Let Hope Rise with Pastor Tony

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Managing Our Grief

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“When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns.”

Matthew 14:13

Today's verse refers to the reaction of Jesus to the news of John the Baptist's death at the hands of Herod Antipas. Even our Savior experienced grief and what He teaches us here is that it is not only healthy but necessary to take time to grieve. He not only withdrew from ministry but did so alone.

However, the needs of those to whom we minister are not so easily evaded. It turned out that the needs of the people in the towns was just as great as His need. The scripture reports that while Jesus sailed across the lake, the people followed on foot.

At this point we have a choice. Do we maintain our boundaries and our solitude in grief, or do we work through our grief by serving others who are also grieving, though in a different way than we are?

Jesus chose the latter because He had compassion for the crowd who were like sheep without a shepherd. But there were also times when Jesus preserved His solitude with the Father. We need to be led by the Spirit and to properly discern when we, out of our joy or our grief, have more we can give and when we are empty. God will take care of the rest.

Prayer: "God, there are times when my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, when I feel as Jesus did, praying to you in the garden. We can have people all around us and yet feel so alone. Sometimes you call us to work through our grief by helping others, even when we wonder how we can possibly give more of ourselves, and sometimes you call us to withdraw exclusively into your presence. Help us to know exactly what to do in moments like this and to allow you to lead our healing and to define whatever our new normal may look like. All of this I pray with faith in Jesus Christ, the One in whom there is new life. Amen."

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How Familiar Are You

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 “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

Mark 6:4

When Jesus went to Nazareth, His hometown, He observed that the peoples' familiarity with Him proved a barrier to their faith. All they saw was a man, a carpenter's son, who they thought they knew, who they thought they had figured out. Though they heard his words and were amazed, they took offense at Him. Familiarity caused them to not respect Him as a prophet and to turn away from God's powerful message in Jesus Christ. The result was that the miracles Jesus performed in abundance in other places only manifested as the healing of a few sick people in Nazareth. In fact, Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

How familiar have I become with Jesus? At times I act like these Nazarites. Sure, I study the Word and reflect on God's teachings, but am I putting them into practice? There is a huge difference between head knowledge and knowledge rooted deeply in the heart. King Solomon was the wisest man there ever was, but it didn't stop Him from committing apostasy. Likewise, there are times when I know that God's Word isn't my first desire, or the relationships He has put in my life. There are times when I am overwhelmed with the feeling that I am drawing further away from Jesus, once again becoming like the man I was before my guilt and shame were lifted.

The psalmist in Psalm 73 wrote, “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God.” It is this holy space where my heart remembers, and abandons. What I still haven't fully grasped and lived out yet is that this holy space is everywhere.

We are no longer confined to a physical temple as in the Old Testament. We are the temples of God, vessels for the Spirit who renews our lives each day, wherever we are, in abundant grace. This is an awesome gift, but it is my choice whether or not I enter into this space that is always available to me. It is my choice whether I choose to look inward and grow depressed at what I see, or to hand what I see over to God in confidence that He will remake me anew in Christ's image.

Familiarity implies intimacy and relationship. It isn't a bad thing to be familiar. That is, in fact, what God wants us to be with Him. However, there is a careful balance to be maintained between respect and familiarity. When we respect without familiarity, we have no close relationship, and this can lead us to legalism and fear of the Almighty God. When we are familiar without respect, we take for granted that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, created the entire universe when God the Father spoke. We forget how high the price was and begin to squander the abundant life He came to give us.

The only way to strike the right balance is to fix our eyes on the cross each day and to trust that, when we come to the end of ourselves, when our earthly sojourn is over, we will arrive in perfect relationship with God through the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. Until then, we must live in the tension and the longing, the failures and the sorrows, the victories and the joys, the doubts and the certainties, for faith is a journey that is too real and too important to be missing any of these experiences.

Do I doubt? There are times when I do, and that is good. We are called to embrace these things, to lift them up to God, for what God asks for is our authenticity and the more we are ourselves, the more Christ is lifted up in us by the power of the Spirit. God may not have planned everything that has happened in my life—perhaps I have veered off course here and there—but He sure has used it, and to that I offer a hearty thanksgiving!

Finally, I must fix my eyes on the cross, think about and engage Jesus with familiarity and respect, embrace the tensions of faith, be authentic, and offer thanks to the Lord. This is the abundant life that Jesus Christ came to give us, and my prayer is that all may live into it filled by the Spirit of life, guided by the hand of God, in the love of the Son, with absolute abandon.

Prayer: “Lord, I don't know where to begin, but I do know that you are with me despite all my mistakes. You renew me each day in love and I offer my gratitude for what you have done. I acknowledge that there are times when I am not joyful, that life does not seem good all the time, but I am grateful that I don't have to pretend with you. I am thankful that you want it all. Grant that I might not be empty and legalistic, but authentic and spiritual. Most of all, teach me how to fix my eyes consistently on the cross each day and to teach others to do the same, to keep the reality of the Redemption as fresh as it was the day my guilt was lifted. You have saved me and I love you and pray these things in Jesus' Name. Amen!”

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