Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Third Day.....

Easter Sunday

A Responsive reading for the day: to be read aloud in alternating voices with others.

Psalm 22:22  I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

Psa 22:23  You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

Psa 22:24  For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

Psa 22:25  From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

Psa 22:26  The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

Psa 22:27  All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

Psa 22:28  For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

Psa 22:29  To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

Psa 22:30  Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

Psa 22:31  and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen


Friday, March 29, 2013

Where are you God?

Good Friday

Psalm 22:1-21  To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.  Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.  But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.  All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;  "Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver--let him rescue the one in whom he delights!"  Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast.  On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.  Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.  Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;  they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;  my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.  For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;  I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;  they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.  But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!   Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!  Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 

 This Psalm is ascribed to David. Many suggest that David’s suffering at the hands of Saul (1 Sam 20; 21:1–15 & 1 Sam 23:25–26) or the time of his flight from Absalom (2 Sam 15–17) would have produced such words. Christians recognise these as the words said by Jesus on the cross. However, this must not be thought of as “the words of Jesus”. It entirely possible that Jesus used this Psalm to encourage himself as he faced the toughest moments of his life. It is equally possible that the New Testament writers used this Psalm when they came to describe the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday,

This is a prayer that has been helpful to generations of people who are struggling with problems. The reality is that God’s presence is not always experienced. There are moments when God feels far away, and our prayers dry up and blow away. The contemplative writers refer to the ‘desolation’ that is experienced when we feel like God has withdrawn from us. Good Friday reminds us that we can bring our tears and disappointments to God – literally crying out the words.....

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Those who teach the ways of silence in prayer do not see ‘desolation’ as a lack of spirituality. Rather it is seen as a gift given to deepen the spiritual journey. St Ignatius teaches that desolation can be God’s gift to help us become more aware of our dependence on God for everything in life. We are encouraged not to rush past the emptiness – but rather to wait in this desert place for the Grace of God.

This year I am reminded again of how the desire for instant gratification in our lives prevents us from pausing in the discomfort. I am in Japan, in a country that prizes its trees. Some trees are presented as little bonsai works of art on plant stands, and some as large trees in gardens. These trees are beautifully crafted, each individually shaped according to the texture of the wood, and the way the weathering of the years has exposed the uniqueness of its design. The gardeners have patiently cultivated these works of art over many years, content to wait for a long-term result – one that cannot be rushed.

I invite us not to rush through the pain in search of results. Stay with the pruning, and the shaping, and the bending to God’s will.  Live with the tears of Good Friday a little longer – for it is in this discomfort that we will find our comfort.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Preparing for the Festival

Maundy Thursday

Mark 14:12-26  On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?'  He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.  When it was evening, he came with the twelve.  And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?"  He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.  For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."  While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body."  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.  He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.  Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."  When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus asked his disciples to begin the preparations for the festival. It strikes me how difficult this must have been: Jesus was a stranger in town. He had come from the rural areas with his students and as a good rabbi he would have wanted to do things properly. But instead of gathering his mother and brothers as has would have been his tradition, he rents a room in the city and gathers his students in what would have been a very makeshift celebration.
I know this feeling, because I too am far from home. I am in Japan with my wife, daughter and mother-in-law. There are absolutely so signs of Easter anywhere. Not even evidence of the commercially driven Easter. Christianity is unknown here. This is the season of the cherry blossoms, and the population is out in their droves to see the blossoms. Which in its own way denotes resurrection and new life: the cherry blossoms announce that winter is over, and gives hope for the arrival of warmer days. So this year I will look to the cherry blossom and think of Jesus – who announced new life in defiance of darkness and death.

If you find yourself in a place that makes Easter difficult for you – perhaps you can ask God to open your eyes to a sign of God’s new life at work in your world. I pray that you too might become aware of the ways that God overcomes sin and darkness.

Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of my life spent with You...

And here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You're my God....

Easter Sunday
Christ Lives
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.142


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

...all our betrayals end

Holy Week
John 13:21-27  After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me."  The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.  One of his disciples--the one whom Jesus loved--was reclining next to him;  Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.  So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"  Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.  After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do."
John 13:36-38  Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward."  Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you."  Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

 No one calls their son Judas.
This name has become synonymous with betrayal. The English dictionary defines a Judas as “One who betrays another under the guise of friendship”. Yet John’s Gospel tells us that there were two betrayers: Judas and Peter. In some ways Peter’s betrayal was worse, because after insisting that he would ‘lay down his life’ for Jesus, he promptly betrayed the friendship by denying any knowledge of Jesus. 

This is the poignant pain of the Easter story. Fear causes friend to turn on friend. This is a familiar story: Marcus Brutus betrays his friend Julius Caesar; Benedict Arnold betrays his family and country because he was humiliated by George Washington; or Japan betrays the Allied powers. Because I am in Japan at the moment, let me pause with this example: In the First World War Japan joined the Allied powers and fought the German colonial forces in East Asia. However, this friendship was irrevocably shattered in December 1941 when Japan attacked the Allied powers at Pearl Harbour and several other points throughout the Pacific region. Japanese resentment of arrogant racial discrimination against them by the Western powers since the forced opening of the country in the 1800s finally boiled over in betrayal.

However, few of us can easily condemn the betrayer – because we know this impulse only too well. Our betrayals cover the range from sharing the secret we should have kept, or failure to speak up for a friend’s reputation - to stealing money kept in trust, or initiating/thinking of a relationship outside of our marriage. 

Easter is a time when all our betrayals can come to an end. This becomes an opportunity to put to rest the past hurts and resentments and allow a fresh beginning. Before you cynically insist that ‘fresh beginnings’ are impossible, I will return to the Japanese illustration I used earlier. Right now I am witness to a new beginning. I encounter Japanese people who welcome English-speaking tourists with kindness and friendship. I see healthy business relationships between Japan and the West.

And I am able to hear Jesus say – “New beginnings are possible’.

He comes to save us now:
To serve him is to know
Life's true reward.
May he our lives amend,
All our betrayals end:
Give me your hand, my friend:
Fred Pratt Green


Easter Sunday
Christ Lives
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.142





Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dem Bones

Holy Week
Ezekiel 37:1-14  The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."  Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.  Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD."  So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.  Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.  Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.'  Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.  I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD."

The people of Japan have had the desperation of seeing life die before their eyes: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left nothing but ‘dry bones’. Yet, 65 years later, Japan has been able to re-discover life. This life is very different from what was known before World War II in the Pacific. There is no Emperor, no militaristic sloganeering, and no arrogance. Instead this is a nation of deep respect for life, of friendly greetings, and of hard working people. A hopeless nation has rediscovered hope. While this is nowhere explicitly stated as the work of God (and the Japanese people might shake their heads in puzzlement at this description) – the traditions of the Bible speak of a Creator who enables dry bones to come back to life:
Ezekiel 37 uses the imagery of “bones’ to offer hope to a hopeless nation. At the time that this was written, the nation, the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple all lay in ruins. Ezekiel insists that this is not the end – but is rather the beginning of a new thing that God is about to do. God will breathe life into the “dry bones” and they will come back to life. We who follow Jesus add the story of Easter – a time where the dry bones came back to life. The story of Jesus invites us to discover a promise of an open grave, of new life, of a fresh beginning.   

May the journey of Holy Week shift the “old bones” inside of us. May they begin rattling and shaking; may they come together; may they shed their dryness; and may we find life.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Ed­win Hatch, 1878;


Easter Sunday
Christ Lives
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.142



Monday, March 25, 2013

Expecting Easter

Holy Week
John 12:1-11  Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

John, the theologian, wants his readers to discover a renewed Passover. He does this by using the stories of how different people reacted to Jesus. Mary breaks out her expensive perfume and allows its fragrance to express her appreciation for Jesus; Judas’ concern for wastage prevents him from sharing in this loving action of Mary; the Passover pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the Passover smell the perfume and come to satisfy their curiosity; and the religious leaders planned to “keep a lid” the religious experience.

Perhaps this is the story of Easter – some (like Mary) express their love for Jesus in unorthodox ways; some (like Judas) want Easter to be an opportunity to increase their money; some (like the Pilgrims) watch the religious rituals of Easter with curiosity; and some (like the priests) want to ensure that the beliefs and practices of Easter are firmly kept within their theological belief system.

What is your expectation of Easter? Is it possible that God could invite you into a new adventure – where, like Mary, you might have an unorthodox experience that will increase you love for him? 

What attitudes might you have to leave behind in order for this to happen? Might you – like Judas – need to take your eyes off the money for a while and look for Jesus instead? Perhaps you can stop following the Easter crowds to the shopping mall, and pause to find the fragrance of Jesus? Or maybe we all should pray that the Spirit of God blow some fragrant fresh air through our dusty theological expectations of Easter, and surprise us with something new.

This is certainly my anticipation for myself.  I am in Japan for the next two weeks. This secular country has probably only 1% of its population that claim to follow Jesus[1], and is therefore a wonderful mirror to ask questions about my faith during the Easter period. So please bear with me as I work out my spiritual thinking within a secular context. I do not have a clue where this will take me – but I am convinced that the One who guides my thinking has things for me to learn.


Easter Sunday
Christ Lives
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.142




[1] Mariko Kato (February 24, 2009). "Christianity's long history in the margins". The Japan Times. "The Christian community itself counts only those who have been baptized and are currently regular churchgoers — some 1 million people, or less than 1 percent of the population, according to Nobuhisa Yamakita, moderator of the United Church of Christ in Japan"

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Righteous One

Isaiah 53:10-12  Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

As mentioned over the past two days: many Christians read this retroactively and discover a description of Jesus whose life 'was made an offering for sin'; there are other people of faith who see the 'servant' in Isaiah 53 as a poetic symbol to describe the community of God’s people.[1] The intention of this excerpt from this religious poetry is to point to the purifying role of ‘the servant’: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11).  Instead of the righteous one withdrawing from the sinners in order to retain his religious purity, he gets alongside of them and his righteousness purifies them.
Here is the rub:  for generations people of faith have thought to isolate ourselves in order to keep our faith pure. Isaiah suggests that our faith is preserved when we have been numbered with the transgressors ... and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa 53:12). Instead of Lent being a time where we withdraw from society to find religious purity, let us discover our righteousness as we share our lives with the unfaithful, the unrighteous, and the sinful.

May we be a healing balm to the nations
A healing balm to the peoples of the earth
Till the whole world knows the power of Your name
May Your healing flow through us

Chris Christensen

Palm Sunday
The Wounds and Sorrows of Ministry
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.136

[1] Beginning with chapter 41, the equating of God’s Servant with the nation of Israel is made nine times by the prophet Isaiah,

Friday, March 22, 2013

Breaking the Silence of the Lambs

Isaiah 53:7-9  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

This imagery, also found in Psalms 44:12, 23 and Jeremiah 11:19, speaks of a lamb led to the slaughter, unjustly removed from “the land of the living”. As mentioned yesterday: Many Christians read this retroactively and discover a description of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was ‘led to the slaughter’; there are others who see the “servant” in Isaiah 53 as a poetic symbol to describe the community of God’s people.[1] Either way, this is a story of injustice, silent suffering, and death. Nothing in this is pleasant.
And yet ... this is the experience of many people in our communities. There are people who suffer in silence: women who struggle within oppressive relationships and children who live silently with abuse. There are also the perpetrators of abuse, who are trapped by their cycle of cruel expression and remorse.

Lent is an opportunity to use fasting and abstinence as a (very small) way of understanding those who suffer. Use this moment to commit your life to breaking the silence. [2]

Palm Sunday
The Wunds and Sorrows of Ministry
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.136



[1] Beginning with chapter 41, the equating of God’s Servant with the nation of Israel is made nine times by the prophet Isaiah,
[2] See also:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Struck Down by God?

Isaiah 53:1-6  Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

 Isaiah 53 is the fourth of the four “Servant Songs.”[1] Many Christians read this passage retroactively (through the filter of our experience of Jesus) and discover a description of Jesus who was unjustly crucified; on the other hand Jewish people see the “servant” in Isaiah 53 as a poetic symbol to describe the community of God’s people.[2]
The central idea in this passage is a rejection of the ancient belief that the one who suffers, the one who ‘carries diseases’ must have been “struck down by God” (Isa 53:4). Here is expressed the amazement that illness and suffering are not God’s weapons against sinful human beings. Instead, these are often the result of the actions of other people: “wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities” describes victims of human sinfulness. Women suffer because they are abused by men; children suffer because they are hurt by adults; the weak suffer because strong people take advantage of them.
Fasting during Lent can sensitize us to those people who struggle to survive the day.

Today is Human Rights day in South Africa. Pray for eyes to see the abuse, and a heart that is willing to defend the human dignity of all people.

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Palm Sunday
The Wounds and Sorrows of Ministry
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.136



[1] The others are found in Isaiah chapters 42, 49 and 50.
[2] Beginning with chapter 41, the equating of God’s Servant with the nation of Israel is made nine times by the prophet Isaiah,

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Endure Suffering

2Corinthians 1:3-11  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation. We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

 Many years ago I was startled to hear someone quote 2 Corinthians 1:8 as follows “We do not want you ignorant brothers”. I soon discovered that this was what happened when punctuation is omitted from a sentence! That said, there are, sadly, some sections of the Christian church who seem to echo this sentiment. There are preachers who suggest that following Jesus will produce success, wisdom and wealth – and if someone is suffering, or is in financial trouble, or is depressed, then they are “ignorant” of Jesus. This passage from 1 Corinthians suggests otherwise: Paul writes of how he and his companions wereso utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself (vs 8).  If Paul, the faithful Jesus-follower, has moments of suffering and despair, then any other Christian can admit to struggle in life.

Let us not judge a person weak because they are despairing of life. Let us rather give them courage for the road ahead.


Palm Sunday
The Wounds and Sorrows of Ministry
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.136




Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A New Attitude

1Peter 2:21-25  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.  "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."  When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
Jesus attitude to life runs counter to human attitudes: throughout history we have thought to live defensively: strike back at those who threaten us.... and preferably “hit him back before he hits you”. Jesus shows that there is another way: When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly”(1Pe 2:23 ).

The challenge of Lent is to learn to step back from life by disciplining myself to speak second; to return anger with kindness; to reply to abuse with love. This is impossibly hard, and only is achieved if we “return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls. (1 Pe 2:25).

Shepherd of my soul I give you full control,
Wherever You may lead I will follow.
I have made the choice to listen for Your voice,
Wherever You may lead I will go.

Martin J. Nystrom

Palm Sunday
The Wounds and Sorrows of Ministry
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.136



Monday, March 18, 2013

It’s not all about me

Act 14:19- 28  But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, "It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God." And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.  Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia.  When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.  From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed.   When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

I am struck by the ‘matter of fact’ narration of the life of Paul. He is beaten up, left for dead, and when he recovers he simply continues as if nothing untoward has happened. This is a faith that avoided the cult of the individual hero. In fact Acts 14: 11-15 sees Paul explicitly resisting the adulation of the crowds. This is a faith that plays down the messenger in order to highlight the message. This is faith that acknowledges “the Grace of God for the work they had completed” (Acts 14:26).
This week we remember Jesus as he makes his Palm Sunday entrance of Jerusalem. Pray that you and I may be able to pause our ego-driven lives long enough to acknowledge that it is not all about me.


I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus

Michael W. Smith The Heart Of Worship


Palm Sunday
The Wounds and Sorrows of Ministry
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.136


Saturday, March 16, 2013

God’s Generous Love


Rom 8:31-39  What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.   Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered."  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul probably wrote this letter in Corinth.[1] He was on his way to Jerusalem with the collection from the Gentile churches (15:25-26). At the end of 56CE he spent three months in Corinth (Acts 20:2-3), starting his final trip to Jerusalem in the beginning of 57CE. Therefore, the date of composition was most probably at the beginning of the year, just before he set off for Jerusalem.[2]

This passage is made up of two parts: it begins with Paul’s series of rhetorical questions (verses 31-34), which leads to the theme of God’s love; this is followed by an emphasis on this love’s inseparability from the believers (verses 35-39). The key word here is “charizomai”,[3] which speaks of the generosity of God in giving us all things (Rom 8:32).
The invitation is to make tomorrow – Sunday – a day of celebration, a mini-Easter Sunday. Cut loose, and give thanks for God’s generous kindness, for God’s freely given Grace.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Johnson Oatman, Jr.


The Fifth Sunday in Lent
From Death to Life
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.129



[1] D Moo, Romans 1-8, Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 3.
[2] E F Harrison, Romans, Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan,
[3] “to grant as a favor, that is, gratuitously, in kindness” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary G5483). The same word is used in Luke 7:21 for Jesus giving sight to the blind, as well as in Galatians 3:18, were Paul talks about Abraham’s inheritance given to him by God.