Receiving the Life

Week Six
Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Luke 22:14-20

Insights on Listen: Praying in a Noisy World, page 113                                                 

Note: This is the final blog contribution to our 40-day Lenten blog based on our all-church Lenten devotional, Listen: Praying in a Noisy World by Rueben P. Job

by Rev. Lowell Black – Pastor of Spiritual Formation / Valpo FUMC

Our prayer practice this week emphasized attentiveness and expectancy. In our lives, are we attentive to the direction of God? Do we expect to hear from God? Some have been taught to believe that only special people can hear the words from God and that only they are worthy to talk to God. That is not what scripture teaches. If we believe we are loved by God, then shouldn’t we expect that He will want to be a part of our daily lives?

Expectancy – believing that God will talk to us in some manner today. Attentiveness – keeping our sense of the Holy Spirit open and ready to realize that we are having a God moment where we are being taught something important about the direction of our lives.

Our scripture today recites the part of the Last Supper we now celebrate as Holy Communion. Here was a point that expectancy and attentiveness were very different for those around the table. But as you come to Holy Communion, do you come with expectancy?

Communion is a means of grace where God meets us. Do we go expecting to meet God? Do we expect to be touched by the Holy Spirit? We should! If we are attentive to the Spirit, we will meet our triune God in that sacrament and we have the opportunity to speak to God and to listen for what he has to say to us through the Holy Spirit nudging us in the right direction.

This week’s Weekly Reading is an excellent metaphor for our attentiveness! When God’s wishes are obvious and clear it takes very little effort and attentiveness to hear and understand. With ever increasing hateful talk in our society do we really have to wonder or ask God if this is right? God’s wishes are clear and can be made even clearer through prayer and study of scripture. But not everything is that obvious. How about, “should I stay in this job or move on?” If I move on, then what am I supposed to do and where am I supposed to go?

I have been in that position. That is when the windmill blades need to be turned into that light breeze to receive the life giving leading of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, when we seem to be heading into a drought in our prayer lives, perhaps it is time to reorient our listening skills in the direction that enhances our communication with God. God is faithful. It is just that sometimes we need to readjust our reception to again hear that still small voice connecting us with the eternal God.

Best wishes for a Happy, Joy Filled Easter. The Good News is that Christ is risen. Expect to hear from him. Turn your windmill blades and be amazed at what God has in store for you!


In Community

Week Six
March 26, 2016
Acts 2:43-47

Insights on Listen: Praying in a Noisy World, page 112

by Bruce Gold – Custodian / Valpo FUMC

This is the beginning of the church. Here we see God uniting a community of believers. We see the power of the Holy Spirit working through brand new believers. Like the woman at the well (John 4), they are eager to share the Word with all who will listen and many who hear will believe. Soon, churches will be established in all the scattered cities of the Roman empire.

They came together to worship the Lord. They met in large groups at the Temple. They met in small groups in their homes. In the same way, we meet together here in church and in small groups in our homes, for it is in community that Christians thrive and it is in community that Christianity grows.

“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37)


The ACTION of Waiting

Week Six
March 25, 2016
Acts 2:1-4

Insights on Listen: Praying in a Noisy World, page 111

by Clint Mullet – Director of Youth Ministries / Valpo FUMC

Prayer is not a passive experience. It is an action. Prayer is not sitting with our hands folded, eyes cold, reciting words to God. It is kinetic, it is active, and it requires more from us than the bear minimum. We need to understand that even the act of waiting is active.

On this day, Christ’s work was finished. What is often forgotten is what happened tomorrow. Imagine how it must have felt to be one of the disciples. Jesus was just nailed to a cross and He died. As they hid away, I wonder what they were thinking. What would come next? Jesus had told them, but they had to wait. I wonder how much the disciples feared. I wonder how much they doubted. I wonder how much they talked amongst themselves. More than anything, I wonder what they did while they waited.

Perhaps, you have had a similar experience of waiting during a time of uncertainty. You might be going through one now. You are in the middle of something – it’s started, but it’s not done, and there’s a whole lot of waiting in-between. In this time, remember that waiting is not passive. It is active. Use your time of waiting to be active in your prayers. Spend time with God and seek encouragement from Him.


Jesus and the Moneychangers

Week Six
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Luke 19:45-47

Insights on Listen: Praying in a Noisy World, page 111

by Pamela Cain Gonzalez – Director of Communications / Valpo FUMC

­Today’s reading covers a well-known event in scripture; Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the temple. He didn’t do it nicely.

Fashioning a whip for himself, Jesus ran around the Outer Court of the temple, turning over tables and using a whip to drive merchants from the area. Remember, this was during the days prior to Passover. People were coming to Jerusalem from all over the known world to offer up sacrifices and pay their tax to the temple.

The high priest obviously let those merchants set up shop there and you can bet they didn’t do it out of the kindness of their hearts. We can assume they were getting a financial cut of the action. Prices were high in order to take advantage of pilgrims that wouldn’t know any better. Pilgrims had foreign money that needed to be exchanged, for a fee, of course. They needed to purchase sacrificial animals, which were priced much higher than elsewhere, but the pilgrims wouldn’t have known where else to look. Fees and prices would have been confusing to foreigners who wouldn’t have understood the currency  differences. Imagine all the people, all the commotion, all the noise and hustle and bustle. Imagine how lucrative this time of year was for the high priests.

Why didn’t Jesus try to reason with the merchants? Why run around pushing over tables and brandishing a whip? Because the high priests and the merchants knew better.

I think back to when my children were young. Once my youngest daughter said a vulgar swear word to me. Before I reacted, I asked where she heard that word. She had overheard it and didn’t know what it meant. She innocently repeated a word without knowing that it was vulgar, so I simply explained to her that it was bad and not to repeat it again. I didn’t run around turning tables and swinging a whip around my head because she didn’t know what she was doing.

On the other hand, I remember when my son was told to clean his room before he was allowed to go out and play with his friends. He snuck outside without my knowledge…and his room was still a mess. When I figured out what had happened, though I didn’t turn over tables and swing a whip, I promise you there was swift and absolute judgment! He knew better.

Jesus was disgusted not only with the merchants, but with the priests who not only allowed merchandising in the temple, but were profiting from it. The scriptures tell us that after the scene Jesus created, the priests and leaders plotted to have him killed. Well of course, Jesus cut into their profits!

The words of Jesus tell us what He thought was most important; that the temple was a house of prayer and the merchants were interfering with the ability of the people to pray.

Nothing has really changed today. The church should be a house of prayer. I think it is important that we keep that in mind as we go about doing the “business” of church. We can spend a good deal of our time doing mission work, feeding and clothing the poor and all the other good things we do. As wonderful and important as these things are, we can’t forget prayer! It was prayer that Jesus was protecting in the temple and prayer should be the most important thing in the life of a Christian today.

Prayer helps put us on the same page as God. Prayer paves the way for the work we will be doing. Prayer prepares hearts to receive and prayer prepares our hearts to serve.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)


The Lord’s Prayer

Week Six
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Luke 11:1-4

Insights on Listen: Praying in a Noisy World, page 110

by Dan Davis – Director of Maintenance / Valpo FUMC

When I agreed to write for this series, I had a few reservations. I know that I see some things a bit differently than other people. I’m very analytical, and often times overly rigid in my convictions. I’m simply a cut & dry kind of guy. I credit (or discredit sometimes) the U.S. Navy for that. The truth is, you can take the boy out of the Navy, but you can’t always take the Navy out of the boy. Some habits are just stuck, no matter how hard I try to be flexible with them. Some of those habits are good, others not so much. So I try to remain mindful of the not so much ones. However, more often than not, I do see things in black & white. Biblically, I believe in black & white. That’s why I was kind of hoping that I didn’t draw this lesson. When I was awarded “Wednesday’s” in this series, and reviewed the lessons I was to cover, it became evident that God obviously had other ideas about that. So, here goes…..

Luke Chapter 11 Verses 1-4 are monumentally significant to me. As I contemplated for quite some time concerning my blog for this last entry, I immediately worried that my personal belief / interpretation may offend some people. And then I thought, would Jesus have held back the Sermon on the Mount in the midst of offending people? So, I decided to share it like I believe it. Luke writes; One of Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John (the Baptist) taught his disciples”. And in the process of Jesus’ method of teaching, the words from Matthew 6:9-13 are immediately revisited. Now, I’ve researched the translation of this gospel from Aramaic, to Greek, to Latin, and to English (KJV). They all say the same thing. If you will notice in verse 9 of Matthew chapter 6, Jesus said “After this manner therefore pray ye.” I believe that Jesus intended this to be our prelude to our personal prayers. He did not say, pray this prayer, He said “After this manner…” I believe that the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is the “manner” in which Jesus spoke. I believe that He was teaching the disciples (and us as well) that this was in fact a prelude method of prayer. The way to properly offer up our worship, and our greatest humility to God, prior to our personal prayers. As I wrote in my March 9th entry, Romans 8:26-28, “We all pray to the very best of our ability, and yet we don’t always know what to pray for, or how to pray for a particular thing. This is when the Spirit takes over for us and prays for us. God’s Spirit knows exactly what the needs are.“ And although I believe that Jesus’ intention was not for the disciples to recite this lesson as a stand-alone prayer, but rather a prelude to their complete prayers, it appears to me that perhaps it has become utilized as a stand-alone prayer Christianity wide. When I recite the Lord’s Prayer, I immediately follow it with my personal prayers. It’s what I believe Jesus intended it to be. Like I’ve said before, I could be wrong, but this is what I believe, and understand it to mean. I figure if my belief and my method of prayer is different than others, then how I’m doing it is still ok in the eyes of God. This may be profound, or even crass, but my worry would be this. What if I’m right and millions of Christians are leaving their personal prayers on the table because they stop praying at the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer?

Having finished this book now, I hope that you have gotten devotional inspiration, and spent quality time with God in prayer. We all do, to some degree, have busy lives, and we all wish that we had more time to do some of the things we do not do as often as we would like. Perhaps this book has helped you to develop a strategy to remedy a portion of that dynamic. I’ve learned to dig deeper into the Scriptures, in search of deeper meanings. So, my final question for you in this blog series is this. What one thing will you do differently to enhance your prayer life?

–Dan Davis

“Let It Be Done”

Week Six
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Mark 14:32-37

Insights on Listen: Praying in a Noisy World, pages 109-110

by Karyn Custer-Jankowski – Director of Children’s Ministries / Valpo FUMC

Jesus asks God, His Father, to spare Him the suffering He knew was coming. The miracle-worker, the lover of all people, the One who preached on forgiveness, love, and our Father God, the one that seemed perfect, shows His “humanness”. And it is painful for us to hear. It’s painful for us, because we “get it”! We know what it’s like to feel heartache, the pain of abandonment, and physical pain.

We have only known the strong, vibrant Jesus up until this time. It was a rare occasion; His weeping at Lazarus’ death, or His anger during the storm when He chastised His apostles saying, “You of little faith!” where we actually see Jesus’ human side. So, when we read that our beloved Jesus is in pain, it does not bode well within us. We love Jesus and we don’t want Him to have to endure what we KNOW is coming.

Jesus doesn’t lament His fate for long. He says to His Father, God, “but whatever is Your will, let it be done.”

There’s the Jesus we know and love back to His regular self – taking on whatever it is God asks of Him. This must be why Jesus came to us as a human. God wanted us to have this example of one giving up HIs will for that of our Creator.

What is Your will for me, dear God? As the song Pastor Dennis had us sing on Ash Wednesday says, “Silently now, I wait for Thee, ready my God Thy will to see – Open my eyes that I may see, Open my ears, that I may hear, Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit Divine!”


Heaven Was Opened . . .

Week Six
March 21, 2016
Luke 3:21-22

Insights on Listen: Praying in a Noisy World, page 109

by Heather Novak – Director of Connections / Valpo FUMC

I’m looking forward to Easter this Sunday. I am not eager to process Good Friday since I do not see it is truly “Good”. I mean, I understand Jesus goes through it all for me. He does it for you. He does it for that other person we do not like or approve of and for that one family member who should just….well, anyway.

So I read this in today’s scripture passage: “While he was praying, Heaven was opened…”. I can feel in my soul this happens again and again in my life. When I pray, heaven opens. When I pray the Lord is pleased. When I pray the choices I make shift, perhaps imperceptibly, but they do. I hold in my softly folded hands the power of a heaven opened.

Our Modern Moms group studied Stormie Omartien’s book “The Power of a Praying Wife” last year. Within those pages I discovered that when I pray for my husband, or my pastor, or friends or my daughters…Change happens. I may not be able to change THEM by my prayers…but I can change me. “While he was praying, heaven was opened.” When I put myself into the scripture, when I draw it close and wring it out and choose it for my own truth it becomes: “When Heather prays Heaven opens!” I want and need this. Thank you Lord, for trusting my messy heart with power in your presence. Thank you, thank you, thank you.