Thursday, March 29, 2007

On A Personal Note

The work of pastoral ministry is multi-faceted. Lately, in addition to preaching, teaching, visiting hospital patients, welcoming visitors, and preparing for Holy Week and Easter Worship Celebrations, I have been leading committees in our congregation in the search for a Minister of Music and for an Associate Pastor. In some ways, the process of calling and interviewing potential staff members is a blessing. It is a sign that the church is growing and the ministries of the church are expanding. It is also a joy to meet new people, get to know colleagues in ministry, and pray about the possibilities that are connected with hiring new staff members.

At the same time, the process of finding staff members can be draining. There are so many things to consider. Who is the best "fit" for the congregation's needs and the needs of the ministry? How will potential staff members work with me and the current staff members? Along with these and hundreds of other questions, there is the sadness involved in saying good-bye to the beloved staff members we are seeking to "replace."

As I write these words, I am revealing that I am tired. But more importantly, I am expressing that I am yearning for the pure nourishment and ministry of the Gospel. Sure, finding staff members is essential to the ministry of the church, but I want to share the Gospel. I want to be about the Father's work of healing hearts and mending wounds. In a nutshell, I am ready for Easter. I am ready to celebrate. I am ready to leave the darkness of Lent and find the rest and peace of Resurrection.

How about you? May God give each of us the grace to faithfully finish this Lent and to attend to the journey of our Lord to the cross during this upcoming Holy Week. The mystery and grace of our Resurrected Lord is just around the corner.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Use of Power

Mark 15:16-20 tells us about a group of soldiers who tortured and humiliated Jesus. Their only command from Pilate was to flog and crucify Jesus. Nevertheless, the soldiers go beyond this command. They make a crown of thorns and place it on Jesus' head. They bow down before Jesus and mock Him saying, "Hail, King of the Jews." The place a purple robe on Him which was a symbol of royalty.

Why did the Roman soldiers act this way? What were they trying to accomplish? It would have been bad enough for them to flog and crucify Jesus, but they go beyond this to totally strip Jesus of any respect. Perhaps they were ensuring that this man who claimed to be a king would get what he deserved for defying the Roman government. And then again, maybe it was a simple act of elevating themselves with the power they possessed.

The action taken by the Roman soldiers still goes on today. There are human beings in the world who use their power to elevate themselves and tread on the lowly.

God calls us through the Scriptures to live with humility and to take our place among the lowly. Indeed, the Apostle Paul says, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."

To possess power is not a sin - in an of itself. However, we are to use our power to bless others and provide for the needs of the powerless. How are you using the gifts of power that God has given you?

Monday, March 26, 2007


For those of you who read on a daily basis, I want to begin today's devotion by apologizing for my absence on Friday and for being late with my submission today. 'Tis the season to be busy.

This past Sunday, we read from Mark 15:15-20. In these verses, Jesus is tortured and humiliated by the Roman soldiers. His torture begins with a flogging and continues with repeated blows to the head. And as far as humiliation is concerned, Jesus is spat upon and mocked for being a "king" who the Romans regard as no king at all.

I hinted during my sermon that I don't like reading this passage. I am much more comfortable reading about the resurrection and skipping to the end of the story where Jesus is victorious. But as I've thought about this passage, I can't help but wonder what Jesus is doing and thinking as they torture and mock Him. Mark does not tell us about the look on Jesus' face, the agony that He must have experienced, or the shrieks that must have come from His mouth with the strike of every whip.

So what did Jesus think? What words or noise were uttered from His mouth? Far be it from me to give answer to that question. However, I can tell you what Jesus was not thinking or saying. Jesus was not thinking about vengeance nor was He uttering threats. Whether it was in silence or words, the posture of Jesus' pain was one of dignity...not a dignity of pride...but a dignity of purpose born from love and grace. They could strip Him of His clothes, deny Him of any human respect, and make a mockery of Him, but they could not change His heart...a heart filled a love and grace we can only begin to understand.

From a Christian point of view, being "dignified" has nothing to do with what we wear, what we drive, or where we live. To live with dignity means that we exhibit the same love and grace as our Savior...even when our Lord and our faith are mocked or disregarded.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Not The End...But The Beginning

Jesus' trial before Pilate (Mark 15:1-15) is not the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. Yes, Jesus' trial would lead to crucifixion, but it would also lead to resurrection, ascension, and glory. Jesus' trial was actually the beginning...the beginning of a mighty movement of God's Spirit in the lives of human beings that continues today. The proof is found in a simple prayer that was prayed by the early believers in Acts chapter four.

Let me set the picture for you. Peter and John had just been released from captivity. They had been arrested for healing and preaching in Jesus' name. After they were reunited with their fellow believers, they began to pray with them for boldness. Listen to what they pray:

"For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness." (vs. 27-29)

Did you catch what they prayed? The believers remembered that Herod and Pilate (along with others) had tried and crucified Jesus. However, the trials and crucifixion had not stopped the ministry of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. The believers desired the same power and boldness that was exemplified in the life of Jesus.

You may be going through a trial in your own life. Don't give up. Don't stop praying. Instead, pray for the boldness to follow Jesus and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Washing Our Hands

(For those of you who read my blog on a daily basis each weekday, I apologize for yesterday's omission. I was out of the office all day and unable to submit a devotional. God Bless You.)

The first fifteen verses of Mark chapter fifteen tell us about Jesus' trial before Pilate. Each Gospel account makes additions to the information that Mark provides. One of the most interesting additions is found in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 27:24, we find these words: "So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.'"

According to Matthew, Pilate wanted nothing to do with the death of Jesus. While he held power over Jesus and handed him over to be flogged and crucified, Pilate wanted to make it clear that it wasn't his idea or desire to crucify Jesus. Furthermore, when it came to an accounting of the blood of Jesus, Pilate wanted to remain innocent.

In one sense, all of humanity is like Pilate in his desire to be innocent. We hear from Scripture that "he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:7)," and yet, we want to proclaim our innocence. We argue with ourselves and with God that we have only broken the minor laws of the Ten Commandments. We work hard at times to justify our sins and provide good reasons for the times we turn away from God to follow our own desires. Essentially, we - like Pilate - want to wash our hands of having any part of Jesus dying on the cross.

Don't get me wrong...I'm not trying to riddle you with guilt as you read this devotional and make you feel that Jesus' death is all your fault. The truth is that each one of us, myself included, had a part in sending Jesus to the cross. My point is this: we cannot wash our hands of Jesus. We can justify our sins, we can proclaim our innocence, and we can even say we want nothing of Jesus, but the living Christ will whisper to our hearts that He went to the cross for each of us and desires to lead us into true wholeness and innocence through His forgiveness, grace, and salvation.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Crowd Pleaser

In the account of Jesus' trial before Pilate in the Gospel of Mark chapter fifteen, we read these words in verse fifteen: "So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified." Reads those words again, and now answer these questions: Why did Pilate give-in to the pressure of the Chief Priests (whom he held power over)? Why did Pilate condemn an innocent man (Jesus) to death? Why did Pilate go against his own judgment that Jesus had done nothing wrong? Simply answered, he did so to please the crowd.

I can identify with Pilate this morning. I am a people pleaser. I am one of those folks who want the crowd to be satisfied, and when the crowd is not pleased, I lose sleep over it. How about you? Is pleasing others ever the source of your motivation? If we are not careful, pleasing people can lead us down the wrong path. In order to please the crowd, we can go against our better judgment. More importantly, we can go against God's will in order to please the crowd.

Examine your life today. Do you help others and volunteer your time out of love and compassion or out of a desire to please others? Do you make decisions based upon the truth and what is right, or do you make decisions based on what your peers think is best? Consider these questions today, and ask God in prayer to give you the strength to follow His commands and not the commands of other human beings.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Lord of Redemption

We've studied this week about all that was involved in Jesus' trial before the Jewish rulers and in Peter's denial of his Lord...fear, courage, integrity, and more. Today we consider redemption. You see, we follow a Lord of redemption, forgiveness, and second (third, fourth, fifth, exponential) chances.

Jesus did not leave Peter to suffer in his failure nor did Jesus abandon Peter as a disciple. Instead, in the Gospel of John, we read where Jesus gives Peter three opportunities to affirm his love for Jesus...three being the same number of times he had denied Him. Read the passage below.

John 21:15-17
21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs.
21:16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
21:17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.
Do you carry guilt for past failures? Are you burdened by mistakes and failures that you feel have scarred you for life? Hear the Lord asking you today, "Do you love me?" And as you answer in the affirmative, receive His complete forgiveness and walk in newness of life...for Jesus does not abandon His disciples to wallow in failure and sin.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Peter - The Courageous Disciple

It seems that we are often critical of Peter - one of Jesus' most trusted disciples. Each time we see Peter in the Scriptures, he is either acting courageously and with great faith (as he did when he walked on water) or he is striking out big-time when the bases are loaded and the game is on the line (as we find him doing in Mark 14:53-72 where he denies that he knows Jesus).

Yes, Peter denies that he knows Jesus while Jesus is being interrogated by the High Priest. But let's look a little deeper this morning. Take into consideration the fact that Peter was present. While all of the other disciples have dispersed and fled the scene, Peter is close enough to Jesus to make eye contact with him. Think about the courage that it took for Peter to go with Jesus to the High Priest's house. The guards that had arrested Jesus are standing just a few feet away from Peter, and Peter knows that at any moment they can recognize him and arrest him too.

There is one fact we cannot deny...Peter loved Jesus and believed that Jesus was the Messiah - the Son of the Living God. Perhaps in his love for Jesus and in his strengths and weaknesses, we can catch a glimpse of ourselves. Are you feeling strong and courageous in your faith right now? Or are you feeling weak and timid in your walk with Christ? Whatever your answer to these questions may be, keep this in mind: The power of God is made perfect in weakness. Invite the Lord today to use His power through your weaknesses to accomplish His good and perfect will in your life.

On another note: Thursday is our day of fasting at Calhoun First United Methodist Church. I invite you to join us today as we fast and pray as a congregation. Pray for the church, pray for your walk with Christ, pray for other needs and concerns in your life, and give-up a meal or two throughout the day to focus on the presence of the Lord in your life...for He is your true nourishment. Blessings to you!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Words of Testimony

Can I get a witness? Have you ever asked that question...maybe using other words. In other words, have you ever needed someone to speak up on your behalf or in favor of your way of viewing things.

Jesus called on a witness as He stood before the Jewish ruling council. No, He didn't call on a human witness or rely on the witness of His disciples. Instead, Jesus called on the witness of Scripture to affirm His identity and His ministry. In Mark 14:62, Jesus said, "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'"
What did Jesus mean by this statement?

Take some time today to read Exodus 3:14, Psalm 110 and Daniel 7:13-14. After reading these passages, see if you can understand the witness Jesus was calling the Scriptures to provide for Him as He makes the statements in Mark 14:62.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Living With Integrity

In Mark 14:53-72, we read where two men are being questioned. Jesus is being questioned by the High Priest. Peter is being questioned by one of the servant-girls of the High Priest. Both men give answer to their with without.

Jesus tells the truth, but more importantly, He represents Himself truthfully. When asked if He is "the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One," He could have "skirted" the issue and told them He was only a prophet or a teacher. Instead, He answers by saying, "I am." Jesus knew the consequences of this answer, and yet, He lived with integrity even when it would lead to His death.

Peter tells lies, but more importantly, he represents himself falsely. When asked if he was "with Jesus the Nazarene," he answers by saying, "I don't know what on earth you're talking about" and again, "I don't know this man you're talking about." Peter knew the consequences of telling the truth, and he chose to lie in order to protect himself.

Mark, the Gospel writer, contrasts Jesus and Peter clearly. While life and death are at stake for both men, their integrity is also at stake. How do you represent yourself to others? Do people see "the real" you, or do people see one person in public that is totally different from the person you are in private? Jesus calls us to authentic faith and to holy living. Jesus calls us to live by faith in private as well as in public.

Confess to God today the areas in your life where you lack integrity. Pray for His transforming grace to help you live with integrity in every aspect of your life.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Motivation of Fear

Looking back at Mark 14:53-72, we find that the Jewish leaders were "looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death (vs. 55)." In the same passage, we find that Peter denied his association with Jesus (vs. 66-72). Both the Jewish leaders and Peter (along with the other disciples) were motivated in-part by fear. The Jewish leaders were afraid of Jesus' "following" and the threat that he posed to their understanding and practice of Judaism. We can assume that Peter was afraid of the punishment he might receive for being one of Jesus' followers. Surely, the Jewish leaders and the Romans might have brought charges against him for aiding Jesus in His movement.

Is fear a motivating factor in your life? Fear can be a healthy motivator. It is fear that keeps us from touching a poisonous snake or jumping off a high cliff. However, fear can be an unhealthy motivator as well especially as it relates to our faith. Fear can lead us to avoid stepping-forward in faith to follow Jesus. Fear can also lead us to work against another person for the purpose of self-preservation.

So how do we deal with fear? 1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." We are to allow the perfect love of Jesus Christ to "drive out fear" from our lives. In other words, we are live following Jesus in His way of love and avoid giving into our fears.

Talk to God about your fears today. Ask for faith to trust in His love and grace that covers your life.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Thursday and Friday's Devotion

For those of you who look to my blog daily, I apologize that I did not have an early morning posting today (Thursday). Instead, I am posting this afternoon for both today and tomorrow morning (Friday) because I have prior commitments on those mornings this week.

As we prepare for this Sunday's message, the lesson comes from Mark 14:53-72. I haven't listed the passage below because of its length, but my sermon outline is listed below. Think about those who condemned Jesus to death. What was at stake for them? Think about the disciples, especially Peter, who were bewildered and silent as Jesus was being condemned. How are we like them in their silence in the current state of the church? May God bless you as you pray for and participate in Sunday worship.

Read Mark 14:53-72

24 Hours That Changed The World
Part 3: Condemned By The Righteous
Mark 14:53-72 (pg. 49)

I. Who sent Jesus to the cross?

A. If Jesus’ death had occurred five years ago, how would it be

investigated now?

B. Who would be questioned?

1. The Jews – the High Priest, the Chief Priests, the Elders,

the Scribes, and the false accusers.

2. The Romans – Pilate and the Roman soldiers.

3. The Disciples of Jesus – Judas’ betrayal; Peter’s silence.

4. Jesus – words reviewed.

II. The question remains: How could a man who was sinless and completely innocent of wrong-doing be put to death?

A. Those who believed Him to be guilty spoke up. vs. 55-56.

1. The “righteous” often speak out of condemnation.

2. The “righteous” often speak out of fear.

B. Those who knew Him to be innocent remained silent.

1. The silence of Jesus’ disciples.

2. The issues we remain silent about today for the sake of

our own comfort and convenience.

III. How did Jesus change the world?

A. Silence-vs. 61 – Isaiah 53:7 (Jesus gave Himself for our sins)

B. Confession-vs. 62 – Exodus 3:14 (Jesus was the Messiah)

Responding to God’s Word: Realize that the true answer to “Who sent Jesus to the cross?” is found by looking in the mirror. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Today's Devotion - Staying Alert

In Mark 14:38 Jesus tells His disciples, "Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." How true these words are. Many times we have an inner will to do God's will and overcome temptation and yet, we give in to the desires of the flesh. Oddly enough, we often meet temptation when we feel strong in our faith.

In 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, the Apostle Paul gives a warning that is similar to Jesus' warning. He says, "So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it." It is interesting to note in verse twelve that Paul says, "if you think you are standing." Here again, when we feel strong in our faith is often when we are most vulnerable to temptation.

Where are you often most vulnerable to temptation? How would you finish this prayer, "God I often struggle..." Finish this prayer today by acknowledging to God your inner struggles and asking God to "provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Today's Devotion - Being Human

In Mark 14:34, we read these words: "And he said to them, 'I am deeply grieved, even to death.'" We see in these words and in the preceding words in verse 33 that Jesus was fully human. Jesus dealt with every human emotion...distress, agony, agitation, can add to the list.

What human emotions are you experiencing right now? Sometimes we feel that our faith is weak or strong based on how we feel or on the emotions we are experiencing at any given time. However, the Christian faith is not based on feeling and emotion. In other words, our faith isn't strong when we feel good and weak when we feel bad. Emotions are human feelings we all experience, but faith is a choice to follow Christ and trust in His grace even when we feel weak, sad, agitated, distressed, etc.

Talk to God about the emotions you are dealing with this week. Ask God for the grace to handle those emotions with a positive attitude and to strengthen your faith.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Today's Devotion - A Place To Pray

I learned at an early age that you can pray anywhere. Your hands do not have to be folded, your eyes do not have to be closed (especially if you're driving), and you do not have to be kneeling in order to talk with God. However, it is important to set aside time to be in a place of solitude for prayer...away from the noise and the distractions of life for communion with God.

In Mark 14:32 we read, "They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.'" Jesus' favorite prayer retreat was the Garden of Gethsemane. Although we do know not for sure where it was located, it is possible that it was on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple.

Where do you pray? Do you have a sacred space where you go to be alone with God? If you do, give yourself some time in that special place this week to be alone with God and to listen for God's voice. If you do not have a special place of prayer, begin seeking that place and creating a time for prayer.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Today's Devotion - Preparing For Gethsemane

Today, we will look ahead to this coming Sunday's sermon. The message comes from Mark 14:32-42 (provided below). In this passage, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest. Read the passage below and then look at the sermon outline for Sunday that is provided. How did Jesus change the world through His time of prayer in the Garden?

Mark 14:32-42 - New International Version

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray."
He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.
"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.
"Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"

24 Hours That Changed The World
Part 2: The Prayer In Gethsemane
Mark 14:32-42 (pg. 49)

I. When do people see “the real” you?
A. We often want to hide the fact that we are human.
B. We realize that we all deal with the same emotions.

II. In Gethsemane, we see the humanity of Jesus.
A. Jesus was distressed. vs. 33
B. Jesus was agitated. vs. 33
C. Jesus was deeply grieved. vs. 34
1. Jesus knew the prophecies of what was to come.
2. Jesus saw no way out – “a sink hole of dreadful agony.”

III. How does Jesus react to these emotions?
A. Jesus surrounds Himself with His closest friends. vs. 33
B. Jesus prays for deliverance. vs. 36a (response was “no”)
C. Jesus rebukes His friends for their lack of attentiveness.
1. vs. 37 – “Could you not keep awake one hour?”
2. vs. 41 – “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?”

IV. How did Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane change the world?
A. Jesus chose God’s plan. vs. 36b
B. Jesus reversed the selfishness of humanity since the Garden
of Eden. (Genesis 3:6 pg. 2).
C. Jesus gave Himself in love instead of “bending” to His

Responding to God’s Word: Choose to meet the Lord on the path of self-giving love. Find a way this week to give to another in love.

Today's Devotion - Promises at the Lord's Supper

The Gospel of John provides us with more information about the Lord's Supper. In chapters thirteen through seventeen, John shares the detailed words and actions of Jesus with us as Jesus eats the Lord's Supper with His disciples. Jesus' words are filled with instruction, promise, warning, and prayer.

One of the great promises in this section of Scripture comes from John 14:25-27 (provided below). Here, Jesus promises His disciples that the Holy Spirit will come to be their teacher, their Counselor, and their peace. As the disciples face an uncertain future, Jesus promises them that they will not be alone, but that the presence of Almighty God will be with them.

Read the words of John 14:25-27 today. Receive them as words of promise in your own life. Remember that Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to guide you in the truth and to fill your heart with peace. Therefore, you do not have to live in fear of the uncertainty of the future. Instead, you can face the future knowing that the Holy Spirit will be with you to guide you in your walk with Jesus Christ.

John 14:25-27 - New International Version
"All this I have spoken while still with you.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.