A true fast

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Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ~Matthew 5:6 (NIV)

Today begins the season of Lent. Many churches observe this time of preparation that leads up to Easter. Some people even choose to use the season as a time for penitence and self-examination, study, and spiritual discipline. Perhaps the discipline most commonly associated with Lent is fasting, which can take many forms, such as giving up entire meals, or certain foods (like meat), or radically changing a diet, in order to be made mindful of one’s humanity and of God’s providence.

Isaiah 56 tells us “Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? … If you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon.” (Isa. 56:6,7,10)

So I ask you, do you hunger and thirst for justice? True fasting is not just depriving ourselves of privilege but also sharing sacrificially to bring an end to the cycles of inequality, an end to violence and solution to starvation.

Heavenly Father, create in me a hunger and thirst for Your righteousness. Enable me this day to be Your hands and feet to those who live in darkness.  Help me love with Your heart and shine with Your light so that the darkness may be like the noon day sun. Amen.

Filled up to overflow

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Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples, “The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others. They make extra-wide prayer bands for their arms and long tassels for their clothes. They love to sit in places of honor at banquets. They love to be greeted with honor in the markets and to be addressed as ‘Rabbi.’ “But you shouldn’t be called Rabbi, because you have one teacher, and all of you are brothers and sisters. Don’t call anybody on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is heavenly. Don’t be called teacher, because Christ is your one teacher. But the one who is greatest among you will be your servant. All who lift themselves up will be brought low. But all who make themselves low will be lifted up. ~Matthew 23:1-12 (CEB)

A cup is a container for holding something. Whatever it holds has to eventually be emptied out so that something more can be put into it. I have learned that I cannot always expect my life to be full. There has to be some emptying, some pouring out, if I am to make room for the new. The spiritual journey is like that- a constant process of emptying and filling, of giving and receiving, of accepting and letting go. ~From The Cup of Our Life by Joyce Rupp

The fullness of God ever waits upon an empty vessel. This is a grand practical truth, very easily stated, but involving a great deal more than one might, at first sight, imagine. The entire Book of God illustrates this truth. The history of the people of God illustrates it; and the experience of each Believer illustrates it. Whether we study the Book of God, or the ways of God—His ways with all—His ways with each, we learn this most precious truth that “the fullness of God ever waits upon an empty vessel.” This holds well with respect to the sinner, in his first coming to Christ; and it holds good with respect to the believer, at every stage of his career, from the starting post to the goal.

Heavenly Father, fill me up till I overflow. May I then overflow into those around me.  I thank You for Your Book that illustrates Your vast love for me. Help me to pass that love on to others. Amen.

Unceasing love

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So when we couldn’t stand it any longer, we thought it was a good idea to stay on in Athens by ourselves, and we sent you Timothy, who is our brother and God’s coworker in the good news about Christ. We sent him to strengthen and encourage you in your faithfulness.  We didn’t want any of you to be shaken by these problems. You know very well that we were meant to go through this. In fact, when we were with you, we kept on predicting that we were going to face problems exactly like what happened, as you know. That’s why I sent Timothy to find out about your faithfulness when I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was worried that the tempter might have tempted you so that our work would have been a waste of time. Now Timothy has returned to us from you and has given us good news about your faithfulness and love! He says that you always have good memories about us and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. Because of this, brothers and sisters, we were encouraged in all our distress and trouble through your faithfulness. For now we are alive if you are standing your ground in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you, given all the joy we have because of you before our God? Night and day, we pray more than ever to see all of you in person and to complete whatever you still need for your faith. Now may our God and Father himself guide us on our way back to you.  May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone in the same way as we also love you. May the love cause your hearts to be strengthened, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his people. Amen. ~1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 (CEB)

All of God’s life is available to each of us already, but not yet. Ordinary suffering will not be taken away, not the suffering we must face when we bear witness to God’s love and are met with the world’s hostility and scorn. But our suffering will have meaning, will be lifted up, transformed by the unceasing love of God. ~Robert A. Jonas from Henri Nouwen:  Writings Selected with an Introduction by Robert A. Jonas

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Your transforming grace that has worked its wonders within me. May I this day be an example of Your light to someone who may need it this day. May I be a blessing to someone amidst their trials. Help me be Your love to the world. Amen.

To live intentionally

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Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple. ~ Luke 14:25:33 (CEB)

“The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work:  I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down . . .  Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked- the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself:  my own will shall become yours.’” ~From Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Christ wants our hearts, but he also wants us to count the cost. He wants a life time full-fledged commitment from us that is lasting. I also think we need to count the cost every day. To give my whole life to Christ requires me to live my life intentionally. If I am to live for Christ I cannot walk through this world aimlessly.

Heavenly Father, Help me to focus my actions on Your will for this day. May all I do be for Your glory. Help me as I try to be a true disciple. Help me to show Your love to those I meet this day. Amen.

Accepting the cost

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Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the good news to the people in Derbe and made many disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, wher2 they strengthened the disciples and urged them to remain firm in the faith. They told them, “If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles.” They appointed elders for each church. With prayer and fasting, they committed these elders to the Lord, in whom they had placed their trust. ~Acts 14:21-23 (CEB)

“We need not wonder about the cost of discipleship. We need only look upon Jesus on the cross. There we see the awful cost of the ministry that is offered in the life, nature, and spirit of Jesus.

The cost is awful indeed. But if our work introduces men and women to Jesus and to God’s love, this cost must be accepted. In our own self-emptying, those who gaze upon us may see Jesus. In our conviction, people may be convinced to look upon the cross of Jesus and say, ‘truly this is the Son of God.’

We have heard it said, ‘We can never wear the crown until we bear the cross,’ but for those who willingly enter into the sufferings of Jesus, the cross is their crown, and they wear it with dignity and submission. ~Norman Shawchuck.

Help me today O Lord to empty all evidence of self so that as I go about Your work others will see You not me. May I do all things for Your glory. Amen.

The cost of discipleship

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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? For the Human One  is about to come with the majesty of his Father with his angels. And then he will repay each one for what that person has done. I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One r coming in his kingdom. ” ~Matthew 16:24-27 (CEB)

“Salvation is free, but the cost of discipleship is enormous. I try to hide from the truth, but when I read the Gospels and seek to live in communion with God, I discover both parts of the statement are dead-center truth. I can do nothing to earn my salvation. My redemption is a pure gift of grace, a gift offered to me without qualification or reservation. I am God’s child and no one or no thing can change that facet. Jesus Christ lived, died, and lives again to bring this gift of salvation to me in all of its fullness. My faith can appropriate this gift, but even my greatest doubt cannot change its reality. I am God’s beloved, embraced in God’s love for now and eternity. All words are inadequate to describe the extravagance and grandeur of the gift of salvation. Our hums of praise and gratitude fall lifeless before the immensity of this gift. We simply and humbly offer all that we are to the One who offers us the option of becoming more than we are.

In offering ourselves as fully as we can, we discover the cost of discipleship. For to bind our lives to Jesus Christ requires that we try to walk with him into Jesus Christ, we see barriers broken down and we are led to places we have never been before and to carry loads we have not even seen before. Having offered ourselves to Jesus Christ, we may expect to become the eyes, ears, voice and hands of Jesus Christ in the world and in the church. The cost of salvation? It is completely free and without cost. The cost of discipleship? Only our lives- nothing more and nothing less.” ~From A Guide to All Who See God, Rueben P. Job

Give my strength O Lord to live up to the cost of discipleship. Help me to align my steps with Your will for my life. Amen.

A bigger vision

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This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. I give you these commandments so that you can love each other. ~John 15:12-16 (CEB)

“The church is the worshiping community. We are that body of people who are learning together to repent, pray, and serve in the light of our history and an imagination that is teaching us to do so. The focus of our history and imagination is Jesus Christ in whom we see what it means to live in repentance, prayer, and service. We seek to follow him, to be his disciples, and to undertake the disciplines that such a life requires.

As we follow him, we see that we cannot be the church and remain a closed system of intimate and exclusive social relationships through which we are protected from the world. To the extent that we actually are being transformed in repentance, prayer, and service, we find that we must continually strive to rupture our own boundaries. The church is just not the church except as it seeks to incorporate within its mutuality enemies and strangers. Its repentance, prayer and service is for all people, for the world as such, and not just for others as Christians. In the church we are impelled by the very dynamics of what it means to be the church to meet the enemies and strangers of our lives.” ~From Vision and Character by Craig R. Dykstra

Help me this day Lord to step out of my comfort zones and intimate circles of friends. Help me remember that we are called to take Your good news to the whole world not just to those we are comfortable with. Help me remember that I may be the only Bible some people will ever read or the only church they will ever see. Help me to remember what it means to be a Christian. Amen.

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