Lent Devotions Day 37: “Kiss of Death”

“Kiss of Death”

by Rafael Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

“And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”” – Mark 14:18

“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him,“Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” – Luke 22:47-48

JudasKiss

 

Have you heard the saying, “With friends like that, why have enemies?”  I am assuming that [perhaps] this saying was birthed out of the Judas narrative.  I mean, this has to be the only singular moment in the history of humanity where someone was betrayed by a person in whom they trusted.  Right?  I mean, now a days this doesn’t happen.  No one has alternate motives.  Jesus was the only person to whom anything remotely close to this has happened.

Maybe not.  Maybe you can place yourselves in this situation, where you’ve placed your trust in someone and you’ve been betrayed.

But I’ll submit that for Jesus, this betrayal is different.  You see, Jesus, while a man, was the Savior of humanity.  He had performed miracles.  He had rescued.  He had healed.  He had delivered.  He was the Son of the Living God.  He was Messiah.

And yet, for a few coins, Judas betrays Jesus with a symbol of his affection towards him.

we are

Time to flip the script.  You see, while this has happened to us, the truer reality is that we have done this.  We’re Judas in this story.  We’re the ones that, at the sight of something earthly and temporary have thrown Jesus into the hands of the world and have turned our back on him.

what now?

It’s time to get real.  Jesus is about to get crucified for our sin.  Will you let him hang on the cross like that?  Take time in prayer today to see the coins  you have accepted in Jesus’ place.  It’s time to repent and turn back to him.

Lent Devotions Day 36: Want versus Need: From Expectation to Disappointment

Want versus Need: From Expectation to Disappointment

by Rafael Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 NLT)

It was two years ago. I had been out of a job for several months. Our rent was $2,100/month and we had bills to pay.

In my desperation, I prayed out to God out loud in church during one of our prayer times. “God! I need a job!.”

I felt convicted within 15 minutes. You see, I had a valid need, but wanted to orchestrate how God met that need. I repented.

“Lord, forgive me. I’d like a job, but what I really need is provision.” (Bigger picture). However He wanted to fill it was ok. Whether job or otherwise.

We get disappointed because God doesn’t answer/respond/provide according to our timing or perception… But He is answering… In His way.

what now?

A lot of this journey requires vulnerability. Where is the area you have set either unrealistic expectations of God (He just won’t answers it that way), or too small of expectations and you limit Him? Ask him to show you so we ,ay move forward and receive the fullness of what He has for us.

Lent Devotions Day 35: “Sliding”

“Sliding”

by Rafael Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

“…he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” – Psalm 40:2b

 

I love motorcycles.  I can now say that I used to own one.  Last summer.  For 45 days (not kidding there).

My love for bikes has been long-standing, but growing up in a home with a protective mother, the likelihood of me ever riding one was slim (actually, none).  Nevertheless, I wanted to ride.

When my wife and I moved to Pittsburgh, I met a group of God-fearing men who also loved to ride.  This was the season where my desire grew.  I was not afraid of it.  I wanted to embrace it.

One of the pastors (Ken) invited me to ride once.  I had gotten my license and had taken the safety courses.  I just didn’t have a bike.  So, I was able to ride his son’s bike… an orange Suzuki SV-1000.  This thing was a beauty.

We went on country roads and up and down hills.  We stopped for lunch and had great conversation.  I prayed as I rode and had devotions on as I enjoyed God’s beauty.

I had been riding with confidence for about two hours.  We were nearing the end of the road and had entered the long dirt driveway to the house.  I slowed down to turn and saw that Ken had stopped.  I slowed to a stop and put my feet down.  Then, a realization.  My foot, which I had placed firmly on the ground, did not stay.  It was sliding ever-so-slowly. Try as I might, all there was around was loose dirt and I had nothing to keep myself up with.  I kept sliding, with the entire weight of the bike sliding to the left with me, until it was on the ground.

 

You see, I thought it was all going well.  I grew so confident in my riding abilities that I let my guard down and didn’t see where I placed my foot.  This had unfortunate results.

 

How many times have we been moseying through life, confident in our own strengths and abilities, only to realize too late that we weren’t paying attention and we placed our support on something that gave way?

what now?

What are you leaning on these days?  Where are you standing on?  God has given you a steadfast place you can stand on.  Here is a prayer.

Lord, I repent of the places in my life where I have depended on things that were not you.  I am sorry for standing on the things in my life that were not firm and instead caused me to slip.  Lead me to the place where I am totally dependent on you.  I want to trust in You, and in You alone.

Lent Devotions Day 34: “Aladdin”

“Aladdin”

by Rafael Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

 

“And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”
– Psalm 9:10

 

Having children, to me, gives me an excuse to watch all the cartoons I want to watch (not that really need one to begin with, lol).  Eliana (our 2 1/2 year old daughter) loves cartoons, so this is pretty great.

After months of coaxing (which you need to do with a steadfast toddler), she finally agreed to watch Aladdin for the first time.  She’s pretty set in her shows, so getting her to watch one of my classics was huge.

The first time Aladdin and Princess Jasmine meet, they are chased by the palace guards.  There’s a moment in which, prior to leaping down to hoped-for safety, Aladdin stretches his hand to hers and asks her, “Do you trust me?”

She didn’t truly know him.  Sure, he had just saved her from getting her hand potentially chopped off, but she had just met him minutes before.  She needed to place her full trust in him.  It was almost blind faith.

Near the middle of the story, he asks her the same question in a different scenario.  He was inviting her on a magic carpet ride.  I could imagine anyone being afraid of heights (um, mmmeeee) perhaps squirming at the invitation.  But Aladdin asks her again, “Do you trust me?”

This time was different.  It was not a blind faith.  Track with me.  I know in the story Aladdin was hiding who he really was.  Even at that, she knew who he was.  When she made the decision to trust him in that moment, it was based on how Aladdin had proven himself last time.

We have an invitation to trust in the Lord.  This looks different in each of our lives, but the opportunity is there nevertheless.  He desires for you to simply trust in him.  You don’t need to figure it out.  You don’t need to worry.  You only need to look back  and see how he has not forsaken you in the past, which means he won’t in the present or future either.

what now?

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the areas in your life where God is asking you to trust in him.  These might not be too hard to notice.  Pray about these areas today with the specific purpose of move towards trust in God in these areas.

 

Lent Devotions Day 33: “Fitting Room”

“Fitting Room
by Rafael Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” – Col. 3:12

For the sake of transparency, I have gained a few pounds over the last few months. The other day I was trying on a shirt at the store. Whaddya know… it didn’t fit.

In my defense, it was incorrectly placed. It was too small for me even before the slight addition to my natural body warmer (lol). It didn’t fit.

It was a nice shirt too… At least how it looked. But it wasn’t made for me.

This passage admonishes us to put on ourselves a different kind of clothing. Lets face it. We do not always choose to pick these up. Instead we walk about with the pants of anger, the shoes of bitterness, the shirt of impatience, and the jacket of pride. It looks like it suits us, but try as we try, these will never fit. We will always be out of sync when wearing the,. Why? Because we were not created for them and they were not created for us.

what now?

Think of today, and maybe yesterday as well. Ask The Lord to show you where you clothed yourselves in the articles in that passage. Then, ask him to show you where he offered you the opportunity to do so and you wore something else instead. Let’s pick up what fits us best.

Lent Devotions Day 32: “Smoke”

“Smoke”

by Rafael Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

 

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.” – John 21:1 ESV

This week, much of the world was drawn to their television sets and smartphone devices. Whether Catholic, Christian, Atheist or Muslim, many were waiting for the smoke to exit the chimney of the Sistene Chapel, announcing whether or not a new pope had been selected at the Conclave.  On the second day, white smoke emerged, and an hour later the official announcement, “Habemus Papam.”

There’s something to be said about the long-standing tradition of the white smoke signaling to the people that the [Catholic believer's] holy one had been appointed.  It was their way of revealing the news.  In the hour that it took for Pope Francis to emerge from inside, while not knowing who the pope was, everyone knew that he was there.  There was no more need to look for smoke.

Sadly, we’re not the same when it comes to Jesus.  The passage above was not the first time that Christ had appeared to the disciples post-resurrection.  This happens after the well-known “doubting Thomas” passage.

Jesus had just defeated death, already appeared to them, and yet he appears to them again.

what now?

God defeated something on your behalf.  God told you something.  God is leading you somewhere.  And yet, while he has revealed himself to you time and time again, you still wander looking for more white smoke.  Ask the Lord the places in your life in which he has evidently spoken / worked / guided.  Are you doubting it’s Him?  Are you still looking around for what He has already revealed?  Stop looking and start celebrating.  Jesus defeated death.  He is here.

Lent Devotions Day 31: “Extra, Extra!”

 Extra, Extra”

by Rafael Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

“Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son.  This is the Good News, the gospel of grace.”  – Brennan Manning

 

The potter was working on his next piece.  He was carefully molding the clay as he fashioned the object out of what was originally a lump.  As it began to take form, the potter’s eyes grew wider and wider.  He knew what the piece would look like in the end, although it had far to get there.

Unfortunately, as he built the clay upward there was a defect in the piece.  The potter had a choice.  He could continue building it up.  In his foresight, however, he knew that if he continued that small defect would be detrimental to the piece later.  He chose to start over.

If the clay could talk, can you imagine how much of a failure it may have felt like?  To have been in the hands of the master potter, only to be crumbled down by the defects it had?

The key to remember is that there’s nothing the clay can do to fix itself.  It is fully dependent on the potter to remove the deficiencies and restore it to its best potential.

what now?

Think about the areas in your life in which you continue to try to manufacture yourself into a masterpiece.  Ask the Lord to lead you and show you how to allow Him to finish the work He began in you.

It is not by anything we do… it is through Him… it is through His love… He is the one who restores us.  THAT is the Good News.

Lent Devotions Day 30: “Close”

“Close”

by Rafael Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

 

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:11

 

I was putting our 5-month old son to sleep last night.  Normally, this consists of the diaper change, the “bobo” (Spanish slang/word for pacifier), and his little teddy.  I lay him down in his crib and he usually goes to sleep.  However, he has been “off” for the past day or so.  We believe it has to do with the likelihood that he’s teething.  More drool, congestion because of that, pain in gums that goes away with Baby Oragel… all the signs are there.  He was not himself.  The discomfort of what he been going through has piled up and boiled over to a point where he has not been able to put himself to sleep as easily.

I made several trips back to the room to reposition him.  I would put his bobo back into his mouth and bring the teddy bear [which he had since flung to the other side of the crib] back to his side.  Nothing worked.  Until I placed my hands close enough for him to grab me.  That. Changed. Everything.

I learned from my son that, in the midst of his pain and discomfort, all he desperately desired was to be close to his father… to feel his daddy’s embrace… to know I was there.

His circumstances didn’t change.  He’s still teething.  He’s still cranky because he’s overly tired.  He’s still overheated from the tossing and turning.  But the one thing that was different is that he felt his father.

That’s really what it’s all about.  In the midst of our pain and discomfort… in the midst of all the hurt we have… in the midst of our emotions… all we really need is to feel God close to us.

The Psalmist knew this.  Nothing else mattered.  God, do whatever you want… but don’t cast me away from your presence… don’t create a space between you and me.  Stay close to me.

what now?

God is close… whether in moments when we easily see, or quickly lose sight of… He’s there…. and many times He’s there in ways that should have been easy for us to see… had we not been distracted.  Today,… grab your journal, and write down, just in the last week, 5 different ways you knew God was there.  You might need to go into a quiet room.  Turn off the phone.  Stop the music.  Just you and God…. because He’s close… and he wants you as desperately as you want Him.

Lent Devotions Day 29: “Counterfeit”

“Counterfeit”

by Rafael E. Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

 

“Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble.” - Jeremiah 11:12

 

“Show me where you spend your money, and I’ll show you what you value.”

 

It’s easy for us to take a week of our lives and map out everywhere we spend money in order to determine what priorities we have in our lives.  Whether it’s the daily coffee, the realistic bills, or the mundane shopping we do, there is usually something we give our finances to.

We can probably similarly look at our lives and apply the same method to determine what, in a broader sense, we give ourselves to on a daily basis.  For the sake of doing away with the cliches, let’s not throw in the “Well, I’m always thinking about God in all I do” or the “everything I do is for Him anyways.”  I’m talking about the heart stuff… you know, the stuff that no one else hears or sees.  THAT is the currency I’m speaking about.

I used to be a much angrier person than I am now.  I would live life very bitter.  I won’t stand here and claim never to get angry.  That would be a lie.  But in those moments when I would get angry, what I was saying (me, not every case, necessarily) is that my anger and self-righteousness was more important than anything else.  I had every right to be angry and bitter and I did not care who I harmed in the process.

The issue is that choosing anger and bitterness rarely (perhaps never) gives us any redemptive opportunities.  Anger and bitterness drive us deeper into despair; wallowing in our own inabilities to fix things.

These emotions are natural… I know… I get it.  It’s normal for you to feel hurt.  Things happen to us that scar us.  But we need to be careful to not stay in that emotion.  Why?  Because we run the risk of receiving what Judah received.  Our emotions are our currency, and we have been paying dividends into bitterness and anger for far too long, only to find out at the end that they have not helped us in one bit to get out of the trouble we are in.

Sure, we might get a quick-fix and get a high when we yell out at a driver on the parkway, but where does that leave us?  It didn’t wipe away the fact that driver cut you off.  It still happened.  More so, you might be angry for the rest of the day and forget why you got angry in the first place.

 

what now?

Let’s try something today.  When something happens that would normally make you angry and sew seeds of bitterness in you, let’s choose to bless instead of curse.  Let’s not make our self-righteousness our idols.  Let’s turn to God.  Let’s relinquish the debts we hold over people that they will never be able to pay, and allow God to take care of our troubled hearts.

Lent Devotions Day 28: “Come Here”

“Come Here”

by Rafael E. Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”- Matt 11:28

 

We have a 2 1/2 year old daughter at home.  If you’ve met her and seen her in action, you’ll realize that, similar to other kids her age, she likes to run around quite a bit.  She’ll jump over toys and roll on the ground.  She’ll [try to] jump off the couch and will do twirls in the living room.  She’s at the age in which she exudes an extraneous amount of energy throughout the day.  Due to this, it is important that she recuperate her strength, either with a nap or with some quiet time.

If you have a child this age that misses a nap, you can probably relate to reading the near-insanity that ensues with our daughter when she is overly tired.  She becomes cranky.  She will not pay attention to us when we talk to her.  She complains.  She cries and moans.  She gets mini-tantrums.  All, because she hasn’t rested.

This happened at church this Sunday.  She was sad because we were leaving and she wanted to keep playing.  However, when she began crying, I could see that in reality it was that she was tired.  I asked her, “Eliana,… are you tired?”

She moaned back to me, “yyyyyeeeeeeesssssssss.”

I motioned to her as I said, “Come here.”

With that, I picked her up in my arms, and I told her to take a nap on my shoulders.

 

This is what the Father does for us.  He knows how tired we are.  He sees what we go through.  He realizes how things affect us and the way that pain and hurt are a part of our [nearly] everyday lives.

Yet, in the midst of that, his answer is not to scold us when we lash out at him; nor is it to reprimand us for our attitudes.  In that very moment, the Father invites us to simply come to him, for in HIM we will find the rest that our souls desperately need.

 

what now?

For the rest of this day, at least just this day, are you willing to simply come to the Father?  He’s not concerned about your ideas on how to fix your situation.  He doesn’t need to hear how bad you feel about letting Him down.  He knows.  He is aware.  He simply wants to give you rest.  He wants to take all of your burdens from you.  Are you willing to come to him and lay them down?

Lent Devotions Day 27: “The Rescuer’s Heart”

The Rescuer’s Heart

by Luis Velez, P.A.V.E. Coordinator

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believed in him, would not perish, but have life everlasting. – John 3:16

 

In August 2010, as 33 miners were trapped 2,400 feet (1/2 mile) beneath the ground in a mine near Copiapo, Chile government officials decided to initiate the first phase of what would become a two day rescue mission.  The rescue operation had consisted of drilling an escape shaft that would be wide enough to fit a rescue capsule that could serve as an elevator that would bring each miner up to the surface one at a time.  After the successful drilling of a stable shaft was confirmed, the rescue capsule which could only fit one person because it was solely 21 inches in diameter was awaiting the first of eventually six rescue workers.

 

Manuel Gonzalez entered the capsule and was the first rescuer who would give up his own comfort, safety and possibly risk his own life by entering the capsule that would descend underground about 30 minutes to where the miners were located.  After being trapped for 68 days, the 33 miners (“Los 33”) would gain their first sight of freedom with the landing of the capsule and the emergence of rescuer Manuel Gonzalez.  Upon arrival Gonzalez then enters into what was the 33 miner’s reality for 68 days, and as one miner at a time ascended to the surface by this capsule the others waited patiently for their turn, all the while rescuer Gonzalez waited with them.  It took 24 hours for the last miner to come up to the surface.  Manuel Gonzalez would be the first rescuer to enter the mine and would be the very last person to ascend to the surface.  He had spent 25 hours in the mine.

 

The heart of this rescue worker reminds me of the verse found in 1st John 3:16:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

 

what now?

We are left to ask ourselves:

Would we allow ourselves to set aside our own comforts and safety for the concerns and well-being of others?  Would we lay down our lives for the sake of others and be willing to go into their dark places with them and see them through, until they come to the surface better people?

 

Let us remember that the heart of the rescuer of our soul is in us to engage such rescue missions.

Lent Devotions Day 26: “Faith – Do You REALLY Believe In God?”

“Faith – Do You REALLY Believe in God?”

by Rafael E. Lara, Worship Ministries Coordinator

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.  ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

 

Do you remember hearing those testimonies growing up that struck a ‘faith’ nerve?  You know, the ones that were bold enough to trust in God’s provision for food or finances, only to hear a doorbell and find a bag of groceries at the door, or to wait until the last minute and miraculously have an unexpected check arrive in the mail?

I remember telling my wife about two years ago, “I want to be the kind of person that LIVES the faith that I profess to have.”  Sometimes I wish I knew what I were getting into.

In the move, “Evan Almighty”, I remember the interaction Morgan Freeman (playing the role of God) had with the character of Evan Baxter’s wife.  He proposed an interesting reality that, even in Hollywood, had tremendous spiritual implications and realities.

When you ask God for patience, does he strike you with patience, or does he present you with opportunities to be patient?  When you ask God for boldness, does he strike you with courage and boldness, or present you with opportunities to be bold and courageous?

This was my experience.  I asked for the type of faith I grew up hearing.  What did I get in return?  I got a plethora of opportunities to LIVE that faith out.  I couldn’t really complain for something I asked for, right?  It was hard, but I was able to go through it, and am going through it still.

When you think of ‘faith’ in the bible, perhaps the only person (or at least the first person) you think about is Abraham.  He is the father of faith.  He believed in God.

But early in life, when he was still referred to as Abram, we see an interesting scripture on him.  In Genesis 15:6, we read, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (NLT).

Abram believed the Lord.  Have you ever believed in someone?  Has someone told you something and you believed them?

I remember asking my parents do go to McDonald’s (a desire I perhaps should NOT have had a child).  My dad would tell me would would go for our birthday or on a special day.  We did, and I believed in his word.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.  ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

How does this apply to God?  Do you REALLY believe what God says?

 

what now?

This is one of those moments in time where we need to remember.  Spend a few minutes meditating/praying/writing the ways in which God has already come through for you in life.  Don’t discount the small things.  How has he been there for you before?  Let that build faith for this next season.

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