Week 09

Leaving a Legacy Like Anna | Luke 2:36-38

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38

I heard a preacher say once that humans never drift toward the way of Jesus. As I have grown and interacted with more people, I believe that to be true. Generally speaking, we drift away from the things of God rather than towards them. It takes intentionality to move against the tide of culture and flesh.

In this story of Anna we find a woman who has been intentional with her time. She has focused on God for decades and the resulting life is beautiful. So the question is, what kind of life do you want to live? When you are advanced in years, what would you want to be known for? Actually answering questions like that are the first steps towards intentionality.

Take the next 10 minutes and write down the things you want to be known for. You can fill in sentences like this: ______ Is known for their kindness and generosity. Once you are finished, I want you to close your eyes and focus your mind on a future day where you are living that way. What kinds of things are you doing? What kinds of activities take up your time? Intention begins with vision, so imagine it.

By Aaron Bjorklund

Leaving a Legacy Like Anna | Luke 2:36-382020-08-27T15:02:02-06:00

Withdrawing Fearfully or Witnessing Fearlessly | 1 Peter 3:15-16

but 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:15-16

I’ve heard this passage quoted as justification for using the Bible to verbally bludgeon someone into Christ’s Kingdom. Somehow, I don’t think this is what Peter’s referring to. The quoted portion is always, “always be prepared to make a defense,” and not the ‘how:’ with gentleness and respect. This seems to be another example of scripture being misused. The most important word here seems to be ‘hope,’ which is hard to demonstrate when sharing the Gospel without gentleness and respect.

On the other hand, we’re not to refrain or withdraw from sharing out of fear, either. This passage calls us to be ready to share anytime to anyone. Examples in situations where fear might have dominated, but didn’t, are Peter and John standing before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4) and Stephen sharing his message from the Spirit with the religious leadership in God-filled wisdom (Acts 6:8-7:60). While Peter and John declared their allegiance to Jesus by sharing their message rather than not, Stephen drew parallels between the priests’ denial of Jesus to the Exodus Hebrews and he died because of it. These are two courageous examples for us in our tumultuous times about sharing the Gospel message with others despite any fear.

What does the earthly future hold for us? I sure don’t know. This Earth is on a trajectory matching what we’ve read about: that the beginnings of this journey will include violence and natural disasters (Matthew 24:7-8). It will also include the suffering of the saints, yielding a revelation of true Kingdom followers as a falling away and betrayal happens (Matthew 24:9-10).

Considering what we’re seeing and hearing these days around the world, it’s not hard to see where these passages are being fulfilled. Now is the time for Kingdom courage to prevail in our sharing! Perhaps as you pray, ask the Lord to reveal someone to share with (friend or stranger) and the courage to be bold for the Kingdom out of a heart of love and respect.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” – C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

By Rich Obrecht

Withdrawing Fearfully or Witnessing Fearlessly | 1 Peter 3:15-162020-08-27T14:59:41-06:00

Worrying Constantly to Worshiping Intentionally | Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9

Consider the journey of a life-long widow. As a young Hebrew woman who lost her husband, it would have been the duty of her brother-in-law(s) and family to care for her, but there is no record of this. Although we don’t have details of Anna’s journey, we could imagine moments when she felt alone, overlooked, unloved, seemingly unnecessary, and perhaps anxious for how she will manage in a patriarchal world.

But, instead of playing the victim card, we see Anna leaning into a life dependent on the Holy Spirit and filled with worship. We’ve all known aging people who’ve become bitter and cynical with their lot in life, but Anna in her final years isn’t complaining about how she felt abandoned or wallowing in her shattered dreams. No! Anna is living intentionally on mission. She is fixing her gaze on her God through spiritual practices and hoping in the Messiah’s coming. We too, can rejoice in the Lord and worship him while we await his second coming!

Unfortunately, human Christ-followers can get bogged down into believing we are victims of our circumstances – especially when the devil plants thoughts in our anxious minds. We wonder if we’ve been abandoned or unloved by God. We get flustered looking around us for hope or some sense of security and control. We panic when we can’t seem to fix our own problems.

These anxious thoughts are the strategy of the Evil One to get us to think we are out-of-control and need his help. But, the truth is that Jesus is always in control. Jesus has already conquered sin, death, and the grave, and is coming again to make all things new. Put Philippians 4:4-9 into practice today by turning your anxious thoughts into hope-filled rejoicing in Jesus’s return. Turn to Revelation 19:11-22:5 to remind yourself to worship the one who is to come!

By Yvonne Biel

Worrying Constantly to Worshiping Intentionally | Philippians 4:4-92020-08-27T14:07:53-06:00

Wandering Aimlessly or Waiting Expectantly | Lamentations 3:25-26

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

to the one who seeks him;

it is good to wait quietly

for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:25-26

 I remain confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart

and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14

The prophetess Anna impresses me so much. For 84 years she waited with confidence and conviction that God would deliver on His promise to her to see the Messiah. Her faith in this promise was akin to that of Abraham, David and Elijah. Waiting can be hard for anyone, but waiting for 84 years is both a testament to her faith and, moreso, to God’s faithfulness.

We live in an instant culture where waiting is something of a lost art. Far too often waiting is seen as a curse rather than the blessing it was designed to be. Romans 5:4-6 reminds us that it is patience that develops character, and character that develops hope.

Yet if we are really honest, waiting makes us chafe. It feels so useless. Yet, true waiting is not a waste of time. It is the confidence in Isaiah 60:22 that at just the right time and in just the right way God will act according to His great plans and purposes.

I hold great esteem for author and theologian, Andrew Murray. In his book, Waiting on God, he writes in speaking of God’s goodness, grace and work in our lives, “We hinder Him either by our indifference or our self-effort, so He cannot do what He would like to do. What He asks of us in way of surrender, obedience, desire, and trust is all included in this one word: waiting-waiting on Him and waiting for His salvation. It combines the deep sense of our entire helplessness to work what is divinely good and our perfect confidence that our God will work it all in His divine power.”

Waiting is not useless. It is aimless, numb, debilitating wandering that is truly useless. Wandering has no direction and can leave us feeling stuck in a whirlpool vortex of hopelessness. But true and blessed waiting is to keep our eyes solely fixed on our blessed Savior and follow Him into the unknown, with the confidence that He alone will provide in ways we can’t imagine at just the right time.

Whether you are young, or advanced in years, we are all waiting for something. The wait doesn’t come any easier with age, but our confidence in God’s faithfulness should grow. Is there something in your life that you have given up hope on? How can you rekindle that flame and begin to wait on God again to fulfil His promise in your life this week? Confess it before Him today and start again.

By Sheila Rennau

Wandering Aimlessly or Waiting Expectantly | Lamentations 3:25-262020-08-27T14:05:42-06:00

Anna, the Prophetess | Luke 2:36-38

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Gal. 5:22-23 NIV

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-24, 36-38 NIV

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

His Word shall not fail you, He promised

Believe Him and all will be well

Then go to a world that is dying

His perfect salvation to tell

This beautiful hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” describes much of Anna’s life. Anna, meaning gracious, is the same Hebrew word as Hannah, who was another woman of prayer and devotion to God. Luke gives us a short, two-verse description of her life – which illustrates the fruit of the Spirit in action. We are given a snapshot picture of a woman, a widow, who spent her life in God’s presence and worshiping God.

As Joseph and Mary approach the temple to dedicate baby Jesus, Simeon recognizes the baby as Israel’s salvation and declares this to his parents. Anna is described as a prophetess. Because of the time spent in God’s presence, fixing her gaze on him, she also recognizes Jesus as the redemption of Israel. Anna then tells everyone about the child that has come to Redeem Israel.

Anna was faithful in her worship of God. She was patient, waiting for the Lord’s redeemer. She spent her days praying and fasting, while in the temple – the most holy place in all of Israel. She is placed alongside Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (II Kings 22:14) and the daughters of Phillip (Acts 21:9) as a prophetess of the Lord. Luke 2:38b says,“she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

What does it mean to you to fix your eyes upon Jesus? A. W. Tozer said, “Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” Listen to this version of the hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. While you are listening, think about ways you can fix your eyes upon Jesus. Perhaps you could take a walk and pray asking God to show you where you need to refocus on him. Ask him to show you who you should be praying for today, and in what way. You could spend time reading Psalm 103 and worshiping him for his unfailing love for you. Perhaps journaling, or drawing is a way for you to spend time in God’s presence. For many of us, listening to praise music, brings us into God’s presence. Explore ways to spend time in God’s presence and fixing your eyes on Jesus this week.

By Grace Hunter

Anna, the Prophetess | Luke 2:36-382020-08-27T14:02:53-06:00

The Way Up is Need | Mark 10:46-52

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside.  And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”  And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:46-52

There he sat, day after day. Begging, thinking. Begging, hearing stories of Jesus’ healing miracles. Begging yet again another day and contemplating what he might do if Jesus ever came his way. If Jesus healed other blind people, he could heal him. Bartimaeus was not too proud to cry out to him. When Jesus did come by, Bartimaeus caused a huge disturbance. He was determined to have Jesus meet his desperate need, relieve him of his dire circumstances, and take away his darkness. This Galilean was not just some celebrity he hoped to encounter but the very King himself, the Son of David, from whom he hoped to plead for mercy.

Bartimaeus lived at the bottom of his society. Bringing his need to Jesus was his only way up. In contrast, the disciples of Jesus thought they had position and status by being close to Jesus, privileged to be the select few. They were even discussing who was the greatest. Jesus made many attempts to help them “see” and understand, and even had to ask Peter, “who do you say I am?” But Bartimaeus knew his need, he was at the end of himself. He immediately recognized Jesus as the Son of David, quickly came running when he called, was instantly healed and unselfishly followed him.

We all desperately need Jesus, whether we realize our need(s) or not. And do we realize too, that only the Son of God can take care of our deepest, most profound needs. Jesus knows your needs, is listening, and desires to bring you up out of your darkness into his light. Have you come to the end of yourself? What do you want him to do for you? Run to Jesus with your needs, big or small. Reflect on where Jesus has been with you in your areas of need. Cry out to him for mercy for the needs you still feel need to be met. Rejoice and thank him for the ways he has shown you mercy. Follow him in gratitude.

By Donna Burns

The Way Up is Need | Mark 10:46-522020-03-05T15:48:49-07:00

The Way Up is Childlike | Mark 9:36-48

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. “He said to them, Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16 NIV

For the past 10 months I have had the privilege of caring for my granddaughter during the work week. I have had a daily reminder that babies and young children are dependent on the caring, loving adults in their lives to provide for all of their needs. Young children are trusting, they are curious to learn, and open to exploring their world. Babies and young children flourish, grow and mature in a caring, loving environment with clear boundaries.

In Jesus’ day, children did not have much value in society. Several times the disciples rebuke people for “interrupting” Jesus by bringing little children to him. However, Jesus does not get annoyed or treat children as interruptions. Instead he hugs them, holds them, blesses them, values them and encourages them to come to him. In Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus uses small children as illustrations in his explanations of how his kingdom works. He is again turning the disciples’ expectations upside down.

Jesus tells us in the parallel passage in Matthew 18:3-4, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Status was important in this society as it seems to be in all societies. But Mark tells us that in Jesus’ kingdom, “‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me,’” Mark 9:35b-37.

Jesus calls us to become like children if we want to be a part of God’s kingdom. I need to be dependent on God, looking to him to provide all my needs, just as a baby depends on his or her parents. I need to trust God works all things out for good in my life, regardless of how it might look today. I need to be curious, ask questions, search God’s word for answers and talk to God regularly so I can learn about myself, about his kingdom and how to relate with others, just as a young child does. How about you?

By Grace Hunter

The Way Up is Childlike | Mark 9:36-482020-03-05T15:50:01-07:00

The Way Up is Least | Mark 9:30-35; 10:32-45

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. Mark 9:30-35

Even after finding out Jesus’ way is the way down – the way of voluntarily suffering in surrender to God’s will, the disciples still think a kingdom is coming where they will be placed in close ranks with Jesus himself. And they continue to speculate with one another about who will be greatest in the kingdom – who will sit at the right and the left of Jesus when he reigns in glory.

When Jesus asks them what they’ve been talking about, they feel somewhat ashamed. Deep down in their spirits they intuitively know Jesus would not approve of this conversation. And sure enough, Jesus uses this as a teachable moment. He reminds his disciples the first in earthly eyes will not be first in his kingdom. But the least of these will have the same unlimited access to his kingdom and therefore be considered great among all the people of God.

God’s kingdom is not one of power-filled hierarchy but one of self-forgetful love for all people. Jesus gave us the best picture of his self-sacrificing character as he gave up his divine position to incarnate among us to endure what we experience and live through it to rescue victory for us.

Still, it’s hard to remove our well worn thought patterns and social structures to imagine a kingdom where all people – all races, all ages, all social ranks, all personalities – have a place. Each person will be seen, known, and loved from a place of self-giving honor. Jesus challenges us to dream beyond our earthly frameworks to realize following him is humbling ourselves for others. Today, shake yourself out of your current frameworks and put someone else first (look for someone who is different than you or from earthly frameworks, “below” you). Reminding yourself this is the way of Jesus’ Kingdom

By Yvonne Biel

The Way Up is Least | Mark 9:30-35; 10:32-452020-03-05T15:40:10-07:00

The Way Up is Belief | Mark 9:14-29

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:23-24

Imagine hearing the cry of this father for his son, “I believe; help my unbelief!” We can feel the anguish as he cries out these words! His only desire at that moment is for his son to be cured. He’s so troubled by his son’s suffering, he asks Jesus to ‘fill in the gaps’ in his belief. What a prayer that is! There’s a distant echo of the Shema for me (Deut. 6:4-9), where the Israelites were told to love God with all their heart, soul and might. My Hebrew professor in school said the word for ‘might’ could very well be translated ‘everything else.’ That sounds like what this dad is saying: my belief and everything else. Jesus tells the father his belief in the cure is all he needs.

The simple belief of this father leads to the healing of his son. Our simple belief leads to a relationship with God. Simple is the appropriate word because it really is a simple thing. The hard part is accepting it as simple. It seems in our culture, we believe everything has a cost. There’s got to be something we have to do, pay, or give for this to be palatable. The thing is, the price was already paid! This story happens while Jesus is journeying back to Jerusalem to pay that cost with his own life.

Just like this dad asking Jesus to bolster his unbelief, we have gaps, too. There are areas where our belief is either weak or non-existing. An example might be that pesky warning light on your car’s dash. What’s your first inclination? Perhaps as you go through the day, bumping into things like this, lift them to Jesus, asking him to help you believe more fully. You might be surprised at the increase of fullness in your belief!

By Rich Obrecht

The Way Up is Belief | Mark 9:14-292020-03-05T15:23:40-07:00

The Way Up is the Way Down | Mark 9:1-15

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark 9:2-9

This passage is fascinating to me. The Transfiguration is a powerful moment in the Gospel of Mark. It literally is a high point. Try to imagine what it must have been like for the disciples, standing with Jesus, and witnessing this remarkable moment. I’d imagine some sort of euphoric response, and we see as much when Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.” His heart was right – He wanted to honor Jesus (and Elijah and Moses as well).

In verse 9, they descend the mountain, the experience is over. People see Jesus – and they are filled with wonder. But the most interesting part is this descent from the mountaintop experience down the hill, and toward what would soon be death on a cross. Not only is that down from the mountain, it’s really down from the mountain. Perhaps you’ve had a mountaintop experience that seemed beautiful and amazing, and then a really dark time afterward.

Jesus had already “gone down from the mountain” once (from glory) to the earthiness of a sinful world, to do what He was there to do. He modeled a concept that is so counterintuitive we often miss it: The way up is the way down. Jesus allowed the disciples to see Him in all His radiant glory, and then He came off the mountain and headed towards an ugly cross. Through the glory of the cross, He ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The Spirit now lives within us, guiding us each step of our journey. Because He descended in order to ascend, once and for all. This is the way of Jesus.

It seems counterintuitive, and indeed, it is – but the way of Jesus means the way up (eventually) is the way down (currently). Suffering is a part of the life of an apprentice of Jesus. His disciples in the first century suffered, and his disciples today do as well. Following Jesus isn’t all “up and to the right” – it often seems like (and is) a perilous journey. But as we face our brokenness, embrace suffering, and seek to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, He begins to refine us, shape us, form and mold us, and slowly but surely, a masterpiece appears. It’s through the hard work of suffering that we see His glory, once and for all.

The way of the cross is earthy, rugged, and not always fun, despite what that TV preacher may say. Take a few moments and reflect on how a difficult season in life shaped you for the better. Ask yourself, “am I truly willing to embrace the way of the cross?” After all, the way up is the way down.

For further meditation, my dear friend Ben Thomas released a song called “The Way Up”: Spotify iTunes

The grey, the icy rain that wraps itself around
Our broken dreams, our whispered destinies It shrouds
When all the empty bottles up along the wall
Can capture melodic reverberating sounds
It tells that the way up is the way down
I find it difficult to execute the hours
When our entire lives are spent ascending towers
To find out the way up is the way down

By Larry Boatright

The Way Up is the Way Down | Mark 9:1-152020-03-05T12:16:34-07:00
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