate us from those that do not enjoy life with Christ.  Turning again to Paul:
Gal 5:22-24 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Those "fruits" are the measure of our sacrifice.  Just before Lent, we enjoyed a Wednesday night lecture from author Hugh Hewitt on his book "The Happiest Life."  In his book, Hewitt suggests that happiness is found in giving (not getting mind you) of seven gifts: encouragement, energy, enthusiasm, good humor, graciousness, gratitude, and patience. Notice that some of those gifts, like patience, are common to Paul's list of fruits.  Other gifts are only available to us to give if we have the fruits.

The giving of gifts like these is heart of the sacrifice that is demanded of us to follow Christ on the deepest levels.  Gratitude, when life does not seem gracious.  Encouragement when we are discouraged.  When we set aside our negative feelings to give others positive interaction, then we are finally on the road to the sacrifice of Christ.  By comparison, giving away money is easy.

Joining Christ in His crucifixion is not a "part way" deal.  We have to go all the way.  We can die to "smokin' drinkin' and chewin'," but its not enough.  We have to die to grouchy, grumpy and ill-mannered.  We have to die to self-pity and ill-humor.  We have to die to pride and vanity.  We have to die.

Thankfully, there is the resurrection - but it comes only after death.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

4/3 by Erna Hackett

Mark 5:21–43 

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Lent is a season of repentance and being laid bare in our brokenness and neediness before Jesus. Perhaps one of the most difficult areas of pain and suffering is long-term physical illness. This story in Mark reveals a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. She has experienced the embarrassment and humiliation of seeing doctor after doctor and lost her money along the way. The illness has isolated her from her community, she would have been considered ceremonially unclean, and hence not allowed to participate in many aspects of Jewish life. It would have kept her from places of worship, she would not have been allowed into a synagogue or the temple, so she would have felt isolated from God. And this has gone on for many years. This woman has been suffering for a long time. Nothing brings us to our knees like ongoing suffering. Suffering without a promise of end is a unique type of pain.

This woman is desperate when she comes to Jesus- reaching out her hand. And she is healed. But for Jesus that is not enough. He doesn’t just want to physically heal her. He wants her emotional, spiritual, and relational world to be healed. 
He stops and takes the time to hear her whole story. 
He calls her daughter. 
He brings her out of hiding and lets the whole crowd witness her healing. He makes sure that the crowd witnesses Him calling her daughter. Everyone gets to hear His affirmation of her faith. 

For any of us persevering in physical illness, or persevering with someone who is ill, let this story be an encouragement. 

Jesus sees. 
Jesus stops and takes time to interact with us. 
Jesus knows that physical illness takes a toll on more than just the body. 
Jesus cares enough to address all the ways that we feel affected. 
And Jesus has the power to heal. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

4/2 by Mary Wilson

I like being busy, and I love to cross items off my to-do list.  A product of my American culture,  I enjoy being productive, getting things done and reaching goals.  Waiting around for something to happen or someone to come can wear me out!   Yet the Bible tells us that waiting can be a blessing especially if we are waiting on the Lord.

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord 
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord  Psalm 27:13-14

Waiting on the Lord might seem like a serious speed bump on a busy Monday. But actually waiting on the Lord in prayer can be like taking an express train. While I enjoy some good quality time with Jesus, He is planning my day and making priorities clear. I can trust him to keep my paths straight. The Lord encourages fruitfulness and industry, but he prefers we check in with him before we bolt out of the gate. In fact, He loves when we ask him to be involved in every aspect of our lives .

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;
 the Lord  delights in those who fear him 
who put their hope in his unfailing love.”   Psalm 147:10-11

Waiting for the Lord is not like the waiting at the DMV.  Waiting on the Lord calls us to engage in some of the most crucial work of our lives : listening, praying and discernment. Sometimes the Lord gives us wonderful activities to grow us while we are waiting for his guidance. My best story about waiting has to do with the three years I waited for Andy to propose.  Shortly after I met Andy I knew that I wanted to be his wife. (Cross engagement ring off my list!)  But the Lord had so much to teach me before I was ready to start on that adventure.  He wanted me to fix my eyes on him in prayer and Bible study.  He gave me lots of training during those years.  Working as a youth advisor along side the world’s most energetic youth minister (my future husband)  required making sacrifices and taking risks. It made my job as a TV producer look like a cake walk.  It gave me lots of great insights into the man I was to marry.  For one thing, I learned how much he loved every kid he ever met and that I would have to share him with more kids than I ever imagined. But after waiting on the Lord and Andy for three years, I was okay with sharing, because I loved those kids, too.

I realize now that during those three years my Love Perfect Father was working out what was best for me and Andy.  If I had only known just how how busy he was preparing me for marriage, I never would have worried or cried about not getting a wedding ring when I wanted.  
I still have trouble waiting, but I take comfort in knowing that God is busier than ever working out his purposes for my life.  As the giver of my life and lover of my soul, I have a permanent spot on his to-do list!  That confidence gives me  determination to join the psalmist in waiting on the Lord all day long. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

4/1 by Lana

I’ve been really obsessed about following God lately – scratch that, I’ve been really obsessed with following gods lately.  I verbally proclaim that I want to seek after Jesus and truly know his heart, but my mind has been elsewhere.  It’s been focused on myself: my life plan and my comfort.

I confess, my thoughts each day are consumed with how unsatisfied I feel and what I need to do to change that feeling. I’m constantly thinking, “What’s the ‘best next step’ for me? Surly, if I could only find the perfect new job or move to an exciting new city I will find contentment – I will be able to follow God without hesitation, distractions, or doubts. I toil and worry about these things because I want to follow Jesus, I want to know him more than I do now.” …Let’s be real, that’s not about Jesus, that’s all about me.

I’ve learned that by constantly fixating on my future, I’m not allowing God to meet me where He’s brought me today. I’m keeping Him from doing the work in my heart that He planned from the beginning to do at this very place and season of my life.

I’m realizing that sometimes the “best next step” is not taking one; and following God means sitting tight, being still, giving it all up, and letting God do the good work He started inside of my heart. I must trust that at this moment in my life, God has me exactly where he called me to be.

Until he calls me elsewhere, I need to be patient, live in the present, and allow God to do the work. He may not lead me where I expect, but ultimately His will is better than my own.

Great, my conclusion is a bunch of very broad and cliché statements that are easy to say, hard to do.  So…. how do I actually live them out? How do we live them out?

I’m still figuring that out, but thank goodness God has all the answers and has given us His Son, His Word, His Spirit, and His body to meet us exactly where we are.

  •  Philippians 1:6 - Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
  • Psalm 37:7 -  Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don't worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.
  • Matthew 16:24 - Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.