Left Reading Challenge: Mark 7

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read Mark 7

Questions for Reflection:
1. We all have traditions that we follow.  Do any of these traditions get in the way of our worship of God?  How can we identify such traditions in our own lives and in the life of the church?  What should we do about them?
2. The Syrophoenician Woman was a Gentile and, in that day, had no right to even be in Jesus’ presence.  What can we learn from her faith and her persistence?
3. So many people bring their friends to Jesus to receive healing.  Do we do that?  When there are people in our lives who are struggling, do we invite them to meet Jesus?  Do we pray with them?  Why or why not?

Prayer

Pray that our hearts would draw near to God in the coming week of his Lent challenge and that in reading, praying, and listening, we would find more than religion, we would find a relationship with God.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would have the wisdom to discern which “traditions” bring glory to God and build the church, and which ones do not.
Pray for the impact of the Holy Spirit both in and after church today!
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge: Mark 6

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read Mark 6

Questions for Reflection:
1. The people from Jesus’ hometown had a reaction of “who does this guy think he is?”  They knew his family, his past, and what likely was the cultural expectation for someone of his class and upbringing.  How do we do this to others in our lives?  How do you see this happening in the church?
2. After Jesus’ disciples returned, Jesus instructs them to go and rest.  We see this rhythm a great deal in Scripture.  In what ways does this inform/instruct us in how our lives should be lived?  How do you make time for rest in your life?
3. Jesus’ disciples were “completely amazed” at His ability to walk on water because their hearts were hardened.  Can you think of other places in Scripture that the people of God had hardened hearts in the face of God’s miraculous power?  How do you find this to be true in your own life?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that your heart may be softened to the work God is doing in you through this challenge.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would recognize the redemption and renewal present in each other’s lives rather than judging each other (and those around us) by their past. 
Pray for our ability to rest, that we may find times to take part in it and be refreshed by the Holy Spirit.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge – Mark 5

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read Mark 5

Questions for Reflection:
1. Why do you suppose that the people from the town were afraid when they found the demon-possessed man in his right mind?  Why do you think they wanted Jesus to leave their region?
2. The faith of the woman who had trouble with bleeding was so great for something so simple; she just wanted Jesus, to touch Him for just a brief second.  How do you think we can apply this to our own lives?
3.  Jesus didn’t let anyone in the room with him except His “inner circle” of 3 disciples.  Then He tells them not to say anything about it either.  What do you think the reason is for this?  Wouldn’t it have been more powerful if everyone had seen?  

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that your eyes may be open and heart receptive to the power and working of God in your life and in the world around you.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would seek Jesus above all else and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, not on our programs, reputation, or any other human-created things.
Pray for our mission trip group and for the fundraiser they will be having tonight (March 22).
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge – Mark 4

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read Mark 4

Questions for Reflection:
1.  What do you make of Mark 4:12?  Jesus is quoting Isaiah 6:9-10.  What do you think it means?
2.  Many of Jesus’ teachings begin with “The Kingdom of God is like…”  How do you  (have you) see the Parable of the Growing (mustard) Seed happening in your life?  In the life of the church?  In what ways could you participate in fostering that growth?
3.  Reflect for a moment on the narrative of Jesus calming the storm.  Can you relate to the response of the disciples?  Does Jesus’ response surprise you?  When have you had an experience like this in your life where God intervened dramatically?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that your heart would be good soil, that the Word of God would take root in you, and that it would yield a great harvest in your life!
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would be a bright Kingdom light in the community of Hopkins
Pray for our facility, that it would be a tool for sharing the Gospel of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ both to those who regularly attend here and those who are seeking God.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge – Mark 3

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read Mark 3

Questions for Reflection:
1.  Do you ever feel like those around you are “watching you closely,” waiting for a reason to accuse you?  Scripture calls Satan “the accuser.”  Why do you suppose others do this?  Why do you think we do this to others?  Many people have said that they don’t desire to go to church because this atmosphere exists there.  Peter says in 1 Peter 2:12, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”  How can this better be our reality in the life of Hopkins Community Church?
2.  Why do you think that Jesus commanded the demons to not tell others about Him?
3.  Jesus speaks about an “eternal sin” that cannot be forgiven.  What do you think about this?  How does this match up with the forgiveness you know to be true in Scripture through Jesus Christ?  What do we do with such a difficult passage?

Prayer

Pray for the coming month, for your commitment to this challenge, openness to the Spirit’s voice, and protection from Satan’s attempts to derail you.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that God would show us where we can have a great impact in the Hopkins community.
Pray for the Cadets program as they minister this evening (March 20) and continue for the next several weeks.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge – Mark 2

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read Mark 2

Questions for Reflection:
1.  Why do you think that Jesus forgiving sins was so offensive to the teachers of the law?  Do you think it really had to do with God, or would they have been using God as an excuse to keep them in power?
2.  Jesus associated Himself with many people that the religious people didn’t.  Why do you think this is?  If we are to “follow Christ’s example,” how would things need to look different in our own lives?
3.  What do you think Jesus means when He says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”?  How does this change the way you think about (and participate) in Sabbath rest?

Prayer

Pray for the coming month, for your commitment to this challenge and openness to God’s leading and protection from Satan’s attempts to derail you.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would see a renewed hunger for the Word of God.
Pray for the GEMS program as their last meeting night of the year is tomorrow (March 20).
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge – Mark 1

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.
 
Each day, we will try to post some reflection questions and some prayer prompts to aid you in your engagement.  Feel free to post reflections yourself, questions you may have, or encouragement to others here as well!

Read Mark 1

Questions for Reflection:
1.    Jesus lived a perfect life and had no need for repentance Himself, so what do you think is the significance and/or of Jesus’ Baptism?
2.  Luke 5:1-11 records a significant event in the calling of Jesus first disciples.  Have you experienced significant events like this in your life that led to you following Jesus?  What events or circumstances led you to follow Jesus in your life?
3.  Jesus teaches His disciples to pray both directly and by example.  What was the example that Jesus set in prayer and how can you follow that example in your own life over the next month?

Prayer

Pray for the coming month, for your commitment to this challenge and openness to God’s leading.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would embrace this challenge and God would strengthen us through it.
Pray for the Consistory as we have our leadership meetings tonight (March 18).
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Advent Day 5: Are You Sure?

Reading

Meditation

Zechariah’s angelic encounter is not necessarily unique in Scripture.  Many of the great people that God has chosen to work through in the Bible have an experience with an angelic messenger.  Abraham, Gideon, and Hezekiah are just a few.  Like those before him, Zechariah asks for a sign, something that can assure him of the angel’s words.  He is, unfortunately, in good company.
 
It is hard to blame Zechariah for his doubt.  Gabriel promises him and his wife something that, for them, seemed impossible.  They didn’t live in the age of fertility treatments, medical help, or even a basic understanding of why Elizabeth couldn’t have a child.  She likely faced questions and doubts about what she had done to fall into disfavor with God.  Little did she, or anyone around her, know what God had in mind.  Zechariah questioned the seemingly impossible; all of us can relate.
 
Now, not everyone that asks God for a sign in Scripture gets punished for it.  In fact, on more than one occasion, Scripture tells us that God actually gives a sign to show the person that He means business.  For Zechariah, however, the sign comes in a form that we would consider punishment: being mute.  However we want to look at it, though, it was a sign.  Certainly, the people around him would have known that something happened while he was in the Temple.
 
I wonder, as I write this, how I would have reacted to this angelic encounter.  Would I have been as quick to believe as I think Zechariah should have been?  How about you?  Without a doubt, encountering an angel is a big deal and it would take any one of us by surprise!  But the message that he brought, so incredible and seemingly impossible too.  Would we have questioned it?  Maybe ask for a sign ourselves?
 
In reality, this is often what we do.  We get a thought, a nudge, a notion of something that we should do.  Sometimes it big, sometimes small, but it often winds up outside of our comfort zone; often they are scary and even seem impossible for us to do on our own.  What happens inside you when God prompts you to do something outside the box?  Often, I find myself rationalizing why it wouldn’t be possible or why the time just isn’t right.
 
Christmas, however, is about believing the impossible.  God took on human flesh; the creator of the universe beginning as a single cell in a woman’s womb.  It’s really unfathomable if you give it much thought.  But it happened!  Not only that, God does this for the sake of us, to forgive us and reconcile us back to Him!  This is the time when we are invited again to believe in the one who makes unbelievable, seemingly impossible things reality.

Prayer

Amazing God,
From nothing You created everything,
You took on our flesh and form to redeem and save us.
When we were lost in darkness, without hope,
You entered in, shining a light into the darkness and illuminating our hope once again.
Rekindle our faith and hope through Your Holy Spirit,
that we may again shine Your light and share the amazing story of Your Son Jesus.
May those who hear this Good News be drawn into your love and your light.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 4: John the Baptist

Reading

Meditation

Icon of John the Baptist

Many consider John the Baptist to be the last of the Biblical prophets. Following a long line of prophets that began over 700 years before, John came preaching a message of repentance and preparation.   All four Gospels refer to him, and we know that He and Jesus, as well as their families, had a unique relationship.  His coming breaks what appears to be a time of silence from the Lord; over 400 years since the last words of the prophet Malachi.

 
Isaiah 40 records one of two Biblical prophecies concerning John’s coming and purpose:
“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”
Malachi 3 echoes these words:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.”
Both of these prophecies imply that John’s coming and the purpose for his ministry was to prepare the way for Jesus.  Yet we also see in the Malachi passage that this is ultimately accomplished by the Messiah Himself.  He “suddenly” comes into His temple, as if perhaps he arrived too soon or before preparations were complete.  Ultimately, though, this was true with other prophets as well, each of which proclaimed the Word of the Lord but saw their prophecies fulfilled only through Jesus.
 
Advent, as we have said, is a time of preparation and anticipation.  As with John the Baptist, we are called to prepare the way for the Lord in our own lives.  Perhaps reading this very post is part of the way that you are doing just that.  When we create space in our lives, God shows up and works in us.  The same can be true for those around us.  Though Jesus ultimately accomplishes the work, we can prepare the space.  This year, let’s be intentional about keeping Jesus at the forefront of our Christmas celebrations.  Centering everything on Him invites Jesus into the moments where we interact with friends and family that may be wandering far from God.

Prayer

Saving God,
Before even one of our days comes into being, you know everything about it.
You have prepared a way for us, gently guiding us along the path that you have laid out.
Help us so to create space for you in this Advent season,
that those who enter into these spaces may encounter You anew and experience the joy of Your presence.
Renew them and us through your Holy Spirit, that Your light may grow brighter in this dark world.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son, the Light of the World, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 3: Faithful Service

Reading

 Meditation

For hundreds of years, the priests of Israel performed the ritual worship of God in the Temple.  In fact, despite being subject to the rule of several different world powers over the course of the six hundred years prior to Jesus coming and the destruction of the Temple of God, the priests were faithful in their service and worship.
 
Can you imagine the monotony?  Every day, all year round, going into the temple grounds to sacrifice, burn incense, pray, and hope.  Sometimes I think that this is something akin to what we experience in the doldrums of winter.  We continue to go to work, day in and day out, while the days themselves get shorter and colder.  While there are some high points, like holiday celebrations, most days just feel cold and dark.
 
Similarly, I think this can feel, for us, a lot like our normal worship experiences.  We show up faithfully to worship, serve in places of ministry, and do our Christian thing.  Salvation, hope, and future glory are things we hear about on a regular basis as well.  But, if we’re honest about things, from time to time it can feel pretty monotonous.
 
Yet, for Zechariah, there is a sudden and unexpected inbreaking of God his seemingly boring repetition.  In a space for worship, in the midst of faithful service, God hears the prayers of His people and shows up in a new and unexpected way!
 
It’s hard to imagine the shock and disbelief that Zechariah experienced at this moment.  Or… perhaps it isn’t.  Many of us go through the routine of our lives, trying to be faithful Christians and good people.  Most of us, like Zechariah, probably don’t expect to encounter God in any way, shape, or form.  Yet in the season of Advent, that is exactly what we should expect!
 
Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Messiah to earth.  None of us would prepare for a party that no one is coming to.  That is, however, often how we treat this season leading up to Christmas.  We have space, created by church tradition, in which we are reminded to create space in our own lives for the coming of our Savior.  The question we must ask ourselves, though, is “are we creating that space?”  Do we wait expectantly in our faithful service for God to show up?  Or is this simply a season filled with a different kind of busy monotony?

 Prayer

Eternal God,
You have been with your people and your creation since the very beginning,
faithfully walking with us, even in times of darkness and silence when we wonder if you are there.
Reveal yourself to us anew this Advent season and help us to recognize where you are present in our lives,
so that we may be renewed with hope and joy, and may spread the good news of Your love for us,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray,
Amen.