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Citizens in the Way of Jesus | 1 Peter 2:22-25

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  1 Peter 2:22-25

Peter learned so much from Jesus. He sinned and Jesus forgave him, and as a result Peter knew the difference from where he once was (a straying sheep) to now being “the Rock” the church was built upon (Matthew 16:18 – an overseer of souls). He was commissioned to share the good news of Jesus with everyone. He labored for peace among the early church, and in the world.

Jesus experienced the difference of those in the Kingdom and those not. I recently saw this quote on Facebook, “Many turn from Jesus because of a bad experience with religious people. Jesus also had a bad experience with religious people. They crucified him.” The way he suffered (Matthew 25:11-14) and died (Mark 15:39) made others take notice. He responded not with threats but with dignity. He acted in accordance with who he was. If we profess to follow Jesus and his way others will notice.

Like Peter, we were once dead in sin and now we are alive in Christ (Galatians 2:20). Once we were lost, but now we’re found, we were in darkness, but now we‘re in the light of God’s presence. We were alone but now we’re members of his church, part of the community of God’s Kingdom. As citizens of God’s Kingdom you are commissioned to spread the good news (Matthew 28:19-20). It will do us well, and the world, if we keep aware of this difference from where we once were and where we are now in Christ. More importantly, as an ambassador from the Kingdom of Heaven what we do and say reflects our citizenship. Does how we live show our allegiance, our priority to and our identity in King Jesus?

The greatest story your life can tell is where you were before knowing Jesus and where you are now that you know him personally. Write out three paragraphs, one about what your life was like before you know Jesus, one on how he brought you into citizenship in his Kingdom and one paragraph on what your life is like now that you know Jesus. Live in that place of grace and entrust yourself to God who judges justly. As these next months unfold, determine to share God’s love as his ambassador through your story and keep the Kingdom growing. Our just and sovereign God will take care of the rest.

By Donna Burns

Citizens in the Way of Jesus | 1 Peter 2:22-252020-05-22T15:29:07-06:00

Why Love Our Neighbors? | Matthew 5:13-16

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:13-16 (the Message paraphrase from the Sermon on the Mount)

Jesus asks us to be to the world what salt is to food and light is to darkness – elements both very much needed and distinctly different. His followers act as a preservative in a morally decaying world with light to show the way. Why should we be salt and light? Because he wants all people to know him and because he is the example for us to follow. What we do and how we do it is associated with being like him and sharing his love.

When a religious scholar asked Jesus which is the most important of all the commandments, he answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV) The religious scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!” When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.” (Mark 12: 32-34 The Message paraphrase)

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount explains how to love your neighbor and your enemy. Following Jesus means loving what God loves, like God loves, and hating what God hates. The gospel message, we have to realize, means we are all destined to an eternity without God apart from the powerful work of Christ’s love on the cross to forgive our sins. Jesus loved us by giving his life for us. We love our neighbors by sacrificing to reach out to them. This week memorize/meditate on the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:28-31), Write them out and keep them in places you’ll see often. Ask God to give you ways you can love him and love your neighbor as yourself.

By Donna Burns

Why Love Our Neighbors? | Matthew 5:13-162020-05-15T12:51:38-06:00

When Moms are Weary | Isaiah 40:11

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms;

he will carry them in his bosom,  and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11

Enfold, surround, wrap, hold close, swaddle. This is a word God gave me recently. Pondering these words brought some memories to mind. What do these words bring to your mind? As a young mom, one Advent season, as Isaiah 40:11 was sung over me from Handel’s Messiah, the words soothed and melted the weariness in my soul, my mind and my body. Sitting still, relaxing and listening to the chorale and orchestra, I felt a warmth come over me, filling me with comfort and peace from head to toe. It seemed God was holding me close. I cried quietly as I released the weariness. Everyone who is constantly caregiving gets weary, weary in body, weary in mind, weary in soul.

Ruth Barton in her book Invitation to Solitude and Silence points out the difference between a “good tired” and a “dangerous tired”. We experience “good tired” after a job well done, it’s temporary with quick recovery. When we are dangerously tired, we have chronic inner fatigue accumulating over months and months, that makes one feel out of control, and numb to feeling much of anything good or bad. The one is like a harmless spring rain shower and the other like an unpredictable eerie green tornado sky. Being dangerously tired doesn’t necessarily mean being physically exhausted, but it needs attention. Inner lacks become the sources of spiraling into deeper levels of exhaustion.

God reminded me of another significant enfolding as I prepared to write. It came when our children were grown, gone and adulting. I had been away from God’s word for too long. One night when I came to the end of myself, I began to read the Psalms. I felt such a soothing consolation come over me, I couldn’t stop reading. My soul was so thirsty, the words were so life-giving.

What do you do when you are weary? Run to the arms of Jesus? Read his word? Ruth Barton suggests viewing God as a caring parent, someone you can talk to about your tiredness and who can offer help. She recommends to get still and give yourself permission to become aware of your tiredness in body, mind, and soul with compassion, then talk to God. This will open up the opportunity for God to touch you and care for you in the midst of your weariness. Take time to posture yourself today and let him enfold you with himself, all that he is and all he can do.

By Donna Burns

When Moms are Weary | Isaiah 40:112020-05-07T15:25:19-06:00

Conflict Within Us | Matthew 5:43-48

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:43-48 (The Message)

These thoughts are the Message’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. It was like an electric shock about the rules of morality in the disciples’ time, and perhaps this translation still sounds shocking to you today. People problems are inevitable, there are troubles around us and in us. The world is watching how we deal with them. If our heart is not right with God, we won’t deal rightly with people.

It cost Jesus to love us. Jesus gave his life. We have his example and others to watch and follow. Paul wrote very practical help in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians and Philippians. We, like Paul, have the choice every day to promote God’s love and his kingdom or not, to start a conflict, keep a conflict going, or end one. We, like Paul, can say as far as it depends on me, I will make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification (Romans 12:18). Whether we are the offender or the offended, we can take the initiative to make peace (Romans 14:19). Keep on loving others unconditionally like God loves you. Keep on heaping on kindness (Romans 12:20).

These moral teachings from Jesus are so lofty that we in our humanness find it impossible to attain them. They make us realize we need him. With our heart in the hands of the Holy Savior we are able to live in his way with the help of the Holy Spirit. We must depend on his grace and mercy to live out our God-created, God-given identities. Meditate on the words of this prayer and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you about where and with whom these requests could apply.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Prayer by St Francis of Assisi

By Donna Burns

Conflict Within Us | Matthew 5:43-482020-05-01T10:32:47-06:00

Love is Our Apologetic | 1 Corinthians 13

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Real people have real questions. “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? And, Where am I going?” These are the basic questions everyone must answer for themselves. The answers determine how they view their world, shaping their convictions, beliefs and actions. If we as Christ followers believe the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) we’re compelled to make love practical. Your apologetic of love is how you talk and act to convince others God’s love is truth, that he made them, and gives them identity and purpose.

Real people have real problems. Many people today, in addition to the basic worldview questions, also ask, “God why did this happen? Does God even exist? Is God really good? Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” Your apologetic of love as a Christ follower engages people in finding answers to these questions as well as being an example by the way you love them in God’s name (1 Peter 3:15 “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”). You show God’s power with a real life that’s been changed by his love.

Real people need real answers. How will they get those answers? By our love, the real love of God. Jeff Myers in his latest book Unquestioned Answers says “Believers need to remember that love for God involves loving what God loves.” This means loving ourselves and the people we know. It includes the people not like me, the people I like and the people I don’t. People who don’t know Jesus might be repelled by Christian beliefs, but we who follow Jesus hope they would be attracted to Christ followers by our loving character. Paul the Apostle’s apology of love is outlined in Romans 12:9-21 and 1 Corinthians 13. Wouldn’t it be a great compliment if someone said you personify the love in these passages? Choose some verses from them to memorize and emulate.

By Donna Burns

Love is Our Apologetic | 1 Corinthians 132020-04-17T13:09:36-06:00

Alive in Christ | Ephesians 2:1-10

Read Ephesians 2:1-10 out loud, slowly. Listen for the words or phrases the Holy Spirit emphasizes in your mind as you read it. God has a divine plan and a purpose for everyone. Let’s reflect on how God accomplishes his purposes in us, according to Paul.

First, let’s reflect on our past spiritual condition (verses 1-4). As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

We all have been separated from God by sin. While we were still dead in our sin God provided a way for us to be made alive in Christ Jesus. Pause to breathe in the new life God has given you.

Next, receive God’s mercy (verses 5-7). But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

We have been saved by grace. God extends his unconditional love, unmerited favor, and kindness to us. The new life is a gift, there is nothing we can do to earn it, all we have to do is receive it. Pause to receive this gracious gift. Accept it with all your heart, mind and strength.

Finally, we have been given purpose (verses 8-10). For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We are God’s “workmanship” (you are his creation) to do the good works he prepared for you to do long before the world began. In gratitude for what God has given us we serve Christ and build up his church. Pause to soak in the fact of who God specifically made you and what he has called you personally to do.

By Donna Burns

Alive in Christ | Ephesians 2:1-102020-04-17T14:40:45-06:00

What About Joseph? | Mark 15:42-47

 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Mark 15:42-47

How have you been spending your time during the Stay at Home? It’s almost like God is giving the world a huge “time out” to check our attitudes and what’s important. Even more surprising is the timing, right before Easter during the Lenten season. The forty days of Lent are for spiritual growth and renewal, fasting and repentance. Lent is a time to be aware of the sin that separates us from God and what it cost him to be reunited to us in right relationship.

Joseph of Arimathea got his relationship right with Jesus and was waiting for the Kingdom of God (Mark 15:43). He is mentioned only four times in the Bible, Matthew (27:57) as wealthy, Mark (15:43) respected in the Sanhedrin, Luke (23:50) as a good and righteous man, and in John (19:38) a secret disciple and follower. The day Jesus died on the cross – his waiting was over. He openly approached Pilate and boldly asked for Jesus’ dead body. He bought a linen shroud (Mark 15:46) and secured help (including Nicodemus, another Pharisee, John 19:39) to take him down from the cross. They prepared Jesus’ body for burial, and laid him in a tomb, between the 9th hour and the Sabbath at sundown. All this in 180 minutes. The other disciples scattered in fear, but Joseph, at great risk to his family and career, respectfully gave his Savior a proper burial. This was a critical part of Jesus’ story and Joseph was uniquely suited to help him in those three hours, and did everything he could.

God has prepared good works for all of us as his followers. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). These good works are a result of a right relationship with Jesus. Take inventory of your God given gifts, talents and influence. What is God calling you to for such a time as this? Are you willing to bear the cost? It was time for Joseph to be bold and courageous, and so it is for us. God has uniquely fitted you for the work he has for you. Like Joseph’s 180 minutes, it will be personal, and it will be important in God’s Kingdom. During the imposed solitude of Lent this year, spend time with Jesus, listening to how he wants to use you and your influence for his Kingdom, then obey.

By Donna Burns

What About Joseph? | Mark 15:42-472020-04-10T11:17:49-06:00

Who is Jesus? | Mark 15:33-39

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”  And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39

Confessions. Mark begins and ends his story with confessions, and includes several in between. First his own, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” (1:1). He carefully chooses miracles and ministry moments of Jesus that leave no doubt to his supernatural power and authority. After the feeding of the five thousand and the calming of the sea, Jesus takes his disciples on a retreat to Caesarea Philippi and asks Peter, “who do you say I am?” Peter passes the verbal confession saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” But, Peter and the disciples are still expecting a different kind of leader, one where they will sit on his left and his right, not a suffering servant. Jesus tells them three times he is going to die in Jerusalem. Jesus is transfigured on the mountain before them and God says “this is my Son”. The religious establishment refuses to acknowledge him as the Son of God, but one scribe who understands the greatest commandments gets encouragement. Jesus tells him he is so close to the Kingdom of God. The last confession in the story is made by a Roman centurion, who said as he saw how Jesus breathed his last, “truly this man was the son of God” (15:39).

This Roman centurion was an outsider, the enemy, the oppressor of the Jews. He was a Gentile, part of the outer courts of the nations. If his job was to guard the crosses of crucifixion he probably saw many people die. The profound way Jesus died impacted the Roman personally. How did Mark know the impact was by the way the centurion saw Jesus breathe his last? Only if he saw it, the centurion himself told him or someone else. What did the centurion do after this intense experience in the days that followed? That’s the question Mark wants to leave with us also.

You have heard the story and the message of the Son of God from Mark, now what do you say and do? Mark was sure Jesus was the Messiah, the crucified Son of God. The Centurion was sure Jesus was the Messiah, the suffering King, the Son of God. As a review, go through Mark and notice all the confessions. There are many (Mark 1:1, 11, 24; 3:11; 5:7; 8:38; 9:7; 12:6; 13:32; 14:36,61; 15:39). Thoughtfully recite the Apostles’ Creed. Worship Jesus, the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, profoundly this Easter.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

By Donna Burns

Who is Jesus? | Mark 15:33-392020-04-10T11:13:00-06:00

Understanding in Waiting | Mark 13:1-6

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”  And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” Mark 13:1-6

After Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem, he spent the day talking publicly. And now, in this story, his disciples want to speak to him privately. They have questions to ask him. This is one of the last few quality times he will spend with them before his death. He answers their questions, but not the way they probably expected. This chapter in Mark is famous not only because of what Jesus said but where he was saying it, on the Mount of Olives. It has a past, present and future significance in the Scripture, the life of Jesus and his second coming (Zechariah 14:1-4). Testifying to this fact today is approximately 150,000 graves on the side of the Mount of Olives that have been there for 3,000 years. Those buried there want to be at the holy site to walk to the temple mount in their resurrected bodies.

Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question of “what are the signs?” is “see to it that no one misleads you.” It’s like he is saying, “the signs are not the most important here, it’s your relationship to me. You have been with me, you have learned from, you know me. True disciples will be sure because they are in me.” He gives the warning not to be misled by false teachers or special knowledge, but encourages them to be spiritually alert and prepared. He tells them of near and distant events but not their chronology. He wants his disciples to be bold in their commitment, ready to have their heart and their life tested. And for Peter, James, John and Andrew in the next few days, months and years, it was.

If our goal is to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, we must know him as intimately as we can. We must know his voice, his character, his ways. We must seek to understand the truth, our faith, and our identity in him while we are waiting for God’s plans to unfold. Bank Tellers learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the real. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, learn something new about him from being with him today. Try writing a resume for Jesus. Who is he, where did he come from, what does he do, and why? Back it up with as much Scripture as you can.

By Donna Burns

Understanding in Waiting | Mark 13:1-62020-04-02T14:06:11-06:00

Which Denomination is Right? | Mark 12:23; Exodus 3:6

In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”  Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?  For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Mark 12:23-25

Got questions? Asking questions is good for finding information and gaining understanding. Questions keep us open to learning and informed. It’s a great attitude and posture to keep. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, however, his enemies used the Rabbinic tradition of asking questions against him. It was a meeting of the minds with intent to trap Jesus into saying something they could use to accuse him. This wasn’t the first trap, or the last, they kept attacking to see whose political or religious group he chose to side with.

The interesting thing about this questioning was the Sadducees who didn’t believe in resurrection were asking Jesus about resurrection. “Is there marriage at the resurrection?” Jesus answers their theological attack with the truth about life, the Scriptures and God. The Sadducees also chose to believe only in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) and not the oral tradition. Jesus gave them their answer from the Pentateuch! The way Jesus answered them stretched their minds and brought them to new information and understanding whether they chose to accept it or reject it.

When we ask questions, so often we are wondering “who’s got it right and wrong”. Jesus shows us another way. We often think there are only two sides, one right way, when Jesus wants to show us a third way: his Father God, the Kingdom and his power. Jesus, like he so often does, quotes from Scripture and points those listening to the God of the living. Do we have open ears, an open mind, to hear what the Lord God of the universe has to say to us? Do we make a priority to know him, increase our Biblical knowledge, deepen our spiritual understanding and grow our theology? As you seek to know and follow God sincerely, you’ll grow your faith, love, worship and obedience. Find a Bible class, a mentor, a study where you can bring your questions.

By Donna Burns

Which Denomination is Right? | Mark 12:23; Exodus 3:62020-03-26T14:57:48-06:00
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