The next day the large crowd that had come to the Passover Festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!” John 12:12-13
Jesus was the center of praise on Palm Sunday. Just a few days later, he was alone at the cross, except for one disciple, his mother and a few other women.
Jesus knew better than to trust himself to the crowds knowing they can be fickle. He wasn’t taken in by the adulation, so he didn’t give up when he was abandoned by the crowd, or even by those closest to him. Where did his conviction come from? From the Father. Jesus continually withdrew from the crowds and went off by himself to pray.
What about us? It’s easy to get caught up in crowd mentality. If we had been in Jerusalem in the days after Palm Sunday, would we have reacted any differently than His followers? Do we go along with the crowd to avoid calling attention to ourselves? Do we get a big head when the spotlight falls on us? Do we get discouraged when it doesn’t? It takes courage to stick to our convictions when it is unpopular. It takes humility and true self-esteem to not get swayed by the whims of popularity. We probably can’t do it on our own, so what can we do? Turn to the one who lived through it. Not only is Jesus our model, He is the Vine apart from whom we can do nothing.
Prayer: Lord, keep us anchored in You.
Reflection for sharing: When have I been swept up by popular opinion? What are some ways to maintain a healthy perspective?
Save me, Lord, from liars and deceivers. Psalm 120:2
My dentist has a sign in his office that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.” While there are plenty of liars and con men in the world, sometimes the lies we tell ourselves can be just as damaging. Denying, justifying, or blaming others for the wrongs we do is only one form of self-deception. We can also deceive ourselves by making a home in our minds and hearts for the negative affirmations we picked up somewhere along the line. When we think “I’m not good enough,” or “What’s the use, I’ll never be able to __________,” we lie to ourselves.
Unrealistic expectations helped me lie to myself about my writing. I’ve loved to write ever since I learned to form words on a page. I joined the creative writing club in school but felt my work wasn’t as good as everybody else’s. Fearing rejection, I put my pen down for thirty years. But finally, I was shown that by never submitting anything to a publisher, my chances of being published went from slim to none. I was already rejected by default. After studying a bit to improve my skills, I began again to express myself on the written page. I started submitting articles. Some got rejected, but some were published. I believe it was God’s guidance that saved me from the lie I had told myself all those years ago about not being good enough.
Prayer: Lord, lead us to the Truth.
Reflection for sharing: What are some of the lies the world tells us? How can we avoid buying in to them?
[Jesus] went on to say, “Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be terrible earthquakes, famines, and plagues everywhere; there will be strange and terrifying things coming from the sky. Before all these things take place, however, you will be arrested and persecuted; you will be handed over to be tried in synagogues and be put in prison; you will be brought before kings and rulers for my sake. This will be your chance to tell the Good News…” Luke 21: 10-13
Wars and earthquakes…arrests and persecution…it sure doesn’t sound like a chance to tell the Good News. It sounds like today’s headlines. Jesus told his followers to be of good cheer even though there would always be tribulation in the world, because He had overcome the world. But when we’re confronted with pain and suffering—on a global scale or under our own roof—it’s hard to focus on anything else. It hurts too much. So where’s the good news? We may have to look for it, but God is at work to bring good out of anything. Even in the horror of 9/11, heroic acts of bravery and selflessness inspired us; compassion and sense of solidarity drew people together; many were shaken free of complacency and re-evaluated their priorities.
Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, like the crisis that breaks through an addict’s denial and convinces him to get help. Problems may be uncomfortable and overwhelming, but they bring us to the end of ourselves, to the end of our limited understanding and abilities. Sometimes it’s only then that we turn to a source of power outside ourselves and find God waiting for us with open arms.
Looking for perfect contentment in the world leads to disappointment because the world doesn’t have to give. The good news is that this world doesn’t have the last word. Pain and death don’t have the final say. Easter Sunday followed Good Friday. St. Paul tells us that what’s eternal is love—something no disaster or catastrophe can destroy.
Prayer: Lord, grant us eyes of faith to see the Good News that the world cannot give.
Reflection for sharing: What disasters (environmental, economic, personal) have you survived? What got you through it? In retrospect, can you see any good that came from the situation?
Hold me and I will be safe, and I will always pay attention to your commands. Psalm 119:117
Wanting to give my Sunday School students the experience of walking by faith and not by sight, I took them on a trust walk. One at a time, I blindfolded and gently led each child safely around the classroom. All went well until it was Tony’s turn. Tony let me blindfold him but he would not let me lead him. He wanted to rush around the room on his own. I had to stop the exercise because I couldn’t keep Tony safe if he wouldn’t let me guide him.
I can relate to Tony. Sometimes I want to do things my way and on my timetable. But when I do, I can walk right out of God’s plan for my well-being. I think the Psalmist understood that. Our safety is in God’s strong and loving embrace. If God holds us, we will be safe—after all, if God is for us, who can be against us? But in order to co-operate with God’s plan for our protection, it behooves us to pay attention to His guidance. His commands aren’t for His benefit; they’re for ours. Someone said that the best thing we can do with the free will God gave us is give it back to him.
Prayer: Protect us Lord, from whatever blocks us from Your loving care.
Reflection for sharing: What keeps us from acting in our own best interest?
People everywhere will come to you on account of their sins. Our faults defeat us, but you forgive them. Psalm 65: 3-4
God can bring good out of anything—even our wrongdoing. Not that we should willfully choose to do wrong, of course. But these lines from Psalm 65 offer us hope and freedom. We don’t have to be perfect before we turn to God. We don’t even have to pretend to be perfect. Sometimes when we try too hard to prove we’re not at fault we end up blaming others. Ironically, this can lead to more hurt and sin as we puff ourselves up with prideful self-justification and damage relationships. When we judge or criticize others, love goes right out the window. On the other hand, sometimes when we are all too aware of our wrongdoings, we can get stuck in self-condemnation.
Either way, our focus is on ego-self. That blocks our ability to truly love God, others, and even ourselves. But when we are able to admit and accept our brokenness and our inability to achieve perfection, we are free to turn to God in healthy humility. Our faults may defeat us, but they do not defeat our all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving Creator. God forgives us and loves us as we are, while ever inviting us to grow closer to Him and to each other. Imperfection is one quality we all share. Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we are in a much better position to extend that forgiveness to others.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for forgiving me. Help me accept Your love.
Reflection for sharing: What keeps me from admitting my wrongs to God?
Keep me from paying attention to what is worthless; be good to me, as you have promised. Psalm 119:37
All that glitters is not gold—but it sure grabs our attention. Shiny cars and flashy clothes turn heads. Ever-expanding technology and media sources bring the world to our fingertips. But useful tools can become counter-productive distractions.
We all need time to relax. Socializing online or vegging out in front of the TV is great as long as it doesn’t don’t rob us of time that might be better spent pursuing what genuinely nourishes us and our relationships with others. How balanced is our activity diet? Is the time spent on each activity in proportion to its value?
On the other hand, why pull away from diversion unless something better is offered? What can compete with the attention-grabbers that bombard us 24/7? Balancing junk food with good nutrition isn’t appealing unless we remind ourselves of the long-term benefits. “A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” Similarly, the psalmist speaks to God about this saying, “be good to me as you have promised.” Reminding ourselves of God’s goodness in our lives can help us focus on what’s good for us in the long run.
Can we balance our attention between the captivating and the worthwhile?
Prayer: Lord, direct my attention today.
Reflection for sharing: What are you focusing on today? What would you like to focus on? Are they the same?
“You set the limits of the earth; you made summer and winter.” Psalm 74:17
Creation has limits. As a creature, I have limits too…and it’s okay. I’m supposed to have limitations. I don’t know where I got the idea that I should be able to do everything I feel called upon to do. Fearing that anything less would make me a slouch, I’ve wasted years squandering energy by spreading myself too thin. Frantic busyness didn’t make me a better person. I ended up worn out, frustrated, and pretty cranky. Why was it so hard for me to admit I had limitations? I don’t know, but I’m glad it finally sunk in that I have only X amount of energy. If I spend it doing A, B, and C on any given day, I might not have enough left for D.
My character development has limitations, too. I’m not as good as I want to be, as I think I should be. Although there is plenty I can do personally and together with my faith community to foster my emotional and spiritual growth, at some point I face my limitations and those of others. We can strive to become the best we can be, but we will never out-grow our humanness. That is why forgiveness, trust in God’s mercy and reliance on His grace are essential. God knows all about our limits: He set them.
Prayer: Lord, increase our trust that limitations are part of Your plan for us.
Reflection for Sharing: How might accepting our limitations enhance our growth?
Be alert, be on watch! Your enemy, the Devil, roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be firm in your faith and resist him, because you know that other believers in all the world are going through the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5: 8-9
Isn’t drawing strength from the fact that others are suffering trying to feel better at someone else’s expense? Not necessarily. When temptation beckons, when pain, anxiety, or other troubles loom large, we often feel isolated. When we feel alone, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and throw in the towel. That’s probably what our Enemy wants. Divide and conquer. Cutting off one victim from the pack is how roaring lions attack their prey. But our isolation is an illusion. As believers, we are called to live in community. We are all members of one body, the body of Christ. We are not alone. Even though we might feel separated by illness or distance, external circumstances or inner struggles, we are not alone. We are united with all other believers on the planet, as well as those who have gone before us.
Strength in numbers is not a new idea, but when united to God, the power of those united increases exponentially. Jesus tells us where two or more are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst. Affirming that we are not alone in our struggles enables us to resist the lie of isolation. A sense of solidarity inspires and empowers us to endure.
Prayer: Lord, show me the way out of isolation. Help me reach out to those who may also feel isolated.
Reflection for sharing: How can I strengthen my connection with other believers today?
…All of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another; for the scripture says, “God resists the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5: 5b
Putting on the apron of humility sounds like a set-up for hypocrisy. Isn’t putting on something just an outward show, acting a part rather than living it? Not always. There are times it’s appropriate to put things on—especially things like aprons. People put on aprons when they’re working. They aren’t being hypocrites because they want to protect what’s underneath. Aprons protect cooks from spatters and blacksmiths from being burned by hot sparks.
Peter tells us to put on the apron of humility in order to do the work of service. What do we need to protect ourselves from when serving one another? For one thing, I suppose healthy humility would protect me from resenting the work I do to help someone else, especially when my best effort seems to go unnoticed. It might also protect me from an inflated ego, self-righteousness, and judging others when I seem to be doing more than my share. Humility might even enable me to gracefully accept service from others when I am the one who needs help. Instead of squirming uncomfortably and apologizing for needing help or insisting I can do it myself (because I fear others may be resenting, judging or feeling superior to me) I can smile graciously and accept the gift of service that others offer.
Putting on the apron of humility clears the way for a true spirit of love in the service we give one another.
Prayer: Loving Father, grant us the humility to freely serve and be served.
Reflection for sharing: How am I called to put on the apron of humility today? What will help me put that apron on?