Ephesians 2:1-10 NLT
If you tend to be hard on yourself, aware of all of your flaws and how much you mess up, then you most likely relate well to the first couple of verses in today's reading. At times we can all have this perspective, and when we do, we need to remember how God sees us. Paul seems to be reminding the church of that in verses 4-7, and it is not that we are so great but that God-loving grace is so amazing that it becomes our new identity through Jesus.
I once had a friend who, after returning from basic training for the military, said that he was worth a certain amount of dollars because that was how much money that the U.S. government had invested in him to become a soldier. Too often, we underestimate our value in the eyes of God. It is not that we are that special, but instead because of what God has done for us, we have much worth. With this value comes potential, the potential to do good deeds in response to the mercy we have received. We perform these deeds not to earn the gift of salvation but to show another person their value in God's eyes.
What is one good deed that you can do to show God's love to another person today?
Acts 20:7-12 NLT
Death by preaching. Yes, apparently it has happened at least once before. Poor, young Eutychus—he didn’t come prepared for an all-night revival, and he chose a dangerous seat in the window. A bit of background is useful here. Paul was on one of his missionary trips and was leaving the next day, so this house church had a late-night meeting to allow Paul to share his message with this community. Paul wasn’t a bad preacher, but it was a very late night. We get distracted by all of that when the real purpose of this story is Paul’s ability to raise Eutychus from the dead. God was not punishing this young man; accidents happen. However, God uses this situation to reveal his power through his servant Paul. This might have been a long and not so interesting preaching message by Paul, but his message was powerfully revealed at the raising of Eutychus. Today, let us be reminded of the saving power of God’s love which leads to eternal life through Jesus.
How can this distinctive story in Acts encourage your faith today?
Luke 24:44-53 (NLT)
"44 Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. 47 It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations,[a] beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ 48 You are witnesses of all these things.
49 “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”
50 Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. 52 So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. 53 And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God."
Today's reading reminds me of an important truth that we are all having to deal with during this time of social distancing and isolation. We, as Christ-followers, have been known to worship outside the temples and high holy places since Jesus’ ascension. The church is having to relearn how to worship God outside of our typical places of worship, but that is okay because our God does not live in a building. God is present with us wherever we go. God is with us in our living rooms, on our back porches, and in our kitchens. Although our sanctuaries are certainly important for worship, they are not a requirement for our worship. In many ways, our current situation is a return to how the early church worshipped in house churches and in the ordinary places of everyday life.
Find a holy place in your house or outside where you can spend some time in worship today.
Revelation 11:15-19 NLT
"15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven:
“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.”
16 The twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell with their faces to the ground and worshiped him. 17 And they said,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,
the one who is and who always was,
for now you have assumed your great power
and have begun to reign.
18 The nations were filled with wrath,
but now the time of your wrath has come.
It is time to judge the dead
and reward your servants the prophets,
as well as your holy people,
and all who fear your name,
from the least to the greatest.
It is time to destroy
all who have caused destruction on the earth.”
19 Then, in heaven, the Temple of God was opened and the Ark of his covenant could be seen inside the Temple. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and roared, and there was an earthquake and a terrible hailstorm."
Readings from the book of Revelation can be hard to understand and even scary at times. In my ministry, I have encountered people who were heavily interested in this final book of the Bible and others who avoided it at all costs. Both groups of people, and even those who fall somewhere in the middle, need to remember that the central message of Revelation is hope. That was the message for the early church, and it is still the message for us today. These verses remind me that God is God, and I am not. The only proper response for me is to worship and trust him. Let us have faith and be encouraged by this message of hope today.
Reread today's passage. How do you see the message of hope revealed in its words?
"27 After Jesus left the girl’s home, two blind men followed along behind him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”
28 They went right into the house where he was staying, and Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I can make you see?”
“Yes, Lord,” they told him, “we do.”
29 Then he touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it will happen.” 30 Then their eyes were opened, and they could see! Jesus sternly warned them, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” 31 But instead, they went out and spread his fame all over the region.
32 When they left, a demon-possessed man who couldn’t speak was brought to Jesus. 33 So Jesus cast out the demon, and then the man began to speak. The crowds were amazed. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!” they exclaimed.
34 But the Pharisees said, “He can cast out demons because he is empowered by the prince of demons.”
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Today we are reminded of Jesus’ healing power in light of the suffering in the world. Similar to the scripture for last Sunday's sermon, here we encounter two blind men who, in opposition to their seeing peers, identify Jesus as the "Son of David." This reference means they believed Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus goes on to perform many other miracles from there, but the title, "Son of David," should not be overlooked because it helps us to understand the purpose of these healings. There were those who, if given the power to heal, would do so to garner favor and power with the people.
Jesus' intent was very different. He did not heal to impress the crowds; he did so from a place of compassion "because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He came not just to be a healer but to be the good shepherd, much like his ancestor King David. He is still that same shepherd to us today. We, like sheep, have much to be afraid of and are vulnerable. Let us take comfort in the knowledge that we are not abandoned because Jesus cares for and protects us as our shepherd.
Do you feel vulnerable and afraid? How can you cast your worries on Jesus today?
Hebrews 10:4-10 (NLT)
"4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,
“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
But you have given me a body to offer.
6 You were not pleased with burnt offerings
or other offerings for sin.
7 Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God--
as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”
8 First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). 9 Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant to put the second into effect. 10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time."
Today's reading reminds me of the old hymn, "Nothing but the Blood," especially the refrain:
"Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus."
Hebrews was a written sermon that traveled from house church to house church in the First Century. It is full of profound, thoughtful truths that were both encouraging and helpful to the believers in the early church. Here we learn why the church moved away from blood sacrifice as a part of religious practices. Jesus' blood makes the need for other sacrifices null and void. So, remember, nothing makes us holy except for the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ. We have been made white as snow. Let us not forget during this Lenten season that we do not redeem ourselves—that salvation only comes to us through the redemptive work of Jesus.
Today spend time reflecting on how you have been made white as snow through the blood of Jesus? What prevents you from remembering this in your daily life?
COLOSSIANS 1:9-14 (NLT)
"9 So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy,[a] 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14, who purchased our freedom[b]and forgave our sins."
As children of God, prayer is, without a doubt, one of the essential practices for our lives, no matter what is going on around us. During this time of social distancing, you may have noticed that you have more free time on your hands than usual. One way you could choose to invest in that extra time would be to find creative ways to spend time in prayer daily. No doubt, our world, country, communities, and families need it.
If you feel comfortable just beginning to pray extemporaneously, then go for it, but for those who feel like a little structure would be helpful, then let me suggest two resources:
The Common Prayer link is a nondenominational approach to a traditional form of prayer Christians have used throughout the centeries. It is also a shorter resource. The Methodist Prayer resource comes from the British Methodist Church and is grounded in the form of prayer Mr. Wesley used throughout his life. Both are simply just resources. Use what is helpful, and skip what is not. The important thing here is just to start.
Happy praying; may it enrich your faith life.
Today try one of these two resources. How did you find it? Was it helpful? Why or why not?
Acts 9:1-20 NLT
"9 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.[a] So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him.4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.
10 Now there was a believer[b] in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”
13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers[c] in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”
15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.
Saul stayed with the believers[d] in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
Today, for a change of pace, we are reading the story of Paul's conversion. This passage is a very Lenten story because it highlights both our need for redemption and how God can save any of us. Paul goes from the number one enemy of the church to a preacher proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God. This story vividly illustrates that God can change anyone. God can not only transform us; he can do some amazing things with us. God does this despite our past failures. Isn't that good news?
What is something you think God would love to see changed in your life? How would your life change for the better if that happened?
3/22/2020 Sunday, Fourth Sunday of Lent:
Rest and Reflect: Today, rest in God’s goodness as you attend worship.
What is one thing you heard in the sermon that inspired your heart?