|Daily Devotionals and Weekly Virtual Church Services|
For the safety of all in our ILC community and beyond, we have decided to forego all gatherings until further notice. In the meantime, we will provide Daily Devotionals and Weekly Virtual Church Services through this webpage. We encourage the congregation to use the posted devotionals to "virtually join together" in prayer, daily, at 9:00am.
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
There's little doubt that Jesus was fun to be around. The self-righteous religious elite, who kept their distance from sinners lest they jeopardize their own purity, called Jesus on the carpet because He welcomed sinners and ate with them. They called Him a glutton and a drunkard. I'm not saying Jesus was a party animal, but ordinary folk and those who were down-and-out were drawn to Him like a magnet. He was approachable, welcoming, likable and friendly - to young and old alike. When His chosen followers began to shoo the children away, Jesus stopped them in their tracks and gave the little ones a front row seat. He had mercy on arthritic seniors and the chronically ill. None was excluded from His presence; none was too lowly to merit His attention. His love knew no bounds. This was especially good news for those who had been shunned or who had been kept outside the fellowship. However, once inside the circle, there's almost an innate impulse to immediately close the door and to set and enforce limits. It's part of what's special about being on the inside, crossing the line, and being one of His own. Isn't it? That we're now part of the group, one of the privileged - and not "out there with those others." Isn't one of the benefits that comes with privilege that there are limitations to who receives them? When Jesus widens the circle to welcome all who are weary, when He erases lines and removes barriers, when He leaves the door open for just anyone to come in, well... it's a bit disconcerting. And it doesn't end there. For the truth He speaks makes it impossible for me to take my ease and luxuriate in graced exclusivity. One of the pleasures of being with those of like mind is to rejoice with others who think straight like I do, those who affirm the truth as I see it and, at the same time, air their grievances and disgust at those on "the other side." That there are others who let loose with their vitriol gives me permission to do so the same. And I have to admit: there's something quite pleasurable about doing so. It feels good to think I'm on the right side, on the sane side; it even feels good that I'm not "one of them." I can so easily sidle up to one of the sons of thunder and make my appeal to Jesus that He bring down fire from heaven to consume them. But smiting the enemy does not come from the spirit of Jesus. He would not have me go there. He certainly would not jump on that bandwagon. The way to make a difference is not to repay in kind or to exert greater force to destroy them once and for all. Jesus shows me a better and higher way. He is not provoked by evil, but stays the course on the good and right and loving path and beckons adherents and adversaries alike to follow in His steps. To love your enemies is not to love what they do or to follow in their sinful ways. To pray for those who persecute you is not to appeal for their success in their torment, torture and pain. Not at all. To do so is ask that they would perceive the better and higher way - the way initiated by Jesus and exemplified in you - and be changed and welcomed into His fellowship. Jesus teaches us to overcome evil with good. It's God's way, and our Lord would have us pray that His will be done in us today, that His kingdom would come, on earth as it is in heaven.
Good and gracious God, I thank You for the wondrous grace that You've extended to me. And yet I confess that I'm possessive of that grace, and I do not rejoice as strongly when You extend it to others - especially to those with whom I'm at odds. I confess that I would rather dance over their demise than rejoice in their redemption. Continue to work repentance in this wayward heart of mine until it is consumed with Your compassion, moved with Your mercy, and perfectly aligned with Your good and gracious ways.
You go and get straw for yourselves wherever you can find it;
but none of your labor will be reduced.
Sometimes things get worse before they get better. Even when it's God who's behind the unseen better that's beginning to take root and that will surely grow and come to fruition. And sometimes those on the side of the better are blamed for the difficulties necessitated by change, when, in fact, they were created and perpetuated by those behind and at work in an unjust system. Those who want to maintain power are not wont to give it up, and will often go to great lengths to preserve it and to demonize and dispense of those committed to reform and justice and righteousness. Even those who are oppressed, already pushed up against a wall, often have no more energy to expend and will turn against one who comes to work for their liberation. This kind of change is not easy to make - and it requires unworldly power. God sees the suffering of His people. Their cries reach His heavenly throne room. God looks upon injustice and will not have it. So God interrupts Moses' retirement plans and calls him to go on God's behalf, to speak God's Word to the one of the mightiest rulers on earth, and to lead God's people out of their slavery and oppression. Moses does not volunteer for this position, and he eschews it when He learns of God's intentions. But, of course, his remonstrations are not enough to dissuade divine will and intention. God has made up His mind, and His purposes for His people will be accomplished. When the Pharaoh hears the demand for freedom, the challenge to his labor system (organized and working well for his own kingdom's purpose), and the insistent cry for change, he presses his thumb down even harder; he further tightens the screws of slavery. And Moses is blamed for it all, by everyone. Because Pharaoh says so and because the people are trained to believe him. Besides, they can see for themselves. The evidence of it lies before their own eyes. For if Moses had never showed up, if he had never confronted Pharaoh, they wouldn't now have to gather their own straw with no reduction in their required production of bricks. And now that they think of it, they were able to manage just fine before this upstart Moses arrived. Things weren't all that bad, were they? At least they weren't this bad! The final word of witness, written down to be read and rehearsed throughout the generations, is that God was behind it all. God was accomplishing His work of redemption. There may have been other indicators along the way, signs to which people could point and declare that this uprising was devilish and demonic. But the accusations of the oppressors were only made to keep their power in check. God continues to be at work in His people to bring about good in the world. The work of justice, equity, righteousness and freedom - this is hard work. But it's always the right time to do the right thing. There will be strong resistance from the privileged; and there will be great concern among the powerless, who fear that things may get even worse if the powerful are provoked. But the victory belongs to the Lord of heaven and earth. And it's always right to line up on God's side, in whose sight all souls matter. God will bring about His loving, peaceful, and redemptive work for the sake of His beloved. Sometimes it happens when a Red Sea parts. Sometimes it happens when diverse crowds silently march, united. And once it happened on a Jerusalem cross. God is at work. And God will accomplish His salvation. God bless you with eyes to see it, a voice to affirm it, and feet to follow where He leads.
Sovereign and Eternal God, You are constantly at work to bring about Your good in Your world for the sake of Your beloved. Help me to use the power I've received to lift up those who are hurting, rather than to bend the powerless to my own advantage. Never let me forget that You identified with the poor, the hungry, the needy and the downtrodden. Always keep in my mind that when I serve them, I serve You, and when I turn my back on them, I walk away from You. Embolden me to speak up for those whose voices are not heard, to bear witness to the truth of Your ways, to the honor of Your name and for the benefit of all Your people.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
This has been a favorite verse of mine for a long time. It's one of the first verses I memorized - perhaps because the pastor of the church I attended in my youth used it often. Or perhaps because it was short and easy to commit to memory! Either way, it's been a good word to keep in my mind and heart for most of my living years. In these words, I find some of the self-talk of the psalmist. He appeals to the deepest part of his essence and spurs himself on to cry out in the very core and center of his being with praise before His Maker. Employing the constructs of his culture, he uses Hebrew parallelism to repeat what he's already said, both to emphasize and to expand on it: Let all that is within me, bless His holy name. Not only the primary part of myself, but all of myself. May my entire being exult in praise before You. Or, in the words of songwriter Keith Green: Make my life a prayer to You. I've learned that to do what the psalmist suggests is to experience inner refreshment, renewal and healing. When I present my entire being as an offering before God, when I hold nothing back, I experience the abandonment of pretended ownership and entrust my essence and my future life to the One from whom I've received it. It's a sacred sacrifice, a holy moment, in which I both lose myself completely and find myself in all fulness. To do so is, for me, true worship. The best of me and all of me focuses solely on the Lover of my soul. But this is the easy part of faith. It's what comes next that's difficult. For this One before whom I bow will not be content merely to receive my thanksgiving or to bask in my praise. For when my worship concludes, He tells me I'm only halfway there. The LORD declares: "If you are intent on offering Me your highest and heartfelt praise, you are now prepared to perfect it. To complete your offering, go now and dedicate yourself to loving My people." For of course there are others out here in the world with me, who have also been created and loved by God. And it is to them that my LORD sends me. I know they are sinners just like me - broken, selfish, stubborn, non-compliant and not at all easy to love. But the LORD is insistent: He will not have my worship apart from my commitment to love and serve those to whom He sent His Son and those for whom He died. And so, as I bow myself down and become aware of the holy presence of God, I meet the One who both loves me and sends me. In Him I find all the love, joy and grace I need to do the sacred work He calls me to do. And so, dear soul, if you are intent on worshiping the One who alone is worthy of your highest praise, you know what you must do. Your worship has not ended; your service has just begun.
Gracious God, Lover of my soul, what joy is mine to know that You not only welcome me but claim me as Your own. I rejoice that You have prepared a home for me, a place where I may abide and draw sustenance, that I might bear fruit for Your glory. As I exult before you this morning, You faithfully supply me with all that I need to complete my worship. Infuse me now with energy and fortify my will, that I might dedicate myself to love and serve Your people with courage, care and compassion. May the heart and center of my being and all that is within me honor You and bring glory to Your holy name.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing.
2 Corinthians 4:8
Holy Scripture we read that the Word of God is living and active. God works through the treasury of these ancient words to speak His Word to us in our lives here and now. It continues to amaze me how applicable the witness of this Word is to my world today and how formative it is for my faith. Paul and his companions are going through tough times. Check! - so are we. They're confused and their heads are spinning. Check! - so are ours. And the response: they're not crushed, and they do not despair. They're not overcome by their afflictions; they maintain their hope. Theirs is an indomitable spirit. What accounts for this? The purpose of their work and the presence of their Lord. They're convinced that the investment of their lives in the ministry in which they labor is worth the energy required and the afflictions that come with it. They're persuaded that the effort expended does not compare to the value of what they bring into the lives of others. They have Good News to share and the message they've been given is of vital importance to all. Salvation has come - in this life here and now and for all eternity - in Jesus the promised Messiah, the very incarnation of the one true God. No matter what afflictions come their way, the service they provide is of greater importance. They're employed in the essential business of Almighty God! Moreover, the presence of the Savior whom they preach is present with them as they go about their work. They're not alone. Their power comes from Him, and their own spirits are sustained by none other than the Spirit of God Himself. Don't lose sight of your mission and purpose. God has planted you where you are for a reason. Your ministry - your service - it vital and critical in your circle of influence. God depends on you to be his man, his woman - His messenger of love and peace and hope - to the people in your life today. And as you engage in this work, you'll recognize the presence of Him who promised never to leave you or forsake you. That assurance is more important than ever when you're going through perplexing times such as these. God is ever faithful, and your trust in Him is properly placed. He is the source of your hope for the outcome of these days. And He is source of eternal hope that will never disappoint. So lift up your head and rejoice in the mission God has given you today. You've been richly blessed. Now God sends you out to bless and to encourage others with your presence, by sharing your spirit and showering your love. The Good News of God's amazing grace is yours to give. Someone in your life needs to hear it, see it and feel it - from you today. You have a meaningful mission of unmatched importance. God is with you.
Almighty and ever-loving God, thank You for being my dependable source of strength that will never disappoint me. Thank You for the hope that You give, that no matter how bad things get Your goodness is yet greater. You are faithful to bring me through tough times of affliction. Your reliable presence helps me to keep my head about myself in the midst of these confusing times. Focus my attention on the truth of Your Word, and draw me close to Yourself. Strengthen me, that I might strengthen others; bless me, that I might pass Your blessing on. Help me to faithfully carry out the mission on which You've sent me, to accomplish Your good purposes for the honor and glory of Your holy name.
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it;
if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
1 Corinthians 12:26
Something as simple as a splintered finger or a stubbed toe can cause your whole being to cry out with an "Ouch!" in response. A pinched nerve or a pulled muscle can cause your whole body to ache and to writhe in pain. Just to write these things causes a visceral reaction in me, and perhaps you don't want to read any more about it either - so I'll move on. The point is: Every part of the body is interconnected to the entirety of an entity - You! - a diverse but integrated whole. There are times - say, for instance, when you have a bad head cold - when you might remark, If only I could cut off my head, I'd feel fine. And while saying so is utter nonsense, it would be completely understood by all who hear. If one part of your body suffers, it takes the rest of you down with it. The apostle uses this body image to speak of the Church, which he deems the body of Christ. Jesus is the Head of the Church, and we are participating members of it. We're interconnected and joined together as a whole. The unique experience of one is the shared experience of all. At least this is true when the Church is functioning as it should. Some members of the body are quietly at work behind the scenes, but they're nonetheless vital for the proper functioning and well-being of the body entire. Until I draw your attention to it right now, you were probably not aware that your lungs were doing their thing without your notice. Your heart, too. And even if you now recognize their constant and consistent work - without a moment's rest, mind you - they faithfully carried out their functions last night while the rest of you soundly slept. Every person matters in the body of Christ. Each member is priceless and irreplaceable in God's Church. To be attentive to the individuals comprised in the body is to consider the welfare of the whole. If one member hurts, a network of nerves spreads the news throughout the body like bytes bouncing through the Internet. If the body recognizes pain, the symptom must be addressed and the underlying cause treated if the system is to survive and continue to function properly, so that it might carry out its larger purposes. And when the whole body is disciplined and trained - say, to run a marathon - once the contest is completed, the whole body rejoices at the achievement. So, too, in the Church. We might even extend this metaphor to a secular system like the state. The cries of those who are hurting must be attended to if the system is to function well. To sow division in society is not only destructive, it's a sign of insanity. It's an attempt to cut off one's nose to spite one's face. The results are repulsive: discord, disintegration and social schizophrenia. We're all in this together. And we would be wise to follow the lead of the One who's come with soundness of mind to save us from ourselves and to show us His way of loving service. Devoting ourselves to obediently attend to His direction, each one will be honored and cherished, and the entire body will function as it was designed, to be a thing of beauty that will bring benefit beyond itself, that the glory of God might be extended throughout the earth.
Gracious God, Lover of us all: Thank You for the gift of the faithful and loving community which is Your Church. Help me to find my place and purpose in it, for as I do so I will come into the fulness of my being and bring benefit to the entire body. Help me to hear the cries of those who are hurting and to be responsive to their needs. Empower me to encourage those who need extra motivation. And cause me to celebrate with those who've attained victory, knowing that we will all progress or decline together. In me and through me this day - and in and through Your Church - may You be honored and glorified.
All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband
has been fully reported to me...
Word gets out. Stories are told. And reputations are made. Ruth is a heroine of Holy Scripture. She will become the ancestress of the great King David - and of Jesus Himself. She's one of the few women listed in the genealogy of our Lord. These words above speak of a time early on in her story, soon after she meets her soon-to-be husband, Boaz. He is a man of great wealth and power, the owner of fields and the master of servants; she, a lowly foreigner, gleans behind Boaz's workers, in an attempt to gather enough food for herself and her mother-in-law, both widows, to survive. But now Boaz looks upon her with favor and shows her kindness and grace. Ruth is humbled by the treatment she receives from this man of high standing - and she wants to know why. Boaz tells her simply: I've come to know your story. Ruth had gone about her business quietly. She had experienced loss in her life, but she didn't allow the difficult times to define her, depress her, or paralyze her from further action. She well knew that she was not the only one going through hardship, and she extended compassion to her mother-in-law and vowed great commitment. She was under no obligation to do so. And she received no hope of reward for her devotion. Quite the contrary: Her mother-in-law told her she had nothing to give her in return and that she should expect no repayment. But Ruth moves forward and acts out a heart filled with grace. And when she shines her light, it cannot be hidden. Her character attracts attention because it is lovely, beautiful, extraordinary. She acts with no ulterior motives, but there are indeed consequences for her actions. Unasked for and unexpected rewards. Her actions and life decisions are not done for show or to be put on display. But they are seen, and Ruth is noticed. Jesus would later speak a sermon to the masses in which He would instruct others to complete their righteous acts in the same way as His ancestress Ruth - not with the intention of drawing attention to them. Instead, Jesus taught the people of God to pray, fast and give alms not with trumpet blast sounding, but quietly, secretly, before an audience of One. Jesus assured His listeners that nothing escapes the notice of the God who sees all. He told them that God recognizes every act of devotion and will indeed reward righteous behavior. The holy intention of righteous acts is to benefit another in need. To do good simply because it is good to do so. To carry out an act of kindness to gain credit, to win favor or to reap recognition or reward cheapens and tarnishes the act. But one need not seek to be noticed; it is unavoidable. Even when you act quietly, the good that you do has a way of getting out. Stories will be told. While you live and after you depart. What matters most is that God knows your intentions, looks upon your acts of kindness and mercy, and rejoices in them. May you draw inspiration today from the expectation of the great affirmation you will one day receive from the God who sees: Well done, thou good and faithful servant!
Good and gracious God, thank You for the examples You've given to me of those who've humbly gone about their lives with hearts full of compassion, joy and grace. In their actions I've seen Your hand at work. Assure me as I go about my day that You are preparing good works for me to accomplish and that nothing I do escapes Your watchful eye. May my words and actions be a faithful and fitting response to the mercy and grace You've poured out for me in Jesus Christ my Lord, and may others see You acting in me for the good of Your people. All praise and honor be Yours this day.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart;
And you shall find rest for your souls.
Here Jesus echoes the words of Jeremiah, who urged the anxious and weary to make their way to the crossroads of life, to consider the options, and to choose the good way that leads to life. The path that would take them to the place where rest could be found for their souls. But there's a difference. For while the prophet pointed the people to the good way God had provided, Jesus offers Himself as the Way; He presents Himself as the source of the soul's serenity. He graciously offers to show His disciples how to lead a joyful productive and meaningful life - by joining themselves to Him. Whereas God had given His people laws, guidelines and instructions for how they were to live in His presence and how they were to conduct themselves in loving community, they now have One in their midst who would demonstrate God's ways by how He would live and serve in their midst. Jesus describes Himself as gentle and humble in heart - and it would be seen that His life would bear this out. Would that all leaders in both sacred and secular realms conduct themselves in such a way. When they do not - when they openly act in ways opposed to this path (with coercion or intimidation) or behave in ways overtly inconsistent with it (with boastful pride and brash bravado), any claims to the Christian title are merely empty words. When one is yoked to Jesus, personal independence is no longer the be-all and end-all of one's aspirations. In fact, to follow Jesus is an admission of the inadequacy of the solitary man. Jesus is no taskmaster. He does not exasperate those who accompany Him on this life's journey. His way is filled with joy and peace and hope and overcoming evil with good. He has come not to imprison you by placing His yoke upon you; He's come to set you free. The words and the life of this Palestinian Peasant captivate the soul; and, paradoxically, when the moment of grace comes, when the conversion of the heart takes place, it's then that the soul finds its ultimate expression of freedom and rest. And there's no greater delight. Although Jesus will not compel you to join forces with Him, His person, His words and His ways are compelling. And His promises are borne out in the life He leads and in the sacrifice He makes. His invitation stands before you now. Take His yoke upon yourself. When you do, He'll take the lead and show you the way forward. You can find no greater friendship or belonging than to be yoked to the One who is faithful, gentle and humble of heart. With Him, even the soul's striving is perfect peace.
Holy God, my Master and my Lord: Thank You for the invitation You've extended to me this day to learn from You and Your ways. Thank You for Your willingness to welcome me and to lighten my load. Yoked to You, my burden is easy. With You by my side, I find joy and peace and a hope that will never disappoint. Thank You for Your faithfulness and for the certainly You give me that the path I'm traveling will lead to life, because I'm joined on this adventure by the One who is life itself. Transform my spirit, that I might learn from You to be gentle and humble of heart, to the honor and glory of Your holy name.
And those who know Thy name will put their trust in Thee;
For Thou, O LORD, has not forsaken those who seek Thee!
To learn a person's name is to distinguish that person from all others in a crowd and, in some measure, to set that person apart. To say a person has a good name is not to give kudos to the parents who chose it well among all other possibilities; rather, it is to refer to the person's reputation - all that the person has gathered up and gained to enrich and give substance to their name received. Or the opposite. For when it comes to naming children, it's not uncommon for a parent to say, "Nope, we can't name him that; I knew someone back in high school with that name, and..." A well-lived life can endow a name with greater honor, and the name itself can gain a reputation and become popular. You might have been named after a cherished relative, a respected leader, or a beloved literary hero. But it's not likely that you were named after someone who desecrated their name. There are not many Adolfs or Judases or Jezebels running around these days. So then, with respect to the name of God - that name which is sacred, pure and holy: How is God's name made known? His name is first learned by ascribing to it various characteristics and activities. We read accounts in Scripture of these attributions - that God is loving, compassionate, merciful and just. That God is the One who rescues His people in their time of need. That God is ever faithful. That God will never abandon or forsake His own. God's name is also learned by association, by the witness of those who claim to be His adherents - by their words and actions and by the way they tell their stories about Him. We increase God's reputation in the world as our actions are consistent with His character, and we denigrate it by taking His name in vain. It would be silly to think that we could somehow improve on God and make God greater than He is. We would be foolish to think God needs improving. Ours is to speak properly about Him - to give Him the credit and honor due His name - and to live our lives in accordance with the directives He's made known to us. When others hear from you the wonders of God and see your life as a pure and proper reflection of His character and intentions, they'll be drawn to God, come to know Him for who He is, and learn to trust Him as you do. In Him their trust will find its sure foundation and secure home. For God is ever faithful. The psalmist speaks praise to the One to whom all praise is due, for God is trustworthy and true. There are many in this world who've turned aside from a god who is less than God, because of others who've claimed to follow the true God but have made God into a lesser god by the way they've spoken about Him or acted in His name. I wonder how often the god rejected by atheists is nothing close to the identity of God Himself. It's our responsibility to do our best to bear good witness and let others see God for who He is in truth. Our world is crying out for something real and true. Let's show it the Someone who makes all the difference - the One whose name is above every other name and before whom all creatures will one day confess and bow down in humble adoration.
Holy God, there is no one like You. You alone are pure, perfect and true. And to You is due all honor, glory and praise. Thank You for Your faithfulness to me. You have proven that You are trustworthy. May I bear witness to Your goodness and grace, and may my life properly reflect Your will and Your ways. I long for the joy I've found in You to be discovered by others. So shine Your light in me and through me this day, that all might see You for who You are, and in so doing find their own deep belonging and meaningful purpose.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you...
On this day of the anniversary of my birth, I wax contemplative. There was a time - not all that long ago - that did not include my presence in it. And, of course, the only awareness I have is when I was endowed with this miracle called life and became part of the historical timeline. The words above bear witness of an amazing Creator who, in love, uniquely fashioned and formed me to be me and you to be you. While I might marvel at the planting of a seed in the ground - to watch it break ground, bud, blossom and bear fruit - this pales in comparison to the beginnings, development and birth of the human child called you. To think that God knew you before you were born, that before you drew breath you were an idea in the mind of God and were destined for life: how can this thought not fill you with awe, humility and gratitude? You have such value in the eyes of God that He was not satisfied to have this world exist without you in it. And there's more: You've been consecrated, set apart, with special and specific purpose. You have a place, and you have meaning. How wonderful is that? I've learned the blessing of working backwards to gain greater insight into these mysteries. I begin with a certainty deeper and truer and more profound than anything else that I can claim to know: that my children are precious to me and irreplaceable. Before their first breath they had a grip on this father's heart that cannot be fully explained, let alone adequately described. But I know that I would willingly and without reservation lay down my life for any one of them. Taking this truth from the core of my life experience, I then consider if my parents did not feel the same way about me - before I had any awareness of my own existence. I wonder if they did not also love me as fiercely, even prior to my appearing as the newest member of their family. And then I contemplate further: Does this not give me insight into the very heart of God - for me and for all of His precious creation? My firm conviction is that it is so. How could it be otherwise? For the created cannot be greater that the Creator. My love and devotion cannot be greater than the One who formed me. It is no prideful thing to rejoice in the miracle of you or the miracle of me. It is nothing less than an offering of praise to the One from whom we came. It is, indeed, to acknowledge the unsurpassed privilege of participating in the blessing of life. You are no accident. Though the words of Christ from the cross - they know not what they do - might well be said of your parents in the heat of their passion, God knew exactly what He was doing. There's good reason for your existence. Your life matters. So make it count. Give over to God whatever days you have left and live them before Him with all you've got. No one can take your place; God's fingerprints are all over you. You are an integral part of God's blessing to the world. Your offering to God is sacred and holy. Delight in it. And shine your light for all it's worth to reflect His glory.
Almighty and Eternal God, in Your wisdom and creativity You've carefully crafted all that exists. What wonder fills my soul that I'm included in Your mighty and mysterious plan! It's no presumption to claim that I'm precious in Your sight, for You've declared that it is so. May I rightly rejoice in this truth and cherish the gift of each day. Help me also to recognize Your touch upon others and to look upon them as part of Your cherished creation, that I might treat them with the dignity that is theirs by virtue of their birth. Open my eyes to Your goodness and grace. And may the decisions I make today honor You and bless Your people, that You might be glorified in me and through me.
Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?
And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
My personal conception of a father's prescribed role came early on in life. The general definition of father was understood through the lens of a particular one I called Papa. He was intelligent and hard- working, and he provided well for our young family. If something went wrong, he would make it right - whether he fixed it himself or had it done by someone else. He believed in maintenance; I don't remember anything ever being in disrepair for too long. And I felt secure. No matter what happened, it would be all right, because Papa was there - for me, for my Mom, for us all. He was our protector. Any worries I had as a child came not from within the home but outside it. Home was a place of safe sanctuary. Papa took me on my first bike rides. We went further than I wanted, but when we were finished, the arduous journey had been transformed into an amazing adventure - and I was delighted that I had accomplished so much more that I thought I could do. His taught me manly things - like how to do pull-ups and chin-ups and how to wrestle. I was always amazed at his forearms. Comparing his to mine, I knew he would always be Papa, and I would always be his boy - and that these were fixed and permanent categories. The student would never surpass the teacher. And teacher he was, not only as a profession but also in the home. He taught me right from wrong and on which side of the fence I should invest my time and build my young life. And then there was Discipline. When I crossed the line, carelessly negligent or intentionally rebellious, there were consequences. They were imparted not out any vindictiveness to punish me, but with the intention of curbing my behavior, kindling my conscience, and restoring me on the right and proper path of "being a good person." The ultimate expression of his undeniable strength was shown in his kindness, compassion and counsel. My experience as the son of my earthly father informs my understanding of the meaning of fatherhood. And I'm grateful that much of my experience has facilitated my understanding of my heavenly Father, who shows His perfect strength in the tender care of all His earthly creatures. God is lovingly watching over you. His intentions for You are good. He has artistically designed you and carefully formed you, and You are never outside His protective care. His eye is on the sparrow. And His lovingkindness covers all of His creation. If even a sparrow does not escape His notice, what comfort does that bring you today? For Jesus assures you that in your Father's eyes you are much more valuable than they. I'm richly blessed to have my Papa with me still, and I continue to draw strength from his guidance and counsel. I'm most grateful for how he's helped me come to understand the Father heart of God. As I continue to learn the lessons my Papa has taught me, and as I seek to learn more of my heavenly Father's ways, I pray that my own children will learn from me more about the perfect love of God. For while I fall short far too many times, He will never fail them. It is my hope that they will come to a full and mature faith in their heavenly Father, who treasures and cherishes them. For in Him they will find pure and perfect peace; in Him they can rest in the safety and security of His powerful and protective tender loving care.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithful provision and dependable protection. Thank You for Your perfect love and amazing grace. I know that I will never fully realize the depth of Your care for me this side of heaven. I thank You for the gift of my children. For as I consider my own fierce love for them, I gain insight into Your unfailing love for me. As I delight in them, I'm humbled to imagine that in the same way You delight in me. And as I well know my willingness to lay down my life on their behalf, I learn more deeply what it means that You would sacrifice Yourself for me on Calvary's cross. Before You alone I bow down with heartful and humble adoration and praise.
My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O LORD;
In the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up.
This opening verses of this psalm from the 1611 King James Version were set to music and played on guitar. It was a song we sang regularly in our Wednesday evening youth group gatherings when I was a younger version of myself. The melody weaved its way into the warp and woof of my being, and it has lived within me ever since. What a good reminder it has been. For what better way to begin each morning, with all its tasks to be accomplished and myriad of opportunities that rise up, than to direct my thoughts heavenward and to commit my day to the LORD: "Help me to recognize Your faithful presence, O LORD. Let me be attentive to Your gentle prodding and responsive to Your guiding hand. Make me sensitive to the needs of those who will serendipitously appear throughout my day, and let me not be so busy as to miss the chance to speak a word of refreshment or to listen to a burden making itself known with merely a whimper or even in abject silence. May the recognition of Your presence infuse me with holy confidence; but keep me from prideful presumption. Fill my perception with wonder, as I experience the majesty of Your creation. Grant me Your joy in abundance, that it might overflow from my life to fill the emptiness of despair in souls that are lost and dejected and have all but given up hope. Help me to steward well this day the wealth of Your grace poured out, that I might share the daily bread which You so generously provide with fellow beggars still looking for food. You've awakened my soul from sleep this day, and You have met me here. May the hours of this day be lived with attitude of rejoicing, as I arise and move forward in anticipation and expectation of the amazing adventure before me. May I be a conduit of Your blessings bestowed, that I might bring benefit to those whose lives will intersect with my own." Before anything else, may the first thought of my mind be centered on the One who has kept my heart beating throughout the night and who has welcomed me to this new day. May I direct my prayer of thanks and gratitude to Him who alone is worthy to receive it. And may the living sacrifice of my consecrated self be laid on the altar before the One who first sacrificed Himself for me on Calvary's cross. May His name be magnified, His glory made known, and His kingdom's borders extended in this day of my life, offered in His service.
Good and gracious God, I thank You for those whose testimony of Your goodness and grace has touched my life. I thank You for Your promises, which have created faith in me to believe them. You are trustworthy and true and ever present in my life. Forgive me when I lose sight of You - and then blame You for being absent, uncaring or unconcerned. Focus the intentions of my heart this day, that I might walk in Your ways and serve You well in the assignments You will set before me. Show me how to live a more helpful life. And may I bear witness to the abundance of Your love, mercy and compassion, graciously poured out for the people You cherish.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:6
Everyone has a part to play on this Planet we call Earth. No one is an extra; none is superfluous. Each has a voice, and yours is one that's unique and vital in the earthly choir, adding to the richness and beauty that brings pleasure to our heavenly Father's ears. Your body and voice are gifts given to you by God; your part is to develop and employ them for God's good purposes. And when it comes to any forward progress in the things that really matter, God is the motivating factor behind it all. As the apostle bears witness in the verse above: God is the One who causes the growth. A doctor can set a broken bone, but it's God who brings about the healing. The doctor can take pride in a job well done and at the same time rejoice in awe and wonder at the work of God, who restores health and wholeness. Thanks be given for the work and efforts of humankind; glory be given to God alone. In Paul's particular setting: he's the one who began the work; he's the one who planted the congregation. And before this itinerant evangelist took leave of the fledgling Christian community, he left it in the good hands of a leader named Apollos, who continued the pastoral work among the people. And the church grew - which is what all healthy organizations do. More than that, the body of believers was seen to be a living organism, for the Spirit of God was abiding in their midst. They were, in fact, the temple of God in which God would be pleased to dwell. When King Solomon built his magnificent temple, he questioned if the LORD could really be contained in a temple made by human hands. In the end, he settled upon this nomenclature: it was the Name of God that was attached to the worship site that had been dedicated to Him. But when Jesus appeared, the incarnate God established His Church. It was constructed not of bricks and mortar, but of people whose hearts had been captured by the Good News of God's saving grace demonstrated at Calvary and at the Empty Tomb. Pentecost - the long growing season we've recently entered - reveals that the Spirit of God has been unleashed in our land to carry out His purposes and plan. God is actively involved in our world, causing growth in His Church and advancing His Kingdom for the good of all His beloved people. The real miracle is that God uses imperfect human instruments to carry out His perfect plan. God employs the human hands, feet and voices that belong to you and me. The story is told of two masons working in different sections of the same project. A passerby asks the first what he's constructing. His reply: A wall. The passerby walks on a bit when he comes to the second. "And what are you building?" he asks. His reply: A magnificent cathedral! Both spoke the truth, but only one realized the larger purpose behind his work. And you can be sure that he took greater pleasure in it than did the other. Perhaps you can even hear him whistling a tune or see the smile on his face. I hope that same demeanor is displayed in your life today. For God has employed you for His good purposes. You're engaged in a work that has eternal significance and assured success, for the One who makes it all happen is God Himself.
Sovereign and eternal God, You began Your creation by speaking Your Word, and when it all came into being You looked with pleasure upon it all and declared it to be good. Then Your Word took on flesh, and You became one of us. You showed us how to live and how to love, and You employed twelve to follow in Your steps and to carry on Your earthly work. Now You've called us to take our place alongside them. Use my hands, my feet and my voice this day to accomplish Your good purposes. Never let me forget the meaning of my work or its assured success. And always let me see beyond the mundane and the monotonous to glimpse the magnificent project You are carrying out in, by and through Your people. Inspire us to work together, side by side, in perfect harmony before You.
Your people shall be my people...
It's a vivid childhood memory - way back in the days of black and white TV, when there were a mere three network channels and perhaps a few more if we dialed in the UHF just right. I expect you've had a similar experience. The commercial that filled the screen was that of an emaciated boy or girl with distended belly and dark skin. It was disconcerting, if not horrifying. Both foreign and familiar. Shocking to think this was really happening in the world - for I had never had the experience (even one night) of going to bed hungry. But evidently, this was a true occurrence. Someplace else. For it was certainly not happening in my neighborhood. And yet what I saw in their eyes was a humility that was met by my own compassion. And there was an unmistakable connection, for I recognized our common humanity. But then the commercial ended - or the channel was changed - and life went on. In later years CNN was born, with its constant stream of news updates. Then came the Internet. And this vast world of ours suddenly became smaller. As the deceiver promised (or warned) our first parents in the Garden: Our eyes have been opened, and we are now like God, seeing both good and evil. When the world was smaller, it was easier to sort through, process and manage the problems that arose and the bad things that happened. If and when we happened to get a handle on things, we were able to reach out to assist others outside our own community - including barefoot boys with buzzing flies about their big and bald heads. Now, we're bombarded with these and other troublesome images. We're constantly reminded of global devastation and pandemic, and it's all become overwhelming. We might wish that we could see again with merely human eyes and that we were not adorned with vision divine, for we have found it impossible to assimilate all that we see. But, of course, there's no going back. The lid cannot be replaced on Pandora's box - for as the strewn contents have spawned a myriad of others, they would by no means fit, should we try to stuff them all back in. You may well have to manage the intake of your awareness of our global crises. But that does not make it all go away. And it will not do to relegate the problems that exist to others. My childhood innocence that once recognized myself in the other was an instance of divine truth that piqued and captured my conscience. And there's no escaping that truth: them is us. The One who came from heaven to bring salvation to the world would not have us pretend that we're unaware or admit no responsibility. It's not their problem, it's ours, because we all belong to the one human race. When any one of God's creation suffers hunger, thirst, poverty, ill-treatment or injustice - no matter where they live or what color of skin wraps their bodies - it's our problem. It is our concern. There's no other option for those who claim to follow the One whose love excluded none. He insisted on our integrity: that our actions affirm our words and that how we treat the least of these is of divine concern.
Creator and Lover of us all, You've made it known that those who've been given much will be expected to do much good with it. Thank You for the abundance of blessings You've poured out on me. Help me not to hoard them, but to act as a good steward, to manage what You've entrusted to me in ways that are pleasing to You. Transform my heart to align with Your compassion, and grant me wisdom to responsibly use my resources to bring true benefit to those in need. And may those who receive it from me see in my assistance Your hand of grace reaching out to them in love. May my actions increase Your reputation in the world, and may Your will be done, in me and through me, this day.
Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.
1 Corinthians 10:24
Seems like such a simple request: Wear a mask. But then the debate begins. About the scientific reports and their validity. About mask efficacy - or their inability to protect. About the benefits of wearing them versus the hassles inherent in forming new habits. About the infringement of rights. In the end, it comes down to this: What if I don't want to? That the words above were written to the Corinthians reveals the purpose for writing them. It seems obvious to those of us who claim to have a conscious that we should consider the good of our neighbor. Why, then, do we need the reminder? Why, then, say anything about it at all? Why waste words? Because, of course, we need the reminder. Because, of course, we're prone to do otherwise. Even the best of us can neglect the needs of others, so focused are we on our own agenda, so insistent are we on our own rights. The apostle pens these words to church people, to a congregation of believers who claim to treasure the words of Jesus and to follow in His steps. Still, they needed to hear it. And so do I. Perhaps you recognize your own need to be nudged, as well. If not, that may be an indication of an even deeper trouble. The sin in me is preoccupied with self. Whatever comes my way, I'm off and running on this road: How will it affect me? How will it make me feel? Will it make me uncomfortable? Take my time? Interrupt my plans? Inconvenience me? Or: What will I get out of it? What benefit will I gain? What pleasure will it bring? Will it save me time or steal it away from me? Enthuse me with energy or sap my strength? Save me money, or set me behind for months on end? Is this the best deal I can get? Or shall I go out again and look elsewhere? It's with me in mind that I set off down this road. Off and running I go, until I'm reminded that there are others to consider besides Numero Uno. At first, I'm affronted even by the reminder. The bother it brings. The unfair accusation. After all, I'm breaking no law. I'm committing no crime. So lay off! And even if you do, why does my conscience torment me so? Why is this reminder so... annoying! My all-important self, consumed with selfish intent, does not go down easy. It arises again and again, stubborn and headstrong, refusing to die, frustrating me like a game of whack-a-mole. The redemption Jesus brings in the hearts of His adherents is both immediate and long-term, both now and not yet. The transformation the Spirit of God makes takes time. And the reminders are necessary in congregations comprised of those who are simil justus et peccator, both saint and sinner. Sometimes the deep trouble within me is revealed by something as simple and innocuous as wearing a mask. And while I might hem and haw about the bother and the hindrance, I'm told the mask protects others more than it protects me. If this is the case, then I'll seek to silence my stubborn sinful self and solicit the Spirit of Christ to have His way. Seeking the good of the neighbor? It's what Jesus would do. And it's what Jesus continues to do, time and time again, in and through those who submit to His way.
Loving, gracious and longsuffering God, You've demonstrated Your love for me by sending Your Son to save me from my sins when I was most unworthy. Your grace has come, and it continues to do its transformative work within me. Work repentance in my heart this day. Draw my soul unto You. Reveal to me Your ways, and incline by my intentions to act according to Your will. May You be glorified in me, as Your good purposes are accomplished in and through me today for the sake of the people You love.
Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
In this spiritual trifecta the apostle imparts to the community counsel that helps every member in it maintain balance and move forward in faithful living. The eternal God, from whom every creature on earth derives its being, is loving, caring and compassionate. He is steadfastly for His people and comes to their aid, time and time again. In the two testaments of Holy Scripture we see it in the Exodus event and again on the cross of Calvary. In love and in grace, God comes to the rescue of those who are His beloved. In God is your victory - both present and ultimate - and this in itself is reason to rejoice. Always. You have a hope that will not disappoint and cannot be taken away, for God is faithful and will let nothing come between Himself and the world He so loves. Above anything else you're going through, let this be forefront in your mind. Because your life has been founded upon God and is centered in Him, your story will end well. The destination will be worth it all. Keep the finish line in mind, and let this hope spur you on and invigorate you to manage these tough times... As you go through the challenges of these days, exercise patience. Keep your head about yourself. Don't panic. You've been climbing this mountain for some time, and you've not yet reached the top. But you'll get there. If you find yourself becoming weary, now is not the time to become spastic or to sprint. Easy does it. Measured strokes. Maintain your focus. Concentrate. Breathe. Your second wind will come, for God's powerful Spirit is with you to empower you. Before you know it, the road will level off and you'll be able to coast. Refreshment, renewal and recharge are coming, so keep your wits about you. You can do this, because it is Christ who strengthens you... And finally, don't bottle up the bad stuff. Let it out. Your loving heavenly Father is there for you and is big enough and strong enough to handle anything you bring before Him. When express your fears to God, you'll be amazed at how they quickly they will dissipate. So let it all out. Pour out your pleas before Him who is there to listen and able to assist. His comfort is real. And when you're confronted with your own weakness, His strength will grow stronger still. His power will more than compensate for your weariness. He will be your constant supply in time of need. You'll get through this. When the day comes for you to look back on these present challenges, you'll want to be duly proud of the decisions you make today. Indeed, sometimes this life is not at all easy. Stay the course, hang in there. Your victory is assured, and your devotion will be worth the investment of your energy and grit. Others many not see it, but you know what? Doing what you've been doing for so long: you deserve a medal. Give it all you've got just one more day; God will take care of your tomorrows. And the heavenly cloud of witnesses that surrounds you is cheering you on to the finish.
Loving and Eternal God, I rejoice today in Your goodness and grace. I thank You for Your faithfulness - for Your watchful eye that protects me from danger and for Your abiding Spirit that sustains me. Help me to fix my mind on the final goal, and let that hope inspire me to do what I can today to progress toward that end. Help me to focus on the tasks at hand and to be encouraged by Your accompanying and strengthening presence. As I await my second wind, assure me of Your tender care and help me to listen well to Your compassionate coaching. You know exactly what I need and withhold nothing good from Your servant. Thank You for Your loving provision, more than sufficient for the demands of this day.
And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee;
remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt."
What marvelous insight we gain with these words into the heart of our Lord and into the Mind of the Divinity. And what a wondrous example Jesus gives us, in our own lives of prayer and in our conception of the One to whom we pray. He is in the Garden of Gethsemane where He continues His Father's work. Overheard is the prayer that grants us access into the mystery of the Trinity and into the relationship between Father and Son. Abba! cries Jesus. It is an Aramaic word, of the tongue that was most natural and heartfelt for this One Bethlehem-born, and this is one of the few instances of the language's inclusion in Holy Scripture. It is akin to the affectionate Daddy. With this address, Jesus bespeaks an intimate relationship of trust He shares with His Father and an assurance that He would never do Him wrong. And although Jesus well knows that path that was laid out before Him and the sacrifice that He must make, even the sinless Son of God, endowed with wisdom divine does not presume to know it all. In His humility, He is open to the possibility of another way. The path to the cross would be no cakewalk. And although others were crucified, what Jesus would bear - the weight of the sins of the world - would be suffering unlike any other. Our Lord had no martyr complex; His attitude was not one that would flippantly suggest: "If suffering is before Me, bring it on!" Nor would He cower in a corner and give way to fear in the face of it. With this petition, Jesus expresses the fullness of His humanity; He would avoid any unnecessary suffering and pain. He also gives us insight into the extent of the bitterness of the cup that had been set before Him. He courageously commits to following through and to drinking the cup - if He must. If there was no other way to accomplish the Triune Plan, no other possibility of fulfilling the purpose for which He was sent - to bring about the salvation of world - He would willingly move forward. First and last, Jesus entrusts His passionate plea into His loving Father's care. He's willing to submit His will to the good intentions of His Father. And He shows us, too, the way to pray. We're reminded that even though His path will take Him down the Via Dolorosa (the way of sorrows and suffering) and will lead to His death, death will not have the last word. For the Final Word belongs to God - and it will be a word of life. The certain hope that is ours is that although this world is not always fair, and although justice in not always gained, it will one day be realized in its fullness in the presence of the Almighty. In the end, there will be no disappointment with God. Until that day, our calling is to carry out acts of mercy, to work tirelessly for justice, and to extend God's grace to all. As you live out the remainder of your days here on earth, you're invited to address your heavenly Father even as Jesus did, and to live into the truth that your Abba loves you more than you will ever know this side of heaven. He will never do you wrong. You are, finally, safe and secure in His loving hands.
Good, gracious and eternal God, I give You thanks that even in Your magnificence, You have made Yourself accessible in Jesus Christ our Lord. You have granted us insight into Your will and Your ways. What joy it is to know that You delight in me calling you Daddy. Continue to increase my trust in You, that as I live out my days in Your presence, I might live them according to Your good ways. Incline my will unto Thine own, that You might extend Your blessings through me to others and that You might be gloried in all that I do. Thy will be done, in my life and for Your glory. This day and every day.
O taste and see that the LORD is good;
How blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.
Just try it. How many times did I hear those words growing up? And how many times have I told them (and tell them still) to my own children? Too many to count, to be sure. We can sometimes be stubborn and closed off to new possibilities. We can sometimes be all but certain that we know already - even though we've never tried it - that we wouldn't like it if we did. And we can be mistaken and miss out. I'm good is a response I've heard too often in this context - a refusal to attempt new things that are offered. A statement that puts a conclusive cap on the conversation. As if to say: My life is complete without adding this new experience to it, so don't even try. It's irksome when you've had an extraordinary experience, and you want to share the joy (and increase your own by sharing it with others), only to have your proposal met with less than enthusiastic response. And then there are those times when you're pretty sure you'll like something, but when you try it, you discover it's not at all what you had expected. Like when my boss many years ago asked me if I liked cheese - at which I expressed my admitted ardor and craving for all kinds. He then offered me something that didn't look like it should be categorized as cheese, but he assured me that it was. He even sliced a hunk for himself and plopped it in his mouth. I did love cheese, after all, so how bad could it be? Let me tell you: Repudiated by my taste buds in an instant and left with an aftertaste that as much as told me I'd never be forgiven for subjecting them to such horror. No offense to the Norwegians, but you can keep your Gamalost... The psalmist is certain that the experience he's had was not just singular and particular but one that all would enjoy. And he could not keep it to himself; he extends an invitation to others. Like the vendors in the Old City of Jerusalem, practiced at their craft of the assumptive sale, who put a would-be purchase in my hands before I'd made the decision to buy it, the writer as much as puts the morsel in the mouth of the reader. Taste! Give it a try! It will be like nothing else you've ever experienced. So carried away is the psalmist that in his enthusiasm he puts a strange twist on mixing metaphors, as he combines the senses. Taste and see. But he can be forgiven for his fervor. For those of us who've experienced it firsthand quickly join him in his confession and in his conviction. We've tasted - and we return, time and time again, to feast. We've seen - and we can hardly wait to come back to get a front row seat for an even better view next time. We've taken refuge in the LORD - and we've found the safety and protection that have made us blessed indeed. To taste is to give your palate an appetizer of heavenly banquet. To see is to get a glimpse of the grandeur of God. The take refuge is to experience the blessing that will one day be yours forever in the presence of the Lover of your soul.
Good and gracious God, thank You for the witness of those who told me the stories of Your words and Your ways. I'm grateful for their investment of time and for their perseverance in sharing Your good news - until the day came when Your Spirit opened my ears to hear and my eyes to see. Thank You for the gift of Your Word and for Your saving and sustaining promises. And thank You for the fellowship I share with brothers and sisters in Christ, who encourage me in my walk and enrich my journey of faith. Embolden me to invite others to taste and see that You are good. For I know that You will never disappoint.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him; bless His name.
There are reasons to rejoice. Always. The essence of God is goodness, love, justice, truth and compassion. We enter into the presence of God - or, better said, we recognize His presence - with Praise (with a capital "P"), for He alone is praise-worthy. We worship and adore the Lord alone; anything less or other than this is idolatrous - misplaced affection and trust. We waste our efforts when we exult before any other entity, for in the end it will prove unworthy of our adoration and will be sure to disappoint. It's downright foolish to believe anyone or anything could ever take the place of God; no one and no thing could ever ultimately provide the safety and security your soul longs for and where it will find true serenity. We praise God for who God is. For His being, for His essence. We praise God for the miracle of life which He has so graciously bestowed upon us. You had nothing to do with your appearance on this Planet. It was all outside you, all gift. Beyond any parental accident or intention, your existence is nothing less than a gracious act of God, emanating from His very essence. Life imparts life. And while we praise God for who He is, we thank God for what He has done. For His provision and protection. For granting us our daily bread. For the wondrous touches of beauty with which the Almighty Artist has graced the marvels we discover all around us - if our eyes are open to see them. When the Queen of Sheba traveled to Jerusalem to verify the report of King Solomon's great wisdom, she all but swooned. She saw his wisdom displayed in the layout of his palace and in the organization of his royal staff. Even so, we see the wisdom of God made manifest in all of God's magnificent creation. The fingerprints of God are all around us. Glimpses of Heaven. Sounds of Glory. Tastes of Home. You might recognize your entry into His presence when you walk through sanctuary doors into a space dedicated to the worship of God, designed to lift your eyes and your heart heavenward to the Almighty. You might realize the nearness of God along a wooded nature trail, smell the aroma of heaven in the scents of a coastal breeze, glimpse the grandeur of God from the mountain heights. Or you might recognize you're entering into His courts when you simply step outside your front door. You've been so richly blessed by the One who has created you in love and endowed you with senses to perceive the wonders of this world. Rejoice in them, and express your praise and thanksgiving for who God is and for what He has done. For when you employ all that is within you to rejoice in the fulness of your being before the presence of God - your joy will be multiplied into abundance, and it will spill over into the lives of others in enthusiastic and welcome contagion. God's kingdom will be extended, and the glory of God will be magnified and evident for all to see.
Almighty and wondrous God, when I consider my own existence and look upon the beauties of Your creation, how can I keep my soul from singing? To see You properly, to recognize You for who You are, is, necessarily, to praise You. My heart exults in Your presence! Thank You for Your secure and steadfast protection and for Your faithful and generous provision. Quicken my senses to realize Your ubiquitous presence, that I might always and everywhere declare Your praise and forever give You thanks.
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter;
this is the way I write.
2 Thessalonians 3:17
During these days of lock-down, there's been an increased interest (and in some cases a fanatical fascination) with jigsaw puzzles. They've flown off the shelves as fast as hand sanitizer and toilet tissue. Perhaps I exaggerate. A bit. But I've seen more Facebook posts about it than I've seen in recent memory. Even one this morning, in which the puzzler reported completing her project only to discover that one piece was missing. Has it happened to you? I can personally attest to having had this experience. When I got to the end of the arduous undertaking of interlocking 1499 pieces and found that one was absent, a serendipitous lesson was learned. The beginning of the project had me looking at a boxful of seemingly innumerable pieces - the vast number of which made it appear that each piece was rather insignificant. Half of them were upside down, showing their matte grey underbellies, playing into the pretense of sameness. But when I found the proper place for every one of them save one, I came to the overt and indisputable realization of the uniqueness and irreplaceability of each piece. Suddenly and poignantly, its absence made me recognize its value. Every person matters. Each and every one of us is a unique and priceless creation of God. If you leave a job or retire from a position, someone can fill your shoes and step in to complete the tasks that once were yours. But no one can replace you: you're one-of-a-kind. In the composition of the apostle's epistles (say that ten times!), it's thought that he dictated most of his writings to a scribe. It has also been surmised that Paul had eyesight problems and that this might have been the thorn-in-the-flesh he had made reference to elsewhere. Most of his work was to communicate to congregations about Christ. The message was about the Good News of God made known to us in Jesus; the messenger did not take center stage. And yet, we find glimpses of Paul coming out in his letters. And although we believe him when he writes that he's merely a steward, a servant, an instrument of reconciliation, and although we accept his words even when he tells us that he is the least of the apostle and the chief of sinners, we're still interested in this particular man. Not just in the work that he accomplished and its incalculable impact on the world, but in this matchless man himself. In this second-to-last verse of his last letter to the church in Thessalonica, he makes mention of his personal and peculiar mark, his individual and exclusive scratching that would be a forensic document examiner's delight. I'm reminded of my centenarian great-grandfather on those occasions when he wanted to sign a check. Just show me where, he'd ask. And then, with pen in hand, he would carefully scrawl in his own distinct scribble. And that single autograph is more important to me than many others from much more famous hands, simply because it belongs to the unique and irreplaceable great-grandfather I called my own. You are one-of-a-kind and priceless. No one can take your place. You have the fingerprints of God on you and a singular DNA. God's Church is not complete without you in it. He wants you in the picture. Don't hide your face. Look up, and say cheese.
Blessed and Holy God, You are ingenious in Your innovation and imaginative in Your creation of each and every one on Your blessed and beloved people. No one of us is without Your image intricately woven into the very fabric of our being. Help me to cherish my individuality and to excel in my originality. May I do so in no way to exalt myself, but rather to offer myself completely for Your purposes in the particular calling You've given me in my life. Thank You for the rich variety You've provided in this world full of people. May I see Your mark upon each one and Your claim upon them all. May I treat them with tender care, as holy, precious and irreplaceable creations from Your almighty hand.
Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.
The Lord be with you all!
2 Thessalonians 3:16
Isolation. Confusion. Mixed feelings. Ups and downs. Weariness. Boredom. Do these words describe you and your experiences in life over the past several months? They're some of the words I heard a team of leaders share with me recently to express the ordeals encountered in these days of COVID-19. The virus is not the sum total of all that's going on, of course. There's more of life that's been coming at us - both good and bad - and the weight of the regulations and requirements that've been placed upon us as a necessary response to the inherent danger of this virus for our community and for our world has made the other challenges of life that, in and of themselves were already burdensome, almost unbearable. It's a lot to ask of any of us, and it calls for compassion, grace and understanding. In very simple words: be good to yourself and be kind to one another. In some of the last words written to the church in Thessalonica, the apostle leaves behind a blessing of peace. It seems to be true that this is a deep human need in any generation and in every circumstance. Paul speaks to the nature of God in these words, characterizing God as the Lord of peace. The apostle's confession is that this is an inherent quality of what it means to be God. In His very essence, God is all about peace. These words are written in humility and with polite affection. But surely this itinerant evangelist had the confidence to be more dogmatic in his definition of the work of God. He might well have said, "God, who is peaceful in His very nature, is indeed bringing peace to you at this very moment, in your inner spirit and in your interactions with one another. For this is who God is, and this is what God does." Indeed, there are things we can do to pursue the things that make for peace (see yesterday's devotion). But ultimately this peace comes from outside ourselves. We do not conjure it up within us, as much as we participate in the work of God by receiving the peace He brings and by passing on God's blessing to others. You can trust that the Lord is indeed with you as you go about your daily work. When you feel isolated, know that God is present, right by your side. When you're confused, pick up the Good Book, read of God's promises, and listen to His voice of truth. When you feel tossed and turned on turbulent waters, know that Jesus is faithful, steady in the storm, and hear Him speak the word that calms your troubled heart. When you're weary, know that He's by your side and that He willingly yokes Himself to you, to assist you in carrying your burdens. And when all your work is done, and there's nothing left to tidy, mop or clean, be still, and know that you are loved, treasured and cherished by Lord of peace Himself. Resting in that assurance, you'll find the motivation you need to invest your time as God's instrument of blessing to those who need your kind words and faithful support today.
God of grace and mercy, may the winds of Your Spirit gently blow into our troubled world to refresh and renew Your people with peace. Look upon us with favor and grace, and relieve the burdens we're bearing. Grant us strength sufficient for the day, and give us the confidence we need to know that if we stay the course and seek You in these moments, when this season finally comes to a close, You will have made us stronger in faith and more appreciative of Your gifts; indeed, You will richly bless us with a serendipitous joie de vivre that will be worth it all. Help me to recognize Your faithful presence with me today, that I might be encouraged by Your nearness and enriched by Your goodness and grace.
So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
The law of entropy tells us that without putting energy into a system, it will go from an ordered state to a disordered mess and will eventually come to a grinding halt. Everything requires maintenance. It may not appear to be the case, but it is an absolute necessity. It may not be broken yet, but without work invested while things are still functioning, without tending to the requirements that any system needs to keep running, breakdown is sure to come - probably sooner than you think and likely at an inauspicious time. A relatively unimportant matter once conveniently set aside for another day suddenly takes on greater significance, becomes urgent, and occupies center stage. It demands your undivided attention and plays havoc with your stress levels. And you find yourself in a place you do not want to be: In the waiting room of an auto shop, a hospital, a therapist, or an attorney. Or in front of a television watching incredulously as a nation protests day after day the inequities and injustices that have grown, festered and become intolerable. When systems break down, reconciliation, remediation and reparation are imperative. Enormous energy needs to be expended to fix what is broken and to get the system working again, that it might be beneficial to all within it and not just to those who make the rules and determine the parameters for the rest of us. And to keep it going, to keep it functioning properly, and to prevent future breakdown: It's important to keep in mind that silent but unavoidable law of entropy and to closely monitor its indicators. In this respect the apostle shows wisdom regarding the system called Christian community. He's well aware of the continuous infusion of care and compassion required to tend to the fellowship of the community, if it was to remain healthy and strong. Perhaps the key word in the above verse is pursue. It implies intentional effort, heightened awareness, and keen sensitivity. Peace is one of the fruits of God's Spirit, and as we humble ourselves before God and submit our personal desires to the laws He ordained for the proper working of community, God will bless us with peace. What are the ingredients of peace and how do we pursue them? We begin by recognizing the simple fact that we're not alone in this world - to be aware of our surroundings and to recognize our neighbors. To really see them - and when we do, to respectfully listen and come to know and understand them to the best of our ability. To consider their interests and needs and how our words and actions affect them. To realize that they cannot read our minds, so we must speak clearly and communicate well. To remember that Jesus is our Master and to let love be our guiding principle - as it was His. And to ask every day: What can I do to encourage and support my neighbor? How can I work today to build a bridge and to break down a barrier, that we might live more peacefully with one another? To keep to myself, to live quietly and to do nothing is not a viable option, as it does nothing to promote peace. The law of entropy requires action on my part. And it compels me to get a move-on today. It's time to lace up my walking shoes and hit the road.
Gracious God, I thank You for the gift You've given me in caring community. Help me to recognize the responsibilities I've been given, to work for the good of my household and for the welfare of my neighbor. The gift of community necessitates attention to the interactions I share with others. Help me to be mindful of what matters to them, attentive to their needs, and to interact with them respectfully. Guide me in Your ways of goodness and grace. Grant Your people peace, and help us learn to cherish it, nourish it and promote it. For Your glory and for the good of all Your people.
Yet I sent you all My servants the prophets, again and again, saying,
"Oh, do not do this abominable thing which I hate."
But they did not listen...
They returned again, to disturb the pre-dawn peace and to disrupt the soundness of sleep that had fallen so welcome upon me. The crows - a murder of them - had made a repeat visit to our backyard birch, and they began carrying on their confrontations with one another, now in the nearness of an unappreciative audience of one. Annoyed by their cacophonous cawing and not wanting to leave the warmth and comfort of my repose, I tried to wish them away and to wait them out. But their ongoing chatter made a mockery of my plan. Their incessant squawking wakened my brain and reminded me of the persistent protests that have now filled out nation's city streets for a fortnight. And I wondered: Will the protests serve as a sort of wake-up call to our nation that has settled into stuporous slumber? Will they force us to open our eyes, to become aware of our surroundings, and to rise up to address the inequities and injustices that have gone on for far too long? Will these demonstrations work repentance in us who, due to complacency and inaction, have become complicit in repressive rule and have perpetuated it? If it is true that change will not occur apart from suffering, how much provocation will it take to pique our collective conscience, motivate us to abdicate our places of privilege, and right the wrongs that have taken place? God cares about His people - all of His people. God cares about right and wrong, and He gave His people laws to live by, to protect them and to provide for them. When their hearts became hard and they turned aside from the law, God sent prophets to warn them of their ways - and what would happen if they continued to promote their own privilege and to persist in their own profligacy, while showing no concern for those undergoing hardship. Again and again, God spoke through the mouths of those willing to speak, those who could see what others refused to look upon. Again and again, God cried out through human voices that would not stay silent, those who were unafraid to face the consequences of their complaints. And when the people still would not listen, God would not quit. He had still another solution. If He paid a personal visit to the Planet, surely, then, they would hear Him. If they saw His loving service in their midst, if they witnessed His care and His compassion, surely, then, they would pay heed and take action and do what was right. If they saw His personal sacrifice, His own willingness to lay down His life, surely, then, they would work tirelessly until God's desires were fulfilled, on earth as it is in heaven. Or would they?
Almighty God, You have made Your ways known to me, through Your holy Word and in Your precious Son, Your Word made flesh. Open my ears to His words and fix my eyes upon His ways. Transform my heart to be consistent with Your intentions, that I might devote my days to accomplish Your purposes for the good of all Your people. Make me sensitive to Your Spirit's guidance as You prepare my path this day. And grant me grace to walk according to Your ways for Your glory and for the good of all Your people.
Thy Word I have treasured in my heart.
"So what are your summer plans?" I asked the question of a friend as we were hitting the tennis ball back and forth on one of our high school tennis courts. Having both played on the Freshman team, we were honing our skills in an attempt to move up the following year to Junior Varsity. "I'm going to camp," he told me, "and I get to go for free." It was a church camp, he went on to tell me. And his no- cost entry was due to the fact that he had memorized the most Bible verses of all the kids in his church youth group. He was a PK (Pastor's Kid), so that didn't surprise me. It was the number of verses he claimed to have committed to memory that left me incredulous: One hundred twenty. No way! I had suffered through my own religious training, and any memorization work I had done was in the idling car just before being dropped off for confirmation class, learning enough of the verse for my mom to sign the slip of paper verifying that I had done so. Of course, these hastily learned words had not been deeply notched in the neural pathways of my brain, where they might remain for years; it was more like they were traced in the sands of my mental seashore, to be erased moments later by the next tidal wash. My friend was telling the truth, and in the days to come he would share with me the references to the verses he had memorized. And soon I would begin my own methodical and meditative journey, carefully carving ruts in my brain that would guide rivers of life-giving words down the same path, time and time again. For me, it has been a spiritual practice that's provided great benefit in my life of faith. Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, journaling - these practices can also nourish faith. But Scripture memory has provided a silent blessing of spiritual strength throughout my adult life. I cannot recommend it to you highly enough, and I encourage you to include it as one of your own spiritual practices. When you come across a verse that's especially meaningful to you and you want to keep it in mind, jot down the reference. Begin a list. Take it slow, one verse at a time. Write down the words on a 3'' x 5'' card. Print it neatly in poetic form, phrase by phrase. Then take it a line at a time until you can say it word-perfect. Repeat five times (along with the reference). Review it the next day. Carry the card with you wherever you go. In a week's time it will be yours. Move on to the next verse on your list the following week, using the same techniques. Review last week's verse. This practice might occupy you for five to ten minutes a day. Let the nuances of each verse enrich the meaning you gain from it. Savor the words. I assure you that the benefits you'll gain will be serendipitous.
Eternal God, in the beginning You spoke Your life-giving Word, and the wonders of Your world were created. By Your Word You quicken my faith and sustain my soul. Help me to mediate on Your promises each and every day, that I might be reminded of Your presence, Your goodness and Your grace. May I always be mindful that You are ever faithful and ever true and that You claim me as Your own. Be glorified in me today. And may I pass on to others the blessings You so richly bestow upon me.
On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper,
that no collections be made when I come.
1 Corinthians 16:2
Paul, the itinerant apostle, was making his rounds. Three major missionary journeys are recorded in the Book of Acts, not including his journey to Rome. During these travels, Paul founded churches, staffed them, and left them in good hands. He revisited them during future travels, and when he was unable to be present in person, he wrote to them. In his first letter to the church in Corinth we gain insight into a community effort he led to provide assistance to the poor. This was nothing less than a work of God, and we can see in it a variety of benefits that served participants well - and can serve us well in our lives, too. At a very basic level, the project satisfied a need. The poor needed help, and Paul established this ancient Go Fund Me account as a way to satisfy it. The recipients of this future gift were living in Jerusalem. They were far distant from Corinth, and this effort increased the Corinthians' sense of community connection and expanded their understanding of the neighbor they were called by their Lord to serve. Corinth was not the only congregation invited to take part in this collection; many other churches were joining in, as well. Each member of the Body of Christ was doing its part; and working together, they were growing in their unity as one Church. All within the Corinthian congregation were invited to participate. None was excluded; every person mattered. It was expected, of course, that everyone would work, be productive, and provide for their families. Contributing to the needs of those outside their households helped them to see the stewardship entrusted to them as something that extended beyond the threshold of their homes and the borders of their territories. It increased their vision of the Christian community and their participation in it. Of course, some would be able to produce more than others, and Paul encouraged them to contribute accordingly. The apostle also encouraged advance preparation, so things would be ready when he arrived. Finally, he instructed them to establish regular routines - on the first day of every week. This day, Sunday, was also deemed the Lord's Day - the day Jesus had risen from the dead. It's the reason Christians gather regularly on that day. In this unexpected season in which we're living, when one day tends to be very much like the last (and the next), it's easy to lose track of time. I'm told retirement can have the same effect. Regular routines can help us manage our time and provide order, structure and stability. They can assist us in progressing toward our goals. And a regular practice of contribution has a very beneficial byproduct - the gift we receive in giving: joy. In our hearts, spirits and souls. It should come as no surprise to us that this happens. For Jesus did tell us: It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Gracious God, You freely provide for all of Your creation. You grant me all that I need from day to day. My blessings abound! Help me to live in a way that is consistent with the generosity I've received from You. Help me to establish regular and responsible routines, for I know that without them I languish and become unproductive. Open my eyes to the needs of others around me. And grant me a sensitive spirit and an obedient heart, to fulfill the purposes which You set forth before me today.
Why dost Thou look with favor
On those who deal treacherously?
Why art Thou silent when the wicked swallow up
Those more righteous than they?
Theodicy. It's a word that's likely unfamiliar to most of those outside of religious circles. The first time I heard it I was visiting a seminary where I would later spend several years of my life, contemplating this topic more deeply. Theodicy is the question of God and evil - how it's possible for both exist and what it means that they do. What does the presence of evil in the world say about God? Although it may be a question ultimately unanswerable to human satisfaction, it doesn't keep us from asking it. Even the prophets struggled with it - and they had been chosen by God to speak God's words to God's people. How could God ask them to announce what they could not understand? They were brutally honest about it. They expressed their doubts, lobbied their laments, and voiced their confusion. They lodged accusations against God, charging Him with silence, indifference and neglect. How could they look upon what was taking place right in front of them and reconcile it with the character of God they'd been taught since childhood? They'd learned that the LORD was merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. They'd been told that God was the epitome of kindness, that God was the One who delighted in justice and righteousness. How could they resolve the seeming inconsistencies before them? The prophets settled on several convictions. First, when those who deal treacherously advance, when the wicked swallow up the righteous, as much as it appears that God, in apparent silence, favors the activity, such is not the case. As much as the prophets and the people might have felt that God was sitting back, uninvolved, unresponsive and uncaring, surely this could not be. God was then - and is now - at work, always bringing about good, always blessing, even and especially when evil appears to prevail. The second insight the prophets gained is that God was then - and is now - at work through human agency. Not exclusively, but predominantly. The question then became: What are God's people doing about those who deal treacherously? How do God's people respond when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? What does God desire to do through His people to accomplish His redemptive purposes? How would God have them respond? This is how God operated in the days of the prophets, and this is how God works in our world today. We see it time and time again in the face of evil. As a dear brother reminded me recently: life finds a way. And God, the author of life, continues to bless. Finally, the prophets discovered that as much as can be said about God, His ways, ultimately, are unfathomable. Some would call this a cop-out. Others, including Luther, would deem it the Hidden God. God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are not our own. The response to this is lament. A crying out to God for the apparent inconsistences between God's character and the activity we witness in the world. And this brings us back full circle, where we again ask the unanswerable question. And while we writhe and wrestle with this conundrum, we commit ourselves to step up to work for good and to oppose all that is evil. We stand up in the face of evil, and we will not be silent. We dedicate ourselves to work tirelessly for the justice of all God's people. And we're confident that God is surely with us as we do, working through us to accomplish His purposes - on earth as it is in heaven.
Almighty and Eternal God, You are gracious and compassionate, merciful, and abounding in steadfast love. You alone are holy, righteous and good. You detest evil and oppose injustice. Help me never to doubt Your character and integrity. Grant me the courage and confidence to love all indiscriminately and to stand against the powers that seek to destroy what You have created. Bless the efforts of Your people toward good, and work in us as we labor for Your redemptive purposes.
Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
"Come quickly! Come now!" Those were the words that interrupted my meeting and summoned me home. The hills were aflame not far from our home, and they were too close for comfort. To make matters worse, it was soon determined that the conflagration had been deliberate. Witnesses testified to seeing someone start the blaze. An adjacent neighborhood was evacuated. Heightened anxieties rising so close to the surface spilled over, uncontained, and fear spread as quickly as the fire. As if we didn't have enough to deal with already. Thanks to the quick and able response from crews both on the ground and in the air, the crime was contained - and within hours our neighbors were allowed to return to their homes. But the charred hills will serve as a haunting reminder for some time. These incidents take their toll, and we all pay a price. Scars of the land become scars of the spirit. Holy Scripture reminds us that our words matter. With our speech we can bless and we can curse; we can build up and we can tear down. "The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire." Incendiary talk serves to stoke the passions of those who are doing their best to control their emotions and measure their responses. And the heat can become so hot that the worst in me can get the best of me, and I can find myself caught up in the fray in ways I never expected. One boastful tongue can cause irreparable damage. It can ignite a flame that cannot be so easily contained. It's time to turn down the heat. This is not to give up the fight. Neither is it to submit to evil. It's simply to recognize that in this context, to fight fire with fire is to risk having the whole place go up in flames. Cool heads and sound minds must prevail. The words of the apostle beckon us to a higher way and, in the words of a past President, appeal to the better angels of our nature. Love one another with brother affection. The community to which the apostle was writing was diverse. They members in it were of different heritage. They had different appearances and different employment. What united them was their faith in God and what He had done for them in Christ Jesus the Lord. Paul appealed to those who were not brothers to love each other like brothers. He urged them to focus their energies to build each other up and to creatively honor the good in each other. To use their competitive natures to grow in personal humility and to recognize the merits of others in their midst. He reminded them to respect the mark God had placed upon them, as those created in His image. Taunting and tearing down takes its toll. It's wearisome to those who witness it. Holy Scripture bears witness that pleasant words are "sweet to the soul and healing to the bones," and can be like "life-giving water." Take care to choose your words well and to use them gracefully. As you do so, you will douse the flames that destroy and bring needed refreshment and healing to all who hear.
Almighty and Sovereign Lord, how easily words come from mind to mouth and how quickly they're released to carry out their powerful work. Help me recognize their potential for harm and for good, and help me to guard my speech, that I might utter only that which will bring life to others. Open my eyes to see the good in others, and give me courage to call it out. Take from me the irrational fear that the merits of others somehow lessen me. Instead, grant me the humility that never fails to honor their achievements and always remembers that they are my precious siblings and those for whom You poured out Your life.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
These words should not be passed over too quickly. In fact, they're worthy of your utmost consideration, for they can make a profound difference in the way you experience life - which is no small matter. They speak to a truth deeper than any other truth you've experienced. They address any situation you find yourself in today or any future encounter you will have tomorrow. Certainly, there are myriad reasons you can give for how difficult and trying your life is at any point in time. Perhaps even today. And these words are not meant to minimize or make light of any of them. But these things that you're going through - whatever they are - fall into the same category as that to which the apostle refers in this verse. And in this case, it's not necessary to know the particular context into which Paul speaks, for his word can be generalized to any and every situation. If God is for you, how can any contrary forces compare? Another way to contemplate this truth is to recognize in these words Paul's invitation to take a step back from the whirlwind of wonder that has swept you up and sent you spinning, and to look upon your experiences in an entirely different perspective and see the Big Picture. Paul states a fact by asking a question. What he intends by proposing if God is for us is to affirm: And indeed - He is! God is for you. Stop just a moment to ponder that truth. God is for you. When you let that word of power - that word of grace - speak into your reality today, it can dramatically change the way you perceive the stressors in your life. You may now be facing a health concern, a financial crisis, a family matter, a relationship quagmire, community chaos, or a loss that's left you wondering how you can possibly continue moving forward into a new day. Whatever these things are for you: God is with you, and God is for you. And if God is for you, there is hope. For in Him you are assured that you will overcome this current crisis, and in Him you will, in the end, attain the final victory. Having stepped back to see matters from this perspective, how do they look from this vantage point? What now will you say to these things? Your adversary may well be formidable, but whatever or whoever it is, he or she or it is no match for the Advocate who is with you and for you today. You can count on His provision, His protection, His preservation, His peace. For to Him belongs all power and authority. And in Him who is faithful, is found abundant grace, poured out today for you - the one He loves in greater measure than you know. And when the Day comes when you finally see Him face to face, you will realize the full extent of His love. Believe this truth today, and let it influence your perception of these things that you find yourself up against, as another day begins...
Lord of all creation, I marvel that in the vastness of all that You have made, nothing escapes Your notice. You are ever-faithful, and You lovingly care for all Your beloved creation. Lift my eyes to You this day, that as I face the challenges that surround me, I might recognize the certain and final victory I have in You. Sometimes these things feel so overwhelming, but I know that You are my Strong Deliverer, my Unassailable Advocate, my Faithful Friend. And with You by my side, I am emboldened and encouraged to confidently confront all these things that challenge me today. So let's go, God! Onward to victory!
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night,
that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it;
for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.
Someone has to go first. And when the decisions that person makes are wise, others are inspired to follow. But how is one to gain the insight and wisdom needed to be a worthy leader? Moses, the great conductor of God's people, who chaperoned the children of Israel out of their Egyptian slavery, through the desert heat and to the edge of the Promised Land, has an answer. One of his last great works is to prepare his successor. Joshua had proved to be a disciplined follower and dedicated student of Moses. He showed himself a faithful scout with a positive attitude and an abiding faith in what God could do: For he had seen what God had done. Joshua was prepared to take on the mantle of leadership, and he was poised for success. Moses tells him how he can stay the course and be successful in the stewardship entrusted to him by the people and by God Himself. The Book of the Law - the Ten Commandments and their accompanying instructions for communal living, given to Moses by God on Sinai - was to be Joshua's constant companion. The words he speaks throughout the course of his incumbency should be consistent with the words written in its pages. The actions he takes should be in accordance with the counsel he would find therein. Temptations to do otherwise would abound, for there would always be people who would suggest an easier way, a path of lesser resistance, an answer more acceptable that would bring more pleasure to the populace. Moses instructs Joshua to be diligent in meditating on the words of The Book day and night, that he might learn it well - so well that it would be part of his very essence and be embedded in his character. Moses tells Joshua to take great care to order his life and his decisions by the words and ways of God. Joshua was not the only one given this counsel. Every parent in the community was instructed to teach their children the loving ways of God - in the morning, throughout the day, and in the evening before retiring for the night. This Word of God (summed up as loving God and loving neighbor) was to be their guiding principle from start to finish, for all of their days. The instruction the aged, seasoned leader gives his promising, young protégé is wise counsel for us all. God's Holy Word is given for practical purpose. We're to do more than venerate it, set it on a shelf to look stately in its gilded edges (where it might gather dust), or parade it around town in prideful possession and pompous procession. We are to meditate on it day and night, rolling it over in our minds as a dog worries his bone. Coming to know the heart of Him who speaks in it and through it - right into our lives today. In God's Holy Word we find the revelation of the character of God Himself, who eventually comes to personally visit this Planet and to show us in living color what this Word looks like lived out in our midst. When you take this Word seriously and live in accordance with it, you also make known God's good intentions for His people. You will prosper in the ways that matter, and you will have good success. For the Word of God will come alive in You - for all to see.
Good and gracious God, I thank You for the treasure of Your Word. In it I come to know Your compassion and Your good intentions for me and for all of Your people. In its pages I'm convicted of my sinful and selfish ways, and I come to know Your forgiveness, grace and redemption. Help me to be more than a distant admirer of Your Word; rather, help me to be an ardent adherent, that I might be a living example of Your will and Your ways. May others see Your light reflected in me, and may You be glorified in the work that I do this day. May I live in such a way as to bring honor to You and exalt Your holy Name.
But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Christians and other people of faith have often been accused of being so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good. Religion is disparaged as not only irrational but as something perhaps even worse: irrelevant. What difference does it make? And what benefits does it bring to the rest of the community? Like the one perfectly capable of contributing but perpetually shows up to the potluck with nothing to add but a happy face. We're happy to have you join us, however... one of the purposes we've come here is: to eat! Amos is one of the very first literary prophets (if not Numero Uno). He's the first one to use the medium of the written word, in addition to the spoken, to convey the purposes of God. Doing so ensured that the words he spoke would also be recorded, rehearsed and remembered. And for good reason: he had some substantial things to say. In our current context, we could direct these powerful words to the peaceful protests that have given way to unruly riots and uncurbed violence, lawless looting and senseless destruction. We're rightly disgusted at the criminal behavior and unbridled chaos, and we could cry out in lament: What's the world coming to? It's spinning out of control! Those thoughts, feelings and actions are warranted. However, there's yet deeper insight and greater power in the prophet's words than at first glance. There's a hint in the verse itself of the more profound meaning behind it. Take a closer look at how it begins. It's right there in the first word: But. So, what's behind the but? The prophet directs these words not as a general lament, per se, of how things are spiraling downward in his own day. He's doing more than expressing his grief at the lawlessness that fills his land. He focuses these forceful words at the religious community itself. Why? The expressions of their religious practices were empty words without merit, songs without substance and follow-through. They exhibited the forms of religion, but they had discarded its powerful potential to effect needed change in the world. As if channeling the ancient prophet, a fast food chain asked in the 80's, "Where's the beef?" Amos' audience had all the fixin's but had neglected the main ingredient. The right words must have the backing of appropriate action. The metaphor the prophet employs signifies that justice and righteousness are not solitary acts, but ongoing commitments. The prophetic judgment in not against the rampant chaos outside the community, but against the empty and unfinished words within it. The prophetic appeal is to a call to rise up as persons of integrity to practice what we preach and to commit ourselves to carry to the finish the work God has laid out before us.
Almighty God, Your very essence is lovingkindness, justice and righteousness. You care about the actions of Your people. Your heart is filled with pain when evil runs rampant in communities and has free reign in our hearts. You have not employed me to enjoy the comfort of a padded seat on the sidelines as a cheerful and enthusiast observer. You've called and empowered me by Your Spirit to rise up to be an active participant, to speak Your words, to propagate Your characteristics and to carry out Your purposes, on earth as it is in heaven. Use me as You will this day as Your instrument to fulfill Your objectives, to the glory of Your name and for the welfare of Your people.
Whoever... beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him,
how does the love of God abide in him?
1 John 3:17
Ours is a nation of independence. The land of the free. You do your thing; I'll do mine. You find your truth, and I'll cozy up and settle in with my own. Live and let live. The invention of the Internet and the ease of Amazon have enabled me to work from home, communicate from home, order all that I need from home. I hardly need to leave my house at all. Sheltering in place? Please! Don't throw me into the briar patch! I have all I need right here in this safe space, in this castle of my own creation. But how easily it becomes an enclave. How easily it closes me in and holds me captive to myself, where I carve out my own selfish life, unhindered and unchallenged. Happily confined in my own space, I'm unconnected from others and unconcerned about their situation. As for my brother in need? In this land of the independent and the free I am an only child; I have no brothers. If others have needs, let them handle them on their own. I've made my life, and I've done nothing to hinder them from making theirs. Who can tell me I'm doing wrong? Who can call me out and convict me for living as I do in this country where tolerance is king and where the individual sits on the throne? I'm not forcing anyone to do anything, so don't be getting on my case. But what kind of a community have I been involved in creating, choosing to live side by side in the same locale as others whom I tolerate but with whom I have no real connection? Those whose welfare and well-being matter not to me, those whose needs are their own and remain unknown to me because my eyes are closed to them? What kind of community is this? One that is heartless and godless. The very opposite of what God has ordained. God had created you in love, unique and irreplaceable. And God has created you and placed you in community to be an active member and to contribute to its welfare and well-being. God has given you eyes to see, not for the purpose of mirror mesmerism, but to see beyond yourself to the needs of others - who are your brothers and sisters - and to be of service to them. Love and compassion are at the very center of the character of God. Created in God's image, you've been endowed with those same characteristics. When you allocate them only for personal use and fail to employ them to attend to the needs of others, you fail your purpose, deny your Creator and become less than human. It is then that all manner of hell breaks loose. But it's not too late to open your eyes and ears to others and to create a kinder community. It's not too late for God to heal our land. But it must begin now. And it must begin with you. All are your brothers and sisters. Love overlooks none of their needs; compassion ministers to them. This is the holy activity of God, and it happens through you. So step up, stand up, and let's get to work.
Loving God of all creation, You've created me to live in community and to be an active contributor to it. May I be a conduit of Your love, care and compassion this day. May I gratefully receive the blessings you so graciously bestow, and may I willingly share them with others in need. May I not be a hindrance to Your work in the world but instead advance Your purposes on earth. That Your will may be done, in me and through me, here in this place, even as it is in heaven.
Continue to May