More Easter thoughts and meditations…

In many churches Easter is celebrated for a season, rather than just one day- Easter Sunday, and actually, every Sunday’s worship is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. This week’s prayer guide is from another passage about Jesus’ resurrection, taken from a conversation the risen Jesus had with two disciples who did not yet believe that he had truly risen from the dead. I followed a different format this time, breaking the passage up into separate verses to meditate on each day.

Monday: “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…” Luke 24:19b-21a

Are there ways in which you have been disappointed by God that have affected your faith? If so, talk honestly with him about it. He can handle it, and throughout the Bible God invites people to speak with him openly and honestly about how they are feeling and what they’re thinking.

Tuesday: “In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” Luke 24:22-24

Do you tend to automatically receive or automatically dismiss other people’s testimony? Pray for the ability to accurately discern truth, so that you can benefit from the experience of other believers without being gullible to error.

Wednesday: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24: 27

Read and meditate on the testimony of Scripture about Jesus and let it inform and transform you.

Thursday: They urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. Luke 24:29

Ask God to open your heart, so that even when you don’t really recognize him or understand clearly how he’s working, you will be able to be hospitable to him in your life.

Friday: When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him… Luke 24: 30-31a

Thank Jesus for nourishing us with the bread of life—his body—and revealing himself to us. Ask him to give you the ability to recognize him in whatever way he is present in your life.

Saturday: Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. Luke 24: 35

Share how Jesus has worked in your life, that others may be strengthened in their faith through your testimony. Praise him for his gift of Scripture, the fellowship of believers and his presence!

Cattails

Resurrection Joy

Darkness and Dawn    

I love Easter Sunday, especially the early morning hours. Every year I get up while it’s still dark and spend some time imagining what that first Easter Sunday must have been like, starting with deep grief and fear, then moving to confusion, then astonishment and, finally, joy. I try to put myself in the women’s place, as they walk through the dim light of early dawn, carrying spices, planning to go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for a proper burial. All their hopes had been dashed, and their friend, their teacher, the one in whom they had wholeheartedly trusted, was dead.

They get to the cemetery and find that his grave has been violated, opened; his body is not there! And then an angel appears (!) and tells them that Jesus isn’t there, that he has risen? What could that mean, risen? Jesus is dead; he died a horrible death, beaten and mutilated, and killed. They saw it happen and saw his dead body.

And then the angel tells them to go tell the disciples that Jesus has risen. Like the disciples are really going believe that! Men wouldn’t take a woman’s word for anything in that time and place in history. Women weren’t considered reliable witnesses and their words weren’t admissible as testimony in court. And yet, these women are the first ones to receive the announcement that Jesus has risen. And then they are the first ones to whom the risen Jesus appeared! I think often about what that says to our world about how Jesus esteems women…

And now these women, afraid and yet filled with joy, have a message to carry to the disciples, a message that resonates through centuries and cultures, a message I meditated on this morning as birds sang their joy in the new day and that I will continue to ponder for many mornings when I rise early and look out at the new light of dawn breaking in and dispersing the dark of night.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”    Matthew 28:1-10 NIV

Resurrection Joy

 

Forgveness and Restoration– prayer guide

We sometimes tend to feel that our past disqualifies us from serving God or from using our abilities and talents in his work, especially in any kind of leadership. This passage shows us that God’s willingness to forgive and restore us is greater than anything we may have done in the past. Peter had publicly denied Jesus (see Matthew 26:69-75), but Jesus here restores him and commissions him to pastoral ministry.

  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 
  “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” 
  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 
  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
  He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
  Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 
  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 
  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 
  Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 
  Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:15-22



Monday: How would you answer if Jesus asked if you love him? This seems like a good question to reflect on, especially as we observe our own thoughts and actions. Let’s give some thought to this as we go through the day today.



Tuesday: Jesus wanted Peter’s love for him to result in service to Jesus’ followers. Does our love for Christ flow out to his people? How about to those people we don’t necessarily like?



Wednesday: Jesus told Peter that Peter would die for his faith in Christ, and then told Peter to follow him. Let’s ponder the call that Jesus has given each of us, to follow him whatever the consequences. How are we called to do this in our daily lives at home or work or in our relationships?



Thursday: There are many believers around the world who are facing persecution of various sorts because of their faithfulness in following Christ. Some can’t get work, some are hassled at work, some are imprisoned, and others face torture and death. Let’s pray for those around the world who even today are facing persecution and death for following Jesus.



Friday: Jesus restored Peter after Peter had denied him. Thank Jesus for his wonderful mercy and grace that is greater than all our sin. Nothing we have done is so bad we can’t be forgiven. Let’s come to him with all our sin in repentance and trust and gratitude.


Saturday: Jesus told Peter that God’s plans for another disciple’s future was not Peter’s business. Peter’s responsibility was to follow Jesus. Ask God to help you keep your focus on following Jesus, no matter what other people are doing.

Weekly Prayer Guide: The Road to Emmaus

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:13-27

Monday:
Can you look back on times Jesus was clearly with you, but you couldn’t
recognize his presence at the time? What kept you from recognizing him?
Tuesday:
These disciples said Jesus was “a prophet, powerful in word and deed.”
Many people today think of him that way, but now, as then, that is an
inadequate understanding that does not impart life or joy. Jesus is the living Savior! Let’s praise his name!
Wednesday:
These disciples had many facts, but lacked the faith needed to see the
truth to which they pointed. Let’s ask God to give us the faith to believe
his promises and to see his work clearly.
Thursday:
The disciples had specific expectations (political redemption) that
interfered with them seeing the truth of what Jesus was doing. What
expectations do you have of God? Are they in line with what Scripture
tells us of God?
Friday:
The disciples had access to the prophecies that Jesus would suffer and
die, but they had focused on what fit their hopes and dreams. Let’s ask God today to
open our minds to anything he might want to tell us, even if it doesn’t fit our current understanding of God or of the world.

Saturday: Sometimes it’s hard to believe God’s promises when all looks bleak or frightening. Let’s pray for the faith to believe his promises, even when we don’t see what we’re hoping for.

Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World

Today I have a first on my blog– an author interview! I met Terri Groh about twenty years ago, when her husband, Dan, was a guest preacher at our church. Dan and Terri and their two sons, Nathan and Stephen, used to come to our house for dinner after church, whenever Dan preached for our church. We always enjoyed lively conversation with Dan and Terri, and our children enjoyed playing with their pleasant and well-behaved  young boys. A couple of years later Emily was born, so their family, like ours, has two boys followed by a girl. Then Terri started homeschooling, which I was already doing, so we had even more in common. And in more recent years, Terri and I have both been writing for people in our churches and others.

Welcome to my blog, Terri!

Thank you for having me, Melissa. I appreciate you sharing your blog with me today.

I’ve had a chance to read most of your book, and I am finding it very encouraging and motivating for my faith. I’d like my readers to learn about your book and get to know you a bit.

How did you get started writing Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World?

Five years ago, I started writing a once a week devotional to the ladies in my church. They basically were lessons or truths that the Lord was teaching me as I had my own personal quiet time with Him. After about a year or so, I also started posting them on my blog. I found that though I was sharing what I had learned from the Lord and the things I was wrestling with in my own private life, other women were also finding them helpful in their own lives. I started feeling led to compile them into a book form and with space to journal so that other women would also be encouraged.

For what audience is your book intended? 

They really are for women of all ages and all walks of life. It doesn’t matter if they work outside the home or are stay-at-home moms, if they have children at home or are empty-nesters. I think all women will find something that they can relate to in these devotionals.

You cover many real-life situations. How did you choose these particular topics?

Well, I wouldn’t say that I chose them, but they chose me! :-) Again, they come straight from my heart and the things that I was struggling with and wrestling through at the time. As a pastor’s wife, I never wanted the women in my church to feel like I was targeting them or sharing their problems. So I shared what *I* was finding in my own private life and study of God’s word. And yet, so many could relate to those things because they were dealing with similar issues. As Christian women we often keep things bottled up and are afraid to let others know we are struggling with something. Yet, it is often as we share with each other and pray for one another, that we really grow as believers.

What do you find most helpful or important for your faith on a daily basis?

Spending time in God’s word and prayer. I can always tell when I’ve been neglecting it because everything just feels off. If I don’t tank up by spending time with the Lord each day, I usually run out of gas very quickly.

How long does it generally take you to write a week’s selection?

Because I am generally writing about something I am working through and the Lord is teaching me, I find that I write them very quickly. Often, I write them the same day I post them but I’ve been mulling over the thoughts and praying about the issue throughout the week. I talk to my husband a lot about these different things and, as I articulate them to Dan, the thoughts begin to become cohesive.

What do you do to grow yourself as a writer?

I have found connecting with other writers very helpful. Being able to exchange ideas and read other writers’ points of view about things has helped me to hone my own craft. Also, I do a lot of reading which definitely has helped too. Then I spend a lot of time just writing. I write a daily blog post. I often will send an email or card to someone to encourage them. I belong to a couple of online sites and message boards where I can share and write too.

What did you enjoy about writing this book?

The thing I enjoyed the most is seeing how the Lord has taken situations and struggles I have had and used them to bless others. That is the most thrilling thing to me. I am blessed to be able to take my love of writing and also use that in ministry to help others. God is good! He’s given me the two desires of my heart.

I’ve enjoyed learning more about your book and your writing process, Terri. Thank you for writing Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World, and for answering my questions here. 

Thanks again for having me, Melissa! I’ve enjoyed myself.

I found Terri’s book very helpful for taking a good, honest (but not always easy)  look at my faith and life, and I’m sure any woman who is interested in growing spiritually would find it helpful. You can go to terrigroh.com to read more about Terri and to find a link to her daily blog, Hearts in Service.

You can get more information about Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World on Terri’s website and you can find it on amazon.com at Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World

Pondering the Resurrection: Evidence and Response

Easter Sunday is
one day, but the resurrection is significant enough to ponder and celebrate far
more than just one day, and I’ll be focusing on it in these prayer guides for
at least a couple of weeks. 

Jesus’ death and
his resurrection are strongly attested historically. For those who, like me,
prefer to examine the evidence, there are many books that present the evidence for the
resurrection from various angles. One that I’m reading right now is The Case
for Chris
t, by Lee Strobel. I am also reading the transcript of a debate between William Lane Craig
(Christian apologist and theologian) and Bart D. Ehrman (agnostic New Testament
scholar).

The love that led
Christ to die for us and the power of his resurrection are events so unique
that they require a response. This week let’s think about these events and how
we respond to them.

What I received I passed on to
you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to
the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then
to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the
brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep. Corinthians 15:3-6
Monday:
If you look at how you spend you time and money, what has top priority
in your life? Think about the relative merit of whatever you actually
value most, compared to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Ask God to
help you set your priorities in a way that reflects truth and
strengthens your relationship with him..
Tuesday:
Christ’s death and resurrection was not a surprise; it was prophesied
long beforehand. Ponder the fact that God knows everything, good and
bad; past, present, and future.
Wednesday: Keeping in mind that God knows everything, meditate with gratitude on the wonder of Jesus dying for your sins.
Thursday:
Death was not the end for Jesus. He was raised to life and is alive
now. Do you believe this? If so, how does it affect your daily life?
Friday:
Jesus appeared to many people who could and did give eyewitness
testimony, making his resurrection well-attested historically. How do
you give witness to his presence in your life?
Saturday: Let your mind dwell on the wonder of Jesus dying and then being raised to life again. Praise him!

Easter Emotions– from despair to confusion to joy

How often does it happen that we think God isn’t doing anything, or at least not what we want him to do, then find out that he’s actually doing something amazing that we just weren’t seeing? Jesus’ resurrection is the greatest example of that, as the women who went to his tomb and his other disciples experienced a full range of emotions from despair to confusion to joy. Let’s walk with them this week as we ponder their experience that first Easter morning.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. Luke 24:1-12

Monday: The women, desiring to give Jesus a proper burial, prepared spices to anoint his dead body. Put yourself in their place and imagine how deep their grief and despair must have been, ever since his death on the cross.

Tuesday: Jesus wasn’t there! Imagine the women’s confusion and upset when it seemed even his body was gone. Ponder the fact that, like the women, we can misinterpret what we see, and God may actually be working in marvelous ways that we can’t yet comprehend.

Wednesday: When the angels told the women what had happened, they remembered Jesus’ words and believed. Ask God to help you be open to the truth, no matter how inexplicable it may seem and how frightening or disturbing the message might be.

Thursday: Imagine how overwhelmed and excited the women must have been and eager to share the good news. Ask God to so fill you with faith and resurrection joy that you are bursting to share this good news with others.

Friday: The disciples didn’t believe at first, because they considered the women’s words nonsense. Do you ever dismiss a message or evidence without even evaluating it, because you don’t consider the messenger reliable? Pray for the humble attitude needed to receive truth openly.

Saturday: Peter, who had recently denied Jesus while depending on his own strength, was now open to learning. Allow your doubts, questions, and even failings to motivate you to seek truth and to ponder the evidence for Christ deeply.

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
 “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7

In
this week between Palm Sunday and Easter, we remember Jesus’ suffering
for us, from the time he entered Jerusalem, through his crucifixion and
burial. As we walk through this week, we’ll look at prophetic verses
from Isaiah, written nearly 700 years before the crucifixion, as well as
some of Jesus’ words recorded in the gospels. Let’s ponder these
passages deeply, thinking about how they speak to us and our faith or
lack of faith, and allow them to fill us with gratitude for all that
Jesus has done for us.

Monday: 
As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and
said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you
peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:41-42

What in my life robs me of the peace Jesus offers and causes him to weep over me? Ask God to reveal what is hidden from your eyes that is keeping you from experiencing his peace.

Tuesday: 
Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
   Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this? Isaiah 53:1
Do you believe the gospel message? It’s different than anything the world has to offer, and that is good news!
Wednesday: 
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Isaiah 53:3
Jesus was despised, rejected, and humiliated, even by those whom he loved and for whom he suffered. Come to him with your own hurts, shames, and ways you’ve been rejected, knowing he has suffered in these ways for you.

Thursday: 
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love
has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  John
15:12-13
 

Imagine a friend who loves you so much that he or she would choose to die in your place so you could live. Jesus did that! Ponder his amazing love today, and pray that you would grow in your ability and willingness to sacrificially love others.

Friday: 
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:5-6
Jesus took all the punishment for our sins– pierced, crushed, punished– for each of us, even though he had no sin. Sit in silence a while, meditating on what great love it took to do that for us, for you. How will you respond to such love?

Saturday: 
And [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be
rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he
must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Luke 9:22
 

Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed and then would be raised to life on the third day. He did indeed rise, and tomorrow we celebrate that resurrection. Today let’s ponder all that led up to his resurrection, so that tomorrow we can celebrate with true joy.

Weekly Prayer Guide: Denying Oneself

I’ve decided to start putting the weekly prayer guide that I write on my blog. This one is a bit late for this week, but I figured I’d post it anyway, and after this will post them at the beginning of the week, for those who like to use them in their prayers each day.
Then
he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever
wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and
follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but
whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What
good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed
of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of
Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with
the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38
Monday:
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves so that he, rather than our own self
or desires, is at the center of our life. Beyond denying ourselves some
pleasure, this means yielding control of our life. Let’s meditate on this
today.
Tuesday:
Taking up our cross means following Jesus no matter what suffering or
death that might involve. Are we doing that every day?
Wednesday:
In what ways are we tempted to try to save some aspect of our life at
the expense of living fully for Christ and the gospel? Let’s ask Jesus to
strengthen us to live more fully for him.
Thursday:
Ponder the value of eternal life in Christ as compared to what the
world has to offer. Ask God to increase your longing for him.
Friday: There is no way we could have bought or earned eternal life. Thank God for the incomparable gift of life for your soul.
Saturday: Pray for sufficient faith and courage to stand firm when you’re tempted to deny Christ in any way.

Advent Musings- Week 2

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and I was just sitting down to think about writing this when my mother-in-law called. When I told her what I was writing on, she said that she really likes Advent, but that it’s hard to think about Advent when all around us is Christmas. 

I agree. We’re surrounded by Christmas decorations, Christmas music, Christmas shopping advertisements, and Christmas planning. Advent reflection gets lost, as quietness often gets overwhelmed by the noise of our world. It’s hard to settle into quiet when we’re bombarded externally, and even more, internally, by noise and to-do lists, but the richness of life is not found in checking off to-do lists. 

Richness is found in relationships– relationships with those we love, and most deeply in relationship with the God who made us and who loves us deeply. Without time and effort, relationships dwindle and become dry. Advent is a time set apart to enrich our relationship with God by preparing ourselves to receive his love revealed in Jesus. Last week we focused on our need for a savior and how Jesus came to be that Savior. Another way we can prepare ourselves is to meditate on who Jesus is and what it means that he is the Christ, which means Messiah or Anointed One.

Let’s make some quiet moments for ourselves this week to ponder some passages of Scripture that speak to us of who Jesus is and what he does for us.  

Each day we’ll have a verse or verses to
meditate on to expand our picture of what it means that Jesus is the
Christ. Let’s dwell on these verses, perhaps printing them out or
writing them down to read throughout the day, allowing them to give us a
deeper knowledge of Jesus and thus a greater anticipation of his coming
again.
   
Monday: The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
   the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord…Isaiah 11:2

Tuesday: The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
   to preach good news to the poor. Isaiah 61:1

Wednesday: He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners… Isaiah 61:1

Thursday: …to comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve… Isaiah 61:2-3

Friday: to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
   instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:3

Saturday: The
first thing Andrew did was find his brother Simon and tell him, “We
have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to
Jesus. John 1:41-42