Good Friday. Again.

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The boy entered the small candy shop with his mom, bright eyed and full of anticipation for a chocolate treat as most seven-year-olds would. He searched the store for just the right sweet morsel that would satisfy his desire. His eyes sparkled as they studied the bright, Spring colored wrappings of each box, bag, and foil wrapped chocolate. The eggs…the bunnies…the baby chicks…the pastel colored baskets. And then he stopped for a few moments. A box of chocolates with a cross pictured on the front caught his attention. A sad shadow dimmed the brightness in his eyes as he pondered the box with a cross.

The boy looked up and loudly asked, “Hey Mom! It’s almost Easter already, huh?”

His mom answered, “Yes, son.”

To which the seven-year-old complained, “Aww, Mom! Does Jesus have to die again?!?!?”

There were sounds of a few giggles from the other shop customers, as well as smiles of amusement, and a few looks of disapproval. As the shoppers returned to their activity and the sounds of bustle resumed, I noticed the young boy was still pondering the box with the cross pictured on front. He didn’t mean to be funny or disrespectful with his comment. It seemed that in the midst of all the bright Spring colors…the chocolate bunnies…the foil wrapped eggs…and the marshmallow chicks – the representations of new life…resurrected life…there was an understanding by the boy that death had to come first.

And not just any death.

The death of Jesus.

On a cross.

We call it, “Good Friday.” Like the young boy in the candy shop, it’s difficult to see the death of someone…especially Jesus…as good. But so it is. The ultimate goodness of a God who loves us so much that He would pay the ultimate and complete price for us to have a restored relationship with Him. In the midst of reflecting on the pain…the torture…the cruelty…the betrayal…the brutality of being crucified…we also reflect on how He took upon Himself everything we deserved because of our disobedience…our selfishness…our stubbornness…our blatant rejection of God…

Our sin…

And paid the price. For good.

In one sense I would have liked to tell the young boy in the candy store, “No, Jesus doesn’t have to die again. He paid the price once and for all.”

And in my rather small, simple (Dare I say, childlike?) understanding of what Jesus did on the cross I would be correct.

But then I look at my life since the first time I came to truly understand and believe that Jesus’ death on the cross brought (and bought) my salvation, and I have to accept the fact that I have continued to live a life of disobedience, selfishness, stubbornness, and blatant rejection of God. I’ve continued to sin…and so I need to revisit Jesus’ death on the cross. I feel as if I need for Him to die again…in my place…so that I can walk in a continued restored relationship with God. I feel as if I need His death again…and again…and again.

I often find myself wanting to skip the reality of the death on Good Friday and just celebrate the new, resurrected life of Easter Sunday. Like the young boy, I don’t really want to ponder the cross. I want to celebrate and receive the victory of the empty tomb!! The bright colors! The new life!! The joy that He is risen…indeed!!!

But Jesus had to die first before He could rise. He had to pay the price in order to set us free. He willingly submitted Himself to the torture and death for my (our) sake before He could celebrate the victory and defeat of death. Giving me (us) the free gift of a resurrected, restored, and victorious life.

So I say to that young boy in the candy shop, “Yes” and “No.” Good Friday helps us to see that it’s both/and. “No” – the price Jesus paid by dying on the cross was a once-and-for-all sales transaction. Jesus never has to physically ever be crucified again. Like the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all!” But it’s also, “Yes” – because of our continual weakness, rebellion, and tendency towards sin, we have to revisit Jesus’ death again…and seemingly ask Him to pay the price, again…and die…again. Perhaps not physically, and definitely not for the sake of salvation, but on a spiritual level…a sanctification level.

Good Friday is a time of reflection. We pause to, once again, journey with Jesus through the torture of being crucified. We come to the foot of the cross and revisit the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross was our fault…is our fault. And it’s the one thing…the only thing…that restores our broken relationship with God. We come to the foot of the cross…weeping…wincing…in anguish…realizing the price He paid for our sin…and say…

Thank you.

I (we) receive Your forgiveness…Your grace…Your unmerited gift of salvation. I’m sorry that it’s because of me You had to die; then…and now. But I thank You from the bottom of my heart…my mind…and my spirit…for taking my place. I thank You for restoring my relationship with God; then…and now. I take this time…this moment…this Good Friday…to let Jesus die for me…

Again.

– Richard Bannister

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Maundy Thursday

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Have you ever wondered how Jesus made all this happen? Could the owner of the house have been a follower? Some think the house owned by Mary, the mother of Mark. And, what do you think about the man carrying a jar of water? In that day, that type of work would have been reserved for a woman.

All of this allowed Jesus and his disciples to meet privately, away from the crowd. And it also prevented Judas from “leaking “the location to the Sanhedrin.

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After sundown on Thursday, Jesus and his disciples meet privately, perhaps even secretly, in the upper room of some unnamed house in Jerusalem. They take their place around a “U” shaped table which sets six to eight inches off the ground. They lay on their left on a cushion around the table.

This was much more than a festive meal, even more than a Passover meal. Jesus is the Passover Lamb, slain for the deliverance of his people. Three important things happen during the meal:

  1. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples
  2. The Betrayer is identified
  3. Jesus celebrates the Lord’s Supper with his disciples

Jesus is fully in control.  He executes the will of God, to whom he will soon return.

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The lesson should be simple: Jesus is the teacher. His students are not greater than he is, so if he serves in such a lowly fashion his disciples must be prepared to do the same. Today, we must be prepared to serve others as well. What do you do to engage and serve others?

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Even though Jesus and Judas know the score, the others are left in the dark. Judas was stripped of his office of Apostle and died a gruesome death.

Jesus went to the Cross.

The disciples went throughout the known world and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And today, we’re commanded to go throughout the world and spread the same Gospel.

For two thousand years now, the church of Jesus has reenacted and remembered his death. Strangely, divinely, this celebration connects Christians today with the past. It allows us to relive all the events that follow: Peter’s denial and Jesus’ death; the joy of the resurrection and the hope of Peter’s restitution.

After taking the cup, Jesus gave thanks and said, “Take and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until kingdom of God comes.” Then, while they were eating, he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.

In the Last Supper Jesus is memorializing his death. Not his life, nor his miracles or his teaching. His primary purpose for coming to this world was to die for the sins of it. The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word for “command.” This refers to the command Jesus gave to this disciples at the Last Supper, that they should love and serve one another. And he commands us to do the likewise!

– Elder, Leroy Bell

Palm Sunday

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Psalm 118:28-29

You are my God, and I will praise you!  

You are my God and I will exalt you!

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good!

His faithful love endures forever.

How devastated I was when my husband broke the news to me that he had just been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.  I had just returned from a consulting job, it just happened to be my birthday, and I was ready to have a wonderful weekend with the love of my life.  We had only been married 3 years and looked forward to growing old together but that one day certainly changed our outlook.  I retreated to the bathroom to have a long cry and think about how I could get God to change what was ahead of us.  I started to bargain with God and suddenly this wonderful calm came over me and I just knew that the Lord would see us through what time we had together and would always be there for me for comfort and guidance. He has never left my side and is always there for me in good times and challenging times.

The Lenten season reflects how I feel about the Lord and my love for him grows daily as I delve more into his word and feel his guidance throughout each and every day. The season shows his Love for us and the tremendous sacrifices he is willing to make for us but can we say the same for our behavior toward Him?

My prayer is that we will take a good look at our behavior and start thinking about how we can all start truly loving one another  and speak only those words that are pleasing to God and perform those deeds that reflect Jesus. Let’s make this a time of thanks and praise for the great sacrifice our Father made by changing our lives to more reflect Him.

– Betty Hickey

Fourth Sunday of Lent

 

lightbulbScripture.jpgFor our fourth Sunday of Lent, we will reflect upon 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. What a beautiful message Paul illuminates in his second letter to the church of Corinthians.  Would you in this moment take a step back, take a deep breath, and consider the enormity of the message Paul is expressing. That is, God our creator is inviting us into relationship with Him through the gift of reconciliation through His son Jesus Christ.  The result is that our insecurities, failures, and our sin do not define our existence, our story. Instead, our narrative finds new meaning when we strive to become so thoroughly transformed by Christ Jesus that we become as Paul writes a “new creation”.  To this end, I pray Christ ignites your soul today with hope, meaning, and purpose. Would you make a choice to pursue Christ this week and deeply consider what it means to be a new creation. In doing so, I am confident that the Holy Spirit will meet you in a tangible way.

It is important to note that Paul does not simply stop at the expression of our personal journey of faith. Rather, Paul writes that we are Christ’s ambassadors, and that we are to be part of Christ’s plan to reconcile the world to Himself. My prayer for you today is that you would ask God to allow you to have interactions with your co-workers, neighbors, strangers, friends, or even strained relationships you may have, that would allow you to take part in this important task. As you do so, would you consider the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer who wrote “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

My prayer is that we would continually strive to be known as a church that shows grace, love, and generosity to our community. Be mindful this week to guard your words, guard your actions, and deeply consider that no matter what stage of life you find yourself in, you are intricately connected to how our community sees Jesus. I pray that you actively pursue God this week, that you embrace what it means to be a new creation,  and that God uses you in a significant way in our community.

– Gordon Houston

Third Sunday of Lent

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Dust from the road stuck to the bottom of my shoes as I walked down the foggy path towards the kitchen. I could see my breath as it went out and then I sucked in the cool morning air though my nostrils. I sat down inside the dimly lit room next to fellow staff members, we let our first words join in singing adoration to our Lord and then audible prayers for the work of the coming day. “Oh God, you are my God, and I will ever praise you! … I will seek you in the morning and I will learn to walk in your ways.”

When I read Psalm 63, I remember working as a lead counselor at Westminster Woods in Northern California and how it taught me discipline. I was up each morning before the sun rose to gather with others and pray. Every stopping point called for prayer and worship. Each lesson I taught and counselor I led depended on the Holy Spirit. We prayed before each meal. At each meeting. As we put our campers to bed each night in their cabins. We prayed. After evening program we gathered together and prayed. It became as natural as walking down the path.

While in college (at Whitworth University) I learned that I could add a discipline during the season of Lent, rather than take something away. One of those was writing in my journal each day. Remaining in a spirit of reflection for the month leading up to Easter reminded me of Christ’s obedience to the Father. I woke up each day and set my mind on Jesus. It gave me focus.

As a mother of young children, it’s nearly impossible for me to have the same type of mornings that I had when I served at Westminster Woods and finding time to journal is increasingly difficult. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded that things that seem small, like taking five minutes to read Scripture or praying before each meal can help to realign my focus towards Jesus. The story of Jesus sitting in the home of Mary and Martha comes to mind. I have to be disciplined to walk away from dirty dishes and unfolded laundry, to focus my heart on Christ and sit at his feet.

Each morning, seek Christ. What discipline can you add to your life that will help you walk in His ways? Pray. Reflect. Write. Memorize Scripture. Be alone with God. Study. Read a devotional. Be quiet. Fast. Where is your focus this Lenten season?

– Hailey Rohde

Second Sunday of Lent

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Psalm 27 has many parallels with my life experiences. Obviously, with God ever present, you manage to come out at the other end even stronger. Verses 1 through 3, “When evil people come to devour me,” – Well, I’m not sure they were doing that, but they certainly were on the attack. It was stressful where I was working at the time. I was concerned not so much for myself, but I was working at a major university, and I had a daughter attending there tuition-free. I didn’t want to compromise that, so I was in a dilemma. It was the best job I ever had, and the worst boss I ever had. Maybe you

have experienced those same conditions. Reflecting back on it, and how present the Lord was in working things out, it was still not a pleasant experience to have to live through, but I had the support of a Church I was attending at the time. They supplied some food and much prayer. I had been suspended from my job, of course without pay, which I found out subsequently was totally illegal. I had joined a service club on campus, and had made some contacts, not that I thought I would need them in this way. One of the persons worked out of the office of the Vice President of the University,

and I spoke to her about it. She said, “They can’t do that.” Well, they had done it. By the afternoon of that day, I had several weeks of back pay and a check in my hand. Things, at that point, took a better turn.

Verse 6 says, “Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me,” – It’s not that I will hold my head high in a haughty manner, that kind of thing, like “I gotcha, you guys.” I will hold my head high above my enemies indicating that these attacks will be ultimately futile. “At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.” Shouts of joy – I feel that, but singing and praising the Lord with music – let’s run that past Lynn to get her expert opinion . . . I try, but she can bring a little more realistic take on that.

Moving on through verses 7 to 10, “Hear me as I pray O Lord. Be merciful and answer me.” Obviously my prayers were answered. I was still feeling things in an emotional sense more than in a practical way; however, when you’re in that situation, it is difficult. “My heart has heard you say, come and talk with me,” and I did that in a conversational way. It was more along the lines of “Help me, Lord!”, not “O Thou who sitteth on the edge of the universe . . .”; “Don’t abandon me,” . . . and then IT happened.

One evening while sitting and reading, I became less aware of my surroundings and I was surrounded by light. There was no sound, totally silent, and through the light, almost as a cloud, a white robed arm was extending downward. I reached up and we grasped forearms. As we did so, I saw a trickle of blood descending on my own forearm, again in total silence. The implication was “Renny, I am always present with you.” The light gradually faded. Did I dream? Was it a vision? It matters little because I knew then that I was being held close.

The outcome of all this is, of course, “Teach me how to live O Lord. Lead me along the right path. My enemies are waiting for me.” Oh, yes. “Do not let me fall into their hands for they accuse me of things I’ve never done” and that was so true, so true. “They threatened me with violence.” They threatened me with the loss of my job, and that would have meant my daughter would have been in great distress, too. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living,” I never lost confidence, but it was extremely difficult to go through those times. The sense of his presence was always there, and it was just up to me to have faith.

“Wait patiently for the Lord.” – Not one of my finest virtues, but I am working on it. “Be brave and courageous.” There is a verse in Joshua that says “Be strong and courageous,” and that’s exactly what you have to be, but in the strength of the Lord. I was no where near strong or courageous enough, but you know in your heart that you have the Lord at your back. And then, “Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” I still have trouble after all this and knowing what he has done and will do for me. I am impatient, but I am a work in progress, and it’s step by step.

This was just a single event in my life in that job situation. Actually I wound up still working at the University, but in a better position. In contrast to the situation at my previous assignment, I was recognized for my contributions. I was transferred to a teaching hospital at an extension campus of the same University where I finished my working career.

Well, as believers, we know the Lord has plans. Life has worked out just wonderfully.

Subsequently other situations have arisen, but I’ve been able to overcome them. So, all in all, guess what? God really does have a plan for your life, and it’s best that we don’t interfere. Just wait for the leading, look for guidance, and it will come. Praise God for that.

– Elder, Renny Nelson

First Sunday of Lent

FullSizeRenderPsalm 91: 1-2

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

he is my God, and I am trusting him.

 

With five kids in the house, each one of us trying to give up a certain food for Lent would have been a nightmare for my Mom. So instead when I was growing up, one of our traditions during the Lenten season was to have a glass jar on our kitchen table. Anytime someone would say a bad word or say something unkind they would have to put money in the jar. As I remember, it started out as a nickel. By the time I was in high school it had been raised to a quarter. On Easter Sunday we would take all the change to church and put it in the offering. (I’m sure the counters loved that!)

When I was little I thought it was fun to put the money in. I would come home from school and confess my indiscretions (either real or made up) and put my nickel in. But as I got older I began to understand the true lesson that my parents were trying to teach us. We are to be aware of what we say and do because our words and our deeds have consequences, both good and bad. As we all got older it became a badge of honor to have the least amount of money in the jar. During this whole process our parents guided us with discussions about what we had said or done and how it affected others. My parents made it a safe place to make mistakes and to learn. To this day I find myself thinking, “Is this going to cost me a quarter?” when I am faced with a situation that I need to respond to.

Now that I have been many years out of the shelter and safety of my parent’s home, I find my refuge, my safe place, in the words of scripture and the conversations through prayer with God. His guidance, concern and, yes, discipline comforts me. I can trust Him with my indiscretions and know that through His grace I am protected and loved.

During this Lenten season ask yourself, “What does it mean to make God my refuge?” are you willing to put your trust in Him? The days of the glass jar are long gone but the lessons learned of guidance, love and acceptance will stay with me for a lifetime.

– Margot Backman