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Holy Week – Monday

 
Matthew 21:13  “My house will be called a house of prayer…”

On Monday of Holy Week, Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple area. The issue with the moneychangers wasn’t so much that things were being bought and sold around the temple, it’s how the buying and selling cheapened the right worship of God. 

There were many coming to Jerusalem for the Passover, and those coming would often be bringing a sacrifice to offer to God.  This was not necessarily an easy thing to do, nor should it have been.  If one were bringing a lamb, the perfect one would be chosen from back home.  After all, this is for God.  Perhaps the journey would be multiple days to get up to Jerusalem.  One would have to transport the lamb, feed the lamb, protect the lamb.  The journey to bring the sacrifice itself would be a sacrifice, and that was appropriate.  All the while the person or the family would be thinking how much they loved God, how much they wanted to offer the right gift to God, and would carefully make sure they’d be doing just that.

Enter the moneychangers.  They’d make it easy on you.  “Don’t worry about going through all the trouble transporting that lamb.  We’ll have one here for you.  Don’t inconvenience yourself bringing a sacrifice all that distance, just pick one up on the way in.  We’ll make a deal, half-price on Monday.”  That’s what irritated Jesus.  Add this to the loud bartering and haggling which would disrupt the reverence of those coming to worship, and you have a righteous reaction on Jesus’ part.  A house of prayer had been made into a den of thieves.  And so, Jesus drove them out.
 
How fitting, how appropriate that the one who drove out the moneychangers as they were cheapening the sacrifices, would Himself be the perfect sacrifice.  And how sacrificial His sacrifice was.  No easy act, this passion and crucifixion of Jesus.  The sacrifice of Himself was the biggest part of it all, but the sacrifice leading to the sacrifice demonstrates all the more fully how determined Jesus was to take our sins away.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus, in this Holy Week, we remember with gratitude how perfect your sacrifice was for us and for our salvation.  Amen.

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Everyone Needs DAD: Depression

silhouette of kneeling man
 
And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? … Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me [in the grave]. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.” Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. [1 Samuel 28:16,19-20]

Have you ever had a day where it felt like you had no strength, no motivation? Have you ever had a time where you didn’t feel like moving, or doing anything at all? Lacking purpose, drive, motivation. Feeling worthless, useless, cast aside. 

These are tell-tale signs of depression. While some people face clinical depression (chemical imbalances and physiological issues), all of us face depression in our lives. All of us face the weight of depression. It is part of our human experience. 

Saul, the first king of Israel, was overcome with depression quite a lot. He turned away from God and decided to do his own thing. But he learned that his way was the wrong way. Then came the real trouble. Depression came upon him because he separated himself from God. 

We need our heavenly Father, our Abba, our Daddy. Being separated from God and God’s will leads us to places where we might not even want to move. Saul got so stuck in his own sin that he refused even to move back into the arms of his heavenly Father! No wonder he felt so depressed, with no strength left. 

What’s got you feeling depressed? As the old hymn says, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” Our Dad can do something about depression. Jesus cures our every weakness, when we find ourselves resting securely in Him. Don’t separate yourself from God, especially when the hard times come. God will see you through. Find help and find hope- here on earth, with family and friends and even professionals. But always remember to turn to God our Father, who promises to strengthen you and guide you with His will.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we lift up all people who are feeling depressed today. Life can be hard and there are so many difficult circumstances. But we know we can trust in You no matter what. May we always be found with You, and under the care of our Heavenly Father. Surround us with your presence, and others who care for us with the love of the Father. In Your name we pray, Amen.

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Psalms of Ascent (Part 3)

white petaled flower and yellow daisy flower
 
We spent this week walking through Psalm 121, one of the “Psalms of Ascent,” spoken as the Jewish people of the Old Testament made their pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The opening of the psalm reminded us that our help was not found in the things of this world, but in the Lord who created all things.  Then we were reminded that the Lord protects us from danger and temptation as we make our pilgrimage through a sinful world, but destined for heaven because of Jesus. 

The psalmist closes with these encouraging words, The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

The Christian walk is not an easy one.  When the Lord says He will not let our foot slip (Psalm 121:3) and that He will keep the heat of the sun from harming us (Psalm 121:5) and prevent us from becoming moonstruck, we dare not misinterpret God’s promises.  This does not mean that those who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Jesus will never have a problem in the world.  Just a glance over our shoulder will verify that our journey is often struck by disappointments, dangers and disasters.

The promise of our Savior is that in the midst of these troubles and trials He travels with us.  He will guide us.  He will help us.  He will never abandon us.  He has already saved us.  In the Lord’s Prayer was ask, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  This is the heart of Psalm 121.  The faith that the Lord has entrusted to us through His Word provides us power and strength to move through the problems and pains of life.  This faith is the power and strength to stand under the cross when we have sinned and know the peace of forgiveness.  This faith is the power and strength for us to know for certain that the perfect life we long to embrace is ours in heaven, thanks to Jesus.  Enjoy the journey.
 
Prayer: Holy Spirit, strength my faith that I may pass through the dangers and difficulties of this world with a solid faith in Jesus.  I pray in His powerful name.  Amen.

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Psalms of Ascent (Part 2)

brown rock formation under blue sky during daytime
 
A few years back my daughter, her husband, a family friend and I decided to hike down into the Grand Canyon, sleep on the canyon floor and then walk up the other side the next morning.  It was one of the most arduous, yet most exhilarating experience I have ever undertaken.  The three challenges we faced were 1) keeping a solid footing on a trail that was often littered with stones and rocks; 2) making sure we were not overcome from heat, which reached over 130-degrees; 3) keeping our attitude positive when the trek became challenging.

Evidently, things haven’t changed in the past few thousand years.  Psalm 121 addresses these same possibilities for harm.  On Monday we explained how the Hebrew people were required to travel to Jerusalem three times each year to observe the high holy days of their faith.  In Psalm 121, the writer reminds his fellow pilgrims that the Lord protects them from the evil occasioned by the three threats.

First, he writes, He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  Our journey into the Grand Canyon was one where each step was calculated and careful.  Our journey in this world is filled with temptations designed to trip us up.  The devil, the world and even our own sinful desires cause us to wander off the Lord’s path of righteousness.  The Holy Spirit, through His holy Word, is the Light for our path.  We call on Him for strength to withstand temptation and walk by faith.

Second, the psalmist pens, The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. Our journey into and out of the Grand Canyon was no simple walk.  The scorching heat of the sun was definitely a factor, sapping us of strength.  The journey through this world, as we press on toward heaven, is not easy.  The painful effects of sin are around us and even within us.  We struggle with physical pains and material loss.  Illness and injury, unemployment and financial loss bring pain.  The Lord provides peace with His promise to use all things for good.

Third, we read, The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  We were pretty excited to begin our journey at 5:00 in the morning at 40-degrees.  The toll that the heat takes on the mind as well as the body is powerful.  There were times we became discouraged.  Sunstroke was a real threat for the Children of Israel as they journey toward the temple.  Sunstroke and heat stroke can alter one’s mental capacity.  The many discouragements that come from the problems of this world can cause us attitudes that tilt toward anger and antagonism; ignorance and arrogance and selfishness.  Trusting in the Lord gives us a heart of love for Him and for those around us.

Our hiking team made it safely to the other side of the canyon.  We grabbed a cool drink and celebrated.  One day we who believe in Jesus will gather on the other side—on heaven’s side.  We will drink of the waters of life and celebrate the grace of God that was the guide for our journey and our life eternal.
 
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You walked in our world.  You know the troubles, the trials and the temptations we face each day.  We thank You for Your victory over sin and death and hell.  We thank You for sending your Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith for the journey You have set before us.  Keep us strong in faith until that glorious day we enter into Your father’s house.  We pray in Your name, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

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Psalms of Ascent (Part 1)

mountain covered with green grass
 
Have you noticed that Psalm 120 through Psalm 134 are listed as “Psalms of Ascent?”  Deuteronomy 16:16 instructs God’s people to make three pilgrimages to the Temple each year to worship and offer sacrifices.  It is believed by many that these “Psalms of Ascent” were used by those who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  These psalms were sung by the pilgrims to provide them the reminder of God’s great guidance to Jerusalem and throughout their lives.

This week we’ll take a look at one of these “Psalms of Ascent,” Psalm 121.

The psalmist begins by proclaiming, I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (verses 1-2). While walking to Jerusalem, the Jewish travelers would pass by hills that were covered with images of pagan worship.  Altars to the gods Baal and Asherah were seen on the top of the hills.  The incantations of the priests and priestesses of the sun god, moon god and many other false deities could be heard by those who were walking toward the Temple to worship the one true God.

While the pagans worshipped their inanimate, powerless gods made of wood and stone, the Hebrews reminded themselves where their help comes from:  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  Their help was not found in gods that were created by man.  Their help was found in the creating God, who brought man into existence and breathed into Him the breath of life.  They worshipped the God who created the hills.  Their help came from the Creator, not the creation.

What an important lesson for us to learn as we make our pilgrimage through this challenging world.  It is easy for us to look to the things of the world to provide us safety, fulfillment, purpose and meaning.  In our modern society with its technological advancements, we can easily be drawn to rely less on the Creator and more on the created.  How easy it is for us to lift our eyes to the things of the world.

Our technological advancements and our comfortable conveniences are not bad.  It is not wrong to have things.  It is dangerous when things have us.  It is dangerous when we lift our eyes to the things of the world and trust that they will carry us through the trials of this age and provide us peace.

As Christians, our journey is filled with demanding and challenging twists and turns as we navigate a world filled with temptation.  As we journey through this world, let us lift our eyes to the hill called Golgotha.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and see in Him the gift of real life.  He is the promise of a life filled with purpose, because He is our gift of forgiveness and our promise of heaven.
 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You, the God of all creation.  By Your Holy Spirit, focus my eyes on Your Son, my Savior.  Help me to always see Him as my guard and guide, my life in this world and my gift of life eternal.  I pray in the name of Jesus, my Savior.  Amen.

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