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Follow Me

Palm Sunday reflections

“Come, follow me”, Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:19

fishermenPeter and his brother Andrew dropped their nets and followed the man they considered a prophet and came to know as Messiah.

They followed as He traveled and preached, healed and taught. They listened as they follow Jesusfollowed and learned many things about a Heavenly kingdom that was promised them. They watched as they followed and saw the storms calmed, thousands fed, blind eyes opened and weakened legs regain strength. They followed as the dead were raised to life. They followed for a joyous parade into the city, a tender Passover dinner, a late night walk singing hymns and into a quiet garden for prayer.

They continued to follow, although from a distance, through arrest, a trial, the final sentencing and death.

Did they think that their following days were over? Had they been left adrift and on their own?

Fear, shock, grief ….then three days later…. surprise, joy, the Master had returned!

In His final private instructions to Peter Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if he loves him. Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus then repeats what had been said three years earlier:

follow“Follow Me!”

John 21:19b

Jesus lays out his final instructions – Peter must follow with love for anything else will fail him.

Two thousand years later we are still called to follow from the day we make that first commitment to the day we leave this earth.

Following, loving, watching and listening to the One who calls us –“Follow Me!”follow 2

 

 


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Anchored in a Foreign Land

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? Psalm 137:4

 

I hear it all the time these days. People are asking how our country could have fallen into this quagmire of conflicting ideologies that have triggered such hate and fear. Whether you are on the right or left of the political fence, confusion reigns as finger pointing spreads the blame and shame.

So how do Christians respond?

Maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about responding to the world. Truth is, we need only respond to our God who is in control of this upside down world. If we can do that, I think we would find that our actions and words would spring from love and compassion rather than knee-jerk reactionary confrontations with the world we live in.

We may feel that we live in a foreign land, one that does not recognize Christian tenets but that would be short-sighted of us. God’s fingerprints are all over this world and its inhabitants. We sometimes miss what is right in front of us because we are so overwhelmed by the anger on social media feeds fueled by often biased news reporting. No wonder the land seems so foreign to us.

So here’s the best advice I can think of; take it or leave it.

anchorAnchor your life in both heavenly and earthly realms. Your faith must be built and daily
nourished by prayer and the Scriptures. This provides that all- important “hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19) that gives you an open avenue of two-way communication with God. Secondly, do not neglect the earthly anchors God has placed in your life to keep you grounded. Work to protect the relationships you have with your family and friends who love you, will pray for you, will trust you and allow you to trust them. Jesus said it all when he said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Finally, and this may seem contradictory, but remember that this is not your home. On the deepest level this is a foreign land; for we are spiritual creatures who will only come into our fullness when we enter into that next realm. In the meantime we have the Holy Spirit who indwells us and keeps us tethered to each world. We may at times feel adrift but we are never really drifting. We are always within reach of eternity even while grappling with a fallen world.

Go ahead and sing the songs of the LORD! Sing them with words of love, joy and peace. Sing them with actions that display the patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22,23) that comes from the Spirit within, the Father above and a Savior who bridges that gap for us.

The land may feel foreign but it’s only temporary and even the temporary can be very beautiful in its fragility.blue-sky-w-rainbow


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I’ll be praying…

 

God-isnt-fixing-this-NY-Daily-News-JPG

To be truthful, this headline irritated me even while I could sympathize. I have those friends, who, when things are difficult, will place a hand on my arm and say, “I’m praying you.” I find it very comforting but the truth is that there are times when I could use something more concrete to help get through a crisis. Headlines like this echo that sentiment. People are saying that as nice as it is that our leaders have compassion with those who are suffering, we need action and we need it now. I agree. I get it, but the frustration that so many of us are feeling is not because we want action. It is due to our lack of understanding of a simple thing like prayer.

Many times I have offered to pray when I feel that it is all I can offer. My dear friend recently had surgery nearly 3,000 miles away from me. I couldn’t be with her physically but I was at her side in prayer as she healed. There have been times when I hear of a problem but I do not have a close friendship with the person so I feel awkward not knowing what may be needed or if my help would even be welcomed. These are times when you may feel that all you have is a prayer, but don’t discount that prayer. Sometimes we forget that there is great power in prayer.

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 

James 5:16b

Sadly, prayers can be hollow and empty if they are not backed up by action. At some point, I will find that I have to get up off my knees and put hands and feet to those prayers. Prayer should be a foundation of our actions and not the action itself. Prayer should be the start of each day and form a framework for us to work within. If our compassion starts in the heart of a prayer, then it will surface in our actions throughout that day. But if our compassion starts and ends in a prayer that we never act upon, it will fail and wither before its promise can be played out.

One more point, if I may. Prayers that are driven by compassion and a heart to help are formidable but let’s not forget how prayers should start. That helping heart must also be a humble heart, not looking for its own glory but following God’s leading. Your plans, as wonderful as they may be, must give way when God’s hands point you elsewhere. Humble yourself and seek God through prayer to find direction before taking that next step.

If my people, who are called by my name,prayer

will humble themselves and pray

 and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,

 then I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14

I can understand the public anger when so many atrocities have bloodied our world. We want to see our leaders stand up and defend us. We long for the hate and fear of these days to be nothing but a memory. Let us be a country where our actions and our leader’s actions start with humble hearts leading to sincere prayers. Ask God to show us how to turn our prayerful words to actions. Don’t let this mocking headline deter us from praying – praying earnestly to a compassionate God who longs to hear from His children.


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Two Hands Upwards

P1000477You know the one about the widow who kept going to the king for help? The Bible records that Jesus tells this parable to illustrate to his disciples that they must pray continually and not give up (Luke 18:1-8). I have heard sermons and taught Sunday School classes using this story as a way to communicate our need to be praying often and persistently. The story is even labelled “The Persistent Widow”, and it is that word “persistent” that bothers me. It makes it sound like God will answer our prayers just to shut us up. Not a very flattering picture of God or of us. It makes me think of a maddeningly persistentchild. I can remember those days when my children were little and I would have to scatter some M&M’s on their lunch plate between the grilled cheese sandwich and the apple slices just to get a little peace. I don’t view this as a particularly shining maternal moment; just a tired mom giving in to a persistent child.

I’m having trouble with the word persistent. These days I have come to view that parable from a slightly different angle. I’m sure that the king was hoping to quiet the woman, but was he responding to her persistence or the reason for her persistence? You see, this widow was aware that whatever her problem was, only the king could help her. He was the only person who had the ability, the authority and the right to dispense the justice that she needed. She petitioned him regularly because she knew that there was nowhere else to go. She had complete trust that the king would help her.

This , then is how we must pray. We can be persistent with God because we really have nowhere else to turn and we are truly in desperate need. So we cry out to the only one who can help us. God responds not to the volume or quantity of our prayers, but to the sincerity in our hearts and our trust of his ability and authority to help us.

It took so long for me to learn this. As a teenager, I had a hard time (well, who didn’t?). I started with a Christian base to answer my many questions but wasn’t satisfied with the few answers I was finding. At this point, I should have found a mature Christian to serve as a mentor, but being a headstrong, know-it-all teen (remember those “got-the-tiger-by-the-tail” days?), I decided to head out on my own. Since Christianity had disappointed me, I looked into Buddhism, HInduism, Islam, Transcendental Meditation, New Age and the writings of the great philosophers of the past. It would take twenty years before I would return to my Christian roots with that “tiger tail” between my legs.

My long journey wasn’t in vain. I have actually learned a few things. For example, I am starting to understand the mistaken perceptions fo my youth and it is this simple – I didn’t trust God. The secret of the widow’s persistence and the receipt of the king’s justice lies in her trust of him. But I didn’t trust God. I would pray for help with only one hand held out while the other grasped desperately at earthly straws. Now, God wants to answer our prayers. He longs to be gracious to us (Isaiah 30:18). But if we only put out one hand, He will only fill up one hand. If we don’t let HIm fill both hands, we end up feeling only half-filled and therefore unsatisfied. David sang that God satisfied him completely (Psalm 63) but that was only because he was so open to God. When we approach God still withholding parts of ourselves from Him, He cannot love us as completely as He wants to. This is not God withholding love from us. It is us not being open to God. When we approach God while still trying to keep secret our deepest, darkest thoughts (which He already knows anyway), He cannot love us as completely as He wants to. We are not allowing ourselves to be open to receive all that He has for us. And then we have the nerve to say that God isn’t answering our prayers!

Persistent prayers, in and of themselves, won’t touch God’s heart, Anyone can chant a mantra over and over again, that won’t make it true. Even repetition of the Lord’s Prayer won’t cause God to bend down (although it will help to soften your own knees). I think that God waits for words that pour forth from a trusting heart and listens for those words that leap from a loving tongue. God must look for those two hands opened humbly and trustingly upwards towards Him, so that He can fill them to overflowing with His graciousness. I’m learning Lord, it’s hard but I am learning.