What God is Saying:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Preparing for Easter (Day 23) - He Always Hears Our Prayers

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:40-42 

What a rare and precious gift when someone truly listens to you! When a person really hears what we are saying, he or she is validating us and demonstrating that our thoughts and opinions are important. That person is telling us that we are worth the time it takes to know us. Pastoral counselor David Augsburger wrote, "Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable." Conversely, when people talk past us or don't really hear our concerns, we feel isolated and diminished. No wonder one of our most common complaints - be it for politicians, bosses or co-workers, friends or family - is that nobody really hears what we are saying. 

Yet the Creator and Designer of the universe eagerly waits to hear our innermost thoughts. We can show our true selves to God and not fear rejection. We cannot bore God. God takes an active interest in every thought we direct toward Him. When Jesus prayed in front of Lazarus' tomb, He didn't pray about the amazing miracle that He was about to reveal. Instead, Jesus prayed about an even more amazing miracle - that the Lord of all creation always hears our prayers. We can pray in complete confidence that God always wants to listen to what we have to say. 

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for listening to me! I know that You always hear me. It is amazing that You eagerly wait to hear my innermost thoughts. May I be eager to go to You in prayer many times throughout each day. I love You Jesus! Amen. 

* This devotion taken from The Sanctuary for Lent 2016 by Sue Mink

Monday, March 27, 2017

Preparing for Easter Devotion (Day 22) - Blessed Are the Children

People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Luke 18:15-17 

Child mortality rates in Jesus' time were staggering. Estimates are that 30 percent of children did not survive past infancy and that 60 percent died by the time they were sixteen. Children were generally not recognized as part of the community until puberty, when their survival was reasonably assured. No wonder the disciples felt that Jesus was wasting His time with children. Who could be less important? They had no influence, no merit, and no privilege - not even a reasonable certainty of life itself. 

Yet Jesus reprimanded those who tried to keep Him from blessing babies. These "least of the least" were of utmost importance to Jesus. He even said that the kingdom of God belonged to people like those children. The children came to Jesus empty-handed and powerless, yet eager for His blessing. The disciples thought them unworthy. But what could we say or do or give to Jesus that could possibly be worth a blessing from the holy Son of God? Anyone who thinks he or she has something of value to give to God in order to buy his or her way into heaven is wrong. The only key to the kingdom of God is God's extravagant grace. 

Prayer: Lord, Jesus, like a child, I have nothing to offer You, except my trust in Your grace. May You bless me and keep me in Your heart. Help me to come to you as a child, empty-handed and powerless but eager for Your blessing. And help me to encourage all the children in my life to know You and love You more! In Your precious name, Lord Jesus, Amen

* This devotion taken from The Sanctuary for Lent 2016 by Sue Mink

Preparing for Easter Devotion (Sunday) - Never Stop Praying

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:1-8 

In Jesus' time, widows were especially vulnerable. Inheritances went to sons, not wives. Often the only person who could assure that a widow was treated fairly was a judge. But in this parable, the city's judge was corrupt and godless. Maybe he was holding out for a bribe, or was making deals with the widow's adversary, but he refused to listen to her. 

But she did not give up. Her constant requests caused him to finally do what was right. If her persistence caused an unjust man to do good, how much more would our compassionate and loving God respond to the calls of those in need?

Our Lord is profoundly concerned with mercy and justice. As God's children, we can confidently and persistently pray for people to respond to one another in a Christlike way. But as we pray, should we also guard against our own human behavior? Praying for justice means that we must treat others justly. Pleading with God for mercy means that we must live lives of grace. We may see ourselves as the persistent widow in this parable, but must always guard against being the judge who will not listen to others in need of justice and mercy. 

Prayer: Lord of mercy and justice, may Your grace rule all the people of the world, starting with me! Thank you for your compassion and love and that You hear my prayers and answer. Help me to respond to others with patience and understanding. In the name of Jesus, Amen. 

*This devotion taken from The Sanctuary for Lent 2016 by Sue Mink

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Preparing for Easter (Day 21) - Thankfulness

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19

What do you have to be grateful for? So often, we live our lives taking simple but profound blessings for granted. We can become blind to the ordinary miracles in our lives. 

Luke 17:15 says that when the leper in this story saw that he had been healed, he returned to Jesus to praise God. There are three important elements to this one verse. First, the leper recognized the miracle of his healing and transformed life. Second, he recognized that this miracle was because of God's undeserved and extravagant grace, and he was grateful. Third, he recognized that God had acted through Jesus and understood Him to be God's ambassador. These realizations were what ultimately saved this man from something much more profound than leprosy. His faith was how Jesus Christ saved him from sin and death. 

Even as we struggle through life, we experience ordinary miracles. In order to live as disciples, we must open our eyes to the ways that God blesses us. Understanding those blessings causes us to be grateful for God's constant grace. When we truly are aware of the ways that we are touched daily by the grace of God, our faith compels us to praise God and thank His Son, Jesus Christ.

A book that does a wonderful job of showing the importance of thanksgiving in a believers' life is One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. In it she recommends keeping a thanksgiving journal in which you write down daily at least ten things you are thankful for. You can then use those items to remind you to thank God daily for all He has done and is doing in your life.  
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to Your blessings and open my mouth in praise! May I never let a day go by without offering up thanks to You for all You have done for me. I am so undeserving. Thank you Lord for loving me! In Your Son's precious name, Amen

* This devotion taken from The Sanctuary for Lent 2016 by Sue Mink

Friday, March 24, 2017

Preparing for Easter Devotion (Day 20) - Jesus Our Healer

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
James 5:13-18 

As I write this, a young woman I know who has been surrounded by love and prayer is near death, a victim of cancer. This passage is particularly difficult in a situation like this, because James says that if you pray with faith, the sick will be restored to health. But everyone eventually dies. How could this verse be true?

Verse 15 which speaks of the sick person being made well uses the Greek word astheneia, which literally means "without strength." This could be physical, spiritual, or emotional strength. In a society where physical disease was very often seen as punishment for sin, James' call to gather to pray for those who were ill in any sense of the word could be considered radical. It was - and often still is - much easier to leave the sick behind. In today's society, where we usually understand that physical ailments are not related to our characters, we are more supportive. But what about mental illnesses or those who suffer spiritually? Are we eager to keep them within the community of the church?

The young woman I know has been strengthened and uplifted by the prayers of her faith community. The cancer is killing her body, but it has not destroyed her spirit. She has truly been raised up in prayer and made strong in Christ through the prayers of the righteous. 

Prayer: Lord, may those I name in my heart feel Your healing power. Heal today those who are hurting both physically, spiritually and emotionally, according to Your will. May I be an instrument of that healing. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen

* Devotion taken from The Sanctuary for Lent 2016 by Sue Mink

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Preparing for Easter (Day 19) - Faith in God

 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Mark 11:20-25 

Some years ago, I was in a Bible study during a time when one of the members had recently fallen from a roof. He was near death, and based on this verse, the study leader told us if we prayed for his recovery and did not doubt, he would be healed. When he died, it shook the faith of many of the members. 

Where was our miracle? We had confused confidence in prayer with believing we had the ability to manipulate God through prayer. Believing that the outcome of prayers is based on the intensity of our faith means that we believe our powers are greater than God's own will. Prayer is not a one-way communication where we make demands of God. Rather, it is when we open ourselves to God's claim on us and we respond obediently to God's guidance. 

However, the requests in the Lord's Prayer are things we can already claim as our own. These are an intimate relationship with God; membership in God's Kingdom, which has been established by Jesus on earth; the earth's bounty; and forgiveness and deliverance. God has already given us unlimited love, forgiveness and grace, and will empower us to glorify His kingdom. 

Prayer: Lord, bring me into a deeper prayer relationship with You, so that Your desires become my desires. May I never try to manipulate You with my prayers but instead, always trust in Your good judgment and Your perfect plan for my life and this world. I trust You Lord. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

* Devotion taken from The Sanctuary For Lent 2016 by Sue Mink 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Preparing for Easter (Day 18) - Ask, Seek, Knock

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:9-13 

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, His answer was not only a prayer but a lesson on the character of God. God, the Creator and Designer of the cosmos, wants us to approach Him like a father. He wants us to work for His Kingdom and to care for others. He wants us to come to Him humbly, aware of our sins but grateful for His grace. 

Jesus promises that those who seek God will find God; those who ask God, not for themselves, but for the Kingdom, will receive; and those who wish to be invited into the steadfast love of God's family will be welcomed. These assurances are all related to the requests in the Lord's Prayer. These are things that we can all pray for confidently, knowing that God wishes only that which is the very best for us. God answers prayers through the greatest possible blessing: the Holy Spirit. It is where we get our strength, our focus, our perseverance, and our guidance. Notice that our prayers are answered through the Holy Spirit. An answer to prayer is rarely passive, but is the enabling power of the Holy Spirit for us to do God's will on earth. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the blessing of the Holy Spirit, and give me the confidence, guidance, perseverance, and resources to continually do Your will. Help me to come to You humbly, aware of my sins and so grateful for Your grace. Amen

*Devotions taken from The Sanctuary for Lent 2016 by Sue Mink