The Path of the Cross :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture: Matthew 16.26
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Guided prayers and meditations are a common part of Christian spiritual practice. Return to this prayer through the day or over the weekend, as it will be a different experience based on your mood and surroundings. — John

 Reflection: The Path of the Cross :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

This weekend, we pray the words of scripture interspersed with those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as we struggle, along with Peter, and Jesus himself, to accept the path of suffering.

Imagine Christ, victorious. A champion. Beneficent.
Are you comfortable with the victorious Messiah?
A Christ who brings earthly victory enjoys near universal welcome.

God’s way in the world leads to the cross and through the cross to life. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Matthew 16.21

Imagine Christ, humiliated. Crushed. Suffering.
How uncomfortable does the suffering servant make you?
Everyone rejected this suffering Christ. Even the closest of his disciples.

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’”

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’” Matthew 16.22-23

How easy it is, in times of confusion like today to fight in the name of Christ against the real Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Often our discomfort with the suffering Christ is connected to our current level of comfort.
In our afflictions we are glad to find the suffering Christ joining us.
But in our bliss and blessings, we do not wish to join him on his path.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you assess your level of comfort, your level of acceptance of the suffering Christ, and your willingness to step into suffering, embracing it as the path to life.

For this reason do not be alarmed, do not be afraid—be faithful! But what does being faithful mean here other than standing and falling with the word of Christ, with his preaching of the kingdom of peace. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Pray through these words of Christ.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16.24-35

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill; for the Lord our God is the Holy One. — Psalm 99.9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 2 (Listen – 5:54)
Matthew 16 (Listen – 3:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 3 (Listen – 4:40) Matthew 17 (Listen – 3:46)
Jeremiah 4 (Listen – 5:23) Matthew 18 (Listen – 4:25)

Additional Reading
Read More about Looking Back at Good Friday
May we stay alert, for the same adversary stalks us as stalked Peter.
May we accept Christ’s forgiveness, reinstatement, and commission, as did the Apostle, feeding and caring for the shepherdless sheep of our culture.

Readers’ Choice
In August we will look back at our readers’ favorite posts of the year. Submit a Readers Choice post
Tell us about a post and what it meant to you. What post helped you see Christ in your world?

 

Jeremiah, the Unpatriotic Prophet

Scripture: Jeremiah 1.18-19
Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

 Reflection: Jeremiah, the Unpatriotic Prophet
By John Tillman

In Harold Wilmington’s commentary on the book of Jeremiah, he points out that Jeremiah’s refusal to embrace a politically expedient alliance with Egypt, “gained him the hatred of ‘patriotic’ Israelites who saw Egypt as their only hope.”

When religion gets mixed up with patriotism, things turn ugly. That ugliness is part of what birthed the western ideals of freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

These unique concepts did not develop in response to Christians being persecuted by non-Christians or non-Christian governments. They came about to prevent Christians from being persecuted by other Christians.

Christians who see deeply into the problems of their country will often feel pressured not to speak about it for fear of being “unpatriotic” or “disrespectful.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer dealt with this pressure in Berlin when Nazi power and influence were rising. In a sermon delivered on German Memorial Day in 1932, he foresaw that the church would have difficulty speaking truth to power if patriotism became more highly valued than Christ.

The church is like the seer of ancient times who, when all are gathered to commemorate a great deed of the nation, is wholeheartedly present but suffers because he sees something that the others do not see and must speak of what he sees, although no one wants to hear it.

We all feel it: People don’t want any disturbance here. People don’t want any discord. People want everyone to participate without exception. People don’t want anyone to see anything different that others do not see.

And if it happens anyway, you have to try to get rid of a person like that. And so it happens then that such seers are thrown out of the celebration, chased away with scorn and contempt by the very people they want to help, whom they love like nothing else in the world. But especially because they love them so much, they have become seers.

The one who loves the most is the one who sees deepest, sees the greatest danger. A seer has never been popular. That is why the church will also not be popular, least of all on days like this.

The most patriotic thing Christians can do is see the problems of our nation and speak the gospel to them.

Let them throw us in a cistern like Jeremiah.
Let them burn our words rather than listen to them.
May we be faithful to Christ and his kingdom alone.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; O Lord, judge the nations. — Psalm 7.8

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 1 (Listen – 3:00)
Matthew 15 (Listen – 4:23)

Additional Reading
Read More about fear and nationalism — Fear in the Boat :: Throwback Thursday
In this fearful world is a place meant for all time, which has a peculiar task that the world doesn’t understand…This place…is the pulpit of the church.

Read More about Celebrating Earthly Kingdoms
In 1932 Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer struggled in a Memorial Day sermon with how patriotic days should be celebrated in his Berlin church.

Celebrating Earthly Kingdoms

Scripture: Isaiah 65.1-2
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands
to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
pursuing their own imaginations.

 Reflection: Celebrating Earthly Kingdoms
By John Tillman

Celebrating the country in which one lives is not un-biblical but it can be a dangerous, idolatrous trap. In American churches, this past weekend (the closest to July 4th) many worshipers sang patriotic anthems with questionable theology or, in some cases, completely absent theology.

Hymnody has a long history of politically motivated and theologically dubious lyrics, usually expressing God’s divine blessing on the nation of the hymn writer. In 1778, New England hymn writer, William Billings, published this hymn as a declaration that the colonies were winning the war due to divine intervention. It’s a view that still survives in some quarters.

Let tyrants shake their iron rods
And slavery clank her galling chains
We see them not; we trust in God
New England’s God forever reigns.

Patriotism based on national pride is an easy idol to fall victim to. So is anti-patriotism. This is true whether anti-patriotism is based on national cynicism or idolatry of party instead of nation. Christians must avoid all of these.

In 1932 Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer struggled in a Memorial Day sermon with how patriotic days should be celebrated in his Berlin church.

When the church observes Memorial Day, it must have something special to say. It cannot be one voice in the chorus of others who loudly raise the cry of mourning for the lost sons of the nation across the land, and by such cries of mourning call us to new deeds and great courage.

It cannot, like the ancient singers of great heroic deeds, wander about and sing the song of praise of battle and the death of the heroes to the listening ears of enthralled young people.

Memorial Day in the church! What does that mean? It means holding up the one great hope from which we all live, the preaching of the kingdom of God.

No matter our country or party, by echoing jingoistic patriotic divisiveness we risk diluting the gospel of Christ. We must not be too enamored of any earthly kingdom. As Jesus said, our “kingdom is from another place.”

Wherever we live, we are in exile.
When we pray for our city, we are praying for the city of our exile.
When we pray for our country, we are praying for the country in which we are aliens, not citizens.

May we never settle for earthly kingdoms. May we yearn and long instead for Christ’s kingdom to come.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
They bluster in their insolence; all evildoers are full of boasting. They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your chosen nation. They murder the widow and the stranger and put the orphans to death…He who admonishes nations, will he not punish? — Psalm 94.3-5, 10

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 65 (Listen – 5:00)
Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)

Additional Reading
Read More about Temporary Victory
Elevating political victory to supreme importance is to confess functional atheism.

Read More about The Seductive Idolatry of Politics
We must make sure we are pursuing actions that please Christ rather than pleasing human political kingdoms.

Family Tree

Scripture: Matthew 12.33
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.

 Reflection: Family Tree
By John Tillman

God’s relationship to humanity has often been best expressed in terms of family.

He bore us like his children. He bears with our stubbornness and willfulness just as we bear with that of natural children. He, as Jesus, bore the burden of sin that we could not, so that we could be restored to our position as God’s children.

Family becomes a part of your identity. Jesus spoke of God as father, but he also identified God by association with the family of the patriarchs—speaking of God as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Christ is clear that his definition of family goes beyond biology, beyond tribe, and beyond legal guardianship or rights of inheritance. For Jesus, family is defined by doing the will of God.

This should have been good news for the Pharisees. No one tried harder to do God’s will according to the scriptures than they did. The problem with casting the Pharisees as the villains of the New Testament is that they are the people most like modern Christians.

The Pharisees’ system of regulations was designed to ensure inner righteousness through stringent outer adherence to rules, preventatives, and traditions. Their intentions were to live a godly and righteous life. To do this they constructed rules around their rules, to ensure they’d never get close enough to actually break one.

Most modern Christians have done exactly this at one time or another. We would probably get on well with most Pharisees. We love rules, preventatives, and traditions that protect us from the possibilities of outward sin. It’s hard not to admit their practicality.

But Jesus rejects their systems and ours, pointing out once again that it is inner nature that determines what fruit our lives produce. Our systems, no matter how robust, cannot prevent sin, because sin is already within us.

Our family tree is sick at heart and only sickened fruit can come from us without Christ’s intervention. However, we can be grafted in to the family tree of Christ and bear the same fruit that he wants to bring about in our lives.

Ask the Holy Spirit to work in you. Pray Christ’s words over your life. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good.”

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and mind. — Psalm 26.2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 64 (Listen – 2:01)
Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)

Additional Reading
Read More about Extremism as a Discipleship Problem
Like the Pharisees, we are not ashamed to make embarrassing political alliances to ensure that we don’t lose our place of cultural influence.

Read More about Sight for the Blind
The Pharisees are easy for us to dislike when we read about their opposition to Jesus in the New Testament, but modern Christians share much more in common with the Pharisees than with Christ’s disciples.

Kingdom Manifestation :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture: Isaiah 61.1-2
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…

Guided prayers and meditations are a common part of Christian spiritual practice. Return to this prayer through the day or over the weekend, as it will be a different experience based on your mood and surroundings. — John

 Reflection: Kingdom Manifestation :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Today we read the passage that was the subject of Christ’s first sermon in Nazareth, and a passage in Matthew that reads like the fruit that proves the truth of Christ’s claim that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled.

Pray the first verse, understanding that Christ sent us the Holy Spirit, telling his disciples that we would do greater things than he did

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners

The Holy Spirit can guide you to manifest the kingdom in your world as Jesus did.

The paralyzed are given control of their limbs…
Ask the Spirit to help you move something someone can’t move on their own.

The sinful are forgiven…The unclean are accepted…
Ask the Spirit to help you to show kindness and acceptance to those who are accustomed to being shunned.

The outcasts are welcomed…
Look for opportunities to tangibly help and aid those who are rejected, oppressed, accused, and dehumanized.

The unobservant are invited…
Ask for wisdom to speak kindly to those with no regard for faith. May the Holy Spirit make you winsome and help you listen to understand instead of to argue.

The sick, the blind, and mute are made whole. The dead are raised to life.
Address your prayer to the sickness of sin in your own heart. There is a kind of sin-sickness that we nurse and maintain. Pray that it be healed.
Ask for your eyes to be opened as your blindness is revealed.
Ask to be raised to new life.

Christ’s compassion for the great needs of the community led him to pray.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Ask God to make you the answer to this prayer. You are called to make manifest the kingdom of God.

Pray God will use you in healing the infectious, in redeeming the lost causes, and in hospitality to the thieves crucified beside you. May your risk reap a great harvest for the kingdom.

Prayer: A Reading
In his honor Levi held a great reception in his house, and with them at table was a large gathering of tax collectors and others. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples and said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “It is not those who are well who need the doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the upright, but sinners to repentance.” — Luke 5.29-32

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 61 (Listen – 2:23)
Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:09)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 62 (Listen – 2:09) Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)
Isaiah 63 (Listen – 3:25) Matthew 11 (Listen – 4:06)

Additional Reading
Read More about Christmas is Upside Down :: Epiphany
Christ’s first expository sermon revealed his identity, proclaimed his destiny, and was also the occasion of the first attempt to violently take his life as an adult.

Read More about Radical Outreach to Outcasts :: Epiphany
The backlash that Jesus experienced in response to his Nazareth sermon was sudden and violent. One second they are talking about how well Jesus spoke, and the next they are shoving him toward a precipice, attempting to take his life.

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