Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lenten Devotional: the End of Cain's History

Genesis 4:1: Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain. Adam and Eve become the proud creators of new life, a new life which, however, is created in human beings' obsessive desire for life together and for death; Cain is the first human being born on the ground that is cursed. History begins with Cain, the history of death. Adam, preserved for death and yet consumed by a thirst for life, begets Cain, the murderer. The new element in Cain, Adam's son, is that he himself, in his being like God, violates human life. He who is not permitted to eat of the tree of life reaches all the more greedily for the fruit of death, the destruction of life. Only the Creator can destroy life. Cain usurps for himself the ultimate right of the Creator, and becomes a murderer. Why does Cain commit murder? Out of hatred toward God. This hatred is great. Cain is great. He is greater than Adam, since his hatred is greater, which means that his obsessive desire for life is greater. The history of death stands under the sign of Cain. Christ on the cross, the murdered Son of God—that is the end of Cain's history, and thus the end of all history. It is the last, desperate assault on the gates of paradise. The human race dies under the slashing sword, under the cross. But Christ lives. The trunk of the cross becomes the wood of life, and in the middle of the world life is established anew in the accursed ground. In the center of the world, from the wood of the cross, the fountain of life springs up anew, and all those thirsting for life are called to this water, and whoever has eaten of the wood of this life will never again hunger or thirst. A strange paradise, this hill of Golgotha, this cross, this blood, this broken body; a strange tree of life, this trunk on which God himself had to suffer and die—and yet here is bequeathed anew by God in grace: the kingdom of life, of resurrection, an open door of imperishable hope, of waiting, and of patience. Tree of life, cross of Christ, the center of God's fallen and preserved world, that is the end of the story of paradise for us. Today now he unlocks the door To blessed paradise. No angel bars it anymore, To God all honor, glory and praise. Excerpted from: Meditations on the Cross by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lenten Devotional: Suffering in Solidarity

It must be clear to us that most people learn only through personal experience occurring to their own bodies. First, this explains why most people are remarkably incapable of any sort of preventative action. We keep thinking that we ourselves will be spared when disaster strikes—until it is too late. Second, it explains our insensitivity toward the suffering of others; solidarity with suffering arises in proportion to our own increasing fear of imminent doom.

Much can be said to justify this attitude. Ethically, we wish to avoid meddling with fate. We draw the inner calling and strength for action only from an actual and present crisis. We are not responsible for all the injustice and suffering in the world, nor do we wish to judge the whole world. Psychologically, our lack of imagination, sensitivity, and inner readiness is balanced by a kind of unwavering calmness, an undisturbed ability to work, and a great capacity for suffering.

From a Christian perspective, though, none of these justifications can conceal that the real issue here is our hearts' lack of magnanimity. Christ avoided suffering until his hour had come; then, however, he went to it in freedom, seized it, and overcame it. Christ—so scripture tells us—experienced all the suffering of all human beings on his own body and as his own suffering (an incomprehensibly lofty notion!), and took it upon himself in freedom.

We are certainly not Christ ourselves, nor are we called to redeem the world through our own actions and our own suffering, nor should we burden ourselves with the impossible and then castigate our own inability to bear it. No, we are not lords, we are instruments in the hand of the Lord of history. Only to an extremely limited degree are we really able to join with other human beings in suffering. Although we are not Christ, if we want to be Christians we must participate in Christ's own magnanimous heart by engaging in responsible action that seizes the hour in complete freedom, facing the danger. And we should do so in genuine solidarity with suffering flowing forth, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ toward all who suffer. Inactive "waiting-and-seeing" or impassive "standing-by" are not Christian attitudes.

Christians are prompted to action and suffering in solidarity not just by personal bodily experience, but by the experience incurred by their fellows for whose sake Christ himself suffered.

Excerpted from: Meditations on the Cross by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Today at NRN

Saturday was a full day and travel as we visited a dear friend whose mother suffered a stroke this past week and is hospitalized in Concord, NC. Thanks to ALL those who participated in the church work day as we prepared our facility for the open house in conjunction with the Gigantic Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday April 23, 2011. Today will be special at NRN as draw near to our upcoming prayer vigil. Here are some of the worship songs we plant to present to the Lord:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lenten Devotional: Turning Hate to Love

These are the things which might conceivably and truly make men forgive their enemies. We can only turn hate to love by understanding what are the things that men have loved; nor is it necessary to ask men to hate their loves in order to love one another. And just as two grocers are most likely to be reconciled when they remember for a moment that they are two fathers, so two nationals are most likely to be reconciled when they remember (if only for a moment) that they are two patriots.

From: "The Intrinsic Value of the Nation," Illustrated London News, June 4, 1921

Eye for an Eye "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you." Matthew 5:38-42

Prayer Who am I, God, that I should consider myself superior to others—worth special treatment or consideration? Open my heart to understand my fellow men and women, especially those with whom I currently experience conflict. Open my mind to comprehend that I am connected to other human beings; that my sense of individual separateness is in reality an illusion. Teach me, Lord, first to understand my enemies and then even to love them.

Lenten Action Spend ten to twenty minutes in silent prayer. As distractions crowd your mind, do not hold on to them; let them go. After you find some soul silence, ask God to bring to your mind your "enemies." Imagine, as Chesterton suggests above, ways you are alike. Ask God what you have in common with these people. Finally, ask God to show you ways you might take small steps toward reconciliation—a card or phone call, a smile or handshake.

BY: G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Lenten Devotional - A nut falling from a tree

Readings: Isa 49:8-15; John 5:17-30

Scripture: "Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also."

(John 5:19)

Reflection: Principals and counselors appreciate the old adage about the nut not falling far from the tree. To understand a student's attitudes or behaviors, to understand a client's values and vision, the principal or counselor need but reflect upon the family of origin and in so doing come to a fairly good grasp of what is going on. The intimate relationship within the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the concern of John's gospel. To understand the nature of our triune God, we must ponder the works that God does, and those works are creating, redeeming, and sanctifying. Jesus does what the Father and the Holy Spirit do, that is, give life and love to the world. That is why Jesus came, that we might have life to the full that comes to us through faith in the Lord and love for one another. We are the children of God, God's beloved children.

Hopefully we "nuts" do not fall far from the tree, the tree of life. Made in the image and likeness of God, we are called to continue the works that Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit are doing. We are called to be agents of life, instruments of divine love, conduits of God's light. But something has gone wrong. We tend to wander from the tree that has given us life. We tend to do works of darkness, not light; we struggle with self-absorption when we should be loving; we sometimes participate in the culture of death and fail in our mission of bringing life to others.

Lent is the season to repent, to once again return to our baptismal commitment of being true disciples of Jesus. Like Jesus, we are to seek God's will and we are to participate in the marvelous works of God: creation, redemption, sanctification.

Meditation: What is God asking you to do? In what ways can you be an agent of God's creative, redeeming, and sanctifying love? Who are the people you have known who have done the works of the Lord?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, deepen our faith in you. May we hear your voice and follow in your way so that we might be agents of your Father's kingdom. May we live out our call to participate in your mission of salvation by being ambassadors of reconciliation. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

By: Bishop Robert Morneau

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Lenten Devotional: Well Being and Responsible

Readings: Ezek 47:1-9, 12; John 5:1-16

Scripture: When Jesus saw him [the sick man] lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be well?" (John 5:6)

Reflection: Health is one of the most desired values in all of life. Well-being, be that of body, emotions, or our spiritual life, is a grace of supreme importance. Tremendous amounts of money, research, and energy are put into the healthcare field. As Emerson reminds us, "The first wealth is health." Jesus raises a question in today's gospel that is directed not only to the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years but also to us: "Do you want to be well?"

Do we want to be healed of whatever infirmity we have? Despite it being the Sabbath, Jesus cures the man on the spot, bidding him to pick up his mat and walk. But not only was the man cured of his physical ailment, the Lord makes reference to the man's spiritual life as well when he commands him not to sin anymore. The persecution directed at Jesus was as much at his spiritual healing as it was at his physical healing.

This wanting to be well has an interesting consequence. Once healed of whatever infirmity, we are now given new responsibilities and we cannot claim exemptions from ordinary tasks because of illness. So the thirty-eight-year-old ill man must now get a job and take on the duties of ordinary life. The person who is emotionally healed cannot continue to be excused from one's responsibility from solid relationships, hiding behind emotional distress. And the spiritually healed person, sins forgiven, must now take up those religious disciplines (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) that sustain spiritual health and help us to grow in the Spirit.

The philosopher Father William Lynch, SJ, reminds us: "With the ill, there is less relationship, less call, less response, more fear of help or response when it is there, and therefore far more trouble." It is no small wonder that some people do not want to get well, for good health imposes many demands on our life.

Meditation: What is the state of your health—physically, emotionally, spiritually? Have you ever hidden behind illness as a way of avoiding responsibility?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you came to heal and restore us to health. May we have great faith in your power to make us whole. Through the gift of your Holy Spirit we can live full and productive lives, and even when ill, we can discern and do your will. We do want to be well and praise you for the gift of health.

Excerpted from: Not by Bread Alone: Daily Reflections for Lent 2011 By: Bishop Robert Morneau

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lenten Devotional: The Whole Household

Readings: Isa 65:17-21; John 4:43-54

Scripture: The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live," and he and his whole household came to believe. (John 4:53)

Reflection: Ours is an age of individualism. Our thought patterns and our moral behavior tend to focus more on the individual, much less on the common good. Self-interest reigns; it's all about me; you've got to take care of number one! Jesus was concerned about the individual and about the "whole household."

In teaching the disciples how to pray, stress was put on "our" Father. We are all interconnected; we are all part of the same body, the body of Christ. St. Paul clarifies this by reminding us that when one person suffers, we all suffer, and, vice versa, when one person rejoices, joy comes to all.

The second sign that Jesus worked—the curing of the royal official's son—led to belief. But not only did the official come to faith, "his whole household came to believe." The same thing happened in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) wherein salvation came not only to the tax collector but also to his whole family. The social nature of our spirituality has profound implications. One implication is, as the Quaker Douglas V. Steere asserts, we have "unlimited liability for one another." A mature spirituality does not allow us to privatize our relationship with God. Although we do have a personal relationship with the Lord, there is always a corporate component to our religious life. The notion of being a pilgrim and traveling with other pilgrims illustrates this "unlimited liability" notion.

A second implication is that, because of our social nature, community has a high priority in the Christian life. We are church, a gathering of people in the household of God. We are called to share and care; we are called to compassion and empathy; we are called to respond together to God's will by acting justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly in faith (Mic 6:8).

The royal official in Capernaum was in a life and death situation. His son was critically ill and the official begged Jesus to heal his boy. The official believed! And so did the rest of the family.

Meditation: What role do you assign to the social component of spirituality? How has the faith of others influenced your personal growth?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, give us the gift of faith. In our illness and struggles, we need your healing power. May our personal faith enrich the lives of others; may their faith in you help us to be better disciples. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Excerpted from: Not by Bread Alone: Daily Reflections for Lent 2011 by: Bishop Robert Morneau

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lenten Devotional - The Center

One who does not seek the cross of Jesus isn't seeking the glory of Christ.

-St. John of the Cross

Every believer knows that Christ went the way of the cross for our sakes. But it is not enough just to know this. Each of us must find the cross. He suffered in vain unless we are willing to die for him as he died for us. Christ's way was a bitter way. It ended in a victory of light and life, but it began in the feeding trough of an animal in a cold stable, and passed through tremendous need: through suffering, denial, betrayal, and finally, complete devastation and death on a cross. If we call ourselves his followers, we must be willing to take the same path.

When a grain of wheat is laid in the earth, it dies. It no longer remains a grain, but through death it brings forth fruit. This is the way of true Christianity. It is the way Jesus went when he died on the cross for each of us. If we want our lives to be fruits of Christ's death on the cross, we cannot remain individual grains. We must be ready to die too. Christ died on the cross to break the curse of evil and vanquish it once and for all. If we do not believe in the power of evil, we cannot comprehend this. Until we realize that the main reason for his coming to earth was to do this on our behalf—to free us from the powers of darkness—we will never fully understand our need for the cross. We can search the whole world, but we will find forgiveness of sins and freedom from torment nowhere except at the cross.

Many people say, "God is so great, so mighty, that he could have saved humankind without the cross." But that is not true. We should remember that God is not only one hundred percent love—which might have allowed him to forgive our sins without the cross. He is also one hundred percent justice. To kill the son of God was the most evil deed ever done. But it was just through that deed that God showed his greatest love and gave everyone the possibility of finding peace with him. The image of a sweet, gentle Savior, like the thought of an all-loving God, is wonderful, but it is only a small part of the picture. It insulates us from the real power of his touch. Christ comforts and heals, saves and forgives--we know that; but we must not forget that he judges too. If we truly love him, we will love everything in him; not only his compassion and mercy, but his sharpness too. It is his sharpness that prunes and purifies. There is something in modern thinking which rebels against the Atonement.

Perhaps our idea of an all-loving God keeps us from wanting to face judgment. We think that love and forgiveness is all that is needed, yet that is not the whole Gospel---it makes God too human.... When we know Jesus in the depths of our hearts, we will begin to realize (even if only to a tiny degree) what he went through for our sake. This means surrendering ourselves to him in prayer and quiet, confessing our sins to one another, and laying them before the cross in a spirit of repentance. Then he will accept us and give us reconciliation with God, a clean conscience, and a pure heart. In rescuing us from inner death and granting us new life, his love for us will spill over into our own hearts and give us a great love for him. Naturally it cannot end here, however. The experience of personal purification at the cross is vital, yet to remain focused on that alone would be useless. Christ's love is so great, it must lift our minds above our little struggles—and any preoccupation with our own salvation—so that we can see the needs of others, and beyond that the greatness of God and his Creation.

The cross is so much greater than the personal; it has cosmic significance, for its power embraces the whole earth and more than this earth! There are secrets that only God knows, and the crucifixion at Golgotha is perhaps the greatest of them all. Paul speaks of its mystery and says only that it pleased God to let his full nature dwell in Jesus and to reconcile to himself everything on earth and in heaven "through the shedding of his blood on the cross" (Col. 1:19-20).

At the cross, then, not only earth but also heaven and all the powers and principalities of the angel world will be reconciled to God. Certainly not we, and maybe not even the angels, will ever fully understand this. But one thing we know: Christ overcame death, the last enemy, and through this, something took place that continues to have power far beyond the limits of our planet.

A devotional by J. Heinrich Arnold

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Preparing for Sunday April 3rd at NRN

As I prepare for Sunday at NRN I am praying over the message in the teaching series called 24 hours that changed the world! We are walking through the last 24 hours of Jesus life here on earth.

I am so excited about what God has planned for our worship experience on Sunday April 3rd at NRN!

We will begin with an awesome Call to Worship:

Followed by a great hymn of our faith:

As we prepare for a time of prayer and remembrance we share this great song:

We will conclude our time of communion with a song of adoration to God:

I have requested the worship team share this song as we present our tithes and offerings to the Lord:

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Lenten Devotional: Merchandising Truth

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there.

Matthew 21:12

We read in the Gospel how Holy Week began with Jesus entering the temple and driving out all those that bought and sold. He then rebuked the vendors of doves: "Get these things out of here!" He was so crystal clear in his command that it was if he said, "I have a right to this temple and I alone will be in it and have control of it." What does this have to say to us? The temple God wants to be master of is the human soul, which he created and fashioned just like himself. We read that God said, "Let us make man in our own image." And he did it. He made each soul so much like himself that nothing else in heaven or on earth resembles him as much. That is why God wants the temple to be pure, so pure that nothing should dwell there except he himself.

And that is the reason why he is so pleased when we really prepare our souls for him. When we do this, when he alone dwells in our hearts, he takes great comfort. But who, exactly, are the people who buy and sell? Are they not precisely the good people? See! The merchants are those who only guard against mortal sins. They strive to be good people who do their good deeds to the glory of God, such as fasting, watching, praying and the like--all of which are good--and yet do these things so that God will give them something in exchange. Their efforts are contingent upon God doing something they ardently want to have done.

They are all merchants. They want to exchange one thing for another and to trade with our Lord. But they will be cheated out of their bargain--for what they have or have attained is actually given to them by God. Lest we forget, we do what we do only by the help of God, and so God is never obligated to us. God gives us nothing and does nothing except out of his own free will. What we are we are because of God, and whatever we have we receive from God and not by our own contriving. Therefore God is not in the least obligated to us--neither for our deeds nor for our gifts. He gives to us freely. Besides, Christ himself says, "Without me, you can do nothing." People are very foolish when they want to trade with God. They know little or nothing of the truth. And God will strike them and drive them out of the temple. Light and darkness cannot exist side by side. God himself is the truth.

When he enters the temple, he drives out ignorance and darkness and reveals himself in light and truth. Then, when the truth is known, merchants must depart--for truth wants no merchandising! God does not seek his own benefit. In everything he acts only out of love. Thus, the person who is united with God lives the same way--he is innocent and free. He lives for love without asking why, and solely for the glory of God, never seeking his own advantage. God alone is at work in him.

As long as we look for some kind of pray for what we do, as long as we want to get something from God in some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God. Live as if you did not exist. Expect and ask nothing in return. Then the merchant inside you will be driven out of the temple God has made. Then God alone dwells there. See! This is how the temple is cleared: when a person thinks only of God and honors him alone. Only such a person is free and genuine.... And what does Jesus say when the soul has been cleared? His word is a revelation of himself and everything the Father has said to him.

He reveals the Father's majesty with unmeasured power. If in your spirit you discover this power, you will possess a like power in whatever you do--a power that will enable you to live undividedly and pure. Neither joy nor sorrow, no, nor any created thing will be able to disrupt your soul. For Christ will remain and he will cast aside all that is insignificant and futile. When Jesus is united with your soul, the soul's tide moves back again into its own, out of itself and above all things, with grace and power back to its prime origin. Then your fallen, fleshly self will become obedient to your inner, spiritual self, and you will in turn have a lasting peace in serving God without condition or demand.