Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday - 3/31/13

The words of Charles Wesley ring still ring true today!!  Christ the Lord is ris'n today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heav'ns, and earth reply, Alleluia! Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia! Christ has opened Paradise, Alleluia!  Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Dying once He all doth save, Alleluia! Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia! Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! Foll'wing our exalted Head, Alleluia! Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia! Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia! Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia! Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!
King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia! Everlasing life is this, Alleluia! Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia! Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!


May Easter warm your heart today . . . and bless your life!

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 40 - Saturday, 3/30/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 21:25

Devotional Thought:

"Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." - John 21:25

Today is Black Saturday.

For some, it is a day of heaviness . . . sadness . . . a dreary kind of day.

But that will all change . . . because we already know the end-of-the-story.  Tomorrow is Easter and it's going to come shining into our lives.

Nothing can stop it.

Why not consider taking a notepad and pen . . . and write down some of the things you have learned from Jesus during this season of Lent, which will end this late evening at the stroke of midnight.

I bet Jesus has done a lot for all of us. 

Put down what Jesus has done with words on a notepad, or on a computer . . . you will be blessed doing so.  And I bet you will give thanks as well. 

We travel the road of Lent each year for a reason. 

For individual reasons.

What down the individual lessons you have learned this year.

Jesus is still doing things for us today!  Praise the Lord!

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 39 - Good Friday, 3/29/30

Devotional Scripture:  John 21:20-24

Devotional Thought:

" . . . what is that to you?  You must follow me."  - John 21:22

We are all called to love and care for our neighbors.

However, our first responsibility is the condition of our own hearts . . . our own lives . . . and our own souls.

Jesus reminds Peter of this . . . when Peter askes Jesus about the future of the other disciples.

"You must follow me!  No more distractions!  I believe in you!  I have things for you to accomplish in my name!"

In other words . . . "Peter, get to the work I have for you to do!"

Friends . . . today is the day we as Christians acknowledge privately or in worship services that Jesus died for us.  Today we acknowledge that he died a physical death. 

He died.

For you.

For me.

Friends . . . let's get to work . . . our first responsibility again is to the condition of our own hearts, our own souls and our own lives.

Let's get to work.  Easter is within reach! 

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Tonight at 7 PM, we will be having our annual Good Friday service at 7 PM in the Main Sanctuary at the Downtown Campus.  It will be a bi-lingual service (English and Spanish).  Please consider attending.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 38 - Maundy Thursday, 3/28/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 21:15-19

Devotional Thought:

"Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" - John 21:15

All I have to offer today is one single, simple thought.

God is the God of a 2nd chance.

And a 3rd chance.

And a 4th chance . . . .

Peter gets a lot of blame for denying Christ.  Actually, all the disciples were guilty of the same charge.  Peter wasn't the only one to run away.  They all ran away and hid from those who came to arrest Jesus.

They fled the scene . . .

Peter's denial of Christ outside the home of the High Priest is an additional denial, and it seems to receive extra focus from the writers of the Gospels.  

In today's scripture . . . it is Peter to whom Jesus directs his questions after the disciples come ashore for breakfast.

3 times the scriptures record that Peter had additionally denied Jesus.

3 times Jesus asks him . . . "Do you love me?"

3 times Peter replies . . . "Yes."

3 times Jesus responds with his sign of forgiveness . . . in assigning Peter his new task in life.

-"Feed my lambs."

-"Take care of my sheep."

-"Feed my sheep."

Jesus summed all these assignements in two words in verse 19.

"Follow me!"

When you come to God to ask for forgiveness through the name of Jesus Christ . . . please do so with two certain expectations.

-First . . . expect to be forgiven.  Hold on to that expectation with all your heart and soul.

-Second . . . expect to be given an assignment . . . something to do in Jesus name for God's glory.

Please give thoughtful and prayerful consideration about accepting your assignment.  You will hear it or sense it in your heart every time you pray for forgiveness.

"Follow me!"

Take a very long hard look back on the path you have cleared and straightened.  Now look ahead toward Easter.

Is there one last thing you need to do . . .

Oh most gracious Lord . . . I ask forgiveness of my sins in the name of Jesus Christ . . . I confess them to you . . . and I stand ready to receive your forgiveness . . . and that which you would have me do in Jesus name for your glory!   And yes, Lord, I will follow you!  Amen.

Our Maundy Thursday services are tonight at 7 PM at both the Downtown and Heritage Campuses.  I hope you will make plans to attend.  Come share in our remembrance of the Last Supper.

God's graces still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 37 - Wednesday, 3/27/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 21:1-14

Devotional Thought:

"Come and have breakfast." - John 21:12

Have you ever woke from a good night's sleep and smelled coffee brewing, bacon fying, or bread baking?

Rats, now I'm hungry!

I make breakfast for my wife and I about 4 mornings a week.  I usually make what I call "Apple Pie Oatmeal."

Yes, seriously . . . and it tastes better than apple pie. 

While cooking the oatmeal . . . I add Splenda and cinnamon, and a shot of sugar-free maple syrup.

Then, once the oatmeal is removed from the heat of the stove top, I add an entire chopped apple that I heated in the microwave.  Needless to say, I buy a lot of apples.

Then . . . I add chopped walnuts and dried cranberries. (I get mine from the bulk bins at Sprout's in Lewisville.)

I can get anybody to like oatmeal . . . trust me.  If you don't think so, you need to come over one day and try my "Chocolate Cherry Coconut" oatmeal.  I usally save it for the holidays or a rainy Saturday morning.

Mmmmmm Mmmmmmm good! 

This story is the only place in the Bible where breakfast is mentioned.  A breakfast of fresh bread and roasted fish. 

The disciples have just obeyed the suggestions of a stranger on the shore.  As a result, they have a boat-load of fish . . . a clear abundance of fish.  Then comes the realization that the person on the shore is Jesus himself. 

They come ashore . . . and Jesus is there to meet their most immediate physcial need . . . he has breakfast waiting for them after a hard night of fruitless fishing.

That is, until the last throw of the nets.

I've had more than my share of fruitlness nights of fishing . . .  you come home hungry.

Jesus took the bread and gave it to all of them to eat.  Fish sandwiches for breakfast.  Probably not bad tasting at all after a hard night of work. 

What a wonderful message for all of us making final preparations as we clear away and straighten our paths to Easter . . .  that the Savior we will meet fresh again on Easter is the same Savior who feeds us in so many wonderful and unique ways.  Especially . . . he feeds our souls with his presence in our lives.

God's grace (and presence) still amazes me . . . ><>

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 36 - Tuesday - 3/26/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 20:24-30

Devotional Thought:

"Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." - John 20:25

Sometimes we read these words, and get a little high and pious about Thomas and his doubt.  Thomas can be a scapegoat here if we are not careful.

Some people aren't careful . . . some people look for scapegoats.

"I sure wouldn't have doubted!  I would have been a faithful disciple!"

Really?

"Doubt is a sin . . . Thomas wasn't fit to be Jesus' disciple."

Are you sure?

"In all the days of my life, I have lived every single day never doubting God."

Careful now . . .

"I always believe in Jesus 100% of the time!"

People who say this are liars.

I will go out on a limb here . . . every single person in the world . . . including people-of-faith and non-believers . . . all have had doubts at one time or another.  We've all have questions.  We've all been asked to believe, at various times in our lives, something that does not agree with how we see and understand our world.

Each of us sees and lives life through a set of filters, or a particular "world-view." 

An example is this . . . you have a certain world-view if you believe that 1 + 1 = 2. 

However, there are certain sets of numbers where 1 + 1 does not equal 2. 

That's a different world-view.

Some of us can go on a trip . . . and never once look at a map.  We enjoy just driving and seeing where we end up. 

Another example of a world-view.

Some of us can go on a trip . . . but we need/want/demand to have the route mapped and planned out, including our stops and where we will eat, etc.

Yep . . . another world-view.

Now, neither of these world-views is wrong . . . that is until a person who doesn't need a map and the person who does find themselves taking a trip together!!!

Bet that brings back memories of trips you've taken with others???

Thomas' worldview obviously required concrete factual evidence, especially when told that Jesus had been resurrected.

Wouldn't your world-view?

I know I would want hard evidence . . . and I know that for sure.

Honestly . . . why be ashamed of thinking like that?  All of us, if after burying a loved one, were told 3 days later that they were alive . . . walking, talking, breathing, eating . . . WOULD WANT tangible concrete factual proof of such a thing before believing it.

"You want me to believe what? 

Yeah, sure . . . and you have some swamp land that will make a great place for a housing development, right?"

Why ask for, or require, evidence?

My answer . . . I think that most of us have the same world-view about death.

You see . . . the world view of most of us is this . . . "death always wins in the end."

Finished . . . Done . . . end of story . . . take it to the bank . . .

Jesus appears in the house with the disciples.  Thomas is there.

"Thomas . . . put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe."

Apparantly for Thomas . . .seeing in-and-of-itself is believing . . . for the writer does not tell us that Thomas obeyed . . . but rather that he spoke, "My Lord and my God!"

Then we read these words . . . which pretty much stabs our world-view about death in the eye . . .

"Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

For all of us reading this devotional today . . . we are the group that have not seen and have yet believed.  Jesus says we are blessed for doing so.  For we have suspended our world-view about death . . . made it turn a 180 . . . and still consider ourselves perfectly sane.

We believe!

Faith requires us to suspend our world-view at times.  Seeing with our eyes the hard evidence that proves something is one thing.  Seeing with our soul and heart, is another.

Just a few more days to clear away and make straight your path that leads to Easter.  Truth is, some of us just don't have the time left this week to clear away the junk we have left in our lives away before Easter.

There is really only one soluntion left to us.  We are going to have to give all that junk to God . . . on faith . . . and trust Him to take care of it for us.

We are going to have to believe, and then move on,  all without knowing just how God will handle it.

When we do this . . . Jesus shares in our devotional text that we will be blessed.

Amen!

God's grace still amazes me  . . . ><>





Monday, March 25, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 35 - Monday, 3/25/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 20:11-23

Devotional Thought:

"Jesus said to her, 'Mary!" - John 20:16

"Jesus came among them and said, 'Peace be with you!" - John 20:19

There is an old saying many of us "over 50 types" learned a long time ago.  It is said in many ways, but goes something like "waiting a while for something is almost always worth the effort."

In today's jargon, I believe the saying is . . . "Wait for it!  Waaaaaiiiittttttt for it!"

Mary didn't go home like the Peter and John did.  She stayed.

As a result . . . she is confronted by 2 angels who ask here why she is crying.

Nice to know that angels care, isn't it?

Then she turns and gets to see Jesus! 

But something is wrong . . . something has changed . . . she doesn't recognize him until she hears his voice.

"Mary."

Because she waited . . . she saw the resurrected Jesus with her own eyes . . . and she believed.  This was no rescusitation . . . no, this was a resurrection!

Then, forgetting any fear of being declared crazy, insane, she risks forever being labeled as "certifiable," . . .  and obeys the instructions of her risen Savior and goes to announce all she has seen and heard and been told to Jesus' disciples!

Next, we read that the disciples did not go home after all.  For some reason Thomas is not there with the group, but we don't why. 

Eveyone else was afraid and in hiding. Perhaps Thomas was the one chosen to go get food, or perhaps he was sent out to try and find out the latest news in an effort to determine if the larger group was still safe from possible arrest, or worse . . . persecution.

We just don't know.

John and Peter are there . . . they didn't go home after all?? 

Did they turn around at some point on their journey?  Or did they come back the next day?

Again, we just don't know.

But there they were . . . not waiting on Jesus necessarily (remember, they thought he was dead) . . . but probably waiting instead to be arrested together by the Temple Guard on trumped-up charges of some sort . . . or perhaps in fear of just not knowing what to do next now that their leader and teacher was "dead."

Then . . . Jesus is there . . . and blows their minds . . . and does a 180 on their world, their perceptions, their beliefs and their understandings . . . . and their lives!!!!

"Peace be with you!"

It wasn't until after he had showed them his hands and his sides that the disciples believed.

And . . .  they were overjoyed! 

Then, because they had waited and believed, Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

35 days ago, we started this journey to Lent. 

35 days ago we started this task of road building . . . something that some of us have never tried to do or attempted before. 

35 days . . . we have stayed with it.  We've not quit.  We've not gone back home. 

We are still here!!  And we are waiting!

5 more days, folks . . . a few more days to wait and work . . .

It will all be worth the effort!

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday - 3/24/13

Today is Palm Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Lent . . . which is the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter . . . but we don't count the Sundays.

Why?

Sunday is our day set aside for the task of worship!

Worship God today in spirit and in truth.  Palm Sunday is usally a very special day in the life of all Catholic and Protestant churches.

As you celebrate the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem . . . or prepare yourself for His passion during Holy Week . . . Let God know in prayer that you are still working hard to clear your path, to make your road straight so that Easter may arrive unobstructed into your life next Sunday (3/31/13).





Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 34 - Saturday, 3/23/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 20:1-10

Devotional Thought:

"Then the disciples went back to their homes." - John 20:10

What?

Wait just a minute!

Are you kidding me?  Are you KIDDING me?

Is this the sort of thing that happened all the time in that part of 1st Century Israel?

Why this "matter-of-fact" response to the resurrection of Jesus?

They went back to their homes?  They went back home???

To better understand . . . we have to carefully re-read verse 9, which in some Bible texts appears in parentheses, what we call a "parenthetical insertion" by some editor who knows we might need some help as we read this . . .

"(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)"

Ohhhhhhhhhh . . . OK.

I guess.

I think I do come away understanding one thing from all this . . . the disciples never expected the resurrection of Jesus.

Re-read the verses

They went into the tomb . . . they saw the linen clothes that had wrapped his body.

They saw the place where he had been laid.

And then they went home.

They never expected the resurrection. 

I can't blame them either.  I have maintained my own belief that most of the disciples were teens or young adults . . . and in that day and time they would have already come to know one of the most concrete lessons in life:

Death is death. 

It's over.

End of story. 

Realize it.

Accept it.

School with the Rabbi is finished.

There was really only one response to it all . . .

Go home.

I have one question, knowing what I know, that I would love to go back in time to ask the disciples:

"What were you thinking?" 

In fact . . . that's a tremendously important question!!!   You see, we know the end of the story.  Those disciples didn't . . . but they would in just a short time.

Their world view (how they see things in black and white) is getting ready to be thrown for a 180.

Hang on!

As you make final work on clearing away and straighting your path to Easter . . . what are YOU thinking?

Do YOU know and believe the end-of-the-story?

Is it over for you?  Are you going home? 

Or are you going to walk the final few steps to Easter?

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>





Friday, March 22, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 33 - Friday, 3/22/13

Devotional Scripture: John 19:17-27

Devotional Reading:

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.'  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." - John 19:30

Sometimes life really hurts bad.

The words we read in today's scripture are not easy words to read.  In fact, they hurt. 

They are to vivid, to graphic, to painful . . . and much to real.

They are frightening words . . . we read them and shudder.  The darkness of the words chills us.

Jesus knows that his death will follow his next few breaths.  His response is a human one.

"I am thirsty."

Have you ever taken a drink from a glass expecting water . . . but instead it was vinegar?

Yuck!

Now with a lingering sour taste in his mouth (the proverbial last slap in the face), he says, "It is finished."

His death apparantly goes unnoticed by the crucifixion detail . . . they don't know he is dead until they come to break his legs to assure he dies before the Sabbath begins.

Break his legs?

To verify his death, one of the soldiers in the detail plunges a spear head into his side.  His legs are not broken.

Again . . . such vivid, graphic, painful, real, and gruesome words.

Sometimes life really hurts bad.  I find help in dealing with things when life hurts by remembering that God understands how bad things can get, and that He knows how I feel.

God has been there too.  He gets it.  He can relate.

So do the writers of the Bible.  They don't skip over any of the vivid, or graphic, or painfull or real stuff about life. They don't hide it.  They don't gloss over it.  They get it. They can relate.

We all can relate in one form or another.  We all know that life really hurts bad sometimes.

They write about it, and place it on full display in front of us.  It's all right there for us to re-live over and over and over . . .  painful word after painful word after painful word. 

And re-live it we do . . . every year . . . every Good Friday.

I appreciate such honesty.  I can identify with it.  As I work toward an adult Christian response to this depth of honesty, I can again be reminded that God has been there too.

My life is real.  Your life is real.  God gets it.  He can relate.

As we work to clear the final few things away that would cause us to stumble along our path to Easter, we may discover hurts and pains that we have buried deep in our efforts to hide them, to keep them from ever hurting us again. 

Now is the time, with Holy Week and Easter so very close, to risk re-living those hurts as we cry out to a God who understands where we are coming from.  Now IS NOT the time to re-hide them, to re-bury them, to re-supress them . . . but to finally push them completely out of our lives, once and for all.

Sometimes life hurts, especially as we clear and straighten our paths that lead to Easter.  Have no fear though . . . and don't be surprised . . . if now you discover that God is helping you push these final obstacles off the path . . . here God speak to you "It is finished.  These things will never hurt you again!"

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 32 - Thursday, 3/21/13

Devotional Scripture:   John 19:17-27

Devotional Thought:

"Dear woman, here is your son."  - John 19:26

Amazing!  Seriously . . . this just blows my mind in so many ways!

Here is the story of the crucifixion . . . we hear the cries from those whose hands and ankles were nailed through with spikes into the wood of their crosses.

We can only sense their agony as their crosses are lifted up onto the rack that held them, or dropped into a hole in the ground that served as the base used to keep them upright.

We can just imagine the quick military efficiency of the crucifixion "detail."  They've no doubt had to do this before.  It took only a few minutes. 

Better to be quick about it.

We can imagine the shock and alarm of those who were there as witnesses.  Crucifixion was meant as a way to keep people in line. 

It worked.

We can imagine Jesus being consumed in excruciating pain . . .

And yet . . . in the middle of the crucifixion story with all it's gory horrible detail . . . his thoughts are about his mother???

He looks at Mary and says, "Dear woman, here is your son", and then he focuses his eyes on John.  and says, "here is your mother."

Amazing!   Simply amazing.

I can imagine him cursing, screaming, calling down angels to rescue him . . .

Even as he approaches death . . . Jesus witnessed to the very core of his message . . .  to preach and minister to the poor, the down trodden, the sick, the blind, the widowed . . . a ministry of compassion.

"Dear woman, here is your son."

In the end  . . .  even when consumed in pain beyond imagination . . . he is caring for others.

Is there a lesson for us here somewhere??

This is the Jesus we have been preparing to meet on Easter morning. 

This is the Jesus who has inspired us to clear the rubble and refuse from our life and make straight the path to Him!

This is the Jesus . . . who cared for us so much . . . that he died for us.

Such is the compassion extended to us by our God!

Amazing!  Simply amazing.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 31 - Wednesday, 3/20/13

Devotional Scripture:   John 19:1-16

Devotional Thought:

"From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free . . ." - John 19:12

John paints a very sympathethic picture of Pilate.

As I mentioned in yesterday's devotional thought, Pilate is in a "no-win" situation.

He knows it.  It's as clear as the nose on his own face.

Yet . . . he now tries even harder to find every way he can to set Jesus free.

Verse 8 is telling  . . . "When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back insdie the palace. 

What was it that made him afraid?  

Easy enough to figure out . . . the Jews wanted him to give permission to crucify the "Son of God."

Honestly, and in all seriousness . . . who would want such a decision on their hands.  How do you think it would feel to have someone check your employment history, and discover that you sentenced the "Son of God" to death?

Such is much more common than you think.

During all the clearing away and making straight our roads to Easter . . . haven't we all come across certain things that remind us, that at various times in our lives . . . we have shouted "Crucify" as well?

How about those times when the call of Jesus on our lives seemed like a threat to our personal comfort and security?

"Crucify!"

How about those times when we wanted to be the one in control . . . the one calling the shots?

"Crucify!"

How about those times when we just didn't want to be a good neighbor, or turn the other cheek, or go the extra mile?

"Crucify!"

In these last days of Lent . . . we start coming up against the bigger things that block our path to Easter.   It's time to fight as hard as we can to clear them away.

Pilate tried to set Jesus free, perhaps to protect his legacy, and perhaps in some way as a matter of justice . . . but he tried hard to set Jesus free.

Easter's coming.  Let's continue to do the hard work we need to do to set Jesus free in our hearts and lives.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 30 - Tuesday - 3/19/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 18:28-40

Devotional Thought:

"I find no basis for a charge against him." - John 18: 38

I once wrote a paper about Pontius Pilate back in my college days at Texas Wesleyan University (a very long time ago).

I wrote that I felt sorry for him.  I still do.

Here was a man who was smart enough . . . and powerful enough . . . who had all the right connections and influence . . .  and was politically adept enough to be the governor of a particular region of the mighty Roman Empire.

When this man said "JUMP!" . . . you were already in the air asking, "is this high enough?"

Actually, it would have been . . . "is this high enough, sir?"

Pilate asks Jesus the question, "Do you think that I am a Jew?"   

This is indeed a very interesting question from the man who had the type of job that required the "boss" to be an expert on the customs, politics and religion of the people he was governing. 

I believe that Pilate knew the entire event was a set-up.  "I find no charge against him."

He even goes out and tells the Jews that very thing . . . and as a result, he has the beginnings of a "staged" political riot on his hands.

What to do?  Stand up for the rights of a man who was not even a Roman citizen, or give the crowd what they wanted.   For Pilate, the situation may have had "no win" written all over it.

Turn Jesus over and debate with the Jewish leaders some othe day about "truth," or call for a Centurion and have his men "physcially" disperse the crowd during the time when there just happened to be more people in Jerusalem than at any other time of the year?

This is one of the those "rock in a hard place" type moments that all leaders must face at one time or another.

Faith sometimes requires us to make difficult choices in our lives . . . choices that can lead to confrontations.

As you continue to clear away and make straight your path to Easter . . . you may yet have such choices to make, or perhaps those choices have come already. 

Faith is not easy.  Doing what is right is not easy.  

Remember, Jesus had a choice, and he chose the cross.

What choices are you willing to make between now and Easter . . . which is only 11 days away?

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>



Monday, March 18, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 29 - Monday - 3/18/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 18:12-27

Devotional Thought:

"Again Peter denied it, and at that moment, a rooster began to crow." - John 18:27

Have you ever intentionally betrayed someone?

I have.  I'm not a saint.  In my younger years, I betrayed someone I shouldn't have.  The memory of it is still painful almost 40 years later.

Have you ever unintentionally betrayed someone?

Well, looking back on my life . . . the answer to that question is "yes" as well.   Such is human nature.  Such is our daily battle between choosing to react out of emotion or to respond out of careful and reasoned thought.

As I read todays's scripture, I cannot help but believe that Peter never intended to betray Jesus.

I have carefully read the Gospels many times, and as a result, I know and believe that Peter loved Jesus very much.  Jesus was his friend.  Peter was one of Jesus' inner circle of buddies.

Then . . . (there is always a "then" . . . or a "but" . . . or a "however" . . .)

-There was the unexpected confrontation with a angry crowd.

-There was the possible regret for lashing out against someone with a sword.

-Then Jesus was arrested.

Surely Peter was scared to death . . . in over his head.

We can't discount panic . . . probably about the fear of being exposed, surrounded by hostiles, even arrested himself.  Peter saw that Jesus was being beaten and dragged around for being honest.   He probably doubted how if could handle that.

This was not a time for reasoned thought . . . this was chaos . . . mayhem . . . a riot . . . in time of such as these, in such a high level of stress and conflict, he probably went into shock, or in the least his brain shifted to "fight or flight" mode.

I'm pretty confident my mind would have done the same thing.

Finally . . . I do think Peter was an older teen or a very young adult.  Working on his father's fishing boat and three years with Jesus never, never prepared him for what he faced that evening.

Want to know something else I believe?

I think more people identify with Peter than any other disciple.  Like Peter, when we find ourselves far outside our comfort zones, with the situation completely out of our control . . . we sometimes experience laspes in judgement and character . . . often to great regret. 

For some people . . . the regret eventually takes over their lives.

In truth, we are challenged daily with many situations that test our Christian commitment and faith.

Will we pass all those tests?  Probably not . . . but the knowlege of that should not keep us from trying.

Peter will get his second chance to "carry the ball."  And he will redeem himself admirably in doing so.

We as well will get a second chance, as well as a third, fourth, fifth . . . tenth . . . or hundredth chance.  That's the nature of a relationship with a God who loves us enough to offer us salvation through Jesus Christ.

Some of the things you may be sweeping to the side of your road to Easter this year may be reminders of past failings and betrayals of faith.  Show them to God.  Confess your failing and shortcoming.  Get it off your chest.  Then cast it away from you, to never to be thought about or remembered again!  The forgiveness of God is that strong and that powerful!

The God we meet at Easter, is the God of the 2nd chance  . . .

Such grace still amazes me . . .  ><> 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

5th Sunday in Lent - Sunday - 3/17/13

Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent . . . the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter . . . but we don't count the Sundays.

Why?

Sunday is our day set aside for the task of worship!

Worship God today in spirit and in truth. Let Him know in prayer that you are still working hard to clear the path, to make the road straight so that Easter may arrive unobstructed in your life. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 28 - Saturday - 3/16/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 18:1-11

Devotional Thought:

"Jesus, knowing what all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, 'Who is it you want?" - John 18:4

Have you ever chosen a "road" (a choice in life) even though you knew exactly where it would take you?

Have you ever avoided such a choice because you knew where it would lead you?

Tough questions . . . the answers to either could bring back painful memories of past decisions. 

Doing what's right in life is sometimes painful.  Very painful.

In our scripture lesson today . . . we see that the time of prayer is over.

Jesus walked forward to face his arrest.

He could have hidden.  He could have run away. He could have allowed Peter and others to defend him with swords.

As I think about it now . . . there are many things Jesus could have done other than walking forward.

But he did none of them.

He walked forward to face arrest . . . and as a result, he walked toward the cross.

Despite his knowledge of the pain and the final cost to his own life . . . he accepted what God wanted him to do.

Such obedience to God's will, even to the point of willfull sacrifice . . . is amazing.

Such is the requirement of being obedient to God.  In the end, all it takes is one thing . . . trust in who you're being obedient to.

As we continue our effort to clear away and make straight our road to Easter . . . let us examine our hearts . . . that we might become more obedient to God in areas of our lives.  

God's grace still amazes me . . .  ><>

Friday, March 15, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 27 - Friday - 3/15/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 17:20-26

Devotional Thought:

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message." - John 17:20

Another prayer from the Rabbi/teacher/mentor. 

In yesterday's lesson, we read how Jesus prayed for his disciples in the work they would carry on in His name.

Today we read that Jesus offered a prayer for those who would come to believe through the teaching, preaching and ministry of his disciple's.

I don't know about you . . . but the prayer in today's scripture lesson strikes me as coming from someone who had no doubt what-so-ever that his disciples would have a positive influence on others.

Jesus believed they would have a great impact! 

He believed in the message he taught them!

Jesus taught the message to them well because he himself was absolutely clear and confident about who he had received his "curriculum" from.

Faith can be a difficult thing.  It takes time to work through everything we have been taught, to mine it for gold, to separate the wheat from the chaff so that we can:

        -Know with confidence and certainty WHAT we believe, and
        -Know with confidence and certainty WHY we believe it!

When you find yourself in a structured learning experience, or when you come across one of the many teachable moments of the day . . . stop and pray for your teacher.

When you find yourself in teaching situations . . . pray for those learning from you . . . especially those who learn from watching everything you do.

Never underestimate the influence you have, as a person of faith, on others around you.  Your sphere of influence is much greater than you think. 

Clearing away and making straight the path to Easter is something that the people around us have been watching us do for the past 27 days.   Pray for those who have been learning how to get ready for Easter  . . . by watching us.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 26 - Thursday - 3/14/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 17:1-19

Devotional Thought:

"For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.  They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me." - John 17:8

One thing we often forget about the disciples . . . Jesus chose every one of them.

In each and every one of them . . . he saw something that caught his eye.  He sensed something about them.

Was it potential?

Was it their IQ?

Was it their character, or the condition of their hearts?

Each of these disciples had probably been exited out of synagogue school between the age of 12-15 years of age so that the teaching Rabbi's could focus on the more gifted students.  As a result of being told, "you can go home now," they would have been apprenticed to their fathers, or to another male relative, in order to learn the "family" business, which they would have been expected to help with.

This little band of disciples were individual characters in their own right.  The late William Barclay and others have written books about what we might know or could assume about them. 

I truly do believe that most of the disciples were teenagers, or young adults.  Their lack of life experiences and maturity explains so many of their responses to Jesus teachings.

But again . . . Jesus chose every one of them. 

Why?

There are some teachings in Rabbinic Judaism which imply that rabbis chose their disciples (students) for one reason alone.  A disciple was chosen because the Rabbi beleived they could learn, or grasp, his teaching, and that they could teach it to others.

Perhaps Jesus had the same expectation of the disciple he chose.   This rag-tag bag of disciples went on to teach what Jesus had taught them . . . and they helped change the world!

In our scripture lesson for today, Jesus was earnestly praying to God on behalf of his disicples.  Jesus had taught and mentored them . . . and he truly saw the potential they all had, that they could carry on his teaching.

Teaching or mentoring someone on how to do something is a rather interesting process.  

First, the mentor instructs his/her students, "watch and listen to me do what it is that I want you to learn to do."

Second, the mentor tells his/her students, "now, let's do this together."

Third, the mentor tells his/her students, "now, you do it by yourself and I'll watch you."

Fourth, the mentor tells his/her students, "you are ready, go out now and do what you have been taught to do."

The prayer Jesus is praying in chapter 17 . . . it's the prayer similar to what many teachers or mentors pray right before they "cuts loose" their students to go out into the world.

My feeling is that Jesus believes in these disciples he has chosen and mentored.

Jesus believes in you and me.   He sees us cleaning and making straight the path that leads to Easter.  He believes in us, that we will be ready for Easter in time.  He knows we can do it. 

Jesus has faith in us . . .  His disciples!!!

The knowledge of that makes me feel good . . . it validates the efforts I have made this Lenten season.

That Jesus believes in me . . . inspires me!

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 25 - Wednesday - 3/13/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 16:17-33

Devotional Thought:

"What does he mean by 'a little while'? We don understand what he is saying." - John 16:18

This is one of several scripture verses found in the Gospels that convinces me that a majority of Jesus' disciples were probably 15-18 years old. 

My wife and I raised two daughters.  There were times, when they were teens, when my wife and I would offer advice concerning a situation they were about to experience.  If you are/have been a parent of teens, you remember those times when your intuition kicked in that your child was leaning toward a decision or response that would lead them to dissappointment.  In others words, they were close to doing something they would remember with regret.

In the process of our "discussion" with them, my girls would get stuck on what they thought concluded was the main point my wife and I were trying to make.

I believe the same thing happened to the disciples in today's scripture lesson.  Jesus had shifted the discussion toward what they were about to experience in the coming days.  The disciples seemed unable to understand what he was saying because they had focused on the little phrase "a little while."  Jesus was offering them some major advice and counsel, but they weren't listening because they were all focused on what "a little while" means.

Seriously . . . some of the disciples must have been teenagers.  I have no doubt about this.

Jesus shares with them that he is going to die.  As a result, the disciples were going to naturally experience grief, loss, confusion, fear . . . but out of the experience would flow a new life.

Reread verse 33:  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

Friends . . . on this 25th day of Lent . . . some on the journey will have come to the conclusion, or are near it, that the work of clearing away and making straight the road that leads to Easter is hard . . . very hard. 

Perhaps the words of Christ are echoing in our ears and brains because what he says is so true . . . "in this world you will have trouble." 

Please don't get stuck on that phrase like teens sometimes get stuck on something that isn't the main point.  

Keep reading . . . "But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

Keep sweeping away the rubble.  Keep pushing the rocks and boulders on your path off to the side.  Keep filling in the places where your road has been washed away.  

Why? 

So that you can more easily come face-to-face this Easter with the one who has overcome the troubles of the world  . . . for you!

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>







Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 24 - Tuesday - 3/12/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 16:1-16

Devotional Thought:

" . . . he will guide you into all truth." - John 16:1-16

Ever been suddenly left alone?   I mean the type "alone" that suddenly swallows you up in it's own strange sort of way?

Ever had a time in your life when you actually said out loud, "is anybody there?"  Maybe in that situation you were hoping to hear a friendly voice . . . any voice. 

Sometimes being alone is actually what we need.  For some, being alone can be frightening . . . especially in a world that seems to be changing around you a lot faster than you seem able to keep up.

One thing for certain from today's scripture lesson . . . the disciple's world is getting ready to change.

Jesus is telling his disciples that he will be leaving them soon.  The thought I get out of today's scripture is that the news of Jesus leaving is almost too much for his disciples to bear. 

Yet . . . Jesus wants his disciples to know that even though he is leaving, he has made arrangements for the coming of the "Counselor" (NIV) or Holy Spirit. Jesus goes on to teach some of the things the Holy Spirit will do for and with the disciples in his absense

First, the Spirit will convict (counsel) them when they do wrong.

Second, the Spirit will guide (counsel) them toward the truth.

Third, the Spirit will make known (counsel) to them the many wonders of a loving God.

The Jesus reassures (counsels) the disciples that the Spirit will be God present with them always.

The same Holy Spirit is available to each one of us in our lives as we open our lives to Jesus.

As you continue to work to clear away and make straight the path that leads to Easter . . . ask the Holy Spirit to guide your focus on the work that needs to be done before March 31st.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, March 11, 2013

Daily Lenten Devotional - Day 23 - Monday - 3/11/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 16

Devotional Thought:

"I am the vine; you are the branches." - John 16:5

Antoher great chapter in the New Testament Gospel of John.

The first 8 verses got my attention.  

Most of the people who know me very well know that I have spent time, off-and-on the past 10 or 15 years, learning about the Texas Wine industry, especially the vineyards around the Fredericksburg, Texas area.  In our travels, Liz and I have gotten to know some of the people at the Sister Creek Winery in Sisterdale (a bit down the road from Luckenbach), and at Santa Maria Cellars located between Frederickburg and Kerrville.  All are fine folks with a passion to make and education others about wine.

Some of the wineries in the Hill Country area do have their own vineyards . . . and the owners rely on a lot of help each year from volunteers to harvest the grapes. 

However . . . that is usually not the case when it comes time to prune back the vines after the harvest.  This is usually left to experts who know what they are doing.  It is too important a task to leave to amateurs.

In creating new grapes for wines, growers sometimes graft one kind of grape onto the branch of another, hoping that the grapes, as a result, will have a new and unique taste and flavor that will help create a wine that many people will appreciate and purchase.

When one starts a journey to learn more about Jesus, they become, if you will, a branch that becomes grafted to a new vine.  As a result, the fruit of his spirit can grow within us as we study, think, worship, share in discussions, experience fellowship, and as we join together with others as we rouch outward beyond the walls of church.

Another benefit of this grafting process is that God helps to develop his character in us in the process, so that we become more able to open our eyes and see where He is alive and active in the world.  As well, we become more able to see the needs of others around us.

As you continue to clear away and make straight the road that leads to Easter . . . have you discovered yet what you are really "grafted" to in your life?  Is it time for some selective and appropriate pruning?   Is it time to change which vine you are grafted to?

Reminder . . . tonight I will lead our Monay night Lenten Pastor's Bible study in Leach Hall.  We will be continuing to talk and learn more about the benefit of the disciplines of study and guidance in our lives.  I invited you to attend if you live nearby.  Looking forward to seeing you there.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Sunday, March 10, 2013

4th Sunday in Lent - 3/10/13 / Monday Bible Study - 3/11/13

Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent . . . the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter . . . but we don't count the Sundays.

Why?

Sunday is our day set aside for the task of worship!

Worship God today in spirit and in truth. Let Him know in prayer that you are working hard to clear the path, to make the road straight so that Easter may arrive unobstructed in your life.

Note: I'm preaching at the downtown services at FUMC-Grapevine this morning, as we continue our Lenter sermon series on "Practice."   I will be speaking about "Study and Guidance."   On Monday evening, 3/11/13, I will be leading a special Bible Study in Leach Hall at 6:30 PM on the same Sunday, but more in depth than allowed for in a sermon.

Hope to see you there. 

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 22 - 3/9/13

Devotional Scripture:   John 14

Devotional Thought:

"I am the way and the truth and the life." - John 14:6

When I travel to someone's home or go on a trip . . . I usually print out a map from my computer, or have the location "pinned" on the Maps app on my smart phone.

Why?  Well, I don't want to be late, and I don't want to get lost.  Simple enough.

Actually, it's more than that. 

I don't like to ask for directions. 

It's not what you think.  This isn't about "men never want to ask for directions."

Well . . . maybe it is.

Here's what usually happens when I ask someone for directions.  

"Well, let me think a minute . . . I think you take this road here, and go down across the next two intersections . . . and then around the first part of the S-Curve past the 2nd light . . . or maybe it's the 3rd light . . . and as you just start to come around the first corner you take the 2nd right . . . or is it the 1st left? And then you turn right again by the old grocery store . . . or is it the drug store?  Well anyway, at the next corner you'll see the Post Office off in the distance up the hill, but before you get to it, hang a right and look for a white mailbox . . . turn right at the next corner, and then you drive . . . ."

You know how it is . . . dont you. 

You do if you were honest.

In my case, nine times out of ten, I get lost, then get mad at myself for not having the right map or not having any "bars" on my cell phone . . . and then had to ask someone else for directions . . .

A few times I turned around and went home  . . . at least I would have if I could have found my way back!!!!

However, on a couple of occassions when I have asked for directions . . . the response has been, "Follow me, I'll take you there."

Those acts of sincere kindness are always greatly appreciated.

If you are looking for God in a special way this Lenten season, then look to Jesus.  He doesn't bother with directions or a map.   Instead, he will just take you to God. 

There are 18 days of Lent left . . . Jesus will lead you the rest of the way around any obstacles you haven't yet cleared away on your path to Easter.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>



Friday, March 8, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 21 - 3/8/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 13

Devotional Thought:

"Do you understand what I have done for you?" - John 13:12

Another powerful chapter of scripture.  John 13 is worth your reading several times today.

My reading seemed to be drawn to the first 17 verses.

It was customary in the Holy Land in the 1st century for water and towels to be available to all guests entering a home, especially on such a solemn and holy occassion as the Passover Meal.  Some roads of the day were made of gravel, but primarily they were mostly just dirt paths with inches of dust when the weather was dry, and liguid mud when the weather was damp.  Most people wore very basic sandals made of a piece of leather with leather laces to hold them onto one's feet.  As a result, one's feet could get pretty darn dirty by the end of the day.

For some reason, the disciples in charge of preparing for the meal in the Upper Room failed to prepare the water bowl and towels.  Perhaps a miscommunication between them and the owner of the house?  Or as we read in Luke 22, towels and water may have been overlooked as a result of the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest, and thus inheriting a place of honor next to Jesus.

In a wonderful act of love, the master and teacher of this little band of disciples saw a teachable moment, and did himself what none of the disciples was prepared to do.  He washed their feet. The Master willingly became the servant.

A possible lesson for each of us to consider from our reading is this:  There is only one kind of greatness in life, and that is the greatness that comes through service to others.

As you have taken the time during this season of Lent to clear away and make straight the path that leads to Easter and a resurrected Savior . . . have you uncovered an act of service you had every intention of doing, but perhaps laid to the side, or accidentally forgot?  Or, as you have cleared away the clutter of life, have you become less distracted, and as a result now more clearly hear the still quiet voice of God whisper to you the name of someone He would have you cross paths with . . . perhpas to serve?

Are there some feet around you that need washing?  Are you prepared to do for them, in honor of and out of love for Jesus, what no one seems prepared to do?

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 20 - 3/7/13

Devotional Scripture: John 12

Devotional Thought:

"For they loved praise from men more than praise from God." - John 12: 43

Here we are . . . half way through the 40 days of Lent. I'm sure looking back on how much work you have undertaken to clear and make straight the path leading to Easter provides a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Until . . . you look at what lies ahead . . . 20 more days . . . and I promise, the road will look for cluttered and curvy along the way.

So . . . let's continue our walk toward Easter.

John 12 is so rich with so many great stories . . . but a couple of verses from John 12 always catch my eye as well as my thoughts . . .

"Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees, they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God." - John 12:42-43

Jesus' message was not falling on deaf ears. There were those who come to believe . . . but they had failed to confess.

Why?

They feard the response from others in even higher authority.

So, it seems to me that these believers were seeking to accomplish a most difficult task. They were trying to be secret disciples.

Guess what? It's impossible to be a secret disciple. Secret discipleship is a contradiction in terms. The secrecry itself will eventually weaken all of the positive aspects of discipleship. And, the requirements of discipleship cannot be contained within the walls of secrecy. It's a no-win situation.

If you are a follower of Christ . . . you may be able to keep from talking about it. However, your actions and how you live will begin to testify about what you believe.

Trust me . . . that's how it works.

Isn't it amazing how people have so many confused values? Many have chosen not to support a great and worthy cause because of some less important interest? To support Jesus openly for the religous leaders of that day would have probably meant their loss of place, profit and prestige. The same is often true today. My way of thinking is this . . . having Jesus is still more than enough to overcome feared or anticipated loses.

Do you believe in Jesus? Are a secret disciple? As you clear and make straight the Lenten path that leads to Easter, are you uncovering evidence of what you have been working hard to hide? Are you big enough to stand up for what you believe in your heart?

If you aren't sure . . . don't worry. Jesus said he will help us by giving us the strength we need.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Back from a gig in Mansfield . . .

I had a great time singing at the Primrose School at Walnut Creek in Mansfield, Texas this morning.  My youngest daughter is the kindergarten teacher there (and a most very excellent teacher I say so myself!!)

The children helped me sing a bunch of children's favorites, and I taught them several of the songs from our Hugworks theraputic music entertainement catalog.  Then I tried something new, and played a game using my Native American flutes ("Can you guess what kind of sound this flute makes?")  I ended with a couple of songs using my baritone ukulele, including a rousing rendition of the "Dead Armadillo Song" that my family sang a lot when my girls were little. 

I cannot recall ever seeing 12 kindergarteners suddenly lying on their backs with their hand and feet up in the air, pretending to be dead armadillos. 

I guess I should be ashamed . . . but actually I laughed about it all the way home until my sides ached.

You have to actually hear / know the song to understand . . .

An awesome experience . . . my first time to see and witness my daughter teaching.  Awesome!!!  I am very proud of her and her career choice.  She has amazing skills and abilities.  I think she was born to be a teacher.

I believe pictures will be posted on the Primrose School at Walnut Creek facebook page. I hope to have a couple of pictures up as well as soon as my daughter sends some to me.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 19 - 3/6/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 11:45-57

Devotional Thought:

"What do you think?" - John 11:56

What a wonderful question we find in verse 56, after we have read about how the religious leaders argued about how to get rid of Jesus.  Funny, the difference between what the general public thinks about things going on around them, and what leaders in private plan to do about what's going on, planning how to spin it to their advantage . . .

Oh . . . the intrigue of it all . . .

"What do you think?"

As you read today's scripture passage, could you say that you would have come . . . or would you have stayed in hiding for a while and then arrived at a later time, when things had cooled down some?

"What do you think?"

Is a follower/disciple of Christ to ever fear the consequences of doing the right thing?  Or are we to fear the consequences of not doing the right thing?  Is it always right to do what's right?  As I read the scriptures, I believe it is always right to do what is right.  Although doing so is sometimes painful.

"What do you think?"

Is it ever right to do what is wrong?  Oh how we are tempted to believe that is it OK to do something we know is wrong to do.  But, who will find out?  After all, what we do wrong is never anything big, right?  In the end, it won't really matter in the grand scheme of things? 

"What do you think?"

Back when I was a police office teaching the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in various schools in Fort Worth, I learned a really good definition of the word "consequence."  A consequence is the the result of something you choose to do or choose not to do.  So, consequences are either positive or negative.

"What do you think?"

I believe that Jesus fully understood the possible consequences of his arriving where people were looking to arrest him.  Despite this knowledge of what lay ahead, Jesus came and in doing so fulfilled God's will.  What follows during the events of Holy Week do not make for a very pleasant story.  The physical consequences he faced were in no way "pleasant."

"What do you think?"

One consequence of Jesus' actions is that we are able to experience salvation and a closer walk with God.  As you face moral dilemmas and the decisions of character they require of you, think about doing what is right.

Do what is right . . . as you continue to clear away and make straight the path that leads to Easter.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 18 - 3/5/13

Devotional Scripture: John 11:1-44

Devotional Thought:

"Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha." - John 11:1.

The following is a rewrite of a devotional I wrote on the same text back in 2007.  It begins with . . .

Why did Jesus go back tot he home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, albeit two days after he first heard of Lazarus' illness?   Stories in the Gospels shed light that the home of these three special friends was perhaps a place of refuge for Jesus, where he went during his itinerant ministryfor rest, peace, love, understanding and friendship.

Sometimes it's just nice to be welcomed somewhere where you can just be yourself among friends.

Jesus used this visit to bring Lazarus back to life from the tomb.  It is a compelling story of faith and the power of love, the power of God.

However, I want to focus on a related question for our consideration today.  Of all the people you know, whose home are you always welcomed into?

Perhaps there is no greater gift a man or woman can offer to someone else than a place to rest a weary heart, soul, mind . . . or a set of tired feet.  What a gift it is to have someplace where we can go at any time knowing that no one there will laugh at our dreams or misunderstand our passions or concerns for the thing we hold as most important in life, what we believe to be the very heart of God.

There is really little cost to this kind of hospitality . . . it costs on the understanding heart. Sometimes the message comes like this . . . "Can I come over to visit, now?"  Sometimes the message comes like this . . . "We need you, get here as quickly as you can." 

Often our motivation for responding is in the "knowing where we are going."

As you make straight the path for the oncoming of Easter . . . why not check your front porch light and welcome mat as well.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 17 - 3/4/13

Devotional Scripture: John 10

Devotional Thought:

"Therefore Jesus said again, 'I tell you truth, I am the gate for the sheep." - vs. 7

Can there be a grander chapter of New Testament scripture than found in John 10? So much to cover.

For today, I want to offer a "re-write" of a devotional I wrote back in 2007 on this same scripture. This rewrite begins now with the introduction that . . .

The name of paternal grandfather was Hugo Adam Mang.

No, his friends did not call him HAM for short. He was simply "Hugo."

He grew up on a farm and was raised to be a farmer, but during the depression of the 1930's was able to find a job with the railroad - a job he was glad to get. He kept that job out of appreciation until the day he retired. It was a job on the midnight shift, and he never changed from midnights in all the years he worked on the railroad. Such was the level of his appreciation and thankfulness for getting a job when many others were losing theirs.

During the depression, my grandfather applied his farming skills to the backyard of his and my grandmother's home at 327 E. Mayfield Drive in San Antonio, TX. For many, many years, he would begin each February to prepare an old style home "Victory Garden" of tomatoes, squash, corn, black-eyed peas, green beans and okra, which would all be harvested the following fall.

Grandpa Mang wisely built a fence to separate his garden from the rest of the back yard, which he kept immaculate and precisely trimmed. In the middle of that fence was a large white painted gate, big enough for his wheelbarrow or pull-wagon to go through loaded with tools, or with the fruits of his labor.

Unless invited by my Grandfather to help him work in the garden, his grandchildren were not permitted to open the gate and go in unsupervised until after all the crops were harvested. Then all his grandsons were allowed to help pull up crops and engage in epic corn stalk "sword fights."

To be invited to walk through the gate into Grandpa Mang's garden was a wonderful honor as well as the blessing of his trust. It opened up my passion for raising plants and vegetables that I still have today, although I have moved toward doing so on a much smaller scale using container and small raised beds instead of long garden rows. I have some cold weather crops of broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, red leaf and green leaf lettuce growing and doing well right now.

To enter Grandpa Mang's garden was almost a spiritual experience. Working in his garden was something he very much enjoyed. Besides meal time, the only other time I saw my Grandpa pray was when he was in his garden. A couple of times I heard him refer to the garden gate as "the Gate to Heaven."

Jesus is our spiritual gate in life. As we come to know Him in our hearts, we are invited through "the gate" into a loving relationship with God. Out of that relationship comes our discovery of the passions we have for life and ministry to others.

Perhaps the effort we each make during this season of Lent . . . to make straight the paths that allow us to meet a joyful Easter . . . could include our preparing our spiritual gardens and gardening tools for the growing season to come.? Let's dust off our Bibles. Let's make our prayer places a little more comfortable. Let's refocus our attention on the areas of mission and ministry we have felt called to help with.

There is work to be done before there can be any kind of harvest.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Sunday, March 3, 2013

3rd Sunday in Lent - 3/3/13

Today is the 3rd Sunday of Lent . . . the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter . . . but we don't count Sundays.

Why?

Sunday is our day set aside for the task of worship!

Worship God today in spirit and in truth. Let Him know in prayer that you are working hard to clear the path, to make the road straight so that Easter may arrive unobstructed in your life.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 16 - 3/2/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 9:13-41

Devotional Thought:

"He answered, I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?  do you want to become his disciples, too?" - John 9:27

"The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." - John 9:30-34

At different times in my life, both my mom and my wife have sometimes looked at me and said something like this . . .

"You have a ton of book sense, but not much common sense." (a loose translation . . . FYI).

I think we see something similar happening in this story.

The religious leaders see something that is beyond their "book sense" understanding.  What they "know" and "understand" as truth cannot provide an asnwer for what has happened to the man whose sight has been restored by Jesus.

It's obvious to the blind man what happened, and it's pretty obvious to us as we read the text.  Jesus restored the man's sight!

I find it absolutely fascinating . . . that the religious leaders would say that what had happened was bad . . . because they couldn't explain (and therefore accept) that it was good.

Pardon me . . . restored sight is bad??   Really?? 

Having a 2nd chance at life is bad??  Really??

I can imagine that a few folks reading this may be squirming a bit . . . for aren't many of us guilty of coming to certain conclusions about others . . . because what happened didn't fit our understanding of the way things are supposed to be, or how things are supposed to happen?

I appreciate study as much as anybody.  I read at least 20 books a year.  But as I grow older, I am learning that faith sometimes involves simple common sense.  I used this phrase a few days ago, "letting go and letting God." 

On our journey to make straight the path for the arrival of Easter . . .  that may be what we have to do sometimes . . . let God be God in our lives . . . doing so is a good thing.  And like the man whose sight was restored . . . we get to pray to God, "Lord, I believe!"

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lenten Daily Devotional - Day 15 - 3/1/13

Devotional Scripture:  John 9:1-12

Devotional Thought:

"While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." - John 9:5

After my cancer diagnosis this past fall, I took the time to visit with Trudy Hughes, who herself is a cancer survivor.

I shared with her that I had asked my doctor if there was anything I had done that caused my cancer to form.  My doctor said "No."  As he put it . . . my family history was OK, and there were no real risk factors for thyroid cancer.  In other words, people get thyroid cancer and we can't explain why.

Trudy shared that she had, several years earlier, asked her doctor the same question, and got the same answer.  What Trudy next shared with me gave me some needed hope.  She shared how she began to see God working through her situation, especially in all her friends who came to offer help and encouragement in so many wonderful ways. 

Trudy then looked me in the eye, and told me, "For the first time in my life, I could feel someone prayers lifting me up!"

What caused the blind-man's blindness?  Who knows?  In truth, it doesn't really matter.

What matters is that the "light of the world" touched the man's eyes.  And I believe he could feel "lifted up!" 

His life changed dramatically as a result.

Unfortunately, there are those in the story who were still stumbling around in the dark . . . who could not see the miracle that we do when we read this story.

Have you ever felt "lifted up" through the love and tender touch of others . . . or through the spirit of Christ that dwells in the hearts of those who ask him to come live there?

The "light of the world" is still among us . . . and his light helps us to overcome the darkness which hides the obstacles on the Lenten road that need yet to be cleared away or removed before Easter.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>