Once for All Time!

Once a year, the ancient Jewish High Priests went to a special part of the Temple in Jerusalem called “The Most Holy Place”. This gathering was held on the Day of Atonement. On this special occasion, the priests offered animal sacrifices for the people of Israel as the entire nation repented of their sins. This annual national repentance ceremony was carried out year after year.

Today, there is no need to make such annual sacrificial offerings. Instead, we remember that Jesus is our Most High Priest, and that he had a “once-and-for-all” ministry. His sacrifice on the cross never needs to be repeated. It is final! His one perfect sacrifice of himself took care of our sins forever.

The wrath of God was fully and completely satisfied by the sacrificial blood of God’s unique son. That atonement, which he paid on our behalf, was once and for all time. When Jesus bowed his head and cried “it is finished” (John 19:30), our sin debt was paid in full.

As we go through the pain, isolation, and uncertainty in this time of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we need to remember that what we are going through now will soon be history. We need to have faith and to rely on God alone. What we are going through now cannot compare to the cross that Jesus faced long ago.

Christ died to pay the debt for the sins of the world. But that was not the only reason for that action. Christ also died to cleanse us and to make us his own very special people, totally committed to doing what is right. This time of Lent and Easter is a time of self-examination, repentance, prayer and fasting. The time of the Corona Virus is also a time of continued community with the other members of your church, faith, friends and family despite our isolation. I am praying for the time when we can re-gather and worship as the church once this time of trial is over.

Pastor Louis Telcy
Senior Pastor, RUMC

Confession is Good for the Soul
As our Lenten journey continues, many of us decided to “give up” and “sacrifice” something we enjoy over the next 40 days. Lent invites us to “put aside” distractions and focus our hearts, minds, bodies and souls on our relationship with God and others.

I chose Journey to Transformation, by Bishop Sharma Lewis as my Lenten study. Day three focused on Psalms 51, revealing new insights about the benefits of Confession and Repentance.
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Repenting is not easy for some of us. We are aware that we sin, yet our ego and desire to protect our self image can cause us justify and rationalize our wrong doing and how it impacts and harms others. When we finally confess our sins to God and others we often over generalize. We sometimes choose a high level, confession instead of painfully admitting specifically what we’ve done and the harm we’ve caused. Guilt and shame can accompany our sinful actions and both can be very heavy burdens to carry.
The scripture reminds us, “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” in 1 John 1:9.

Remember confession is admitting what we have done wrong. Repentance is being truly sorry for our sinful actions and demonstrating a willingness to make amends and change our sinful behavior. Through confession and repentance we can receive forgiveness from God, seek forgiveness from others and forgive ourselves.

Let’s remember to confess and repent to others that we have harmed, when possible and doesn’t cause further harm, so we and they can both experience healing. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16 NIV) Because God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, confessing our sins begins the process of freeing us from guilt and shame.

The “ah-ha” moment for me today in reading Psalms 51 was seeing the benefits and gifts awaiting us on the other side of confession and repentance. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:10-12 NIV) God still wants to create, renew, restore and sustain us even after we’ve admitting we have done wrong. This was David’s request after he sinned. God answered this prayer. David also experienced consequences of his sinful actions. God still renewed, restored and sustained David with God’s Spirit.

May we be convicted today to confess and repent of our sins to God and others throughout this Lenten journey; so that we can also experience the renewing, restoring and sustaining power of God’s love and presence in our lives daily.

Blessings on your Lenten journey,
Rev. Dr. Candace Lewis,
District Superintendent

Jesus Wept
(Reprinted from a United Methodist Now Article, Published in 2014)

Sometimes, watching or reading the news can be depressing. We attempt to follow the biblical mandate to find and think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). The stories dominating the media, however, often make us sad, frustrated, or angry. Additionally, we have personal struggles at home and work, with finances, relationships, illness, and so much more.

We turn to our faith for answers, but answers don't often come easily. There are mostly questions. What are people of faith to do in the midst of overwhelming tragedy and strife?

The shortest verse in the Bible, in the King James Version at least, is just two words, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Though only 10 characters, too short even to tweet, that verse has tremendous significance, especially when we are struggling to find hope.

Jesus weeps in the midst of comforting his friends Mary and Martha who are grieving the death of their brother Lazarus. Yes, that Lazarus. The one famous for being raised by Jesus.

Jesus is out of town when he hears of Lazarus' illness. Rather than adjusting his plans to go visit this friend whom he loves (John 11:3), Jesus instead decides to stay where he is for a couple of days. He tells the disciples that Lazarus' illness will somehow serve the glory of God, and that God's Son will be glorified through it (John 11:4).

By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days. Mary and Martha, Lazarus' sisters, are understandably miffed at the lack of urgency Jesus showed. In their own way, each of them expresses their frustration with him. They are convinced their brother would not have died if Jesus had come when he was first summoned (John 11:21, 32).

There, watching the grief of this family and community, Jesus begins to cry. There is debate as to why, John doesn't tell us, but I am convinced it is out of empathy for the pain of those he loves. In that moment, Jesus was feeling Mary and Martha's grief, their sense of hopelessness, their pain and loss. So, he cries.

There is comfort in knowing we don't worship a stoic God. The God we know in Christ Jesus feels our pain and knows our loss. He weeps with us.

We also worship a God who can take our frustration. Mary and Martha vent, and so can we. As it is in any healthy relationship, we need to be open and honest with those we love, even when we are angry with them. If anyone can take it, certainly Jesus can.
It is also a comforting reminder that even while we are going through our pain, and Jesus feels far from us, it is not because he doesn't love us. He loved Lazarus, the Bible tells us, even while not taking his illness from him.

Lazarus' story does not end with his death. At his tomb, Jesus calls Lazarus' name and the crowds watch in disbelief as Lazarus emerges…alive. While Mary and Martha thought Jesus had come too late to help, we learn there is never a "too late" with God.

We may believe our situation is hopeless. We may not see a solution. We may not have a clue how to get out of the mess in which we find ourselves. In Jesus, though, there is always hope. There is always the possibility of new life, not just some day in the great by-and-by, but here in this life. This is the whole point of Jesus' resurrection – new life today, and a new life to come.

Resources for further reading:
When Grief Breaks Your Heart by James W. Moore. This book explores what faith says about the grief experience and how faith helps mend a broken heart.
The Gift of Encouragement: Restoring Heart to Those Who Have Lost It by Marjorie J. Thompson. The Gift of Encouragement offers practical help to persons serving those who need comfort.
When the One You Love Is Gone By Rebekah L. Miles. When the One You Love Is Gone encourages us to use our scars, messes, and the heartache to give new life to ourselves, and others.
Hope Beyond Your Tears: Experiencing Christ's Healing Love by Trevor Hudson. Hudson offers and excellent resource for exploring the importance of Christ's resurrection for your life.

Joe Iovino, Staff
U. S. Commission on United Methodist Men

Joe Iovino, U.S. Commission on UMM