A personal relationship
It is a good thing to ask ourselves periodically, “Is my religious activity a relationship with God Himself or am I merely being a religious person? The true beauty, power, peace, and transforming resurrection life are found in only one place; “Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach .” (Colossians 1:27-28). The temptation we all face is to enter into a ritual of a well-structured religious life without truly having a personal relationship with God himself. We can find ourselves going through all the motions of church life without obeying God’s voice, receiving correction, or drawing near to Him. Even more tragic is to have no awareness of this spiritual emptiness.
King David realized his need of a personal relationship with the living God. Notice his focus on God when he prayed; notice the words “You” and “Your”!
“Oh God, You are my God; early will I seek You; My soul thirst for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hand in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, because You have been my help. Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right had upholds me.” (Psalm 63:1-8)
David’s prayer was about a relationship with God himself and Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to have that connection and personal relationship. We can seek Him, call on Him and find Him when we seek Him with all our heart; that is His promise!
“Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)
– By Nathan Steen, pastor, Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church
Lenten thoughts: The cross of Christ
I have received many crosses as gifts throughout my life: crosses that can be hung on walls; crosses that can be worn around my neck; crosses that can stand on tables; crosses that are in quilt patterns; crosses that are in pictures; crosses that glow in the dark. One of the most stunning crosses I have received is a three-dimensional cross made out of maple wood. Its frontal 3-D effect is quite impressive. But looking at it from the back is what intrigues me, with the 3-D effect reversed. This view is striking as it invites you to crawl right into it to be surrounded, enclosed, and comforted by it. Yet, no matter how many crosses we all have received as gifts or bought, no matter how many crosses we own, as Christians, it is important for us to remember that the cross of Jesus has and will always own us.
The Lenten hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” was written by Elizabeth Clephane, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1830. She was a woman acquainted with grief and suffering. Her parents both died when she was young, and she was never very healthy herself. She wrote this hymn in 1868, about one year before her death at the age of 39. It reflects her deep affection for God, and her confidence in where she would spend eternity. She writes of being beneath the cross as a “resting place”, and as a place of protection, belonging, and refreshment. She reaches across time and geography, inviting us to turn our eyes from our screens and the blur of our overstimulated visual culture to look into the form and face of Jesus, whose glorious love for us centers, fills, and resets our lives and all creation. For her and for us, the cross is a visual compass for life. Her poem originally has five verses. One of the verses paints the cross as a visual span between this life and the next: “There lies beneath its shadow, but on the further side, the darkness of an open grave that gapes both deep and wide; and there between us stands the cross, two arms outstretched to save, like watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.” The only way to eternal life is through death. The only way to Easter is through the cross.
– Rev. Barbara Haugerud, Bethany and Wolford Lutheran Churches
These winter days of Lent
I’m writing this as I prepare for a warm winter vacation. I’m more than a little excited to escape the snow and cold, for a few days of sun, heat, beach and palm trees. We’re in the big rush stage before vacation. There’s packing, cleaning, and a million items at work to tie up before locking the doors and flying away. One thing we won’t escape is Lent. This Christian season of preparation for Easter goes with us. And I’m glad for it. These are the weeks when we sing, pray and reflect on our faith, on our shortcomings, even as we lean into the promises of Easter’s hope and resurrection.
One of the Lenten Bible stories we wrestle with is the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus. Jesus calls Lazarus into new life. Jesus’ exact words as they are recorded in the 11th chapter of the gospel of John is “Lazarus, come out.” And he does. From the tomb, through the stench of death, wrapped in grave cloths, Lazarus rises, breathes and lives again.
What in your life could use new life, new breath, a fresh beginning? In one community I served I was called to the hospital to visit an 80-year-old woman who had been in a car accident. Elsie had lost her right arm in the crash. She used to be a professional baseball player. Just weeks earlier she had been in a coma from West Nile! She was breathing, talking about preparations to go home again. She was so fiercely strong and independent. I remember her asking me to be a part of the discussions with hospital staff as they advised her on her next steps. She wanted her pastor to be a part of the plan. I so admired her resolve. After the coma and West Nile, a new beginning. After the arm amputation, a new beginning. After the death of her husband, a new beginning by herself. And she didn’t live a sad life, she lived a different life, in every chapter. She consistently expressed thankfulness for life. It was a new beginning, with every little ending. Each was a little resurrection, and I admired her so for it.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26. I pray today for you, that you’ll be renewed with hope. Our Savior is one who promises not just to save us from our sins, and to save us from death, but Jesus offers us abundant life! Know the power of new beginnings in every aspect of your life. When we give our lives fully to God, it changes us, it changes our way of thinking. Elsie knew God was always leading her. She had a life full of triumphs and joy because of it. Her circumstances did not define her, her faith did. Praise be to God!
-Rev. Elaine Sveet, First Lutheran Church of Rugby, Leeds Lutheran, Leeds ND, and Barton Lutheran
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