Luke 21:3-4 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (NIV) We don’t know her name, but she made an everlasting impression on Jesus and has become a symbol of human dignity and generosity across the centuries. The poor widow that Christ saw putting her two small coins into the Temple treasury gave cheerfully and faithfully, knowing within herself that she was grateful to God for His benevolence and support. It was a sacrificial gift because she gave everything she had. She didn’t expect any reward or recognition for what she did. She gave from her heart because she knew that God loved her, which is the best way to give anything that we have to Him. Sometimes folks like to designate their giving to God so that their hard-earned resources can help support a ministry or mission which reflects their beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with that and many good programs and projects are financed this way. However, people can miss out on the delightful blessing that comes with just freely giving to God an offering without any ties or restrictions. When we joyfully do this, we trust that God’s Spirit will guide congregations to use the freewill offering wisely and effectively, faithfully and benevolently. This is why the poor widow gave what she could in order to support God’s work and do it thankfully, for she knew it would also help others like herself who received aid from the Temple. As we reflect on Christ’s words and this beautiful event, may we also ponder on what and why we give to our churches. Perhaps God will encourage us to give with cheerful and generous hearts, too. What do I give to God from my resources? How does my offering help His work? Prayer: Lord Jesus, You see and know all things. You encourage us to give our time, talents, and treasures to aid and support Your continuing ministry throughout the world. Help us to discover the joy of giving freely, joyfully, and thankfully. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen. Today’s image is one of John’s banner designs called “Blue Trinity.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Trinity. Jesus said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” I want to give back to You What I have taken and given I want to give back Sundays to You For they were always meant When Christians would gather together And raising You from the dead. No matter what I’m doing, No matter how I’m feeling, Over the years, church folks have asked me about how to pray. They are usually concerned with doing it the right way in order to respect God and receive His blessings. They hope that they are praying correctly and sometimes worry if their prayers are actually being heard. I often tell them not to be concerned because God knows what is in their hearts when they actually pray. God’s grace assures us that He does listen to His Son’s followers and welcomes their prayers. However, for those who need some prayer coaching, the following points are a few basic ideas that anyone can practice in order to deepen their prayer life with God. I’ve used an acrostic of the word ‘PRAY’to help explain the process. Before we begin to pray, we should think about why we are doing this. What is the purpose behind our prayer? Is it thankfulness for God’s blessing? Are we seeking guidance about an issue? Do we have a confession to make? Or are we worried about a specific person or circumstance? If we understand why we need to say a prayer, we will be able to vocalize it better and describe it more fully to God. It’s not that God needs this clarification; it’s more for ourselves. Over the years, I have found that when I focus on what I’m about to pray, then I become more aware of what it is that is troubling or concerning me. Recognize God’s authority over us. When we pray, we do so as creatures of the Most Powerful Being in existence. God’s Sovereignty is the most sacred power in the universe. A casual, carefree conversation may be good enough for our friends and acquaintances, but every time we pray, we are approaching the throne of God so we should make our prayers respectfully. To do this, we need to begin our prayers by referring to God as our Lord, Creator, Father, or Majesty. God loves us as His special creatures because we are made in His image. Through Christ’s sacrifice, we can approach God confidently in prayer. We should never be afraid to ask for God’s help, guidance, favor, or deliverance. God hears our prayers just like devoted parents lovingly listen to the questions their children ask. God knows what we need, but He likes to hear us ask because it honors His authority over our lives, as well as deepening our love for Him. Y = Yearn. Yearn for the Spirit’s blessing and look for God’s answer to our prayers. The Holy Spirit will assure us that our prayers have been heard, so we should seek confirmation of what God has decided about our prayers. If we need forgiveness, we will experience relief. If we are looking for help, we will be given a solution. If we are seeking comfort, the Spirit will embrace us. And if we are thankfully blessing God, we will feel His delight in our hearts. I hope that this simple process will help you with your prayers. May the Lord God bless all of your goals and dreams by allowing each of your plans to succeed. Luke 19:47-48 Every day Jesus was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words. (NIV) Jesus never missed an opportunity to teach people about God. Teaching was central to the mission that God had sent Him, so when He reached Jerusalem, Christ went to the national teaching center inside the temple grounds. Folks from all over Judea and traveling Jews from other nations were there, so Jesus taught all who were willing to listen in the hope that His words would be taken back to where the people had originated. But not everyone was happy about this. The religious leaders felt that Jesus was stepping on their turf and spreading radical ideas. They had built up their power and reputation over centuries, so they were determined to keep control over the people. Instead of embracing His new ideas, they wanted to wipe out Jesus permanently. He was getting in the way of their power structures and religious rules. He had to be dealt with; He had to be annihilated. At this point, however, Jesus was popular with the people. He brought fresh ideas to their faith and brightened their lives with His new insights. As the scriptures tell us, they hung on His words – they had never heard such things about God, faith, and life so clearly, so attractively, and so personally. As a teacher, Christ was conveying to them God’s gracious message of salvation in the heart of a holy place where grace was relatively unknown. Centuries of sacrifice had enslaved the spirits of the people to ritualism and legalism. Jesus’ words were like a breath of fresh air which opened up their spirits to a new way of understanding God, connecting to His love, and applying His will in their lives. As Christians today, Jesus offers us the same message and teaching which can help us make better choices, live meaningful lives, and deepen our relationship with God. When we make time to read His words like today, we can receive blessings that will help us on our way and guide us through our problems. Christ’s teaching is just as relevant for us now as it was way back then, and like the people in the temple, we can alsochoose to accept His insights and be blessed with His instruction. How often do I allow Christ to influence my decisions? Which parts of His teaching can help me today? Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your words have ways to reshape our lives. Your teaching about God can still transform us and bring us closer to our Creator. Help us to learn more about You, so that we may embrace the life-lessons that You offer us each day. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
Today’s image is one of John’s icon drawings called ‘Pop Ikon.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Ikon.
Luke 19:5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (NIV) I’ve always been a short person, so I know how Zacchaeus must have felt when he couldn’t see above the crowd to catch a glimpse of Jesus. I’ve been in more than a few places and situations where I have struggled to see what’s happening at a concert, movie, or even church service because of a larger person standing or sitting in front of me. Sometimes I move to the right or left just to find a clear view; on other occasions, I just sigh and sit quietly, choosing instead to listen to what’s going on. I don’t know if I would have climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus, although I have stood on benches and walls to watch parades and other public spectacles. It seems that the wee man was so desperate to see Jesus that he was willing to look ridiculous, after all, it’s usually children who climb trees to get a better view. I can imagine that the people around him laughed at Zacchaeus, diminishing his pride and self-esteem. Perhaps some of them felt like he deserved to be humiliated because he was despised for being a tax-collector and colluding with the Romans. I love what Jesus does to restore Zacchaeus’s dignity, as well as his soul. Our Savior does not laugh at the short tax-collector or rebuke him for working for the enemy. Christ doesn’t even ask to come to his house – look at the verse again – Jesus actually insists on going to his home. It’s a wonderful moment of acceptance and Zacchaeus responds immediately by climbing down and welcoming Christ gladly. This is an event which is filled with God’s love and grace. It reminds all of us – short, medium, or tall – that Jesus actively seeks to restore us to God’s Kingdom. All we have to do is to welcome Him gladly into our hearts and homes, which is where salvation begins and never ends. Am I willing to let Jesus into my heart? If I welcome Him into my life, how will He change me? Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your grace and acceptance. We know we are unworthy of those blessings, but we are also delighted that You are willing to grant them to us. Enable us to extend this blessing to all whom we encounter today. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen. Today’s image is one of John’s tree drawings called ‘Season Finale.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Tree.
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