Wednesday’s Word: Beginnings

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No one could distinguish between the joyful shouts and the crying, because the noise they made was so loud that it could be heard for miles. Ezra 3:13

 

Some experiences go deeper than one emotion. When the rebuilding of the Temple began in Jerusalem, the people shouted for joy. At the same time, some of the elders wept. Perhaps they remembered the lost glory of the original Temple or the hardships the people endured in exile before being allowed to return and rebuild.

 

Turning points can be bittersweet. When the prodigal son returned home, it is easy to imagine tears of sorrow and tears of joy blending into one.  First time parents joyfully welcoming their newborn may also miss carefree times of less responsibility. Newly sober addicts might find it challenging to turn their backs on the people, places and things of his former life. Accepting a new job—even if it’s a great opportunity—means leaving behind the security of the familiar. Every new beginning can be traced back to an ending of some sort and endings have within them the seeds of new beginnings. We can trust God in our times of transition no matter what we’re feeling.  The Last Supper became the First Eucharist.

 

Prayer: In joy and sorrow, blessed be the Lord.

 

Reflection: What endings have you experienced in your life? How have they become opportunities for new beginnings?

 

Saturday Spotlight: The Empty Tomb

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Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and believed. John 20:8

 

He saw and believed. Why? He didn’t see Jesus resurrected—all he saw was an empty tomb. Well, not completely empty: the burial cloths that Jesus’ body had been wrapped in were still there. The trappings of death weren’t needed any more. Evidently that was enough to fuel the disciple’s faith–that and the promise Jesus made that he would, in fact, be killed, but would rise again three days later. Although the risen Christ did appear to believers several times before ascending to heaven, for this disciple, seeing the empty tomb with the trappings of death behind, was enough.

 

What about us? When our interests, relationships, or careers seem empty and stone cold, can we look into the emptiness and believe that Christ isn’t absent but risen and living in a new way? Can we trust that he’s inviting us to leave behind the trappings of the circumstances we may have put false hope in? Can we trust him to lead us to new life?

 

Christ’s victory over death gives us all hope. We celebrate the Easter joy of salvation based on the testimony of those who encountered the risen Christ. Maybe we’ve had our own encounters, too—times when we’ve heard his voice and felt the joy of his love within our hearts.

 

Easter joy promises new life. What will that new life look like for us in the here and now?

 

Prayer: Praise to the Lord of life, who conquers death in all its forms.

 

Reflection for sharing: Where are the empty spots in your life? Can you trust God to bring you to new life? What do you need to leave behind to accept the new life you’re being offered?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Sacrifice

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“Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God, and give the Almighty all that you promised. Call to me when trouble comes; I will save you and you will praise me.” Psalm 50:14-15

 

It’s not about what we can do for God, but what He can do for us. God doesn’t need us to do anything for His benefit. The world and everything in it belongs to Him. So what does he want from us? He wants our gratitude. He wants us to depend on him when we’re in trouble so He can save us. When He does, we will praise Him. Does God need our thanks and praise? No. Thanking God and praising Him is for our benefit, not His.

 

Thanking God doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice, does it? Think again. When we thank God and praise Him for what He has done for us, we are sacrificing our self-sufficiency and our sense of being in control. We are sacrificing the ego-stroking that tells us we are the center of our own little universe. Giving thanks to God honors the Giver and acknowledges our proper place. We didn’t create ourselves and the idea of a self-made man or woman is an illusion. We can’t control many things about life. When we come to the end of our rope we find God waiting there to catch us and bring us to a new and better place.

 

If we wait to go to God when we don’t need Him, we’ll be waiting a long time. On our own we can’t guarantee our next breath of air. When we open our eyes we can see all the ways in which He is providing for us and guiding us. When we count our blessings, we find ourselves in the humbling truth that despite all our necessary and appropriate hard work and effort, God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. What else is there to do but lay our false pride at His feet…and what a loving way He gives us to do that: by thanking and glorifying Him instead of belittling ourselves.

 

Our God truly is an awesome God. Let’s tell Him so—not because He needs to know it, but because we do.

 

Prayer: Almighty God, to You alone belongs the glory.

 

Reflection:  Write a thank you note to God.

Saturday Spotlight: Herod Antipas

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Herod was very pleased when he saw Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been wanting to see him for a long time. He was hoping to see Jesus perform some miracle. So Herod asked Jesus many questions, but Jesus made no answer…Herod and his soldiers made fun of Jesus and treated him with contempt; then they put a fine robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Luke 23: 8-11

 

Herod hoped to see Jesus perform some miracle—not because he needed a miracle, but simply for his own amusement. Jesus didn’t respond. Herod concluded that it was because Jesus lacked power. He judged Jesus to be a fraud and dismissed him after getting the entertainment he wanted through mockery.

 

What about us? Unlike Herod, we may have serious needs or concerns about loved ones. Praying for those who are suffering is not the same as demanding that God do what we want him to do for entertainment. Still, how do we respond if God doesn’t respond the way we want?  Are we expecting God to be who we want him to be and act the way we want him to act for our benefit?

 

Jesus didn’t respond to Herod’s demands because he wasn’t interested in people-pleasing. He had something better to do. He was interested in pleasing His Father in Heaven and in saving us from our sins. Can we trust Him? When we ask Him for something and our requests seem to get no response, can we trust that He has something better in mind—whether we can see it or not?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust your love, wisdom, and power, even when I don’t see it.

 

Reflection for sharing: Think of a situation that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, but still turned out well? Can you see God’s hand in that?

Wednesday’s Word: Coverings

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A large crowd of people spread their cloaks on the road… Matthew 21: 8a

 

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowd rolled out a “red carpet” made of their cloaks–their coats, as we would say. What does outerwear do? It protects us from the cold. It can also conceal our flaws or be a fashion statement. Think about it. People took off their coats, their protection against the elements, and used them to pave the way for Christ. What would it take for us to remove our protective covering and lay it at Christ’s feet?

 

When we feel threatened, we cling to whatever offers us protection. When we’re warmed by an atmosphere of love and acceptance, we feel secure enough to let go of our insulation. I’ve thrown a coat on over my pajamas to run out and pick up the newspaper more than once. When I’m in street clothes, I don’t have to do that. When we’re sure of and comfortable with who we are, we don’t have to hide from the outside world or try so hard to fit in. We can be true to ourselves.

 

We get this reassurance when we make room for Christ in our hearts. He offers us unconditional acceptance when we risk being honest about ourselves. He reminds us that we are unique, and that we don’t have to be like everybody else. We can be exactly who we were created to be. We can take off our protective insulation and make way for Christ because He does for us all that our protective coverings do for us and more.

 

Prayer:  Welcome, Lord. Here I am, just as I am.

 

Reflection: What would it take for your to remove your protective covering and lay it at Christ’s feet?

Saturday Spotlight: Aaron

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[The Lord] gave Aaron the turban with the gold ornament engraved with the words, “Dedicated to the Lord.”  Sirach 45: 12a

 

I wish I had the words “dedicated to the Lord” on the forefront of my mind, just as the words on that turban were anchored on Aaron’s forehead. If I could only keep in mind that I was created by God, that I belong to Him, and that His will is always better than mine. It’s taken some rough lessons to remind me of that when self-will has distracted me.

 

Come to think of it, “Dedicated to the Lord” is an awesome responsibility to live up to. Then again, even Aaron—hand-picked by God to be Moses’ spokesman and High Priest—got it wrong sometimes. Aaron joined Miriam in criticizing their brother Moses and indulging in lofty opinions of themselves. In Moses’ absence, Aaron gave in to peer pressure. He gave the people what they wanted: a gold calf to worship. Pride and fear. I can relate.

 

 

Still, Aaron served God and His people in spite of his weaknesses. In our weakness, we can still be dedicated to the Lord. The words breathe promise and dignity. The promise of what we could be when we surrender our will to God’s plans. The dignity of knowing we have value–and can be of service–not because we’re perfect, but because we belong to God.

 

Prayer: Lord, may my thoughts, words, and actions be dedicated to you today.

 

Reflection for sharing: How would remembering that you’re dedicated to the Lord change your day today?

Wednesday’s Word: Willingness

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Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” Psalm 51:12

 

Why should we obey God? The psalmist tells us the key to willingness is the joy that comes from salvation. Resignation and outward compliance to the law is very different from willingly surrendering our wills to God. When our minds and hearts are open to see what God has done for us, the lavishness of his unconditional love, and his own willingness to save us—often from our own foolish stubbornness, we experience the joy of salvation. We aren’t perfect. We can never be good enough on our own to earn our right to be justified. The glorious good news is that we don’t have to. We can acknowledge our shortcomings and the wrongs we’ve done—God knows all about them anyway. We can come to him exactly as we are and find he is waiting with open arms.

 

God loves us—not because we are perfect—he just loves us. And because he loves us, he wants what is best for us. We want what’s best for us too, but so often, we don’t know what that is. When we trust God’s wisdom and experience his unconditional love there’s no reason to cling to self-will. Years of struggling to have our own way haven’t brought us lasting contentment. Accepting God’s love brings joy in a way that no change in circumstances can touch. Why wouldn’t we obey someone who knows us better than we know ourselves, who is all-wise, all-loving, and who is longing to share with us the joy of salvation?

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me the willingness to follow your directions.

 

Reflection for sharing: When have you felt forgiveness and unconditional love? What was it like to experience the joy that comes from God’s salvation?

Saturday Spotlight: Cain

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Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why that scowl on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it.” Genesis 4: 6-7

 

We know that Cain didn’t overcome the sin ‘crouching at his door.’ He murdered his brother Abel. Why? Because God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Abel gave his best. Cain didn’t. It wasn’t Abel’s fault that Cain didn’t do the right thing, but instead of taking responsibility for his own shortcomings, Cain blamed his brother for showing him up. Feeling anger wasn’t a sin, but it put Cain in a position to have sin to gain the upper hand.

 

It’s easy to resent others when their integrity shows us up. As if the key to our integrity lies in being—or appearing to be—better than others. If we could only direct our attention to our own choices instead of comparing ourselves to others. If we think others are better than we are, we become resentful, envious, or insecure. If we feel superior to others, we get self-righteous, condescending, or conceited. Either way, it’s not a pretty sight. The fault lies, not outside us, but in our own choices. We are free to put forth our best effort or not. When we don’t, we know it. Whether others know it or not, it eats away at our self-esteem. When we do the right thing we also know it. When we’re grounded in healthy self-respect we have no need to pull down anyone else.

 

When we catch ourselves being annoyed at someone else’s success, we’re in a vulnerable position. We can acknowledge our feelings. (it wasn’t Cain’s anger that was the problem, but what he did with it.) Honestly admitting our true feelings and working them through in a way that doesn’t hurt ourselves or others is healthy. Correcting our own mistakes and cleaning up our side of the street can’t help but make us feel a sense of integrity. When we feel good about ourselves, our hearts will smile. What other people are doing or not doing can’t take that away.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me face myself honestly, accept what I find, and take the actions you would have me take.

 

Reflection for sharing: When have you envied someone else’s success? What was going on inside of you at the time? What choices did you have about how to handle the situation?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Counterfeits

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My children, keep yourselves safe from false gods! 1 John 5:21

 

Temptations are seductive. If they didn’t offer us something that looks good, why would we go after them? They lure us by promising to make us feel good, or satisfy our desires for pleasure, power, or fame. They promise protection from painful feelings like loneliness, helplessness, or rejection.

 

The problem is, temptations are impostors. Their promises are lies—no matter how many people “worship” them. At best, they let us down. At worst, they are destructive. Ask any addict who started out wanting to feel good and ended up devastated by loss of health, loved ones, and income—not to mention the freedom to choose, as they find themselves pushed around by the demands of the booze, drugs, etc.

 

But we don’t have to end up on skid row to be taken in by false gods. How many trips to the mall does it take until we know that more things aren’t going to bring us lasting happiness and might even leave our bank accounts in dire straits? How many times do we have to join in gossip until we recognize that tearing someone else down doesn’t build us up but instead damages our character at least as much as the person we’re talking about? How many times will we surrender our principles and self-respect by going along with what others want because we can’t risk being rejected? Physical comfort, wanting to feel important or accepted aren’t wrong in themselves, but when we let them take first place in our lives, we make them into false gods. These idols feed on pride and fear. Pride tells us we are the center of our own universe and that the way to happiness is focusing on Number 1. Fear tells us we don’t dare experience rejection or look bad or else we’ll not only feel worthless, we’ll be worthless. 

 

Maybe that’s why the Bible tells us so often, “Do not be afraid,” and encourages us to grow in humility. The God of Truth can teach our hearts that we are valuable, precious, and loved, even if we aren’t the center of the universe. He can show us that our ultimate joy and good comes from trusting Him instead of going after happiness in short-sighted or self-defeating ways. He will teach us that joy runs deeper and endures longer than the pleasure promised by false gods. When those false gods let us down or hurt us, the One True God is always waiting for us to turn back to Him.

 

Prayer: God of Truth, open my eyes to see false promises for what they are.

 

Reflection for sharing: What false gods are promising you more than they can deliver today?

 

Saturday Spotlight: Ananias & Sapphira

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After the Resurrection, the believers who joined the apostles “all shared with one another everything they had.”  Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold their property turned some of the money to the apostles but kept part of the money for themselves. Peter confronted Ananias, saying, “…why did you let Satan take control of you and make you lie to the Holy Spirit by keeping part of the money you received for the property?…You have not lied to people—you have lied to God!” When confronted, Ananias dropped dead. Later, Peter asked Sapphira, who didn’t know what happened, if she and her husband had given over the full amount they received for the property. When she answered yes, Peter confronted her and she, too, fell down dead. (Acts 4:32b; 5:1-11)

 

That sounds pretty harsh! Ananias and his wife gave the apostles a substantial sum of money—maybe more than half of what they got once they sold the property. Isn’t that enough? A closer look at the passage in Acts shows that Peter was not concerned about the amount of money. He was concerned that Ananias and his wife had been dishonest about it. While Ananias and his wife wanted to participate in the communal living with other believers they also hedged their bet by keeping a private reserve. Peter seems to indicate that if they wanted to keep some of the money it was their right to do so. If they’d been honest about it, maybe there would have been no problem. What was seriously wrong was to pretend a level of commitment they didn’t have, to claim fellowship with a group who had abandoned all without having done so themselves.

 

No one executed Ananias or Sapphira. They simply died on the spot once their lie was exposed. Don’t we all die a little bit when we pretend to be something we’re not? When we hide the truth of who we are from others, we classify ourselves as not good enough. We convince ourselves that we have to put on a front to be accepted–but whatever acceptance or honor we receive under false pretenses doesn’t really count. In our hearts we know it. Our self-respect is doomed when we deny our truth, whether or not other people find out. As Peter points out, we aren’t lying to people, we’re lying to God. We often end up lying to ourselves as well and start believing our own self-image.

 

It is life-giving to acknowledge who we are, warts and all. After all, who are we trying to fool? All the popularity in the world doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t like ourselves. And why hide from God? After all, he knows the truth about us. He loves us anyway. What have we got to hide?

 

Prayer: Lord, lead me to the truth about myself.

 

Reflection for sharing: What keeps you from facing the truth about yourself?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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