Pastor Will’s Blog – April 20th, 2017 ~ Let All Things Praise God!
Read Psalm 148.
Psalm 148 is a part of the collection of Psalms designated as “Praise” psalms. Psalm 148 begins and ends with “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah!”.
The psalmist desires to express that every one, everything, in every situation must praise the name of God.
I have come to the conclusion that this psalmist is on to something special. In my experience, genuinely praising God leaves little room for life’s distractions and faith obstacles. Focusing on God, especially the sovereignty of God over creation and over my life, keeps my focus off of daily trials.
God created us for the purpose of living in committed relationship with God. The best way I have found to keep that relationship in the forefront is to lift praises to God throughout the day. The way we choose to praise God in our daily routine will vary from person to person.
A disciple may work to intentionally grow in the area of praise. We can look at daily praise in two ways. First is intentional praise. This is time set aside each day to pray and give thanks to God. Intentional moments may occur as a planned part of your daily calendar. Perhaps your model is in the morning, afternoon and evening. Your set aside moments may occur at the gym or as you are waiting on a bus.
The second is occasion praise. Whenever you find an occasion to give glory to God, you take that opportunity. Praise God while driving, when you notice something in nature that reminds you of our Great Creator, or as you find yourself in a quiet moment between projects.
The psalmist writes (or sings) with the confidence of one who experiences the relationship with God for which we were created. May you also have an experience of the Holy today, and every day. May we all join our voices in praises to God.
And remember...do not find time in your day to schedule time for Jesus. Instead, schedule your day around Jesus.
"Praise the Lord!"
Prayer Focus: Praise, Thankfulness, acknowledge beauty of creation, practice breath prayers.
Holy Week – Good Friday – Mark 14:53-15:41
Read Mark 14:53 - 15:41 (Set aside uninterrupted time for this long reading)
Today, Good Friday, will be a relatively short blog for two reasons.
First, there is little more I can add to the scripture. Mark, along with the other Gospel writers, sufficiently recount the trial, persecution and execution of Jesus.
Second, I honestly do not like to reflect on the sadness and pain of that day. And yet, I know that I must. The eternal significance is too great to ignore or avoid.
Calling this day “Good” Friday is ironic and difficult, also appropriate. It is nearly beyond comprehension how the pain of one could lead to Good for so many.
God broke into human history for the purpose of becoming the sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus came to pay the price that humanity was unwilling, unable, to pay. On this day, the price was paid. As we hear in Jesus’ own words in John 19:30, “It is finished (completed)”
Without Good Friday, Easter never comes.
Read the accounts of this day in all four Gospels. Read them as many times as you can bear. Allow God’s Word to convict you of both the tragedy and great Goodness of this day.
( Matthew 26:57-27:50 / Mark 14:53-15:39 / Luke 22:54-23:46 / John 18:28-19:30 )
PRAYER FOCUS: Grace, Atonement, Sacrifice, Repentance.
Holy Week – Thursday – John 19:1-6
Read John 19:1-6
Have you ever been wrongly accused? Unjustly punished and embarrassed?
Admittedly, I have done things in my past where I was rightly accused and justly punished. Yet, I do remember a time in May 1997 when I was caught up in a situation that was both embarrassing and avoidable.
Picture this: I am reporting aboard my new duty station, a Navy Destroyer. The ship was one month into a six month NATO deployment in the Mediterranean Sea. I meet the ship in the Province of Cagliari, situated in the southern part of Sardinia Italy. After checking in and unpacking a Senior Chief Petty Officer, that had helped me find my rack in Chief Petty Officer berthing, invited me to hit the town with him and another Chief.
Remember, I am the new guy and knew no one. We were off the ship a few hours, exploring the town, particularly the bars. At this point of my life I admit I was no teetotaler, but I knew better than to drink heavily on my first night at a new command.
As the night comes to an end we make our way to the designated bus stop where we will be transported back to the ship. There are 25 to 30 sailors waiting on the bus. I chose to sit on a curb off by myself, partially because I was tired from travel and partially to avoid interaction with a mostly intoxicated crowd.
It was during the wait that a disagreement between two sailors became increasingly loud and vulgar. I observed until it seemed that one of those involved was on the verge of approaching the other. I sensed that physical contact was a real possibility. I looked around hoping someone that knew the two would step in, but quickly realized that was not going to happen. I felt a sense of obligation to try and defuse the situation so I stood and “asked” the aggressor to calm down. He then turned his wrath in my direction and with a skillful flurry of profanity and noticeably balled fist, came toward me. My hopes that I could step in and prevent the situation from getting worse vanished. So I stepped back in a defensive stance and prepared for the worse.
It was then that my new friend and liberty buddy for the night decided to perk-up and get involved. He restrained the drunken sailor and escorted him as far away from the crowd (and me) as he could until the bus arrived. I was very relieved thinking it was over and all is well.
The bus eventually arrived and carried us back to the ship. To my surprise, as I boarded my Senior Chief friend was waiting on me and, through slurred speech, asked that I surrender my I.D. card. I was astonished, embarrassed, and disappointed. I had no doubt that I was, by far, the only sober person involved. All I had done, was what I considered to be my duty, and attempt to defuse a bad situation and prevent a new shipmate from making a huge mistake.
The next morning, my first on my new ship, I am called to the Captain’s Cabin to explain myself. All he knew was that I was involved in an alcohol related incident on foreign soil, my first few hours assigned to his command. After appropriately chastising me, he listen to my account of the story. It became obvious that the Skipper had experience with and knowledge of the drinking habits and tempers of the others involved. He returned my I.D., told me he understood my actions and sent me on my way.
Although I suffered no official repercussions for the events of that first evening, I had to earn the trust of my new Commanding Officer over time.
In no way am I comparing this story to the accusations and punishments Christ experienced, except to offer a contrast. In hindsight, my incident had little to no effect on my life or career. And when I stood with the good intentions of breaking up a fight, it never crossed my mind that I might be in jeopardy of facing accusations and punishment.
Christ, on the other hand, knew exactly what he faced. He knew, and willing accepted, the consequences of facing Pontius Pilate. Our God embraced humanity and stepped between our Sin and eternal death. God in Jesus the Christ became the necessary sacrifice so that we may have a path to salvation through the repentance of our sins. Jesus wore the crown of thorns, experienced the excruciating pain of the soldiers whip, made the long walk with cross on his back, was nailed and hung on that same cross. He faced accusations and chose punishment he did not deserve. And he did this for you and for me.
PRAYER FOCUS: self-reflection, repentance, atonement, forgiveness.
Holy Week – Wednesday – Philippians 4:4-13
Paul makes it sound so easy doesn’t he? Whenever I am concerned, distressed or discontent, all I have to do is remember “whatever you (I) learned, received, heard, or saw in us”. So all I have to do is study the bible and remember all the teachings and everything will be okay, because the God of peace will be with me. (Phil 4:9)
I must be doing something wrong. How about you?
Okay, perhaps I am taking this too literal and out of biblical context. The church in Philippi knew Paul. He was their founder and spiritual mentor. They had a personal relationship with the 13th Apostle. He obviously care about them deeply. Take a look at Paul’s greeting from Philippians 1:1-8:
1 From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. To all those in Philippi who are God’s people in Christ Jesus, along with your supervisors and servants.
2 May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
3 I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. 4 I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. 5 I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. 6 I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. 7 I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel.8 God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
This was a special relationship. With that in mind, in proper context, it is easier to understand how Paul might expect such devotion and effort from his Philippian family.
Perhaps that is what I am to take away from this passage. My relationship with Jesus is my source of peace, contentment and strength. I want my Lord Jesus to look at me in the same way Paul looked at his friends in Philippi. I want to bring Joy to Jesus! I want to put a smile on my saviors face.
Here is our thought for the day: What does Jesus see when he looks at us? Is he proud of us? Doe God see people who are obedient and faithful?
The secret to contentment and the way to experience real joy is by trusting in our Lord.
13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.
PRAYER FOCUS: faith, trust, spiritual disciplines, contentment, joy.
Holy Week – Tuesday - Matthew 21:23-27
Let’s talk about “Authority”. Today’s reading from Matthew 21:23-27 is focused on both authority and its source.
23 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”
But who is kidding who here? These “leaders” are not concerned with Jesus’s authority. As far as they are concerned he has none. This is all about their authority and the challenge Jesus poses to their power. If the true Messiah were to come the people would surely follow him as their religious leader and so the chief priest and elders would effectively be demoted to second fiddle. They could have none of that!
We know from scripture that these religious leaders had no problem attacking the character and claims of anyone they considered a threat. They are not above paying bribes (Mt 26:22-25; 27:3) or influencing public perception (Mt 27:20-23). Their goal was to set a trap to catch Jesus breaking Jewish Law or claiming to be something he wasn’t. Jesus was to wise to be caught in their snares.
Jesus turned their question around on them asking, “25Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?” He knew he had them. They did not like all the attention John was getting either. Jesus knew that if they were honest they would admit that they did not believe John was a prophet from God any more than they believed Jesus was the Messiah.
The religious leaders could never admit that because they knew the people believed in John, the people believed in Jesus. Their power depended on the submission of the people to their authority.
An important teaching of this passage is that Jesus’ authority, unlike that of the chief priest and elders, does not rely on anyone else. His authority is divine, eternal and independent of our recognition. Jesus owes no one an explanation. His power and authority over creation exist whether we submit to it or even acknowledge its existence.
That is why the gift of relationship is so important. When we choose to give our lives to Christ, to submit to God’s Holy authority, we are choosing forgiveness over guilt and shame, community over loneliness and salvation over death.
May the power of God guide your thoughts and actions. May divine authority govern your life.
PRAYER FOCUS: submission, servant-leadership, God’s sovereignty, faith.
Holy Week – Monday - Matthew 21:12-20
A lot happens in the nine verses of Matthew 21:12-20. Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers and chairs of the dove sellers in the temple, he healed the blind and lame, he chastised the chief priest when they questioned the claims of the shouting children, and finally he commanded the fig tree to dry up…and it did.
Yesterday we celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”. The children are still shouting these words in verse 15, prompting the angry challenge of the temple priest.
Jesus answers them, “Haven’t you ever read, ‘From the mouths of babies and infants you’ve arranged praise for yourself?’” This is not meant to imply that the chief priest arranged praise for themselves. Jesus is quoting a line from Psalm 8, a psalm dedicated to the glory of God who created us to give praise.
Even the babbling babies and nursing infants know enough to praise the Holy One, the “Son of David” when they experience him. Yet, these religious leaders are not praising Jesus, they are actively working to disprove his identity as the Sent One, the promised Messiah.
I believe Jesus, the Sent One, is just as busy today, in our streets and temple courtyards, as he was then. Through those who call themselves Disciples, those empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, Jesus still acknowledges injustice, still heals, still deserves our praise and worship, and yes, still serves as just judge for those “fig trees” that refuse to bear fruit.
It may seem that Jesus is a bit testy in these verses. Can you blame him? He knows that the same crowds welcoming him with shouts of praise will soon condemn him with shouts of “Crucify him! Crucify him!”.
He knows that his closest friends and followers will soon betray and abandon him when he needed them the most.
He knows that in a few days he will bear the sins of the world, paying the price for which he came, fulfilling his destiny.
Jesus deserves our praise, our faithfulness and our obedience. Will you praise him?
PRAYER FOCUS: dedication, faith, discernment, praise, healing, obedience.
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