Prisons in our Hearts and Minds

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S (Scripture): Acts 4:1 While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees confronted them. 2 They were incensed that the apostles were teaching the people and announcing that the resurrection of the dead was happening because of Jesus. 3 They seized Peter and John and put them in prison until the next day. (It was already evening.) 4 Many who heard the word became believers, and their number grew to about five thousand.

O (Observation): Acting in the name of Jesus Christ is hazardous to the well-being of Peter and John. Why? Because the message of Jesus Christ – raised – bucks the system in place for the church officials. If Jesus is God’s Son and brings Resurrection, then their understanding of God is challenged completely. This is blasphemy. Only God, the Unknowable, is all powerful. Who Jesus was did not fit into the understanding of the officials, and so, Jesus’ followers were also to receive challenge: imprisonment.

A (Application): Our challenge to follow Christ (in America) is not to be imprisoned externally, but to seek freedom from the prisons we impose upon ourselves. The world says we only have so much money and land and time. So, we must control these and use them to our advantage. That is the prison we find ourselves in. Especially around Christmas time. And yet…

We follow God, the one to bring Jesus to Resurrection. We burst forth from the prisons we create for ourselves: we give our money and land and time as faithful stewards. In this, we receive bountiful blessings and an attitude of abundance! We may not get imprisoned, but we will be pressured to re-think our generous attitudes.

Let them critique! We are about changing this world one prayer and healing at a time in order to set free our minds and hearts from their prisons.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us the strength and wisdom to be generous. Amen.

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Is God Here in Difficult Times?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 143

1

Listen to my prayer, Lord!

Because of your faithfulness, hear my requests for mercy!

Because of your righteousness, answer me!

2

Please don’t bring your servant to judgment,

because no living thing is righteous before you.

3

The enemy is chasing me,

crushing my life in the dirt,

forcing me to live in the dark

like those who’ve been dead forever.

4

My spirit is weak inside me—

inside, my mind is numb.

5

I remember the days long past;

I meditate on all your deeds;

I contemplate your handiwork.

6

I stretch out my hands to you;

my whole being is like dry dirt, thirsting for you.

O (Observation): The author is in the midst of a most difficult circumstance. They realize their lack of control over the outside circumstances, and life is dry and numb.

Does this mean the author is not faithful? Does this mean the author doubts? Does this mean the author was unfaithful and caused this harm to himself or herself?

A (Application): So often, we think that blessings come in good times when we are faithful, and bad things happen when we are unfaithful. That correlation cannot be more wrong.

Sometimes, faithful folks encounter difficult times and good things happen to us when we are doubting God and others.

The psalmist gives us space to be in the midst of difficult circumstances and still feel like God is still present. Even though things aren’t going our way, we can still trust in God to be with us and walk us through the challenges.

This can look like a friend being with us, or a pot of soup being brought over on a cold day.

Be on the lookout for signs of God showing up where we least expect. Especially in our times of challenge.

P (Prayer): God, we are challenged, but looking for you. Amen.

Disciples Bear Much Fruit

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S (Scripture): Acts 3:1 Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. 2 Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. 4 Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” 7 Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him.

O (Observation): The Church. Not a building, but a people. Those early disciples were quite faithful, maybe even naive. Could their hands and mouths convey healing as Christ’s could?

In this instance, the answer is yes.

The blind man asked for money, daily. Yet Peter gave him his sight. In whose name? In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The disciples could heal!

A (Application): Being the church means producing disciples who make disciples. So many of us focus on Sunday morning and little else. The congregation I serve continues to dive into the many ways of connecting with the people in and around our community.

We connect through worship and Bible Study, service, fun, fellowship, and other ways. We are discerning how Jesus led his disciples and how to lead others down the same path as Jesus.

May we all learn this path and continue to follow Jesus and his way. That we might learn to preach, teach, and heal as Jesus did.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our hearts through the right pathways. Amen.

BE and DO, Prompted by the Spirit

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S (Scripture): Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…” 41 Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day.

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.

O (Observation): God’s Spirit comes. Pentecost. In the wake of this outpouring of the Spirit, those touched by God’s Spirit are able to do miraculous things! Healing is the key, and brings folks back from the depths of their despair.

So many baptized…receiving God’s Spirit. What a day!

A (Application): So we do have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. Do we believe it? We all have ample opportunity to express God’s will, but we resist…we doubt. That doesn’t make us less Christian. All Christians doubt at some level. Nothing to be afraid of…just aware of.

So, we gather regularly for mutual upbuilding and forgiveness and encouragement. We can do what God calls us to. Let us simply BElieve. Then, let us DO!

P (Prayer): God, give us discerning hearts and minds. Amen.

You are the Disciple Jesus Loved!

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S (Scripture): John 21:20 Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. This was the one who had leaned against Jesus at the meal and asked him, “Lord, who is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw this disciple, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain until I come, what difference does that make to you? You must follow me.” 23 Therefore, the word spread among the brothers and sisters that this disciple wouldn’t die. However, Jesus didn’t say he wouldn’t die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what difference does that make to you?” 24 This is the disciple who testifies concerning these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If all of them were recorded, I imagine the world itself wouldn’t have enough room for the scrolls that would be written.

O (Observation): Peter wonders about “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This character never is given a name. He goes into the empty tomb before Peter. He was at the Last Supper.

For some reason, this disciple is welcomed into Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus doesn’t want Peter to be concerned about this disciple, perhaps because Peter has got enough on his plate. Perhaps Jesus is teaching Peter that to be concerned with his own walk is enough.

Jesus remains vague on whom this disciple is. But we do know this: Jesus loved that disciple.

A (Application): Who is this unnamed disciple?

I like the explanation that this disciple is you and me. We are woven into this story, just like a partner in a dance routine. We move and laugh and cry and dance with Christ our whole lives.

Jesus is there to guide us and give us direction. He is present to love us and reveal himself to us in the places we serve, worship, and give.

You are the disciple whom Jesus loved!

Live with that blessed reality this day!

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to know we are loved by you. Amen.

Advent Psalm

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S (Scripture): Psalm 139

11

If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;

the light will become night around me,”

12

even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!

Nighttime would shine bright as day,

because darkness is the same as light to you!

O (Observation): The psalmist hopes for the Lord to be the light in the darkness.

This comes to ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus entering humanity.

A (Application): Jesus is the light in our darkness. This is what Advent is about: expectant hope. We pray that Jesus – the Light of the World – come.

How are you showing a posture of hope this year?

P (Prayer): O come, o come, Emmanuel. Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus

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S (Scripture): John 20:29 Jesus replied [to Thomas], “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

O (Observation): The resurrected Jesus appears before the disciples a second time. This time, Thomas was in the room. He witnessed the piercings of Jesus’ hands and side. Now he believed that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.

Why was this important?

So that people would believe Jesus is Christ – God’s anointed, God’s Son. This belief brings life now and for eternity.

A (Application): Belief in Jesus Christ as God’s Son brings Application for today and for eternity. We hold those two ends of the spectrum – now and eternity – loosely within our grasp.

We deeply appreciate the impact that this belief has upon us in our lifetime. We can learn to be kind to others. We can learn to sacrifice for others. We can learn to share God’s love with others.

We also deeply appreciate the idea that this life is not the end. That we will all be reunited with loved ones as we, too, pass away. That we will be with God and we will have good and holy work to do.

Jesus coming into this world is a blessing we are reminded of each year at this time, in the season of Advent. We await the Lord’s coming once again. And when that day comes, we will lift our heads and be of good courage!

P (Prayer): Lord, encourage us now and always. Amen.