Walk to the Cross – Holy Week devotionals

All four Gospels provide accounts of the activities that occurred during the week leading up to crucifixion, death and resurrection. The daily devotionals below try to capture the week based on scripture and traditional understanding of events. Some events may not have occurred on the date we identify but every event noted occurred during the final week. Please don’t let the date distract you from the purpose of this walk with Jesus.

May we boldly say that these devotionals may be worth sharing with family and friends. They offer some insight into the final week of Jesus’s earthly ministry.

14 April 2019 Palm Sunday

15 April 2019 Monday

16 April 2019 Tuesday

17 April 2019 Wednesday

18 April 2019 Thursday

The Church.

In Halifax, there is a least one apartment complex that was repurposed from a former church building. Every time I pass by it I can’t but help but wonder what happened that caused the church to close. What went through the minds of the minister, the congregation, and even the community when the last service was held?  Was their sadness, regret or even anger?

For the longest while I could not imagine how a church could fold yet it happens. This Sunday my church will be closing its doors after 18 years in the city. I attended their first service and will attend their last. There is a sense of failure and a sadness amongst the leaders that somehow, we let God down. There were signs developing over the past few years that suggested we weren’t as healthy as we thought. Tithing and volunteerism were decreasing and too many in the family felt it was Ok to worship together once or twice a month vice every Sunday. As I reflect on our closure the words Jesus shared with His disciple about His pending death come to mind. Jesus said, for God’s will to be done He would be taken prisoner, tortured and crucified. Peter’s response was “no, that won’t happen to you”. He was immediately rebuked with these words spoken by Jesus, “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 16:23. I had wondered if our church failed because many did not have the concerns of God in their heart but their own desires.

I recently read a quote that said we should not judge the behavior of our Christian brothers and sisters; we should leave that up to God. Our role in the Kingdom is not administration but advertising. We must focus on bringing the Good News to others and trust God to stir hearts. The Church was created for glorying God, honouring Him with our worship and taking His message of hope and salvation to the lost. It is made of those seeking God and wanting to do His will. People who are part of a congregation are at various stages of spiritual growth and so we must be gentle, encouraging and loving. We can’t help but notice those by-stander Christians amongst us who have been around for many years but who don’t come every week, slip in and out of service, and rarely step up to serve. We can’t be angry at these people but must encourage them because we know they are missing out on the joy of belonging to a family dedicated to serving God.

During the same conversation where Jesus rebuked Peter He also said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 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?” Matthew 16:24-26. Bystanders are most likely good people who have not understood what it means to be true disciples. Something is missing, and they don’t realize that being on God’s mission require commitment and sacrifice.

In hind site, it will be easy to suggest what went wrong in my church.  I imagine that those who cared will not gather to talk about it because it would be too painful. Hopefully, all of us, including those reading this article, will reflect on their own involvement in helping the kingdom move forward.  It’s also no consolation to know that all those churches that received Paul’s encouraging letters are now closed.  What is comforting to know that despite humanity’s self-interest the kingdom keeps on going.  Pray for your church and the MCF so that God’s will can be done.

Stronger together

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12


If Jesus conducted His earthly ministry without the disciples, would the Gospel have spread as it has?  A similar question would be if He had introduced His earthly ministry in 2019 would the Gospel have spread even further?

Both are loaded questions because the timing and methodology were ordained for specific reasons. We can speculate what they are because we have the luxury of hindsight. We do know that from the beginning God has shared that unity and harmony are Kingdom values modelled on the Trinity’s relationship and interaction with each other. Fellowship is key to encouraging, supporting and growing the community. The clear message from God is that we are not designed to “do it alone”; we are stronger together.

The term fellowship is used in scripture to describe honouring relationships. It is experienced in two directions, upwardly with God and outwardly with fellow Christians. In the beginning, God and man had unbroken fellowship. However, after the Fall and throughout the Old Testament record, individuals still chose to live in fellowship with God. We know Jesus exemplified a life of fellowship with his Father. One of the first effects of Pentecost was that the believers lived in fellowship: they accepted one another. They held things in common and were partners together in the ministry of the gospel. They grew stronger, not only as individual believers but as a community.

God’s people are called to work together especially in the task of mission, to recognize one another’s gifts and to give support to one another’s ministries. The Military Fellowship of Canada are participants in God’s mission to the world. We specifically target the serving and retired. We are a fellowship comprised of men and women across the world who want to let our military family know that Jesus loves them. We want them to hear about the hope and joy offered by God.  In February we had our Annual General Meeting which was open to all interested persons. It was a good opportunity to let God stir your heart. He may be calling you to partner with the MCF’s 2019 objectives.

When fellowship is powerful the world outside takes notice. When we fellowship together, we are stronger.

If I had only known!

Years ago, a military family at CFB Chatham intentionally starved one of their children and when the news reported the child’s death, shocked neighbours could only comment, “if I had only known”.  Around the same time, a military neighbour’s daughter shot herself to get away from an abusive relative and my pre-teen daughter wondered out loud to us, “if I had only known”.  A recent Facebook comment made by the young son of a military member who recently committed suicide, echoed these same heartbreaking comments, “dad if I had only known”. Three individuals facing the deaths of people they knew, were struck by guilt at their helplessness. They felt they somehow let a neighbour, a friend, a parent down. Regardless of what consoling words others offered those collaterally impacted by the death of another, many continue to carry the guilt. Many do struggle to comprehend why things like this happen.

It can be troubling to feel helpless in this world and it could be easy to hide away from the misery, and sadness. The medical system is overwhelmed with those struggling with mental health issues and so while many wait for help, they often suffer alone. Emotions often prevent people from being honest with themselves and so, we must keep our eyes, ears and hearts open for signs of a struggle in our family, friends and even neighbours. It is not easy to reach out to someone to share your problems nor is it easy to step up and be a comforting shoulder to someone in distress. It takes courage. We know many in the military community are broken, some due to their military service and some because of the stress of this world. There is a role for us even if it is just offering our prayers. Many military members have turned to a FACEBOOK site called SEND UP THE COUNT to express their feelings, anger and even cries for help. It is a closed site, however anyone with a concern for our military community can join. This is a place where you can identify prayers as well as a place where you can reach out and possibly help someone.

When Jesus offered these words recorded in the Gospel of John (13:35), “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” it was not part of some casual conversation. He was eating His last meal with His disciples and wanted them to recognize the need to show unselfish love for others. And, His words were not just meant for those around that table, but was a message He desired would guide all future ministries. One desire to love our military community was not born out of an afterthought but was planted in our hearts by Jesus at His last supper. He has allowed our experiences, our fellowship and our connection to the military community and our relationship with Him to be a catalyst to spur our love for others. Our military needs our prayers, our hands, our feet and our love. Choose to love another.

Get involved 2019

When Jesus was establishing the Church, He had a conversation with Peter, see Matthew 16:15-18NIV.

In other words, Jesus was saying “On you, my authoritative believer, and my inspired proclaimer of the gospel, I will build my church.” Do you realize the triumphant authority of this promise? It says our missions are not ultimately dependent on human initiative or human wisdom or human perseverance. It is ultimately dependent on the power and wisdom and faithfulness of the risen and living Christ to keep this promise. This, however, does not excuse us from contributing or being part of a church family or a ministry. After all, Jesus told us to share the gospel. We are designed to be in community and are called to join God’s mission to take His Word to the world. However, our mindset can damage the ministry that God has prepared for us and so we must be mindful of our relationship and commitment to Christ.

Our buildings or web presences are not the church that Jesus built, they are meeting places where the church family chooses to meet.  It is a home where tears are shed, laughter is heard, prayers are said, and God is praised. It is the place where mature and new Christians alike gather to worship and grow in their relationship with God. Just like the Military Christian Fellowship, it is the jumping off point for us to take the Gospel to our community.

Pray for yourself and your present ministry setting. Ask God to give you the wisdom, courage and desire to be engaged. Join us and pray for our military family using the issues highlighted in this month’s Shield as your guide. Help us reach the lost in our military family. But, ensure you are committed to Jesus, not just on the occasional Sunday but every day. We need our ministries to be places where we can grow and to encourage others but more importantly, we need Jesus and we need to tell others what Jesus means to this world.

Use the Shield February 2019 edition for specific individuals and issues to bring before God.  You can also download the Shield to pray through the month of February.

Blessings
Anton Topilnyckyj

Choose – don’t excuse

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” Romans 7:5.

Many people offer excuses for their poor behaviour to the point they want others to believe it is someone else’s fault that they act as they do. Adam and Eve consciously choose to take the forbidden fruit but when confronted Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. It is true that it is our nature to sin, but it should not be our excuse. Paul shares that we are rescued by Jesus from the death caused by the sin we can’t seem to avoid doing. Jesus can help us overcome our nature and bring eternal life to our seemingly hopeless and helpless situation.

We should be careful not to get tricked by the fact sin is in our nature suggesting we can’t help but sin. We know we can have victory over sin with the help of God. We can pray for help in overcoming sin, but we must include some sort of action on our part. I recently read that it is OK to pray and ask God to help us lose weight. However, we should not be surprised if He does not answer because we are unwilling to exercise or diet. Just the same, He will answer our prayer to gain victory over sin if we make the effort to recognize what offends Him and then strive not to offend while seeking forgiveness when we do.  It may seem inevitable that we will sin, but it should not be our excuse to do so. Seek God’s heart and then seek His help.

Let’s pray: Holy God. It is my desire to live a life pleasing to you, but I admit I seem not to be able to do so; forgive me for my transgression. Jesus. Thank you for the hope of the cross that has allowed my sins to be cleansed. Holy Spirit, prompt me before I fall and continue to guide me on that path that leads to righteousness. Amen.

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

Follower-ship

I am grateful for what the Lord has done in our midst this year and I am grateful for all of those who have responded to His call to make possible the advancements that have taken place.  It is a profound joy to be with the people of God on mission.

In all three synoptic gospels Jesus’ calling of the tax collector to follow Him is recorded. There are no pre-requisites, there are no pre-conditions, there are no hidden agendas or expectations; rather there is a simple call to follow Jesus. The apostle Paul echos Jesus’ call in his letter to the Corinthian church when he says “follow my example as I follow Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Yet, follower-ship is under valued, misunderstood, even destained.

Much is made of the concept and the role of leadership. The word itself is held up within our community as a preeminent characteristic that all are to aspire to exhibit.  Many books have been written on the subject and training courses that are centred on developing it within people abound. Yet, our Lord did not call us to “lead”, no He called us to follow. I confess that after a career in the military during which I served in many different leadership capacities that follower-ship has become quite difficult. Fortunately, the Lord is patient and He is persistent in the application of His teaching-training; I believe that I am learning to be a better follower. My apprenticeship in follower-ship has been advanced this past year principally by those with whom I have served in the varied MCF ministry activities and for whom I am grateful.

Next week we celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’s birth with fellow followers. I recommend to us all that as we come together that we seek to learn from each others stories of follower-ship.  That we reflect upon those experiences  so as to be inspired into deeper levels of following for the coming year and wonder at what Jesus is doing in our midst.

Hope, peace, joy, love.

Gerry Potter
President-follower

Are you listening

The gospel of Luke shares the story of the announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. They were part of a culture that had been anticipating the arrival of a Messiah for many generations. When the angel told them of the arrival of their Messiah, they were afraid and somewhat anxious. It reads, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-20).

The shepherds did overcome their initial feelings. They let the experience of the moment guide them and as a result, found Jesus. The Christmas season always seems to bring about a feeling of anxiety for many. The extra busyness associated with Christmas shopping, the packed malls, the difficulty parking and even the slow lines to get a coffee adds to this strange uneasiness. Christmas is something that even the world eagerly anticipates yet few will experience the hope, peace, love and joy that arrived that first Christmas morning. We like to blame the commercialization of Christmas for the difficulties we face during this season forgetting we are willing participants in whatever activities occur during this time. Many will feel an uneasiness during this time because they really do not understand what they are waiting for or are trying to create an experience they think should happen.

Christian brothers and sisters can also become anxious about the season. Their concerns often stem from an inward desire to finally tell their family about Jesus; family they may only see once or twice a year. They say things like, “this year I want everyone to understand the true meaning of Christmas” or “I want them to know they are lost without Jesus”.  Admirable desires but they are often motivated by guilt linked to perceived missed opportunities to share Jesus in the past. Their troubled souls often ruin their Christmas Celebration and they also miss the hope, peace, love and joy that should permeate their lives this season.

Years ago, I was reminded that all believers are to be witnesses to the Good News of Jesus. However, I was also told to remember that we are the second witnesses to this truth as the Holy Spirit is the first. He goes before us preparing hearts and minds to both seek and hear the Good News. We must trust God to do His part while we listen for Him to call us to do our part. This mindset did not excuse us from sharing the truth. We need to accept that God is at work making divine appointments for us and we should be listening for Him. We must be in daily communication with God asking for strength and insight to respond to His nudging to share His truths.

Maybe this Christmas God wants us to reconcile with our families. To sit around the Christmas tree and talk, laugh and be real with one another. Maybe he wants us to break bread at dinner and not feel pressured to bring up eternity between the turkey and dessert. Maybe God wants us to not be anxious about anything this Christmas, including the salvation of family, and trust that He has it in hand and will use us when He is ready.  This does not stop us from sharing the Gospel. We must pray and listen daily for God because He wants us on His mission but, we must not get ahead of Him. When we listen, He will prompt us to speak up. Maybe He wants us to seek Jesus’ gifts of hope, peace, love and joy while we wait. Accept the truth that He wants us to live in harmony with one another and focus your prayers on connecting with others during this season. You will be pleased and excited about what God has planned for you and your family.

Blessings
Anton Topilnyckyj

REMEMBER

I recently read an article about a British group that produce white poppies that they insist should be worn in lieu of red poppies. They suggest their white poppy embodies a greater morality as it represents remembrance of all victims of war, a commitment to peace, and a challenge to attempts to glamorize or celebrate war. Their objective seems legitimate as no one really wants war but why should their agenda trample on the memories of those who stood up to evil. Why do they think their freedom to express their belief is more important than those who fought for that freedom? November 11this not about romanticizing or encouraging carnage. It is about recognizing that sacrifice is necessary in a world ruled by the evil one who seeks nothing more than to see conflict, destruction, and suffering. When we left the garden, the possibility of world peace was left behind, and we entered a world where we must choose what is worth dying for.

The evening before Jesus died, He turned an everyday family activity into one of remembrance. He used bread and wine to symbolically speak about His upcoming sacrifice that we now know was necessary to free us from Satan’s grip. Jesus wasn’t advocating that we glorify crucifixion, but He wanted us to remember that sacrifice was necessary for freedom. Jesus’ sacrifice was ugly, brutal and violent. However, with the breaking of the bread and the spilling of the wine, Jesus wanted us to remember that sacrifice is often painful and sometimes necessary to experience good. War is ugly, brutal and violent and we are not called to venerate any of those realities. We remember those who willingly stood before the enemies of this world so that we can gather on Sunday morning and worship the one who made the ultimate sacrifice; a sacrifice that impacts our time on this earth as well as our time in eternity.

All countries who have engaged in war have regrets regardless of whether they were aggressors or not. There is a cost to waging war that goes deeper than financial implications. Thankfully there are many who will not allow evil to rule this world and willingly sacrifice to prevent it from happening. This month we remember not because we want to glamourize war, but because we know many have died or suffered in pursuit of our freedom, and we are thankful they stood for us.

I Watch and Pray.

“Be still and know I am God” Psalm 46:10

I’m a people watcher. Not in the creepy way where I hide around corners and stare at people or watch them through their windows. Whenever I’m travelling or waiting in an area frequented by a lot of people I watch the people. A friend taught me that this could be a great time to pray for others and suggested I take a few moments to look at the people around me and ask God to reveal something to pray about; so, I watch and pray. This past week I have been in NYC where there are millions of people to look at. Without meaning to stereotype anyone, I noticed subway riders (locals) give off the impression they are not very happy people. Many seem to have frowns on their face as they sit listening to their headsets or stare directly ahead. No one talks with one another let alone make eye contact. I thought how many could use the advice given by the wikiHow web site entitled, “How to have a pleasant facial expression” or listen to the old wife’s tale that suggests it takes more muscles to smile than frown and so they could have a workout as they rode the trains. I however sensed there was something deeper happening here.

Whether we accept it or not the draw of the world wears us down. It tugs and pulls at even the most hardened Christian creating a battle between priorities and responsibilities. Isn’t it any wonder our natural facial pose resembles a frown.  In this fast-paced world where we need apps to get our fast food or coffee even quicker, we have been accustomed to minimal effort and involvement and are driven by self satisfaction. This leads to even less engagements with others and a deeper frown. It takes many away from God and not as close as He desires. I noticed people’s demeanour was different when they left the subway to go to somewhere that pleased them, such as Times Square or Central Park or a store. As they engaged in something that gave them gratification, they were able to put at least half a smile on their face, for a short while. Because they were pleased, their nature, or at least their appearance changed.

Sometimes Christ followers behave like those subway riders. They walk around with worry and a sour expression on their face all week, then lighten up when they get their Sunday morning Jesus fix. Then, they leave church thinking they can survive the world. They choose not to have a relationship with Jesus during the week and can offer reasons or excuses because, they will be back next Sunday, or maybe the Sunday after that.  They believe Sunday morning is the short cut to Jesus. But there are no short cuts to a relationship with Jesus that offers hope and joy.We must choose to take some time every day to read some of God’s word, pray and reflect. We need to slow down and think about God. This feeds us and gives us energy, so we can be stronger as we face every day life. It settles us down and allows God to speak into our lives.

We need to take time everyday to be still and focus our minds and hearts on the Lord. We need to enter His presence daily and trust Him for great things. Just like smiling, it takes effort and it is well worth it. Don’t go a day without connecting with God.