Tag Archives: Psalm 31

Stage 3 in Faith: Grow & Multiply

given on Mothers Day Sunday, May 14, 2017:  Part 3 in mini-series on Stages of Faith

Scripture connections:

Psalm 31:1-5, 14-16
1O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me, for you do what is right.
Turn your ear to listen to me;
rescue me quickly.
Be my rock of protection,
a fortress where I will be safe.
You are my rock and my fortress.
For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
for I find protection in you alone.
I entrust my spirit into your hand.
Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. . . .

14 But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
15 My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
16 Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.

I Peter 2:1-10

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

     4 You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

     5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem

chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.”

     7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.”

     8 And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

     9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.”

John 20:14-18

     14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.


Reflection: Stage 3: Grow and multiply . . .

Do you know someone who knows Jesus personally?

Or maybe the question is have you met Jesus personally?

While studying the stages of faith development, the third stage is identified as that point in one’s life that they encounter Jesus on a very personal level. That encounter confirms what one suspects to be true but cannot completely say it is true. A personal encounter erases uncertainty. Yet, is a personal encounter required?

Are we like Mary Magdalene walking around feeling lost and alone without her friend Jesus? Are we like the apostles who were frightened and uncertain what to do without Jesus to guide them? These earliest disciples of Jesus did have a personal encounter with him, and even they were unsure. At least they were unsure until the encounter after the crucifixion when Jesus was with them in person again.

A personal encounter with Jesus may not seem possible; yet, in the history of the human experience, the evidence of encounters with Jesus continues to be shared. Still, how does one know that they have indeed encountered Jesus?

Example after example of encounters fill bookshelves. The NBC final segment every evening is about people making differences in the lives of others. Stories of survivors from the Holocaust tell of the faithful who survived due to the intercession of others serving as God’s servants. Even in our classrooms, Jesus is present in the kindness of kids reaching out to other kids who are hurting in one way or another.

Here it is Mothers Day 2017, and many of us might say we have met Jesus in the presence of our own mothers. Sadly, this is not true for all as we have listened to the horror story of childhood abuse. Yet, many of us can say that we have had an encounter with Jesus through the form of a mother in our own lives.

An encounter with Jesus is possible in so many different ways. Today is may seem easy to see Jesus in the face of our mothers, but there are other experiences in which Jesus is present with us:

  • Consider horrific car accidents when no one should have survived, yet the passengers and the driver walk away. Even their stories sometimes include the presence of a rescuer that is never located again.
  • The doctor working with the patient loses a pulse and is forced to turn away from the patient when amazingly the patient’s breath and pulse return. No explanation other than a miracle, and later the patient reports seeing the bright light.
  • A school bus careens off the road, but the driver keeps the bus upright and the kids are safe.
  • A tornado destroys a home, but the husband and wife are alive in the open where once a hallway surrounded them.
  • A refugee washes up on the coast near death, but is rescued by tourists who rush to its side disregarding anything other than this is a child of God.

The list grows and grows, and God’s story is carried on. God’s unconditional love is delivered in unique and surprising ways. Each time someone reaches out to others in any way that they can in all the ways that they can at anytime that they can, there is an encounter with Jesus.

As mothers are honored today, the risk is to say that in our mothers we can see the face of Jesus. Many of us can share a testimony that our mothers were instrumental in our own faith development, but that is not a guarantee. For some of us, the best mothers we knew were really friends, neighbors, teachers, or even strangers who did something that changed our lives for the better.

In my generation, our mothers often were the reason we got up on Sunday morning and headed to church. We did not ask a lot of questions and never even considered that we could do something different. My encounters with Jesus may have started with my mother and my father, but I can include a variety of Sunday school teachers, a choir director, a youth minister, and an array of friends who also guided my faith development.

And then there are the times, when all alone, we confront a hurdle in our lives and Jesus is there with us. No parent. No friend. No teacher. All alone, we face a life challenge when, from outside of our own being, comes an answer or an act that makes all the difference in the world. The voice I hear is recognizable, even though no body is present. At those times, I encounter Jesus and my faith grows even stronger.

The third stage of faith development confirms all that one checks out. The personal encounter is a demonstration of God in our lives and we take ownership of that encounter and then do all we can to make sure that we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. John Wesley kept living the practices of his faith still questioning whether or not he fully believed he was saved by Jesus Christ. His encounter was through the words shared from the Bible and by those in the small group he was attending. He knew because his “heart was strangely warmed.”

Wesley’s personal encounter “ignited” his ministry. He grew in ministry. He multiplied his efforts and proclaimed the Word. His efforts to do all that he could for all he could all the time he could in as many ways as he could made it possible for others to encounter Jesus themselves. He, as well as other theologians, ministers and servants, all become the face of Jesus in our world.

The Word invites each of us to grow in our faith. The scripture from I Peter 2 teaches us that as we learn more about Jesus and practice his commandments, we ‘hunger’ for more in our relationship with the triune God. Peter refers to it as ‘spiritual milk:’

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

The Word continues to nourish us and we can even meet Jesus in the Word, personally, too. The Word calls us to serve in God’s name as shared in Mark 16:20:

20 And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.

Our encounter with Jesus leads us to follow in all types of ways. In the study note for Mark 16:20, the ways to meet Jesus are listed in the very way he served:

. . . . . . But Jesus . . . chose to serve others. He held children in his arms, healed the sick, washed the disciples’ feet and died for the sins of the world. Jesus’ followers today receive the same power to serve. As believers, we are called to be servants of God. As Christ served, so we are to serve. (The Life Application Bible 1991)

By growing in your own faith, you will be multiplying the opportunities for others to experience Jesus personally, too. What began as an impossible to believe story in your life, you have checked out, and you continue to check out as you discover the Jesus encounters in your own life. Your faith is growing and will continue to grow as you follow God’s call in your life.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

We listen to the Word seeking to understand

How Jesus died for our sins.

We want to believe in the stories

And study to check them out for ourselves.

As we learn, we begin to practice

The new laws Jesus taught and practiced.

Slowly our disbelief begins to change

And we are open to meeting you personally.

Open our hearts, our minds and our ears

So we can hear you calling us to serve. –Amen.

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Why Celebrate Faith Holidays?

given on Sunday, March 29, 2015: Palm or Passion Sunday

While reading the lectionary this week and considering the question of why do we call the Sunday before Easter “Palm Sunday,” I ran across this statement: “Holidays can be important today, too, as annual reminders of what God has done for us.” (Life Application Bible, NIV, p. 121) Just ponder that for a moment . . . That statement was connected to the reading from Exodus, in the Old not the New Testament.

In today’s American culture, we get so wrapped up in the stores’ various holiday displays. We groan when the seasons are hurried along by the retailers putting out the next holiday’s unique trappings weeks even months ahead of time. Yet we also are wooed by the appealing displays that trigger our impulse buying the moment we see it. Buying decisions become whimsical rather than planned.

What does this have to do with today? Today is Palm Sunday. Why is it important? Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. This was the beginning day of the Jewish Passover and the tradition was for families to make a journey to Jerusalem for a huge festival. The city was bubbling over with people, the vendors were out, especially around the temple, palm branches were waving much like Americans wave flags during parades, competitions, and so on.

Passover was the Jewish people’s Fourth of July. God had protected them and they had been freed from the Egyptian captivity. They had been slaves and now they were free. There was a reason to celebrate and the events during Passover were as traditional to the Jewish people as the fireworks, apple pie, hot dogs, hamburgers, parades, and festivals are to Americans over the Fourth of July weekend.

The study note states holidays are important in the remembrance of what God has done for us and the note continues with a directive:

“. . . Develop traditions in your family to highlight the religious significance of certain holidays. These serve as reminders to the older people and learning experiences for the younger ones.” (Ibid)

As a church family, the emphasis we place on the various Christian holidays serve as teaching tools. We remember, yes, but more importantly we teach.

All of us have family traditions that we maintain. The tradition might be a daily one like sitting down for a family meal that we begin with a table blessing. Some traditions may not be centered on Christian living, but the tradition probably has a major significance for the family. Maybe the tradition is centered on a child’s birth or an engagement or possibly a traditional bridal shower. The tradition adds significance and value to life transitions—and family tales told later on.

The story of Passover begins in the Old Testament, Exodus 12:1-10 in the lectionary. Reading through the scripture reconnects us to an ancient, pre-Christian event that was so important it has been preserved even today in the Jewish tradition but also connected to the Christian tradition.

The Exodus scripture carefully explains how the Jewish people were to prepare for their escape. It begins with very detailed instructions on preparing a meal, even how to dress and how to eat the meal. God wanted them prepared with their tummies full for an immediate escape. They had to be ready to run. By reading a few more verses past the preparation, the Passover event is explained:

11 “These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed,[a] wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover. 12 On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! 13 But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (NLT)

The Jewish people who followed God’s instructions escaped Egyptian slavery. These are the ancestors of the Christians today who celebrate Easter and the connection is the Passover tradition.

Why do we celebrate Passover, then? The Christian tradition celebrates Passover with a twist because it provided the setting for Christ’s final week and crucifixion in Jerusalem. Remember, Jesus was raised Jewish. The Jewish people following Jesus anticipated him to become a political leader, not the peaceful, quiet image of God today’s Christians now honor as the Messiah, the Savior, the Triune God.

Palm Sunday is the most common word for this particular day, but a second descriptor is Passion Sunday. The connotative meaning of Passion Sunday is a more accurate label in the Christian tradition as we know it. Passion refers to intense emotions, but also is defined as “the suffering and death of Jesus.” (OxfordDictionary.com)

Palm or Passion Sunday is the first day that Jesus’ narrative begins the final week of his life. Palm Sunday clearly connects with the Jewish Passover tradition, and the week continues through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and ending with Easter Sunday. Christians celebrate the horrible events just as the Jewish followed God’s advice about Passover:

14 “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time. 15 For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast. On the first day of the festival, remove every trace of yeast from your homes. Anyone who eats bread made with yeast during the seven days of the festival will be cut off from the community of Israel. 16 On the first day of the festival and again on the seventh day, all the people must observe an official day for holy assembly. No work of any kind may be done on these days except in the preparation of food.

17 “Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation. (Exodus 12:14-17)

The structure for Passion Week is based on this directive, but the events of Holy Week for Christians no longer depends of the significance of the Jewish tradition, but on the events that lead to Jesus’ capture, trial, torture, and crucifixion.

God’s plan followed God’s concept of time. Passover occurred around 1410 BC. His words in Exodus began the series of events that indicate a constant monitoring of how his children were living. Throughout the Old Testament, there are warnings, advice, stories, hymns and prayers that included references to future possibilities. The people were to celebrate the Jewish holiday in order to keep the memory alive but also to teach the new generations. For instance, the lectionary included Psalm 31:9-16:

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
10 I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
I am wasting away from within.
11 I am scorned by all my enemies
and despised by my neighbors—
even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,
they run the other way.
12 I am ignored as if I were dead,
as if I were a broken pot.
13 I have heard the many rumors about me,
and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,
plotting to take my life.

Our understanding of the events we now celebrate echo those lifted up to God by the Jewish people sometime after Passover and maybe even as recently as a thousand years later around 586 BC. Again God’s time is not our perception of time.

Today, we are over 2,000 years past that Jewish Passover that lead to Jesus’ death, so why celebrate a Jewish holiday? We celebrate the Christian Passion or Holy Week beginning today with Palm Sunday. The reason we celebrate the passion, the life and death of Jesus, is to remember God’s gift of his only son so that we might have life eternal. We celebrate this particular Christian holiday to teach the future generations of the passion God has for each of us.

Closing Prayer

Dear Loving God,

You never fail to remember us even at our worst.

You never hand us more than we can handle.

The generations of the faithful have kept the story alive.

The generations celebrate the story to teach the story.

Guide us to celebrate with grace and love.

Guide us to grow in faith so passion lives.

Each day of this holy week, we will pray passionately

Each day of this holiday, we will share the story

With all that we can,

In as many ways that we can,

So others may experience your grace. –Amen


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