Catching Fire

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” — C.S. Lewis

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, on this day You opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of Your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel , that it may reach to the ends of the earth, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURE: (from the Lectionary)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost came they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them…

PRAYER FOCUS: The Gift of the Holy Spirit

When you hear the word power, what image comes to mind? Is it the power of a machine, perhaps a mighty engine—like the motor in your favorite sports car? What about the power of a jet engine, one with a flame-spitting afterburner? Or the power from a nuclear reactor—producing enough electricity for an entire city? Maybe you imagine power as a muscle, grown through exertion and strengthened by practice.

Whatever form it takes, power gives you the ability to do something.

The four Gospels reveal to us that the disciples of Jesus were ordinary folks selected for an extraordinary mission. And yet even after three years of training in miracles and practical discipleship, they were totally inadequate for the kind of work Jesus had called them to. Their failures were a source of frustration for their Master.

Jesus had commanded them to go—to preach the good news in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). He had promised them that they would receive power. But they would have to wait for it.

Everything changed at Pentecost. Before that day, Simon Peter couldn’t stand up for his faith when challenged. He ran away from his testimony—along with the rest of them. But after receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood and boldly preached the Gospel and 3,000 people were saved. Within the next thirty years, these unlikely Disciples would carry the Gospel to Rome and on to Spain, to Persia and on to India, to Egypt and Ethiopia. From farm to farm, from village to village, town to town, it spread like a wildfire across the whole known world.

Peter, the other Disciples, and the Spirit-filled believers of the early Church witnessed before multitudes in spite of threats and actual physical harm (Acts 4:5-12; 5:29-33). They witnessed before kings and other dignitaries (Acts 24-26). It seemed that no one and nothing could stop the testimony of Christians who had been empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This amazing, supernatural, power was given for a purpose. They were still inadequate in their own strength. Only the power of the Holy Spirit enabled them to use the right words and expressions in just the right ways. The tongues of flame on Pentecost were symbolic of both the fire in their own hearts, and the fires they would start in the souls of men they were sent out to reach.

So, why are so many Christians—and so many churches—setting so few fires? Perhaps because they are bogged down somewhere between Calvary and Pentecost. They’ve been to Calvary for pardon, but they haven’t been to Pentecost for power.

It’s Monday Morning. Pentecost is Sunday. Is your heart already ablaze, or do you need to catch fire again?

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Call of Duty

“Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” —C.S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53
Psalm 47

“Men of Galilee—why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Acts 1:11 NIV

PRAYER FOCUS: Call of Duty.

At different times in our lives we will have different calls of duty. In school we have a sense of duty to our studies. In marriage we have a sense of duty for our family. In our work we have a certain sense of duty to our employer. And as followers of Jesus Christ we have a duty to share God’s gospel with the world. Sometimes we forget the urgency for this calling.

The author of Acts, presumed to be Luke, is a master storyteller. He uses a broad vocabulary to record what happened. He captures the drama and the sweep of events. For example, he narrates the Ascension without stopping to make theological points. Luke is also a top-notch historian, citing vivid details that have permitted subsequent verification by modern archaeologists.

In the Lectionary passage from Acts, the Ascension of Jesus, Luke makes three claims that demand our attention.

The first is that the Ascension confirms beyond any doubt, beyond any other possibility, that Jesus is the Risen, Resurrected Son of Almighty God. In Luke 24:47 Jesus told his disciples that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in my name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Then in Acts 1:8, just before He ascends, our Lord reminds them, “You are witnesses of these things…”

The second point is that the stage is now set for the giving of the Spirit. Previously, Jesus had told them that they would be witnesses, but that they must wait to be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:47). Now, in Acts 1:8, he confirms that they shall receive power from the Holy Spirit and shall be His witnesses to Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth. The order of precedence is intentional—receiving power precedes, and leads to, being effective witnesses.

The third point is about the absence of Jesus. How will they all live without his visible, physical presence? The Disciples are called once again to believe in something that was promised. They are called to see with their hearts a Lord they can no longer behold with their eyes. Clearly He had risen in victory. The question was, would they? Could they?

Two angels bring them back to their senses. Excuse me, gentlemen of Galilee…don’t you have something to do….?

Note that the angels speak gently to the Disciples. They address them, not by their names, but by their region (Men of Galilee). They express knowledge of who they were and where they were from, not in order to remind them of their lowly, common point of origin, but acknowledge the lofty, exalted, world-changing calling now on their lives.

This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.

As the Disciples take their first steps in obedience to their Master, as they set out to do what He has told them, something very important happens. Their faith begins to take form. Faith is born in obedience. Very soon that faith will take flight…

They returned to Jerusalem (v 12). They gathered together with the others, including the women, and ministered to each other (v 13). They prayed constantly (v 14). They did what they had been taught to do. And while they waited, obediently, their faith grew. As their convictions solidified they gained a courage, a boldness, they’d never had before. The Disciples would emerge from their time of waiting as changed men, a force to be reckoned with.

They would wait, as Christ had directed, until they received power from the Holy Spirit. Then they were to give witness to a crucified Christ, who had risen from the dead, and had gone up to heaven, and who would return in glory to judge the living and the dead.

At that time, the number of Believers was about 120 (v 15). On the day of Pentecost, three thousand would come to saving faith (v 41). The Disciples’ faith, so carefully nurtured in adversity, and born in obedience, was going viral. It would spread like wildfire.

Sometimes the Church needs a jolt just like this. Indeed, why are so many of us standing around looking up at the sky? Yes, sharing the Gospel is hard work. Ministry is messy. And it is also unrestrained, incomparable joy that the Church seems to have forgotten.

Billions still live in darkness, Christian. How many will die there, without the light of truth that now flickers in your heart? We have to get the word out. And our time is short. Like C.S. Lewis said, “The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

It’s Monday Morning. After witnessing the Ascension of Jesus the Victorious Christ, God’s angels asked the Disciples why they were still standing around when they had been given instructions. How long do you intend to stand there?

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

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The Practical Atheist, part 2

“In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women, centered on the Living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture, and finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.” —Richard Halverson (1916-1995), chaplain to the United States Senate, 1981-94.

PRAYER: (the Liturgy of St. James, originating from James the brother of Jesus, dating back to 60 A.D.)

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand
Ponder nothing earthly minded
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD…”

PRAYER FOCUS: To the Unknown God

Practical Atheist, n., Someone who says he or she believes in God but lives as if He doesn’t exist.

This is the American tragedy: In a country where the common man rules, nobody is common because everybody is special; everyone gets to be a star for fifteen minutes. The fictional Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,” has morphed from make-believe comedy to a real expectation.

The message of the Western World is self-reliance. It permeates nearly every aspect of our lives. Just turn on the TV. Take your pick of social media. You’re bombarded by commercial images. The world is at your fingertips. You can have everything you want. Just do it…

In the midst of all this noise and distraction, once every week or so, maybe, we will carve out an hour on Sunday for God. One hour out of every 168—and that’s if you’re into it. Many modern Christians have a more “progressive” viewpoint when it comes to church attendance and Sabbath worship. Assuming, of course, the music is good, the people are like us (“our kind of folks”) and the pastor/preacher doesn’t step on our toes or make us feel bad about ourselves.

Come on, seriously. Worship? Dude, that’s so—Grandma and Grandpa.

So much of what we know as “Christianity” has become just another commodity. Select your style of music—organ or guitar? Pick your seating—pews or stadium seats? Would you like your pastor in robes or ripped jeans? As long as the service ends in time to make the last brunch seating. Don’t even talk to me about services during football season.

Admit it—on a day to day basis, we hardly ever stop and think of the Almighty, much less WORSHIP him. We go to church for some weekly shot of feel-good. How often do we walk out of the sanctuary feeling like, “Hey, man, I really left it all on the altar…”?

What do you need God for, anyway? Are you hungry? There’s a 24-hour store near you. Need money? ATMs abound. Your account low? Hit the credit cards. Lonely? Social media—someone’s always there for you on Facebook. Sick? Anyone can go to the nearest Emergency Room. It is a rare instance when we can’t seek results in our money, our skills, our social connections, family, and education. Plus we have insurance. We have Government programs. They’d never fail us, would they?

And when the predictable, linear track of your life runs off the rails and everything you’ve relied upon—perhaps all your stuff—is carried away; when you’re hammered by loss, or the threat of loss; when fear or pain pierces your heart like an ice pick; when suddenly you’re confronted with your helplessness and utter insignificance, and, God-forbid, you should need somebody, some THING bigger than your perilous, pitiful circumstances: Who do you turn to?

Of course, you turn to God. That’s why you believe, right?

Ahhh…so there’s the core of your faith. Yes, God exists, and you do believe in Him, which means you’re not an actual atheist. But in practical terms, your faith is more of a hip-pocket Sunday thing to pull out in case of a real emergency. You don’t really know God, you don’t really love Him, and you don’t really know how to worship Him. And yet you reserve a place in your life for the God Who Saves You. You erect an altar to the unknown God. Just in case.

The ancient Athenians hedged their bets, too. In their polytheistic, pagan theology, the Greeks of that day worshiped and made sacrifices to a whole pantheon of imaginary deities. Their law and tradition demanded it. And yet the Athenians were careful to make a space for a god—a God—they did not yet know. Enter the Apostle Paul, speaking this thing called Truth.

Our first Lectionary Scripture comes from Acts 17, a superbly written chronicle of Paul’s second missionary journey. To the Areopagus, atop Mars Hill, in the tradition of Greek philosophy dating back to before Socrates and Plato, the Apostle Paul delivers the oratory below:

People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:24-31)

God doesn’t need anything from any of us. He is perfect and complete, holy and almighty, all-knowing, all-seeing, unchanging, omnipresent, everlasting and eternal. In His wisdom, He gave to His highest creation, mankind, the ability to choose. Like Adam and Eve, we can choose what’s good or what is forbidden. The love, the worship, God wants us to know becomes true only through choice. Father God longs for His beloved children to choose Him. He loves it when we choose Him. All of Heaven rejoices when another soul chooses Him. Because of the Cross, God holds nothing back from those who come to Him through His only Son. He literally extends to us the keys to the Kingdom.

Everything that is best and highest in Him can also be in us. But it must be chosen, it must be learned.

Never mind the place where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children above average. Here, at the altar where the unknown becomes known, and known again, is the ultimate place of joy and song and beauty and rest. Here is where the beloved offspring gather together with the Awesome Power that brought it all into being. As Paul says, “He is not far from any one of us.”

God does not want to be an unknown God any more.

If Paul’s oration to the Athenians speaks to you today, you’re not alone. According to a recent Barna study, 72% of self-identified Christians claim they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, but only 17% feel that the local church is necessary for spiritual growth. Only one in three believe God expects them to live out what they say they believe. And that’s far too low, Christian. We simply cannot be satisfied with this.

To paraphrase the author Richard Foster, we all come to the altar with a tangled mass of motives—altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. On this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But our God is big enough, our God is good enough, to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by it, we live by it as well… We pray by grace. (Prayer, 1992, p.8)

It’s Monday Morning. May we go into this week knowing that God is waiting for us to “seek Him and perhaps reach out to Him and find Him.”

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The Practical Atheist, part 1

“The organized church is torn with strife and distrust. Ultimately, the battle is not so much between conservatives and liberals, evangelicals and activists, or fundamentalists and modernists. The issue now is between belief and unbelief: Is Christianity true or false, real or unreal?” —R.C. Sproul, American theologian, pastor, and author.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him… (Acts 7:55-58 NLT)

PRAYER FOCUS: The Experience of Practical Christianity

Practical Atheist, n., Someone who believes in God but lives as if He doesn’t exist.

A recent study conducted by ChristianMingle.com, one of the Web’s biggest Christian dating networks, surveyed its participants, asking, “Would you have sex before marriage?” Sixty-three percent of single Christian respondents answered “yes.”

This is bad news, Christian. Really bad news.

Such demonstrations of behavior strike to the very heart of what we believe. They reveal the broad acceptance of a false doctrine, a twisted theology, that has no support in Scripture, and is therefore not of the God we claim to believe in. While it is possible for the church to believe the right things and fail to live up to them, it is simply not possible for the church to believe the wrong things and still do the right things.

Sexuality affords merely one example of the dangerously corrosive nature of unbelief:

Disagreements about human sexuality threaten to divide the church; and while there will be differing understandings, the bishops are called to be bishops of the whole church and to lead the church through such challenges. The residential bishops had conversations about how they could carry out the Book of Discipline and lead during this time. The conversation involved listening and forthright discussion in a covenant of grace-filled hospitality and truth-telling. No decisions or agreements were reached during these conversations.

Now this unsettling announcement comes directly from a large Protestant Denomination’s official communications agency. This is not the language of truth. This is the language of concession and compromise—moral compromise.

“Conversations…involv(ing) listening and forthright discussion in a covenant of grace-filled hospitality and truth-telling…”?

How utterly tragic. Ordained ministers—bishops, no less—come together and cannot agree on the simplest foundational truths of Scripture. Worse, it seems we have church leaders (and entire church agencies) encouraging young people to become practical atheists, not practicing followers of Jesus Christ.

No wonder two-thirds of the sample of dating Christians think it’s OK to have sex before marriage–they aren’t getting the truth. What, then, shapes their understanding of marriage, divorce and abortion? Is there any distinction between these nominally Christian relationships and those of the unbelievers around them?

Perhaps it has ever been thus…

In today’s Lectionary Epistle, Peter compares Jesus Christ to a living stone. He writes that we will either trip over it (a stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall…because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do) or we will build our spiritual house on it (come to him, a living stone…and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood). Peter doesn’t mince his words, nor does he afford room for “different understandings”.

False teachers promote different understandings. They would blur the boundaries between right and wrong, obscuring the truth. They undermine biblical doctrine. They promote untrue beliefs, which, in turn, compel bad behaviors that lead people even deeper to sin and destruction. In a word, false teachers promote heresy.

It is one thing to disentangle the sinner from his or her sin. It is quite another to divorce the heretic from his or her heresy. And yet, once we are clear that heresy exists, then we must vehemently oppose it. Souls are at stake.

The false prophets of the Old Testament gave Israel a message of peace and prosperity. But it was an illusion. They prophesied “smooth things” that would flatter the priests and reassure the people to feel good about their unbelief and their sin. Martin Luther called this Carnal Peace, a false peace.

The true prophets of Israel spoke, and contended for, the truth. Controversy followed them like a shadow. Most of them paid for that with their lives, as did Stephen in our Lectionary Scripture from the Book of Acts.

Sooner or later, Christian, belief collides with unbelief. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Yes, it is true that Jesus came to bring peace between the believer and Almighty God. It is also true that there is an eternal conflict between light and darkness, between Christ and antichrist, between belief and unbelief. There are no neutral parties. We can’t truly believe one way and live another.

Truth cannot be relative and still be true. Truth is dogmatic. It has boundaries. God’s grace cannot be simultaneously sufficient and subjective. God cannot be both holy and compromised.

Neither can the church.

In the uncertain times we live in, we can still be sure of God’s Word of Truth. But if we aren’t living lives that conform to what we claim to believe in, we impeach our witness and invalidate the good works for which we labor. The difference between Practical Christianity and Practical Atheism is the difference between what we believe and what we live.

It’s Monday Morning. This week, we pray to “so perfectly know Jesus Christ…that we may steadfastly follow his steps.” How much difference will that prayer make in the living of your day-to-day life?

Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV)

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The Pathway of Faith

Day by day (day by day)
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see Thee more clearly
Love Thee more dearly
Follow Thee more nearly
Day by day…

(lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak)

PRAYER: (the prayer Richard of Chichester, 1197-1253)

“Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Acts 2:42-47
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10
Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

PRAYER FOCUS: The Pathway of Faith

Godspell was a popular Broadway musical (and movie) in the 1970s, re-released more recently in 2011. The theme song, Day by Day, which hit #13 on the Billboard Top Singles chart in 1972, echoes a 13th century Anglican prayer.

Richard of Chichester was an English nobleman who devoted his life to studying, teaching and church work. He attended Oxford University, taught there, and in 1235 was elected as its Chancellor. He later entered the priesthood, and in 1244 was elected as the Bishop of Chichester, a large and beautiful cathedral in Sussex. He is well-remembered for writing a prayer that today we have substituted for the Lectionary.

Specifically, the Prayer of Saint Richard of Chichester contains a triplet that we’d like to zoom in on:

See Thee More Clearly. If we seek our Father-God, and our hearts are pure, we will find Him.
• 1 Chronicles 16:11. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek His face always.
• Matthew 5:8. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
• Revelation 22:4. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.

Love Thee more dearly. This is an experiential love, an active love; it’s a two-way expression.
• Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (the Shema). Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
• Psalm 59:16. I will sing of Your strength, in the morning I will sing of Your love; for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.
• John 14:23. Jesus replied, “All who love me will follow my teachings; my Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.”

Follow Thee more nearly. We, like sheep, are so prone to wander away from our Lord; but if we remain close we will live abundantly.
• Psalm 16:11. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
• Jeremiah 6:16. This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
• John 8:12. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Have you ever watched a child and his or her father walking through the snow? It’s almost always entertaining, and often illuminating. The child will invariably make best efforts to step into Dad’s footsteps. Following Dad guarantees the child a known path and the firmest possible footing. Taking steps outside of Dad’s will usually result in a stumble and a face-plant, especially if the snow is deep.

The smaller the child, the shorter their stride; the more allowance Dad will have to make for the beloved one to keep up. As a child grows he or she requires less allowance for the length of their stride. A full grown child can even walk side-by-side with the father. Babies, of course, must be carried. Father remains always, and eternally, Father.

The pathway of faith is our walk, our journey, with the Living God. We begin as babies, and as we grow, we learn to walk in His footsteps. Sometimes He makes us pause and lie down in green meadows, beside still waters, to rest in Him and in His beauty. He restores our souls. Sometimes the path is hard and steep, literally through valleys with the shadow of death. But if we are true to the path of righteousness, and stay in His footsteps, the cup of our lives will overflow with impossibly amazing blessings.

The pathway of faith is illumined by the Word of God. We take every step in faith, and every breath in prayer.

Remember, Christian, we are not in the land of the living, on a journey to the land of the dead; we are in the land of the dead, going to the land of the living.

It’s Monday Morning. May God’s Word light your path through this week. May you see Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, follow Him more nearly. And may His goodness and mercy follow you every step of the way. For we will indeed dwell in His house at the journey’s end.

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“What Do I Do With This?”

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
–C. S. Lewis

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (From the Lectionary)

Acts 2:14a,36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: The Extreme Question

“What do I do with this?”

Shelda was the first to speak. Tears were streaming down her face—not sad tears, but the grateful tears of one who has begun to comprehend the awesome measure of grace she had received through the Cross. Her hands were outstretched, palms up, as though she held the precious thing itself.

My wife and I had been teaching a Sunday School class of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, mostly the teenage children of suburban working people. Shelda was just enough different from the other kids that she stood out. Her wardrobe style could have been described as semi-goth, and we understood that was the crowd she most often hung out with at middle school. Sometimes she participated in our class, sometimes she held back. Sometimes she wasn’t there at all. But there she sat, asking the question that confronts and compels every Christian.

This day’s lesson was part of the Alpha for Youth Course, centered on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We had read from the four Gospels. We had discussed the accounts of ancient historians Josephus (Jewish), Tacitus (Roman), and Lucian (Greek). Then we followed with a (very short) clip of the crucifixion scene from The Passion of The Christ.

After we paused the video, these normally chatty young people were speechless. Some, like Shelda, were in tears. The usually outspoken ones were silent.

Shelda’s question pierced that silence like thunder. Despite the tears, her eyes shone bright.

Jesus had done that for her because He loved her. She got it.

While all the other kids were pondering what they had just seen, wondering what to say, Shelda had already jumped ahead to the next step—what do we do with this gift, this grace? She gestured at the blank TV screen that had just showed the video. “I mean, how can you know this and ever be the same again? You just can’t go back to living like you used to…”

She paused, then added, “I just want to tell someone.”

[Teachers Note: More. Powerful. Than. The. Video. (Testimony is like that, Christian.)]

Shelda’s heart was burning. And she did tell someone. She started bringing friends. Not long afterwards, she brought her parents to church for the first time.

This week’s Lectionary Gospel transports us back to the road to Emmaus, where two of the disciples were confronted by a man they knew but didn’t recognize. This stranger walked with them and asked them about themselves. He spoke to them about the Scriptures and made sure they understood them. Then, at the breaking of bread, their eyes were opened and they realized it was their beloved Lord and Master. And they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning?”

Matthew’s Gospel records what we now call The Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19). The Gospel of Mark relates the Lord’s words a little differently, but the message is identical: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

It is one thing to have faith in Jesus; it is quite another thing to have the faith of Jesus. If we are to have the faith to do this, to go into all the world, shouldn’t we first make sure our hearts are burning within us? Let us pray for that fire!

This week let us also pray that God will open the eyes of our faith, so that we may behold Him in all his redeeming work.

It’s Monday Morning. Now that the Easter hymns have been sung, the Lenten fasts have been completed, the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection is over, what will you do with this?

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What Do You Believe?

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
—C.S. Lewis (20th Century Oxford medieval historian, popular writer, and Christian apologist)

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURE: (from the Lectionary)

Matthew 28:11-15

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

PRAYER FOCUS: What Do You Believe?

“His body was stolen away in the night.”

That’s why Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb on that first Easter morning. Or so the chief priests of Jerusalem would have you believe…

Except the chief priests were lying. And they were caught bribing the Roman guards to lie.

There is overwhelming evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, both in secular and biblical history.

Non-Biblical Sources:

• Early non-Christian sources make abundant references to the people and events of the Gospels. Jesus was called the Christ (Josephus). He performed miracles, led Israel into new teachings, and was killed on Passover for them (Babylonian Talmud) in Judea (Tacitus). He claimed to be Divine and would return (Eliezar), which his followers believed, worshipping Him as God (Pliny the Younger).
• The first-century Roman historian Tacitus, who is considered one of the more accurate historians of the antiquity, described “Christians” who suffered under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.
• Suetonius, chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian, agreed with Tacitus, and wrote that there was a man named Christ who lived during the first century in Palestine (Annals 15.44).
• Flavius Josephus is arguably the most reliable Jewish historian. In Antiquities he refers to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” There is a controversial verse (18:3) that says, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats….He was the Christ…he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”
• Julius Africanus quotes the historian Thallus in a discussion of the sudden darkness which followed the crucifixion of Christ (Extant Writings, 18).
• Pliny the Younger, in Letters 10:96, recorded early Christian worship practices including the fact that Christians worshiped Jesus as God and were very ethical, and he includes a reference to the Lord’s Supper.
• The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) confirms Jesus’ crucifixion on the eve of Passover and the accusations against Christ of encouraging Jewish apostasy.
• Lucian of Samosata was a second-century Greek writer who wrote that Jesus was worshiped by his disciples, introduced new teachings, and was crucified for them. He said that Jesus’ teachings included the brotherhood of believers, the importance of conversion, and the importance of denying other gods. Christians believed themselves to be immortal, and were characterized by contempt for death, voluntary self-devotion, and renunciation of material goods.
• Mara Bar-Serapion confirms that Jesus was thought to be a wise and virtuous man, was considered by many to be the king of Israel, was put to death by the Jews, and lived on in the teachings of His followers.
• The Epistles of Paul were written in the middle of the first century A.D., less than 40 years after Jesus’ death. In terms of ancient manuscript evidence, this is extraordinarily strong proof of the existence of a man named Jesus in Israel in the early first century A.D. That these letters corroborate other, independent, accounts is also extraordinary.

Biblical Sources:

Then there are the four Gospels. Set aside, for just a moment, their Divine Inspiration and Inerrancy. Consider that there are four, separate, independent, written accounts about the life, deeds, and words of one man two thousand years ago.

While each of the gospels has its own unique perspective, and references different aspects of, and events in, the life of Jesus of Nazareth, all four gospels coincide and agree on the following events:

• The Betrayal of Jesus
• The Trial of Jesus
• The Crucifixion of Jesus
• The Burial of Jesus
• The Empty Tomb of Jesus.

The tomb was visited by the women (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1) and subsequently by Peter and John (Luke 24:9-12, John 20:2-10).

Most significantly, Jesus was seen alive and in the flesh by multiple individuals, including as many as 500 (1 Cor. 15:7), at different times and locations.
• Report of the Roman Guards at the Tomb (Matt 28:11-15)
• Appearance to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32)
• Appearance to the ten disciples, minus Thomas (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-25)
• Appearance to the eleven disciples, including Thomas (John 20:26-31)
• Appearance to the seven disciples while fishing (John 21: 1-25)
• Appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:3-8)
• Christ’s Ascension (Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53)

The Gospels are reliable. There is every reason to believe they are Divinely Inspired and Inerrant.

Prophecies:

And then there are more than three hundred Messianic prophecies, written over a span of thousands of years, describing the precise sequence of events that culminated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. How would a skeptic dismiss the facts, and then dismiss all of these?

God doesn’t ask us to believe the unbelievable. Faith might mean many things to many people, but it does not mean making believe that something false is true.

The facts and circumstances surrounding the trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are perhaps the most detailed and accurately recorded in all of history.

Furthermore, in the case of the Gospels, these were either eyewitness accounts, or reliable first-hand testimony. The historical record provides extraordinarily solid evidence of a supernatural event that could, and did, change the course of human history.

We are left with the stunning, and amazingly comforting, truth that Jesus was who He said He was—the Son of God, the Word of God in human flesh, the incarnate Deity Himself.

It’s Monday Morning. We have just walked through the jarring events of Holy Week. Yesterday we marked the Resurrection of Jesus, also called Easter. What do you think about that, Christian? What do you believe?

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Easter Awakening

If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching, but whether or not he rose from the dead. ― Timothy Keller

Happy Easter Morning to you!

May this be a day of great rejoicing.

We cannot stress this point too strongly: the women who went to the grave of Jesus that morning (Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and Mary Magdalene) did not start the day believing in His resurrection. They weren’t checking to see if the tomb was empty.

The fact that they carried spices to anoint a decaying corpse shows what they expected to find…

What they didn’t expect was…

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:1-8 )

O, Church, come stand in the Light! Our God is not dead, He’s alive, He’s alive!!!

Tell everybody.

[NOTE: Video “Come Awake” is presented under license with Igniter Media, http://www.ignitermedia.com.]

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The Way of the Cross, part 5

Good Friday–formerly known as Black Friday.

The Road to the Cross ends here, at a place they called “The Skull.”

Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem to hear shouts of “Hosanna.” He wasn’t looking for some previously unsought theological common ground with the Sadducees and Pharisees. He didn’t seek political compromise with the Sanhedrin so they could all just get along. The Scriptures tell us that one of the first things Jesus did in Jerusalem was to raise his voice, grab a whip, turn over tables and drive out those who had sullied his Father’s Temple.

Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday. No.

Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Cross.

[VIDEO: The Last Painting. Presented under license with IgniterMedia (ignitermedia.com)]

I know I wasn’t worth it. And I can’t comprehend why He thought so. But I thank God that He did.

This is the Way of the Cross. This is what it cost a loving God to set me free.

TMP NOTE:

1. The Catholic Church treats Good Friday as a day of fasting, as does the Eastern Orthodox Church. Adult Orthodox Christians are expected to abstain from all food and drink the entire day to the extent that their health permits. As Protestants ourselves, we admire and agree with this church tradition. We pray you will consider honoring these kindred traditions.

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The Way of the Cross, part 4

Why is this night different from all other nights?
On all other nights, we eat either unleavened or leavened bread, but tonight we eat only unleavened bread?
On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight, we eat only bitter herbs?
On all other nights, we do not dip our food even once, but tonight we dip twice?
On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but tonight we only recline?

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life, Amen.

SCRIPTURE: (from the Lectionary)

Exodus 12:1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,

“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb[a] for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.

That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”

PRAYER FOCUS: Tradition

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday.

The English word Maundy is derived through Old French mandé, which is taken from the Latin mandatum, the root of the word mandate. It refers to the first word of the phrase Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), given by our Lord Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13:34 KJV).

According to Biblical scholars, The Last Supper is generally assumed to have coincided with the Seder meal at the Jewish festival of Passover (also called Pesach). Three days before Sunday is Thursday. Why then, don’t Christians hold Maundy Thursday commemorations of the Last Supper coincident with the Jewish celebration of Passover?

The Seder meal is replete with questions, answers, and unusual practices (for example, the recital of Kiddush) intended to arouse the interest and curiosity of the children at the table. The children are also rewarded with nuts and candies when they ask questions and participate in the discussion of the Exodus and its aftermath. Likewise, they are encouraged to search for the afikoman, the piece of unleavened bread matzo which is the last thing eaten at the Seder. Audience participation and interaction is the rule, and many families’ Seders last long into the night with animated discussions and much singing. It is a time for family and loved ones, a time to honor God and give Him thanks. It is a time of tradition. It is the gift of one generation to the next.

Some Christians have begun observing the Seder meal on Maundy Thursday, not out of submission to ritual, but rather, to honor our common tradition. It replicates, to some degree, the last meal Jesus shared with his closest friends. Plus, it is always appropriate to pause and give thanks to Almighty God for His blessings. It is even better to do this with one’s family and/or friends.

Jesus commanded us to remember Him, to honor Him, by observing the sacrament we now call Eucharist, or Holy Communion: Do This in Remembrance of Me (Luke 22:19). We break bread and share the cup not as individuals, but as a community.

We cling to these traditions in order to remind ourselves, and each other—and to educate those who follow after us—that God loves us and has done great things for us. In that remembrance we honor what we receive and can never repay: that in an act of unmeasurable love, the Son of God came as a sacrifice for our sins, that we may have eternal life.

Tradition.

Remembrance.

This is the Way of the Cross.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

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