Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lenten Devotional - He Came and Found Them Sleeping

Jesus came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come." (Mark 14:37-41)
Near Gethsemane there is a cave where some believe the disciples were told to wait while Jesus went into the olive grove to pray late that night. Perhaps he did not want them to see him in his greatest distress. But before going into the garden, Jesus asked his three closest companions, Peter, James, and John, to go with him. He revealed to the three of them just how deeply grieved he was. He asked them to "stay awake with me" (Matthew 26:38) and then asked them to remain in the garden as he went just a little farther to pray by himself. Jesus fell to the ground to pray; but then, after a period of time, he went back to Peter, James, and John. He repeated this pattern—praying alone and then returning to the disciples—three times before Judas arrived with the Temple guard to arrest him. Some have suggested a parallel between these three occasions and the three temptations Jesus experienced at the beginning of his ministry.

The fact that the disciples had fallen asleep each time points to their own temptation and, more importantly, to the temptation of his followers ever since to sleep when Christ most needs us. At times as a pastor I have been "asleep on the job." On the day I was writing this devotion, a member of my church died, someone about whom I truly cared. I knew that he was ill. I had spoken with his wife earlier in the year. I pastor a very large church with a team of pastors and laypeople who provide care for our members, and he was cared for by others in that group. However, when I received notice about his death, I was stunned and grieved. I called his wife to convey my condolences. But I felt such sadness that I had missed the chance to be with him in the days leading up to his death. I had been asleep on the job. In the New Testament, "being awake" is a phrase used to describe being spiritually ready, most often for the return of Christ, but also ready to do what the Lord needs whenever he needs us. It entails a watchfulness and a way of paying attention to what is happening around us, to the needs of others, and to the direction of the Holy Spirit. We are meant to stay awake and keep watch.

Have you ever, like me, and like those first disciples, fallen asleep when Christ truly needed you? Lord, many times my spirit has been willing to do your will; but my flesh has been weak. Help me to stay awake—to listen for your voice and to be used by you to care for your people. Amen.

Excerpted from: 24 Hours That Changed the World Daily Devotions by Adam Hamilton

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Lenten Devotional - Two Gardens

There was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. (John 18:1)

Not what I want, but what you want. (Mark 14:36)

John's Gospel begins with these words: "In the beginning..." John chose these particular words as a way of pointing to the meaning of the gospel. With them he intended to take us back to Genesis. The story of Adam and Eve serves as the backdrop of John's Gospel. Adam and Eve were given a garden in which to live. God planted the garden and then called them to tend it. There, before a tree, they were tested and tempted. They succumbed to the tempter, turned from God's way; and Paradise was lost. Their story is, of course, our story. Each of us has known the will of God; but at some time, at some level, we have turned away from it. We have eaten the forbidden fruit. John alone tells us that the place where Jesus prayed on the night he was arrested was a garden. Matthew and Mark do not tell us this; they only tell us it was the place of the oil press. (This is the meaning of the word Gethsemane.)

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives but is no more specific. John alone tells us that Jesus went to a garden to pray. In this garden Eden was being reversed. Jesus' public ministry began with the temptation to lay aside God's will and to accept all the riches of the world from the hands of the devil. And now here, at the end of his life, Jesus was in a garden, facing the temptation to save himself and flee. I wonder what the serpent whispered to him that night: "Did God really intend for you to suffer and die?" Or, "Surely you don't believe that if you die, anything will change." Or, "What good will you be when you are dead?" Or, "Do you really believe that this band of misfits you call disciples can carry on your mission? Look at them—they're sleeping! It's not too late, Jesus. Run!" Two gardens. In one, Adam and Eve were warned that death would come if they disobeyed; and they still could not resist the forbidden fruit. In the other, Jesus was told he could avoid death if he would only disobey. How different were the responses to temptation between the first Adam and Jesus (whom Paul calls the "second Adam"). In the first garden Adam prayed, "Not thy will, but mine be done"; and Paradise was lost. In the second garden, as the disciples slept and the Temple guard made their way across the Kidron Valley, Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but thine be done." His prayer was central to the restoration of what had been lost in Eden.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, popularized the following prayer, meant to help those who use it to follow in Jesus' steps, surrendering to the will of God:

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what you will. Rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing; put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full. Or let me be empty. Let me have all things. Or let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. Amen.

Excerpted from: 24 Hours That Changed the World Daily Devotions by Adam Hamilton

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lenten Devotional - Father, Let this cup pass from me

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me." (Mark 14:35-36)

At the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem stands the Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony. It was built in the early 1900s atop the ruins of two previous churches, one dating to the time of the crusaders and the earliest dating back to the fourth century. The Church of All Nations is, for many, one of the most moving places to pray in the Holy Land. In front of the altar is what remains of a limestone rock outcropping that tradition says was the place where Jesus came to pray. Stars adorn the ceiling of the dimly lit church, taking worshipers back to the night when Christ prayed in this place. Pilgrims are invited to kneel around the exposed bedrock, touching it while praying as Jesus did nearly two thousand years ago.

Somewhere near this place Jesus threw himself to the ground that night and prayed, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me" (Mark 14:36). In essence he was praying, "Father, please find another way to accomplish your plans--a way that does not involve the rejection of the priests, the cries of the crowd, the torture of the soldiers, the humiliation and pain of the cross, and the darkness of death." On this night Jesus resisted the path that was laid out before him. He struggled with what he believed was God's will. He was not the first to have struggled in this way.

Read Exodus 4, where you will find Moses giving God excuses as to why he could not return to Egypt to confront Pharaoh. Or consider the story of Jonah, who refused God's command and only obeyed after three days of soaking in a great fish's gastric juices. Have you ever found yourself struggling with God? Was there a path God would have you take that you wanted to avoid? Was there a risk that seemed too great or a price that seemed too high? Have you ever prayed with Moses, "Lord, send someone else"? Have you ever run with Jonah in the direction opposite where God was calling you to go? Have you ever knelt with Jesus in the garden, saying, "Remove this cup from me"? Pursuing God's will is at times costly. Jesus said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Are you willing, even grudgingly, to go where God calls and do what God asks, regardless of the cost? After arguing with the Lord, Moses relented and returned to Egypt, risking death to lead the Israelites to freedom. Jonah, in the darkness of the great fish's belly, finally said, "OK, send me!" And Jesus, despite praying for the cup to pass from him, accepted it when Judas handed it to him and drank from it, laying down his life for God's mission.

Recently, I visited the Basilica of the Agony, touching the stone before the altar where Jesus may have prayed. I was reminded of times past when a cup far less difficult and deadly was passed to me, and I refused to drink. Kneeling there, I tried to feel his agony. And I thanked him for the costliness of his grace.

Prayer: Lord, you understand my weakness and fear. You know the times I refused the cup you passed to me. Forgive me, I pray. Help me to say yes when you call me to pursue your mission for my life, no matter what the cost. Amen.

Excerpted from: 24 Hours That Changed the World Daily Devotions by Adam Hamilton

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lenten Devotional - God's Love for us

Sunday was a great day at NRN! We welcomed several first time guest to the church. On Sunday evening Sharron and I welcomed 23 people to our home for a 'birthday fellowship". Today I continue in my Lenten commitment to post a daily Lenten devotional. I hope this helps on your Lenten journey this year.
The peace of Jesus Christ is the cross. The cross, however, is God's sword on this earth. It creates disunion. Son against father, daughter against mother, housemates against the head of the house, and all for the sake of God's kingdom and his peace—that is Christ's work on earth. Is it surprising that the world finds him guilty of hatred toward human beings, him who brought God's love to human beings? Who, then, is apt to speak thus about the love of father or mother, about loving one's son or daughter, if not either the destroyer of all life or the creator of a new life? Who can lay such exclusive claim to the love and sacrifice of human beings other than either the misanthrope or the savior of human beings? Who will carry the sword into the houses other than the devil or Christ, the Prince of Peace?

God's love of human beings on the one hand, and human beings' love of their own kind on the other, are much too dissimilar. God's love of human beings means cross and discipleship, and yet precisely as such it means life and resurrection. "Those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). This assurance is given by him who has power over death, the Son of God who goes to the cross and to resurrection and takes his followers with him.

Excerpted from: Meditations on the Cross By: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Worship at NRN on Sunday March 27 2011

On Sunday March 27, 2011, I plan to continue in the teaching series:

Today at NRN is going to be a great worship experience.

Here are the worship songs for our time together:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lenten Devotional: The Path of God

Luke 4:5-8: Then the devil led him up a high mountain and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

We have again come to Passiontide, and again we must collect our thoughts that we may understand what it means. Christ on the cross—that was the proclamation with which Paul set out. That was his God. That was the God for whom the first martyrs died. It was the God whom Luther rediscovered. And it is the same God whom we today are about to understand anew; or better, the same God who seizes us today anew. Christ on the cross, Christ the hidden king of the hidden kingdom—that is the message of the Protestant Church. Christ the revealed king of a visible kingdom—that is the message of the Catholic Church. Hence it is important that we understand what Passiontide is about. The time of Christ's passion begins not just in Passion Week, but on the first day of his preaching. He renounced the kingdom as a kingdom of this world not just on Golgotha, but from the very outset. These are the ideas expressed in our story.

Jesus could have become the lord of the world. As the Messiah of Jewish dreams, he could have liberated Israel and led it to glory and honor. His entry procession could have been that of the visible king of this world. What a remarkable man this was, a man to whom dominion over this world is offered even before he begins his own work. And he is all the more remarkable in that he rejects the offer. So it is simply true, and not just biblically intended, that Jesus could have become the most splendid and powerful of all the kings of this world. He would have been honored; he would have been believed had he then dared to say he was the Son of God. After all, even the Roman emperors were believed when they said it. The world really would have become Christian. It would have had Christ as its king. It would have had the one who had been expected so long. The one whose power extends over all the earth, who establishes a reign of peace on earth.

So Jesus could have had all that. He realizes in this instant that now, high on a mountain, for a moment, he is gazing upon all the kingdoms of the world, knowing he could be their ruler. But he also knows that a price must be paid for such dominion, a price which he deems too high. Dominion would be his only at the cost of his obedience to God's will. He must bow before the devil, go down on his knees before him, worship him. And that means he would have become a slave, and would no longer be free. He would be a slave to his own ambition; a slave of those who want him so eagerly. But he remains the free Son of God, and recognizes the devil who is trying to enslave him. [...]

Jesus knows what that means. It means debasement, revilement, persecution. It means being misunderstood. It means hatred, death, the cross. And he chooses this way from the very outset. It is the way of obedience and the way of freedom, for it is the way of God. And for that reason it is also the way of love for human beings. Any other path—be it ever so pleasing to people—would be a way of hatred and of contempt toward human beings, for it would not be the way of God. And this is why here, then, Jesus rejects the devil. Because it is the way of God through the world, he chooses from the very outset the way to the cross. And we are going with him, as individuals and as the church. We are the church beneath the cross, that is, in disguise. Yet here as well, all we can do is realize that our kingdom, too, is not of this world.

Excerpted from: Meditations on the Cross by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Lenten Devotional - Prayer is more than a duty

Certain vocations, like that of raising children, offer a perfect setting for living a contemplative life. They provide a desert for reflection, a real monastery.
--Ronald Rolheiser

Certain spiritual writers like to make this comparison: taking care of young children provides a desert for reflection, a real monastery. When they are your children, and you hear this pious observation, sometimes you want to throw up your hands. How in the world can young children leave us any time for reflection? They're always bombarding us with requests. Can I have a drink of water? I want more juice! Can we go to the park? Can we watch a DVD? Let me play with blocks? Is it lunchtime yet? Can so-and-so come over to play? Besides requests, there are objections and complaints. I don't need to take a nap! No, I'm not hungry! I don't want to take a bath! It's not fair! He took my toys! She's mean! She messed up my puzzle! Are we there yet? We never get to do anything! These are just a few samples of the constant barrage from children old enough to talk, to whine, to make their wishes known.

Yet I am sure the spiritual teachers who make this comparison are right. The best training ground for the spiritual life is not on smooth but rocky ground. When we want to grow in virtue, we do better in tough situations. It is easy to seem patient when nothing much is happening to challenge us. The real test of patience comes when any sane person would fly off the handle. Taking care of children is a perfect Los Alamos-style proving ground....

Usually, we think of contemplation as taking place in solitude and silence. But many great spiritual teachers, Ignatius Loyola for one, say otherwise. They tell us to be contemplative in action. Contemplation is not entirely a function of where we are. No, contemplation is an inward disposition of the heart, intentionally quieting ourselves, turning to God whenever and wherever we can. To care for young children may prompt us to be glad for what has been given us. In the company of children we return to simplicity and discover our childlike hearts. When we care for young children, we learn attentiveness. Also, children remind us to laugh and play in ways that please God. Contemplation is about peacefulness, shalom. The monastery of childhood can encourage that peace in more ways than one.

One characteristic of children's lives is their regularity. The same is true of monasteries! Things happen in children's lives at predictable times: mealtime, nap time, bath time, story time, outdoor play. Dependable schedules give us hints of an inwardly peaceful universe, where order and harmony reign. Such pleasing regularity is also a clue to prayer. Today some of us are reviving the custom of fixed-hour prayer—the habit of prayer at certain times of day. That rhythm is consoling. Prayer is not just a duty to God but a reminder of God's abiding presence.

Jesus taught us about children and what we may learn from them. At his time in history, when children were often shunted aside, even undervalued, Jesus brought children to center stage. "Let the little children come to me," he said, "and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." Jesus also explains, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."

Imagine suggesting that we could learn from children! Jesus, as usual, challenged our preconceptions, our ways of being in charge. Jesus did not intend to give us a lecture on child care. Instead, he meant to encourage simplicity of heart.

Excerpted from: Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey by Emilie Griffin

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Our Daily Lenten Devotional - small surrender

God wants our honest thoughts and feelings, as any lover does—not what we're supposed to say or feel. —Murray Bodo

Some friends of mine recently returned from a visit to Italy, where they had seen the city of Pompeii, destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the first century after Christ. People who visit Pompeii often comment on the pornographic art displayed on the walls there. My friend, who was shocked as others have been, looked up at Mount Vesuvius and told God she understood why he had decided to wipe the place out.

"Oh, I hope that isn't true," I answered. "Because if it is, that means all the comments about God sending Katrina to destroy New Orleans might also be true." I have heard many discussions about God and hurricanes, about God and 9/11, God and the tsunami of December 2004. These are disasters of biblical proportions, and it is easy therefore to blame them on God.

Actually, I don't subscribe to the view that disasters are generally sent by God to chasten us. But as I reflected on this question, I realized I had never brought the matter up directly with God. That would be too awkward, too embarrassing! I'm the sort of person who shrinks from confronting God. I prefer to bury my questions under polite inquiries. I'm devious that way.

Now really, why would I do that? How can relationships be built on subterfuge? God wants our honest feelings. Abraham sets a fine example when he questions God about the people of Sodom. Would God spare the city if there were fifty good people there? Or forty? Or thirty? Or ten?

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, an authority on death and dying, assures us that we can put our toughest questions to God. We can be angry with God. We can complain. The truth is, God can take it.

Even more important, God is seeking a genuine relationship. God wants more than a polite, diplomatic sort of conversation in which the cards are held close to the vest. He is looking for a frank and open dialogue. If we don't put our honest thoughts and feelings before God, we will never have a chance at a real exchange. In the spiritual life, such honesty is a fundamental, necessary surrender.

God says, "I don't want your sacrifices, your burnt offerings. What I want is you." Only our frankness will make such intimacy possible.

The truth is that we are often afraid to be open with God. We are not so fearful of unanswered prayers, though that is a serious issue. But what worries us more is what may happen is we make a real connection. Possibly God will ask something of us, expecting more than we are willing to give.

The Bible gives several examples of this kind of encounter...

In the Psalms we read this:

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but your have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
Then I said, "Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is
written of me."

God welcomes our honesty. God is saying, "Show me the real person that you are."

Sometimes we are ashamed to be ourselves, before others and before God. Sometimes what we need most is to accept ourselves as we really are. Possibly we may need to change. In either case, as we see in Psalm 51, honesty is the place to begin: "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

This, too, is a small surrender, when we drop our masks and disguises and present ourselves authentically to God. It is another kind of repentance, a way to return.

Excerpted from: Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey by Emilie Griffin

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Second Week of Lent Begins

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to arouse a deaf world. —C.S. Lewis

Part of the ancient language of the spiritual life is purgation, or the purgative way. Our sorrows and our pains are supposedly good for us. They provide a kind of brushing up, a cleansing, a burnishing. In Scripture we hear a lot about the way we can be improved by adversity. Frankly, this concept may hang together theologically, but it is hard to accept when you are the one in adverse circumstances.

C.S. Lewis wrote books to answer his own most baffling questions. In The Problem of Pain he tries to decipher the meaning of pain, to reconcile the idea of a good God with the seemingly merciless character of pain. Pain, he suggests, is God's megaphone to arouse a deaf world.

Lewis represents himself, and each one of us, as being continually in conversation with God. God whispers in our pleasures. The things we most enjoy—food, drink, sex, music, celebration—are intimations of his love. The troubles arises when we separate those pleasures from God's scheme and try to own and dominate them ourselves.

Another way God speaks to us is in our consciences. When we have violated God's rules, our consciences (if they are well formed) will torment us. We feel guilty, ashamed of our own wrongdoing. We want to be made clean and whole again. Some apologists say that conscience, the moral law written in our hearts, is one of our principal clues to the nature and presence of God. God leads us in the way of salvation if we are willing to listen for the instructions God gives.

And then there is the way God speaks in our pain. Maybe this is the trickiest communication of all. But scientists confirm that pain mostly functions to protect us. Pain alerts us that something is wrong and must be attended to. This notion that pain may work for our good is hard to accept. But often it is the best explanation we can find.

Recently a friend of mine was told by his doctor that he needed to check himself into the hospital for a heart catheterization. "The doctor may decide to do a balloon angioplasty or stents," our friend explained, "in which case I'll have to stay over." Within forty-eight hours we heard that he had undergone triple bypass surgery, a major intervention.

He was weak, worn out, and exhausted by his ordeal, but beginning to see the brighter side. "The good news is there's no damage to my heart," he explained. But what I kept noticing was how hard he had tried to postpone the treatment ("Couldn't it wait a few weeks?"). Maybe God was shouting, but my friend was ill disposed to hear.

I myself have behaved in this exact way, deaf to the smaller signals of trouble and able to listen only when the alarms were percussive and loud. Toughing it out, ignoring the worst—maybe sometimes these are good character traits. But sometimes they are only a kind of disobedience and pride. Several years ago I found myself on a gurney in the emergency room in Santa Fe, struggling with a severe rheumatoid arthritis attack. How had I ignored the warning signs? How had I gotten into such a mess? The rheumatologist, when he finally arrived, spent much of his time scolding me. "Are you aware what a serious illness you have?" "Have you been underreporting your symptoms to your doctor at home?" Apparently he thought I had not been listening to that persistent megaphone.

So in the school of adversity we are brought up short; we repent; we are changed. In spite of our rebellious hearts, we become submissive, obedient, grateful. The God who whispers, speaks, and shouts is always at our side and on our side. But faith is needed to admit our need for God. Faith is needed to listen and hear God's counsel. Faith is needed to believe that God wants the best for us, even when trouble strikes. As the psalm says, "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you."

Excerpted from :
Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey by Emilie Griffin

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Plugged in -a preview

Wish you could make a difference in this world - but you are are afraid of failure? Think again:

We invite you to bring your favorite breakfast dish to share as we enjoy a time of fellowship. The Connection Café will provide coffee, tea and juice.
There will be no adult or youth Sunday School Plan to join us at 9:30am for a delicious meal and then prepare for a meaningful worship experience beginning at 10:30am.

Before I close - One more clip you MUST watch.... featuring one of my favorite artist - Keith Green = The Sheep and the Goats dedicated to Pastor Jordan for a great sermon a few weeks ago!)

A Lenten Devotional - Beyond Forgiveness

An Extension of Credit
Beyond Mere Forgiveness

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! Romans 5:9 NIV

With forgiveness alone, all Christians would simply be forgiven sinners who still did not possess the absolute righteousness (moral perfection) to enter God's kingdom. Righteousness is something entirely different, it must be given to us via justification.

Forgiveness merely removes something (sin and its penalty), while justification imparts something (a righteous standing before God). This is why forgiveness has often been termed the "negative" side of atonement, while justification is its "positive" side. Of course, the most important aspect of both forgiveness and justification is that we obtain them by grace through faith alone.

Justification is the act whereby God once and for all declares someone "righteous":

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God
who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness....
"Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose
sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will
never count against him."
(Romans 4:5-8 NIV)

This happens as a direct result of God's grace, or unmerited favor, toward anyone who accepts by faith the saving power of Jesus' work on the cross. Christ's righteousness is credited to us as if we ourselves were righteous. We can actually claim his righteousness as our own. Justification is not only the pinnacle of what Christ did for us, but also the unavoidable prerequisite for entering heaven.

Simply put, without justification we would not be able to stand in God's presence—even though forgiven of our sins.

Excerpted from: He Is Risen: Reflections on Easter and the Forty Days of Lent
by Richard Abanes

Friday, March 18, 2011

REDEMPTION - A Lenten Devotional

You Were a Slave
A Ransom Paid for Us

You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
1 Corinthians 7:23 NIV

Redemption, another belief wrapped up in the atonement, comes from the Hebrew words padah (to redeem) and ga'al (to ransom).

Padah, according to the Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, "was originally used commercially to indicate a transfer of ownership." It appears in several Old Testament verses that speak of God's ownership of the people whom he rescued out of Egypt. "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day" (Deuteronomy 5:15 NIV).

The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words further explains that ga'al has a similar meaning to padah, but points more precisely to someone who plays "the part of a kinsman, that is, to act on behalf of a relative in trouble or danger."

Both ga'al and padah refer to persons or objects, which although owned by an individual, are under the power/control of another person. The words also indicate that the true owner is unable to secure the release of his or her possessions until a third party intervenes.

These terms provide great insight into how Christ redeemed sinners through a payment of debt; especially when considered in light of the three Greek words found in the New Testament that are most often applied to what Jesus did on the cross.

First, we have the word agorazo, translated as "bought," that was used in Greek culture to describe the purchase of slaves. "You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:20 NIV). The Moody Handbook of Theology tells us that in the Bible this word connotes, "the believer being purchased out of the slave market of sin and set free from sin's bondage through the death of Jesus Christ."

Revelation 14:4 reads: "These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb" (NIV).

Next, there is exagorazo, a strengthened form of agorazo. It also means "to buy out," and like agorazo, is commonly linked to the purchasing of slaves, but with a view to their freedom and focuses more on the actual price paid, explains Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

The apostle Paul uses it in reference to Christ's deliverance of the Jews from the law and its curse. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13 NIV).

Finally, lutroo means "to obtain release by the payment of a price," as defined in Fritz Rienecker's A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. It conveys the notion of being set free through a ransom. "But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21 NIV).

Christians have been literally purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ (his death), said the apostle Peter. "It was not with perishable things...that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV). Unlike both of the other Greek words, according to Vine, lutroo emphasizes the exact event of deliverance itself or the act of setting someone free.

Excerpted from: He Is Risen: Reflections on Easter and the Forty Days of Lent
by Richard Abanes

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Forgiveness: A Lenten Devotional


To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, "I no longer hold your offense against you."...We also free ourselves from the burden of being the "offended one." As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves.
--Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith


Jesus said: If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High....

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you." Luke 6:33-37


God, my divine advocate, grant me the spirit of authentic forgiveness. Elevate my thoughts from the pit of retribution and negativity to the liberated place where I am free from the bonds of wounded anger. Let you who forgave your executioners inspire me to forego my obsessive victimhood and free my heart to follow your will. Amen.

Lenten Action

Choose one bit of emotional garbage that you are clinging to, get rid of it, and get on with your life. In honor of this act, give a gift to someone else who needs a helping hand.

Excerpted from Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

John 3:16 Day

A devotional thought came to mind today. Today is 3.16.2011.
This has been declared as John 3:16 Day!

Check out positive, encouraging K LOVE

Lenten Devotional: Abandonment to God's Will

This morning during my hour of prayer, I tried to come to some level of abandonment to my heavenly Father. It was a hard struggle since so much in me wants to do my will, realize my plans, organize my future, and make my decisions. Still, I know that true joy comes from letting God love me the way God wants, whether it is through illness or health, failure or success, poverty or wealth, rejection or praise. It is hard for me to say, "I shall gratefully accept everything, Lord, that pleases you. Let your will be done." But I know that when I truly believe my Father is pure love, it will become increasingly possible to say these words from the heart.
--Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

Abide in God's Will

Beloved,...Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever. 1 John 2:7, 15-17

Prayer : Henri Nouwen often said this prayer written by Charles de Foucauld:

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself into your hands,
without reserve and with boundless confidence.
For you are my Father. Amen.

Excerpted from: Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Make you want to slap your mama

Really for a good laugh? Enjoy: Tim Hawkins speaks about Cracker Barrel

Monday, March 14, 2011

Heart of Courage - A Lenten Devotional

Heart of Courage

The word courage comes from coeur, which means "heart." To have courage is to listen to our heart, to speak from our heart, to act from our heart....Often we debate current issues and express our opinions about them. But courage is taking a stance, even an unpopular stance, not because we think differently from others but because from the center of our being we realize how to respond to the situation we are in. Courage does not require spectacular gestures. Courage often starts in small corners: it is courageous not to participate in gossip, not to talk behind someone's back, not to ridicule another. It is courageous to think well of other people and be grateful to them....It is courageous to reach out to a poor person, to spend time with a troubled child, to participate in action to prevent war and violence.

--Henri J.M. Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey: The Diary of His Final Year

Courage of Conviction

[Jesus'] disciples said, "Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God." Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" John 16:29-33


Cherished God, give me true and heartfelt courage that brings strength, resilience, and determination to do what is right rather than what is expedient and convenient. Let my courage be seen in small ways that reflect the essence of your commandments: let me forego gossip and sarcasm, exercise caution with placing blame, refuse to duck away from responsibility, speak wisely at the appropriate moment, and cultivate compassion and understanding. Let me be among those who have the courage of his or her convictions. Amen.

Lenten Action: Choose a new tradition to observe this Lent; for example, decorate your home with reminders of the season (purple, incense, thorny branches), make a cross to adorn a home altar, or, imitating a Greek custom, place six feathers in a potato and remove one during each of the weeks of Lent.

Excerpt taken from:

Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen
by: Henri Nouwen

What Love Really Means

Yesterday was an awesome day at church at NRN. Here is a simple "taste": The offertory presented by Melissa, Dustin, Moses and Tom.

Don't miss next Sunday at NRN. Join us at 9:30am for breakfast - followed by the worship experience beginning at 10:30am featuring

In that great gettin up morning....

The Gaither Vocal Band - this is how to get great vocalization:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lenten Devotional Only the Father

Only the Father

The passion will inevitably remain extraneous to us until
we go into it through the very narrow door of the "for our sake"
because only he who acknowledges that the passion is his fault
truly knows the passion. Everything else is a digression.
--Raniero Cantalamessa


As you quiet your heart and subdue your thoughts, gently thank God for being with you today. Take a couple of minutes to affirm Christ's presence here.

Read the following passage aloud, making it a personal prayer:

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in
a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus
I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power
and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is
better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will
bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in
Your name
. --Psalm 63:1-4 NASB

Ask the Holy Spirit to be your Teacher and comforter through this time with Christ. Consider the prophetic descriptions of Jesus from Isaiah 53, listed below. Slowly speak each of the phrases, contemplating what it may mean.

-- a tender shoot
-- a root out of parched ground
-- no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him
-- nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him
-- despised
-- forsaken of men
-- man of sorrows
-- acquainted with grief
-- one from whom men hide their face
-- we did not esteem Him

What do you see in Christ that perhaps you haven't really comprehended before?


Remain here and keep watch with Me. --Matthew 26:38 NASB

...Such a simple request. Has He ever asked these men to do anything for Him before? From the moment He called them from their businesses and boats, did He depend on them at all to meet His needs?

He fed the five thousand—first the disciples and then the multitude. Did anyone make sure His stomach was filled with the broken bread and dried fish? He calmed the wind when the night wore thin and the disciples' terror grew, but did any of them think to offer Him a warm blanket or bowl of broth? A few hours ago He washed their feet—did anyone wash His?...

In the end, there is only the Father. He hovers near His child, though the agonizing dialogue between them is the start of a severing that will tear the Godhead apart. Visions of that moment torment the Son until He wonders if He can continue. He pleads with His friends, "Remain here and keep watch with Me," but only the Father hears.


Sit quietly, contemplating the darkness that surrounded the disciples that night. See Jesus a short distance from you, His heart beginning to break, His cries growing louder and louder. Imagine yourself falling asleep, oblivious to His pain. Hear Him gently calling you by name: "Could you not watch for one hour?"

Why do you think the disciples did not watch with Jesus? Why do you fail Him at times? Why were the disciples so out of touch with how terrible this time was for Christ? Are you at times out of touch with the true suffering of Christ? Why?

Ask God to give you spiritual insight into what Jesus was about to experience as He asked the disciples to watch with Him. Spend a few moments in prayer over this.

Write a prayer using some of the phrases from Isaiah (e.g., Lord, You were a tender shoot, like new life coming forth, fragile...and I crushed You).

Be quiet for a period of time, allowing this experience to settle within your heart.

Prayer: Oh, my Lord, I long to understand the extent of Your isolation, the impact of Your lonely pain. Did You ever feel at home during Your stay on earth, or did You experience abandonment from the moment You burst upon this dark planet? I, too, have let You down a thousand times, and I cannot for one moment judge the disciples who slept while You grieved. I long to join You now, though. My heart beats as Yours breaks, and in my spirit I offer You a shoulder upon which to weep. Let me remain and keep watch with You this day.

This devotional is an excerpt from:

Contemplating the Cross
by Tricia McCary Rhodes

Lenten Devotional MAN OF SORROWS

Man of Sorrows

In the cross God is not revealed as One reigning in calm disdain
above all the squalors of earth, but as One Who suffers more
keenly than the keenest sufferer--"a man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief." --Oswald Chambers


Begin your time with words of gratitude to God. Thank Him specifically for the life and love you have gained through salvation.

Ask God to speak to your heart today. Affirm His presence during this time of meditation and prayer.

Ponder the following verse:

The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
--1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB

What does this mean to you? Ask the Holy Spirit to impart the meaning to you in a personal way. Write a prayer of thanksgiving based on what you've seen in your prayer journal.


He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death." --Mark 14:34 NASB

The hour is late. Stillness settles like an eerie cloud over Jerusalem. As He enters the gate in the wall around Gethsemane, Jesus motions to Peter, James, and John to come with Him. The other sit down quietly to wait—for what, they do not know—as the three follow into the recesses of the Garden.

Jesus moves slowly, perhaps stopping to lean against a gnarled tree trunk. White knuckles protrude from tightened fists and His head hangs in weariness. The men glance at one another, wondering what to do. Their Teacher has never been like this before. They saw Him cry when His friend Lazarus died; and only a week ago, as He entered Jerusalem, He sobbed out loud over the neediness there. Yet that was a strong cry—laced with sadness perhaps, but not despair....

"Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Strange words to describe a Deity. But He had given it all up—didn't consider equality with God something to cling to. Now what must the Messiah think? Does He long for a taste of the days when angels sang and all of creation cried out to His exalted presence? Is the love that once sent Him spinning into a woman's womb faltering, even a little?

A resounding no echoes through the halls of eternity. The wretchedness written on the face of Christ will play itself out to the bitter end. Anything less would leave God's children hanging in the balance, bound in the slave market of sin's great camp. This He cannot allow. In some strange way, God the Father is pleased to crush His only Son.

And so, as travelers below settle down for another night's sleep, God's eternal plan marches forward. Earth's countless inhabitants are oblivious to the waves of emotions crashing into Jesus, the Christ, threatening to drown Him with their force. My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death. He mourns, but life goes on.


Wait in the stillness of God's presence for several minutes. Have you ever lost someone or something dear to you? Lifelong plans and dreams? Friendship? Mother? Father? Child? Think back to that time, or try to imagine the kind of grief that can be described only as agony—both physical and mental.

Consider the words Jesus spoke: "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death." Hear His voice speaking them. What might Jesus have been mourning in that moment? Ask God to give you a sense of the kind of sorrow Jesus was experiencing as He spoke those words. Wait and listen.

Read (or sing) the words to the following old hymn. Consider the face of Christ in the Garden as you do.

Hallelujah, What a Savior!
Phillip P. Bliss

"Man of Sorrows!" what a name
For the Son of God, who came,
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Spend some time in worship. Speak words of adoration, thanksgiving, awe, and wonder. Sing, lift your hands, and kneel in praise for One who would grieve as Jesus did and yet go on. Write a prayer of response in your prayer journal.

Prayer: Man of sorrows...You have looked sorrow in the face and wept in its wasteland. And though You grieved to the point of death, You did not die. Not then. Oh, God, in the soil of Your sadness, seeds of hope are planted for a dying world. Let me search deeply this moment of Yours. Open wide my eyes that I might glimpse Your eternal sacrifice. Take me into Your dark night, and together we will acquaint ourselves with the paradox of grief's glory.

This devotional is an excerpt from:

Contemplating the Cross
by Tricia McCary Rhodes

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011 The Beginning of the End

He who knows not the Christ of Calvary knows not God,
and he who does not thus know, knows not anything
that is worth knowing.
--R.E. March

Quiet your heart before God. Seek to release the worries, cares, distractions, and decisions of your day into the Holy Spirit's hands.

Read the following verses out loud as a prayer and invitation to the Lord:

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are
God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
--Psalm 25:4-5 NIV

Invite Jesus to open your spiritual eyes in a new way. Welcome Him as your companion and guide on this spiritual journey. Think about the Cross for a few minutes. What images come to your mind? Does the thought of the Cross touch you deeply, or has familiarity with Christ's death produced complacency? What would you like God to do within you through this journey? Write this out as a prayer.

He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. --Luke 22:39 NASB

As was His custom...These are telling words about where Jesus will spend His final hours of freedom. The Mount of Olives is a familiar place. He has been here often, only a week ago descending from it on a donkey, the crowds crying hosannas and laying palm branches at His feet.

On the night following the triumphal entry, while His followers rest in homes preparing for Passover, Jesus most likely slept here. He didn't have to travel far, just a few hundred feet up a stone path off the Jericho road.

...Stopping near a gate, Jesus gazes at the starry host above. Then, lifting his hands to His Father, He says a long, poignant prayer for these faithful few. When He is done, He searches their faces for a sign of comprehension. Seeing only questions in their eyes He cannot answer, the Son of God turns toward the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane.

It is a beautiful place, the night air in the foothills warm, the breeze from the brook Kidron blowing gently. The Garden's huge twisted-trunk olives trees are laden with fruit. At harvest, the olives will be pressed until precious oil fills the vats. This "place of crushing" is a fitting finale for the One whose life's breath will soon be pressed from Him.

...It is the beginning of the end. As night takes hold, the blackest days of Christ's short stint with humanity close in. Within hours, all of history will be catapulted toward that event for which there is no turning back. The beginning of the end.

The journey to the cross is one of introspection. It is a time for mourning over the sins we have committed that nailed Jesus there. In Scripture, ashes were often a sign of repentance. Many people begin their journey to the cross on Ash Wednesday (first day of the Lenten season) by having a cross of ashes put on their foreheads to symbolize their repentance of sin and need for a Savior (Job 24:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21).

Today, reflect on your own need. Consider your personal sin and disobedience. Ask God to give you the gift of mourning before Him as you begin this journey. Know that even as you may grieve, you will receive afresh the love of Christ, who died for you.

When God has spoken or moved you in some way, write a prayer of response. This might include words of praise, confession, petition, worship, or even questions you have. Be authentic as you open your heart.


Lord, let me walk with You through these final hours. Let me hold Your hurt, live in Your loneliness, and experience what it cost You to go the distance. In embracing Your pain, may I comprehend the depths of Your love. In grappling with Your grief, may I grasp the wonder of Your grace. And in dying Your despicable death, may I gain my own soul. I do not ask for these things lightly. I know I cannot come to the cross without being changed. Let me walk with You, Jesus--make me ready for the journey.

This devotional is an excerpt from:

Contemplating the Cross
by Tricia McCary Rhodes