Monday, March 31, 2014

Jesus and a Word of Prayer

Last week, I read a *devotion by Stanley Ott in which he comments on the story of Jesus calming the sea found in Mark 4. Ott's main point is that is if all Jesus did was rebuke the wind and the wind died down and that was the end of the story, it could be left up to interpretation whether Jesus did in fact calm the storm or if the wind dying down at that very moment was coincidence. However, Jesus left no room for interpretation, according to Ott.

It’s the next phrase that changes everything. Jesus said to the sea, “Peace! Be still and there was dead calm!” 

To understand the significance of this you have to know a little physics. There is tremendous energy that is stored in giant waves as they roll and roil. When the wind dies down, the energy in the waves keep the waves thrashing around for a long time.

For crashing waves to become immediately a “dead calm” is totally unnatural. It happened because Jesus spoke with power of the actual infinite, almighty creator God of the universe.

If Jesus can calm not just the wind but remove the energy from the raging sea to calm it instantly with just a word, what can't he do in my life and for that matter, for my community through me? 

Think about the things Jesus did. He healed the sick and dying, not like a doctor or surgeon would, but with a word. He fed tens of thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread, not a chef's ability and knives, but with a word of blessing. No mother in history could have made those fish and loaves spread so far among so many and have so much leftover, but Jesus did—twice! He brought people back to life! Stop and read that again  Jesus brought people back to life merely by uttering their names. How does this not stop us in our tracks to marvel with awe and worship the doer of these impossible deeds? 

We've heard these stories so many times; it's easy to overlook the impossibility of the fact, the undeniable miraculous, breathe-taking, mind-blowing reality that these things actually happened. They were not like the grand illusions of Houdini or Copperfield. There were no mirrors and wires and beautiful distracting assistants and choreography. Jesus had the power to alter the physics of a raging sea as easily as if ordering rye toast and jam.

Nothing I will face in my life and in my faith journey is beyond his ability to overcome and since I am going through this life with him, I know I don't need to fear the challenges that come our way. One last thought –Jesus said to us, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:12) Did you get that? We—you and me—we will do greater things than Jesus did! So why aren't we? I'm not saying we should all be walking around speaking over the sick, lame and dead expecting them to rise up and walk. Even Jesus didn't heal everyone within his reach and within the sound of his voice when he was on earth. What I am saying is that Jesus' power to do the impossible is not only available to us, but expected by Jesus to be used by us. How? The answer:  Prayer. "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." (John 14:13-14)

Hear me—This isn't one of those "name it and claim it" things and this isn't license to ask for and expect that pony or dirt bike you always wanted. In other words, don’t expect that new car to magically appear in your garage tonight. And it isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card for tough times or to get out of consequences of our actions. This kind of intercessory prayer is for the glory of God and the very serious work of God's kingdom. This is what we are to be about. This is one way that Jesus works through us, allowing us to use his authority to change the world in miraculous ways with a word of prayer. Prayer is very serious work and should not be taken lightly. 

I am going to try to remember that the next time I say grace.

*Stanley Ott devotion:  Building One Another, March 25, 2014; Vol. 13, No.5 Dead Calm-Live God;

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Lenten Journey - A Modern-Day Psalm

Against Almighty God alone I have sinned.
Heap ashes upon my wretched head
and cover my shame with sackcloth
for I come to You O Lord on my knees.
I hide my face from Your holiness.
I am a sinner.
Oh, Father – forgive.
Death is my due.
Forever apart from Your glory.
In anguish my heart cries out to You.

Rejoice! Praise the God of heaven and rejoice
for the Lord has heard my cry.
He has reached out to me in His love 
with grace and blessings.
He has called me His own!

Sin permeates my flesh, Oh Lord.
I have sought my own pleasure,
my own pride, and my own desires. 
Instead of seeking Your face, Your will – 
I closed my fist around all I had.
I scorned and mocked You when I should have served You.
I turned my back to You when I should have loved You. 
The sin in my heart disdained Your holiness
and I hid from the light of Your glory.

Rejoice! Praise the God of heaven and rejoice
for the Lord has heard my confession.
He has reached out to me in His love 
with grace and blessings.
He has called me His own!

Lord Jesus, I come to You broken and penitent.
Forgive me, Oh Lord – forgive.
Take my sins,
my awful horrendous sins, 
and remember them no more.
Strip the guilt and shame from my soul, O God
and grow in me a new heart.
One filled with love and devotion for You.

Rejoice! Praise the God of heaven and rejoice
for the Lord has forgiven my sins.
He has reached out to me in His love 
with grace and blessings.
He has called me His own!

Savior – Redeem me.
Redeem my life and my soul.
Only Your sinless life 
and sacrificial death on the cross
will satisfy the death sentence that sin demands.
Only Your righteousness for my ungodliness
will bring me into the Father’s presence 
with praises on my lips and joy in my heart
rather than tears of fright and fear of punishment.

Rejoice! Praise the God of heaven and rejoice
for the Lord has redeemed my soul.
He has reached out to me in His love 
with grace and blessings.
He has called me His own!

Teach me, Oh Lord.
Show me the way to honor You.
I seek only that Your desires be mine
that Your sacrifice and grace be honored
in my words 
and in the proceedings of each day.
Command me Lord God and I will obey
not for fear or for profit
but in the deepest love and with tremendous gratitude.
Lead me Lord and I will follow – 
Follow You through the end of days
for You are worthy.

Rejoice! Praise the God of heaven and rejoice
for the Lord has created in me a faithful heart.
He has reached out to me in His love 
with grace and blessings.
He has called me His own!

Lord, help me to see the world through Your eyes
to give comfort to those broken and in pain
Enable me to be Your hands and feet,
to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned,
give water to those who thirst, shelter to the homeless,
clothes and shoes to those in need.
Empower me to reach out Lord God
to my enemies in Your love and mercy
and to forgive those who hurt me.
Holy Spirit, I pray You would preach the Gospel
in my words and deeds each day
and may God be glorified in the offerings of my heart.

Rejoice! Praise the God of heaven and rejoice
for the Lord has made me His disciple.
Hosanna to the King of Glory
for He has reached out to me in His love 
with grace and blessings.
He has called me His own!

I’ve shouted, “Hosanna to the King” and cheered.
Yet how quickly I forget the hope You bring
when I want my desires, my own road
when Your will and Your way I don’t understand.
I call You Teacher, Friend and Lord 
As we gather at the table, 
break the bread and drink the wine.
Yet abandon You for sleep and run away in fear 
when the time of trial arrives.
For my guilt You are dishonored, Your name cursed
at the whims of evil men.
In despair I see You hanging on a tree for the sum of my sins.
And then it is done.
All that is left are tears.

Rejoice! Praise the God of heaven and rejoice
for the Lord has Risen from the grave.
He has heard my cry and my confession,
forgiven and redeemed my sinful soul,
and formed in me a faithful heart.
He has summoned me to follow Him.
He has reached out to me in His love 
with grace and blessings.
He has called me His own!
Alleluia! Praise the Father! Praise the Spirit!
Praise the Son! Alleluia and Amen!

(A Lenten Journey - A Modern-Day Psalm (C) 2011 Maureen Profeta)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Lent?

It's Lent—the time of the year when we Christians take stock of our discipleship and relationship with Christ. Time to repent. To renew our hearts, minds, and commitment to Christ. Some do this by giving up something precious for the Lenten season as a way of remembering and sharing in Christ's sacrifice for our sins. Some will add a new discipline like reading the bible daily or daily acts of kindness and blessing to others. However we do it, Lent is a time religious tradition has chosen to take a good hard look at our relationship with God and our discipleship, to repent of our sins, our failings, and our apathy towards God's will in our lives.

This is a time to ask the tough questions. Am I a good Christian? Do I really love God or am I just going through the motions? Am I seeking his will or mine in my daily walk? We don't do this to condemn ourselves, but to repent and renew our commitment to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We remember how he gave everything to save us and allow our gratitude to swell into praises to our God and King. Then on Easter morning, with a renewed heart, mind and attitude, we celebrate history's greatest act of love and victory with the joy of undeserved grace.

But that is just the beginning because the day after Easter, we don't just "go back to normal" and forget about it again until next year. If I do all this and don't grow in my love for God, in my faith and discipleship—if I don't change during this time of Lent—then I am doing something very wrong! On the Monday after Easter, I should be more in love with the Lord, more anxious to get about his work and ministry, in spreading the Good News of the Gospel to the world as Jesus commanded just before he returned to the Father.
Lent is not a time to get through. It's a time to jump start my discipleship. It's hard work that lays the foundation for the future. Why do I do it? I have a God who created me and loves me to the point of dying for me and who is so powerful he rose from the dead to be in eternal relationship with me. Why wouldn't I do it?

May God bless you in this time of renewal as he is blessing me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Joy of the Moment

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. (1 Peter 1:8 NIV)

March can be a difficult time of year for me as the end of March brings the anniversary of my son’s death. This past week, a family member reminded me to make the effort to look for the joy in the moment because that’s what my son would have wanted me to do. When I looked for the joy I found loving family and friends, prosperity that most of the world only dreams of, and inherited freedoms which I never had to fight for and too often take for granted. When I consider the origin of such blessings, I have to acknowledge that God is the foundation of my joy. He has given me comfort and joy instead of sorrow. (Jeremiah 31:13) He has made known to me the path of life and filled me with joy in his presence, with eternal pleasures at his right hand. (Psalm 16:11 NIV)

This time of year also brings Holy Week – both the culmination of and the story of the Gospel message, all in the span of a week. On Palm Sunday (as we now call it), Jesus was hailed as Son of God and king but when he didn’t conform to the people’s idea of that role, they turned on him much as Adam and Eve did when they rejected God in their disobedience. Much as I did in the sinful arrogance of my life before I came to know Jesus. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus shows us how we are to come together as one body (even though we are all so very different, just as the disciples were uniquely different), not ignoring or dismissing differing opinions and passions, but putting aside the differences in serving one another. On Good Friday, Jesus taught us the meaning of Godly love and sacrifice while fulfilling the law on our behalf and the promise of God to bring us back into relationship with him. And on Easter Sunday, we rejoice with Christ’s resurrection – the gateway to eternal life in God’s holy presence as his beloved children.

It is this day of rejoicing in Christ’s atonement for my sin and rising from the dead that makes the anniversary of my son’s death not just bearable, but a day of hope and anticipation—for I know I will hold my son in my arms again on that day when we are together in God’s holy presence. That is the joy that is to come! For now, though, I don’t want to miss the joy that God wants to bless me with now so I will share the love, encouragement, peace, and comfort the Lord has given me with those around me. That’s how God brings joy into every moment!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Storms that Come

This past weekend, all the weathermen were predicting yet another snowmageddon to hit our city hard. I don’t know if they do this in other places, but in Pittsburgh, when the threat of a large snowstorm begins to loom, everyone runs to the stores to snatch up eggs, milk, bread, and toilet paper in bulk. No matter what else happens—Pittsburghers will never be caught snowed in without plenty of eggs, milk, bread and toilet paper to last until the spring thaw.

According to the reports, we could get anywhere from three to six to ten inches of snow. Now this is not our first snowstorm. While we don’t live with ten feet of snow for months like those in the most northern states do, we have enough experience with winter storms to know what to do and to have what we need at the ready to deal with its havoc. These storms may slow us down a little, but never stop us in our tracks completely.

Facing storms in life is something we all do. Big storms, little storms—sometimes we are right in the middle of the raging storm and sometimes, we get hit on the edge of someone else’s. Facing challenges in life is how we live and grow to be stronger and, hopefully, wiser, more compassionate human beings. And just as we prepare ourselves for the physical snowstorms by gathering the staples of life to wait out the storm’s worst, we need to prepare ourselves for the other kinds of challenges that we will encounter. There will be emotional and spiritual storms just as surely as there is always another storm rising in the atmosphere of the earth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I prepare for the storms that come and go in my faith life. What are the staples I should be storing up? Obviously, the answer is spending time in the Word and in prayer. If these are our spiritual sustenance, why is it so hard to make them a lasting priority in my life? What are the spiritual equivalent to snow plows and ice melt? Maybe it would be regular worship and regular fellowship with brothers and sisters in the faith. If so, why is it so difficult to convince myself to attend to these spiritual disciplines? I don’t know.

But I do know that knowing God through his Word and in prayer is more desirable than not being with God. I know that to worship God is so much better than not worshiping him. And taking this journey with others is far preferable than traveling alone. That’s what I try to hold onto when I am fighting with myself to do what I know is right. It’s this knowledge that brings me turn back to God always whenever I stray. Living out faith is hard. It’s contrary to our sinful nature and it takes constant attention and care—something I am going to fail at from time to time. But that’s okay. I’m not going to be angry at myself for falling off the wagon so to speak. I’m only going to be angry at myself if I don’t get right back on.

If you find yourself struggling in your faith, don’t despair. You’re going to fall in life—that’s a given. Just decide now to always turn back to God, let him pick you up and brush you off and you will always land on your feet heading in the right direction.