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A Passage and A Prayer 9/18/19

“Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.’ And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’” Nehemiah 2:17-18
 
            Building sites are a bit of a mess. What was first clean lawn is now dirt and mud, temporary fences and orange barriers. The lawn was quiet, but there’s nothing quiet now with generators running and air tools popping. It’s hard to see the change as progress.

            It was especially hard to see the progress and good in Nehemiah’s case. He was proposing to take the people back to rebuild the walls and city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been destroyed in 586 BC, over 100 years before Nehemiah’s time. That destruction had come because God had warned that His judgment would descend on Jerusalem. But now, Nehemiah was proposing that the people of Israel, leave their exile, and return to rebuild Jerusalem.

            But Jerusalem was still in ruins. Do you enjoy going to chaos? Do like to revisit the scene of a sharp argument? No, we avoid those, but Nehemiah wants to take everyone back to the ruins that could only remind them of God’s judgment. But Nehemiah insisted that God was for them and the building would go well. So they went, entered the ruins and built them up.

            God was for them, even in the midst of the rubble. God is for us even on difficult days. After all, the ultimate act of God for us was in the darkness of Good Friday when rough wood was raised and the world was saved. So also now, God is still for us and with us, even when building projects don’t, at first, show all the beauty of the finished product. Let there be orange fences instead of walls. Let there be noisy generators instead of quiet students. God works through every step and He is with us.

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, thank you for being with us through every difficult step. Make us bold in the early days of building and faithful for the long effort. Remind us that all is built by your grace and mercy. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 3/22/19


Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?

 
Again? They did it again? We fall quickly into despair and anger when people in our lives become repeat offenders against us. It is straight to the prison of passive aggression (or very active aggression, too). We cut people out of our lives who can’t get it together. We treat others with dishonor and disrespect when we feel wronged time after time after time…
The reality is fear of punishment is rarely the motivation for change we hope it is. A severed relationship does not often change the heart of the other, and it doesn’t leave our heart in a good place, either. Jesus’ advice to us is to forgive. No matter what, no matter how often. Forgive.
 
Do you know why there are rainbows in the sky after rainstorms? Because God worked through this same issue. Remember Noah and the ark? God was so sorry he ever made humans, because they were all so terrible and continued living in sin and never sought him or wanted to be in relationship with him. So God wiped everyone out, except for Noah and his family. And from that moment on, he promised to put up with people no matter what. Jesus’ forgiveness extends over every sin- even the ones we habitually do. (This isn’t permission to keep on sinning!) Jesus meets us with truth and grace: he calls sin a sin, and he forgives us. This is permission to meet sin with truth and grace in our lives, too.
 
Challenge: If you’re withholding forgiveness from someone, pray to God about it, and seek to forgive that person. If it is possible and you are led to do so, share your forgiveness with that person as well.
 
Jesus, we make a habit of sinning, and we don’t know what to do about it. You do, though. You forgive us and restore us, and empower us to be more like You. Help us to be more like You as we face the people in our lives from whom we are withholding forgiveness. May they experience the freedom that we have in Your love. Make us to be messengers of Your forgiveness, in Your name, Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 3/20/19


“Judge not, so that you will not be judged…” [Matthew 7]

 
The opposite of truth is lying. The opposite of grace is judgment. God’s people embody God’s grace, and Jesus has called us to be gracious toward others. However, we often fall into judgment. We find ourselves judging others for many things: how they dress, how they talk, how much money they make, how much money they spend, how they behave, how they raise their kids, what they share online, what kind of house they have, what kind of car they drive. Do I need to keep going? Jesus is reminding us today- and challenging us- to drop the judgment. There is no need for us to judge others. Let us concern ourselves with our own behavior and actions, and we will find plenty within ourselves to declare ourselves “guilty” and undeserving of God’s grace. Instead of judgment, we live in Jesus’ words of grace and forgiveness.
 
Challenge: Pull out the plank. Be at peace with the speck in your friend’s eye, and be grieved by your own issues. Work on your own heart. Write down the things that you are messing up, and don’t stress about anyone else. At the end of the day, you are only in control of yourself anyway. Pull out the plank, and be challenged by Jesus’ radical command: judge not.
 
Jesus, we want to live in truth and grace, and we pray that You would help us to pull the sin out of our lives, rather than worry about the sins of others. We ask that You wash us clean in your love and empower us to be gracious people toward others in our lives. In Your name we pray, Amen.

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A Passage and A Prayer 3/18/19



Here is a trustworthy saying, deserving of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the foremost. [1 Timothy 1]

 
How often we see the speck in another person’s eye and miss the log in our own (Matthew 7). And we are quite content bringing judgment upon others, while failing to come to grips with what we deserve. We have committed every kind of sin for which we could judge another person. And we will be judged by the measure with which we judge. A little scary, right?
 
The scary thing is that we fail to come to grips with what we proclaim every week: Jesus died to save sinners, of whom I am the worst. Jesus came for broken, desperate, despondent people. That’s the first part. But the second is just as important. I am the worst of them. My need is greater than anyone else’s. And how can that be true for all us at the same time?? Because each of us is only responsible for our own decisions, and we know how poor our decisions have been. Let’s sit with that today, that we are the worst of the worst- and Jesus came to rescue us anyway.
 
Challenge: Repent. Take some time to reflect on where you’ve been and what you’ve done and all the things you don’t want to be part of your story or life anymore. Hand it over to Jesus. He took it up in his hands and nailed it to the cross. They pulled Jesus off the cross and buried him in a tomb. All your baggage was left there in the tomb. Repent today, and turn, knowing that Jesus has forgiven you!
 
Jesus, I have messed up more times than I can count. I have been a terrible person to others and mean and neglectful toward you. Forgive me. Help me to trust in Your words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” I am trusting in You to rescue me, and I am turning from my self-reliance and trust in anything other than You. Allow me to experience the freedom that comes through Your forgiveness. Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 3/15/19



All the days of the oppressed are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast. Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure with turmoil.  Better a dish of vegetables where there is love than a fattened ox with hatred. [Proverbs 15] 

More is always better, right? More toys, more money, more stuff. Jesus paints a different picture. Better to be with God than to be without God. No matter how much stuff we have, what matters is that we have Jesus with us. Fasting is an ancient practice of abstaining from our wants to focus on our needs. Fasting is giving up worldly goods for the sake of heavenly treasures.

I remember going to a third world country and seeing the smiles of pure joy on children’s faces, so glad to be alive even though they have nothing. Contrast that with the needy demands of children who have everything they want and more. We could all use the reminder of how deeply God is providing for all of our needs. We don’t *need* food and water every day, and we very rarely give thanks every day for these gifts. There is no better way to be reminded than to go without by fasting.
 
Challenge: Go on a fast today. It doesn’t have to be food, although food and water are the most basic. Give up something today, and every time you *want* it, pray to God, giving thanks that you have access to these things on a regular basis. You could give up your cell phone, television, news, or anything that you feel like you *need* to get through your day. And go to God in those times. You might just find much more satisfaction than you could have imagined.
 
Jesus, You provide for our needs- even the ones we don’t know we have. Give us grateful hearts for the abundant life You have given us. More than that, let our lives overflow with thankfulness, and strengthen us as we fast this day. In Your name, Amen.


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