Toward a Sane Faith

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Instituting the Passover, Genesis 12:1-13; 13:1-8

Devotions for September 26 – October 2, 2016
Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8

Monday, September 26, 2016
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months” (Exodus 12:2).

Akihito walked through the door of the Silicon Valley tech giant. One month ago he was walking down the aisle to receive his degree; now he was starting his new job. A new chapter in his life was beginning. Lamar looked at the calendar and realized that it was a year ago since he received a new heart. That transplant operation had given him new life and a new lifestyle.

The Lord instructed the Israelites to make the month of the Passover as the first month of their year. The Passover marked a new beginning. The Israelites were moving from slavery into freedom; nothing would be the same.

Newness is a theme for followers of Jesus. We may mark our baptism as the beginning of our new lives. Other followers may consider the day they chose to walk in the reality of God’s kingdom as their new beginning. Still others view each day as a new beginning. Whatever our starting point we rejoice that God has made all things new.

Holy Lord, through confession and repentance enable us to put the guilt and shame of the past behind us and live in your love and grace today. Amen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
“Your lamb shall be without blemish” (Exodus 12:5).

It was their third anniversary and James wanted to show his love to his wife, Jeanine. He decided to give her flowers. As a young married couple James and Jeanine didn’t have a lot of money and James was shocked at the price of a dozen roses. James decided to purchase a discounted bouquet. The blossoms were full and showed a little age. James reasoned, though, that it was the thought that counted. When James presented Jeanine with the flowers she was less than impressed with his expression of love.

Love inspires us to do crazy, extravagant things–something more than hand-me-downs, imitations and beyond-expiration-dates. We may present our love with fewer flowers, but at least they will be fresh. The loving relationship that we have with God inspires us to generosity. The Lord has loved us without limitations and invites us to respond in the same manner.

Generous God, thank you for your abundant gifts. You have held nothing back. May your love inspire us to hold nothing back as we share your love and grace. Amen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
“This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet” (Exodus 12:12).

The Israelites had been waiting for a long time. They had been in Egypt for over four hundred years. Most of that time was spent in slavery. When people wait for a long time they tend to lose hope. They stop being prepared for God to answer their prayers and they are not ready to receive God’s answer.

God was now moving to answer the Israelites’ prayers. Once the Egyptians discovered the death of their firstborns, the Israelites needed to be ready to move. The Israelites needed to celebrate the Passover with girded loins and sandals feet.

One of the last things Jesus said to his followers was that they needed to be watchful, or ready. As followers of Jesus, we need to be ready, too. We need to be ready to tell people our stories and why we are followers of Jesus. We need to be ready to share God’s love and grace whenever opportunities present themselves. We need to be ready to show mercy and to stand for justice. The Lord is moving and we need to be ready.

Almighty God, we see you moving in our lives and in our world. Enable us to be ready to be used by your Spirit and to be a part of your moving. Amen.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
“The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; when I see the blood I will pass over you.” (Exodus 12:13).

The Israelites understood what a sacrifice was. Sacrifice of animals was a part of the Egyptian religions that surrounded them. Sacrifice was probably part of their lives as descendants of Abraham. When they chose the lamb and prepared for the Passover, they understood that painting the lambs blood on their door frames and feasting on the lamb was not a sacrifice–at least not a sacrifice for their sins. The Israelites were identifying themselves as people of God and were acting in faithful obedience to the Lord.

On the cross, God was demonstrating the depths of God’s love for creation. Jesus was experiencing the totality of human existence: pain, suffering and the evil that is a part of us. At our baptisms, God was identifying us as God’s children, part of God’s family and as people who have been called to lives of love of service.

The Israelites looked back on the Passover and remembered what God had done, who they were, and that they continued to be a part of God’s story. As followers of Jesus, we look back on the cross and our baptism and remember what God has done, who we are, and that we are part of God’s continuing story.

Lord, you have gathered us into your family. Empower us with your Holy Spirit and use us. Amen.

Friday, September 30, 2016
“Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13a).

Occasionally when the Franklin family gathered for a reunion, they would talk about a cold November night years and years ago. Jack, a grade-schooler who always slept on his stomach with his head buried in his pillow woke up in the middle of the night dizzy and nauseous. Scared, he staggered to his parents bedroom and tried to wake them. They would mumble and move their heads, but they would not wake up. Jack called 911. When the firefighters arrived they found the Franklins near death from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty furnace. In the years that followed, the Franklins told that story as a reminder of how fragile life is and how a gracious and loving God had moved in their lives.

Passover is a celebration remembered by Jews around the world. They gather together as families with roast lamb and other symbolic foods to remind themselves of what God has done in their history. They were slaves in Egypt. God heard their prayerful cries and through acts of wonder led them out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. This event shaped their lives. They lived in the present remembering how God moved in their lives in the past.

We have stories and our families have stories of how God has moved in our lives. These stories remind us of God’s presence, love and grace and how our lives have been shaped by God’s movement. Our memories comfort us and inspire us to live lives shaped by our own stories.

Loving God, may our stories of your love and grace encourage us in our struggles and inspire us to live for more than the present moment. Amen.

Saturday, October 1, 2016
Because the Lord brought you out from there by the strength of his hand” (Genesis 13:3b).

An off hand comment saved Sarah’s life. While at the beach with friends one of them asked Sarah, “What’s that mark on the back of your leg?” Sarah didn’t know so she had it checked out. That mark turned out to be a melanoma. A friend’s question allowed a deadly cancer to be diagnosed in its early stages. Karen had been out of a job for several months and was getting desperate. She had brought a ream of resumes to the job fair with the dim hope that she would find a job. Karen didn’t find a job, but the next best thing–a childhood friend whose company was hiring. Their chance encounter enabled Karen to leave the job fair with a new position. Both Sarah and Karen looked back on these events and realized that their lives were not solely the product of their natural talents and hard work. God was moving.

The Israelites looked back on their time in Egypt and realized how enslaved they had been. They had been weak and demoralized. There was no way that they would have been able to free themselves from their servitude to the Egyptians. Their freedom was because God heard their prayers, broke their bonds and led them out of Egypt and slavery. God had acted in a mighty way.

We may be extremely gifted and hard workers, but life is more than that. Life is filled with coincidences, gut feelings, off hand comments and little miracles. Life is filled with God’s presence and power. For this we offer God our thanks and praise.

O Holy Spirit, we are in you and you are in us moving in ways we do not fully realize or comprehend. Thank you. Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2016
“You shall tell your child on that day” (Exodus 13:8).

Life is filled with mysteries for children and children are filled with questions. “Why do we celebrate Christmas and Easter and go to church most Sundays?” “Why do we say a prayer before we eat?” “Why do mom and dad read their Bibles and pray?” “Why do we give money to the church when we could use it for ourselves?” “Why do we volunteer to work at the food pantry, or take care of an elderly neighbor’s yard?”

All those questions are opportunities for us, as adults, to tell God’s story and our stories. They are occasions when we can share what we believe and why we believe. Such conversations are ways that our children’s faith are informed and nourished. They are ways that the faith is passed down from person to person and generation to generation. If we do not tell the story and answer the questions, who will?

God of Wonder, thank you for questions and for the opportunity they give us to tell the story and share the faith. Enable us to take advantage of such occasions. Amen.

Joseph’s Story–Genesis 37:3-34; 50:15-21

josephJoseph sold into slavery by his brothers

Devotions for Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34, 50:15-21

September 19-25, 2016

 

Monday, September 19, 2016

“But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him” (Genesis 37:4).

Conner was a middle child and, as a middle child, he felt neglected and ignored. His two older brothers excelled in both athletics and academics. Connor wasn’t athletic and earned “B’s” and “C’s”. It took two months before his high school teachers realized that Connor wasn’t like his brothers and to show their disappointment. Connor’s younger sister couldn’t do any wrong. Connor was blamed for just about everything. Connor longed to be loved and to be appreciated for who he was.

We all crave love. We want to be loved so much that there are times we seek love in inappropriate and harmful ways. As followers of Jesus, we can rejoice in God’s steadfast love. It is a love that will always be ours. Instead of waiting to be loved by others, or allowing our envy of another’s love to spawn hate, we can strive to share our love (as little as it may be) with others. Like many things, if we hoard love we will always lack. If we give our love away, we will have love in abundance.

Loving Lord, thank you for your love. Open our eyes that we may see who needs to be loved and share our love with them. Amen.

 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

“Before he came near to them they conspired to kill him” (Genesis 27:18).

A fight broke out in the stands during a Green Bay Packers/Chicago Bears football game. Some Packer fans expressed their hate for a few Chicago Bears supporters. A thirty-four year-old was arrested for setting a Mosque on fire. When he explained his actions to a judge he said, “I hate those people.” A fifty year-old man was arrested for threatening an Orlando style massacre at several gay bars. “Those people are just losers,” he said.

Though they were of one family, Joseph’s brothers didn’t view him as a part of their group. It was an “us and him” situation. When we stop using “we” and begin to say “us and them,” hate becomes easy and along with it violence. The truth is that there is always a “we.” We are all children of God. We are all part of God’s creation and loved by God. Everyone is included and no one is excluded in God’s kingdom. As disciples of Jesus we are called to live in the truth rather than accept a lie.

O Three in One, you are the divine “We.” Change our hearts that we may always see what unites us rather than what divides us. Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

“But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands” (Genesis 27:21).

Binh and his friend went to the frat party, to which they had been invited. The booze was flowing freely. Even though Binh wasn’t a drinker, he found himself following the crowd, drinking way too much and becoming drunk. He regretted it the next morning. Lacy sat with a group of her co-workers during lunch. The group began to trash talk the Latinos who were moving into their area. Lacy said nothing. She didn’t agree with the group, but she didn’t want to start an argument.

It took courage and determination for Reuben to go against his brothers. It is so easy to follow the group. As disciples of Jesus, though, we are called to follow Jesus and no one else. Often this leads us along paths that are quite different from the group and challenges us to go against the crowd.

Lord and Master, grant us the boldness and the courage to follow you no matter what the cost. Amen.

 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

“Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites” (37:27).

Money rules the day when the bottom line is the bottom line. Companies place inferior parts in their products—some that might cause injury to their customers—all to make a few more dollars. Workers are laid off because there is a drop in orders, but the CEO, CFO and COO all get huge bonuses. Actions that would protect the environment are spurned because they will cost too much money.

Joseph’s brothers saw a chance to make some money. Instead of killing Joseph, which would get them nothing, they could sell him to slave traders and make a tidy profit. Joseph was sold into slavery and shipped to Egypt where the story continues.

In a society where wealth and materialism are so highly valued ,it is difficult to be faithfully obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit. In fact we often fail. The Lord does not turn away from us, though. We are still invited to confess our sin, repent and return to following the Spirit’s guiding.

God of Abundance, we confess that we are attracted to the things of this world. Hold us tight so that our attraction does not pull us away from you. Grant us both the will and the ability to follow you. Amen.

 

Friday, September 23, 2016

“Then Jacob tore his garments … and mourned for his son many days” (Genesis 37:34).

Death was much more a part of life, in the days of Jacob and Joseph, than it is today. Jacob was accustomed to death, but this was the death of his son—the son he loved the most. As we read Jacob’s story, we can understand the depth of his grief. Perhaps, though, Jacob was also grieving over the split in his family. He saw the sneer on his sons’ faces when they presented him with Joseph’s blood soaked coat. Jacob was aware that his sons were not grieving Joseph’s death. Jacob might have realized that he was, in part, responsible for the split and his sons’ lack of grief.

Sometimes our rebellious, self-centered and unloving actions have far reaching effects. They adversely touch the lives of others—innocent bystanders. There are times when the ripples of our actions turn into waves. When this happens we can be racked with grief and overwhelmed with guilt.

Thankfully our God is a God of forgiveness. God’s steadfast love can remove the weight of guilt and turn our mourning into dancing. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are set free to love, heal and set things right.

Gracious God, you shed tears with us in our grief. Walk with us through those painful times and restore in us the desire to live lovingly and to serve. Amen.

 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

“’I beg you forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you” (Genesis 50:17).

Katelynn struggled to forgive the drunk driver who took her son’s life. Though two generations removed from the incident, Akihito occasionally found himself unforgiving of a government and country that imprisoned his grandparents in World War II. Pastor Laura knew that she was supposed to forgive the members of her congregation who started false rumors about her, in order to drive her out of the congregation. Sometimes Laura had the strength to forgive and at other times she imagined revenge.

Joseph had a lot to forgive. He had been beaten, sold into slavery, lied about, imprisoned, forgotten and ignored. Decades separated him from his comfortable life with his father and family. Joseph knew, though, that getting revenge on his brothers would not be satisfying or productive. He knew that forgiveness was the path to freedom and the future.

Forgiveness is the superpower of followers of Jesus. Forgiveness has the ability to change lives and to transform situations. Forgiveness enables us to step into the future.

Forgiving Lord, give us the will and the way to forgive others as you have forgiven us.

 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

“Even though you intended to harm me God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

 The Frazier family had to move because of a job promotion. That meant that Dustin would lose all of his friends. He was devastated and fought the relocation. After a couple of months at his new school, Dustin realized that he had found several new friends and that he liked his new school. Karen lost her job in an office reorganization. She was scared and depressed about what the future might hold. After two months of searching, though, Karen was hired for a job that had a better salary and fit her talents more closely. Bad things happening that is just a fact of life. Sometimes, though, good things come from the bad.

Joseph certainly realized this truth. His brothers had planned evil. Their actions were sparked by envy and hate. Certainly Joseph experienced many years of slavery, imprisonment and dashed hopes. Yet in the end, things worked out better than okay. Joseph could see God’s hand in all that had happened. He was in the right position at the right time to save his family from starvation.

God’s hand is upon us. God is moving in our lives so that we experience an abundant life and others encounter God’s love and grace.

Powerful Lord, may your kingdom come and your will be done in our lives and in the world. Amen.

Promises, Faith and Hope – Genesis 15:1-6

god-and-abraham“Look toward the heaven and count the stars … so shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5)

Devotions for Genesis 15:1-6

September 12-18, 2016

 

Monday, September 12, 2016

“Do not be afraid” (15:1a).

The playground was filled with children. Screams of excitement along with laughter filled the air. The children didn’t have a care in the world. They were free to enjoy the moment and celebrate life. All around the playground were the parents and the caregivers. While they watched the children play, they worried about having enough money to pay the bills, rehashed office arguments, speculated what the flashing “service engine” light in the car meant and cast a wary eye toward the sky wondering if they’d have enough time to mow the lawn before it rained. The division between those who lived without fear and those who lived in fear was obvious.

Freedom from fear does not come from convincing ourselves that there is nothing to fear. Living fear free comes from know that we are a sheep of the Good Shepherd’s flock, that God is our rock and our fortress and that God is with us always. The world is filled with scary things, but we really do have nothing to fear.

Loving God, thank you for being intimately involved in our lives so that we have nothing to fear. Amen.

 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

“I am your shield” (Genesis 15:1b).

The battle scene filled the screen. Men swung swords at their opponents, while their adversaries fended off the blows with their shields. The shields took a beating but they saved the lives of the soldiers wielding them. The men were able to live to fight for another day because of their effective use of their shields.

God is our shield. God doesn’t prevent the conflicts of life. God never promised that God would. The Lord, however, is there with us when the peace breaks down and the battles begin. As our shield, God fends off the blows of others that would wound, maim or kill us. The Lord gives us the ability to live to fight and serve for another day.

We enter the day not knowing what skirmishes, conflicts, battles or wars we will face. Our shield is with us, though, and we are well prepared to face the day.

Oh God our Shield, thank you that you defend us against the people and forces that seek to harm us. May you not only be our shield but also the shield of others as we stand with them against the forces of injustice. Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

“Your reward shall be very great” (Genesis 15:1c).

We all want to have rewarding lives, but we seek different rewards. An athlete may strive after gold medals. A chef might seek a raving review by a food editor. A raise might be a goal for an employee and flowers or a bottle of wine for a stay-at-home parent.

Abraham and Sarah were richly rewarded as they lived their lives of faith. They had flocks and servants, and the clan of Abraham was an economic and physical force to be reckoned with. Many people of faith have taken the story of Abraham and Sarah as an assurance that they too will be financially rewarded for their lives of faithful obedience. There are many sincere Christians for whom such a hope is ridiculous for number of reasons. Do these followers of Jesus lose their rewards because they live and minister in war torn countries, or serve the poor, homeless and needy?

Our understanding of how God moves in our lives has progressed so that we no longer see a person’s net worth as a measurement of their righteousness. So what rewards might we anticipate as followers of Jesus. Going beyond the physical rewards, rewards that we all can share, is God’s steadfast love, adoption as God’s sons and daughters, God’s presence in our lives and God’s promise never to be separated from us. No matter what our physical situation in life is, we can consider ourselves richly rewarded and give thanks.

God of Wonders, keep our eyes open that we may see the blessings you have given us and live lives of thanksgiving and gratitude. Amen.

 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

“You have given me no offspring” (Genesis 15:3).

In one of the areas of the world where poverty is rampant, a pastor was asked what he felt was the greatest challenge the people of his congregation faced. Without hesitation he replied, “Materialism.” The person who asked the question was taken aback so the pastor continued with an explanation. “No matter what our economic situation is in life we always want more.”

This was certainly true in Abraham’s life. Abraham had been richly blessed by God. Still, Abraham wanted more. He wanted heirs. Certainly this was an important need in the ancient world. While we can understand the importance Abraham placed upon having heirs, we see that Abraham focused on what he didn’t have rather than celebrate and give thanks for the abundance that he had been given.

We see ourselves when we look at Abraham. We too are tempted to look at what we don’t have instead of giving thanks for what we do have. Changing our perspective so that we focus on our blessings rather than our needs is a sure way to transform our lives.

God of Grace and Mercy, we are such complainers. Forgive us. Direct our attention away from what we don’t have to the abundance we have received from you. Amen.

 

Friday, September 16, 2016

“Look toward the heaven and count the stars—so shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5).

God took Abraham out into the starry night and told Abraham to look up and start counting the stars. That would be how many descendants Abraham would have. Abraham didn’t need to worry about the one heir. God challenged Abraham to look at the big picture; to consider the long-term. We can imagine that all the starry nights that followed, Abraham would look up into the sky and stand in awe at what the Lord was going to do.

We can become transfixed on our needs. When we do, we lose our perspective. We begin to see God as stingy rather than as a God of abundance, and we begin to grumble and complain rather than give God thanks and praise. When this happens, God invites us to go outside and look at the starry sky. In our case that means pausing for a few minutes and counting our blessings; name them and give thanks for them. Like Abraham, we will receive the assurance that God is true to God’s promises.

Faithful Lord, enable us to live each day in the reality that you keep your promises. May such knowledge empower us to live lovingly and generously. Amen.

 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

“And he believed the Lord” (Genesis 15:6a).

 What did Abraham believe? Did Abraham believe that God was three in one; that God was Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Perhaps Abraham believed that God was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Certainly these were doctrines that we were told by pastors, parents and teachers we needed to believe in order to be Christians. These theological niceties had not been developed when Abraham walked the earth. Abraham had a much, more simple faith.

Abraham believed the Lord. He believe that God was able to keep promises and that God would keep promises. Abraham believed that God lived in a relationship with Abraham and that this relationship with God was a gift. God had told Abraham that God had blessed him so that Abraham could be a blessing to others. Abraham’s beliefs shaped his life.

We have doctrines that we can believe. But we can also believe—put our trust in and live in the reality—that God loves us and is present in our lives. We can celebrate that all that we have is a gift from God and that God has blessed us so that we can bless others. Such beliefs are life transforming

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief. Amen.

 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

”The Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6b).

This statement is shocking to some people. They will exclaim, “We can only be righteous by keeping to law and living good lives!” Other people will insist that righteousness is earned only by doing good deeds such as visiting the sick, feeding the hungry and serving those in need. The fact that God reckoned Abraham as righteous because of Abraham’s faith is beyond comprehension to such people.

Though contrary to some people’s beliefs, the truth that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness is good news to us. Righteousness is not earned. Abraham believed that God was whom God claimed to be and would accomplish what God said God would do. Righteousness is a gift. God gave it to Abraham and God gives it to us. We are people of faith—we are “righteous dudes!” God has transformed our lives through our faith, and seeks to change the world by our lives of faith and righteousness.

Changeless God of Change, change us into your image and, through us, transform the world into your kingdom where love, peace and justice reigns. Amen.

 

 

 

The Creator and the Created, Gen 2:4b-17; 3:1-8

Adam and God

Devotions for Genesis 2:4b-7; 15-17; 3:1-8

September 5-11, 2016

 

Monday, September 5, 2016

“Then the Lord formed man from the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7a).

The lumber pile in the woodworker’s shop looked like high-priced kindling. The woodworker chose three different pieces from the pile and gently ran his fingers along the grains. He went to work cutting, gluing, sanding and finishing. When the project was completed those three pieces of wood had been turned into an exquisite jewelry box—a handmade original.

Genesis 2 shows the God of creation as a master craftsman. God scoops up a handful of dirt and forms it into a human being. This isn’t the almighty, transcendent God who spoke and created. Genesis 2 shows God as a God lovingly and intimately involved in creation. Humankind is a handmade, original work of God.

The Psalmist writes, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). Sometimes we may not like what God has created, but we have God’s mark on our lives. We are God’s and we are beautiful in God’s sight.

Creator God, we praise you for your creative touch on our lives. Continue to craft us into the people you want us to be. Amen.

 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

“And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7b).

A day at the beach almost turned into tragedy for young Juan Carlos. While swimming he got caught up in a rip current that pulled him further and further out to sea. Try as he might, he could not reach the shore. His arms and legs soon tired and he slipped beneath the waves. The next thing he experienced was a flash of light and a man breathing air into his lungs. It was a breath of new life. That breath created a relationship with the lifeguard and Juan Carlos that has lasted decades.

Adam was a lump of dirt until God breathed the breath of life into him. In this story in Genesis, Adam was the only created being in whom God breathed life. We are forever linked with God by that action. Before that breath, we are like Adam, lumps of dirt; merely existing. God then breathes into us the breath of life and we become animated. We are transformed into the people God wants us to be and live the lives for which we were created.

Breathe on us breath of God, fill us with life anew, that we might love what you would love and do what you would do. Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

A few words, only one sentence, and we begin to understand what life was meant to be. We were created to live in relationship with God. God intended to be involved in our lives–God would walk with us and provide for us. God placed our ancestor, Adam, in a garden and provided for Adam in abundance. In that same way God provides us with our daily bread. Adam, in turn was to till and care for the garden, just as God calls us to be good managers of the blessings we receive and to share them with others.

When we contemplate the meaning of life, we tend to make it more complicated than it is. Genesis reminds us that life is to be lived in grace and service.

Gracious God, we thank you for the daily bread with which you so abundantly provide us. Enable us to celebrate your grace and love by sharing our blessings with others. Amen.

 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden” (Genesis 2:16).

Ted was envious of his neighbors. When he compared himself to them, they always seemed to have more. They had nicer, bigger homes, newer and more luxurious cars, children who were scholars and star athletes, and worked at jobs that paid better and accomplished greater things. Ted’s envy would make him miserable, robbing him of the joy of life. Ted’s wife would occasionally set Ted down and remind him of reality. She would say, “Ted, we have a beautiful home. Our cars do what they need to do—they get us from point “A” to point “B” safely. We have two wonderful children who love us and we love each other. We have a good marriage. Both of us have good jobs. Look at the abundance with which we have been blessed. We have so much to be thankful for and so little to be envious of.”

God placed Adam in the garden and told Adam that he could eat freely. Adam would not need to limit himself to a diet of brussel sprouts and crab apples. God provided abundantly for Adam and God continues to do the same for us. If we concentrate on our neighbors, we may become envious. When we look to God, though, and see God’s loving provisions for our lives, we can only be thankful. We are truly blessed.

God of abundance, forgive our envy of others. Open our eyes that we may realize how abundantly you provide for us. Amen.

 

Friday, September 9, 2016

“For in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:17).

Lamar unlocked the front door and slowly opened it—trying not to make any noise. He tip toed across the floor and was about to climb the steps to his room when a light went on and his father’s voice boomed out, “Where have you been?” Lamar had broken curfew for no reason other than time had gotten away from him (Lamar also thought he was a little too old for a curfew.) Lamar and his father sat down and talked about what had happened. A punishment was decided. Lamar apologized. He and his father hugged and said, “Good night.” On the outside things appeared the same, but their relationship had been bruised and their trust and respect for each other had been altered.

It is interesting to note what would or would not be the result of Adam’s disobedience and rebellion. God’s good creation would not suddenly turn bad. Humankind would not become helpless or despicable, but there would be death. It would not be a physical death, but rather the death of relationships. Our relationship with God would be affected along with our relationships with our neighbor, creation and ourselves.

We live with the consequences of our disobedience and rebellion. We have experienced death. God, however, is not a God of death but a God of life. Through God’s actions—Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—God has once again breathed the breath of new life into us.

Merciful Lord, breathe new life where there is death so that we may be enabled to live lives of faithful obedience and service. Amen.

 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

“You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

 The fruit was doubly attractive. Not only was it forbidden, but it would also make humankind like God. We still have that craving to be like God. Children want to be like their superheroes who have super powers that make them godlike. Adults picture God as powerful, secure, comfortable, with indescribable wealth and indescribable abilities. We try so hard to be like God that we miss the point. Life was not meant to be about trying to be like God.

A wise person once said, “There is a God, and I am not God.” It is good to remind ourselves of this truth. Life is so much more abundant and fulfilling when we allow God to be the loving, forgiving, providing, gracious God that God is, and when we focus on being the faithful, obedient, servants of God’s love and grace that we were created to be. It is difficult to turn away from the temptation to be like God, but we are never happy when we try to live out that role.

Lord our God, forgive us when we try to be like you. Move within us that we may be content being the objects of your grace and love. Amen.

 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

“And the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord” (Genesis 3:8).

Hide and seek is a popular game. It’s fun trying to find a hiding place where no one can find you and you win the game. There are times, though when our hide and seek is more than a game. We don’t want to be found because we are embarrassed, ashamed or guilty.

Adam and Eve were guilty. They had disobeyed the Lord and rebelled against him. They had succumbed to the serpent’s temptation to eat the fruit and become like God. They knew they had done wrong and they didn’t want to be found out. So they hid. Look what happened, though.

God didn’t wait for Adam and Eve to come to their senses and to ask for forgiveness. God came and sought them out. God found them, heard their confession, announced the effects of their rebellion and then clothed them. Yes, sin had its consequences: there would be pain in childbearing and thorns and thistles became a part of life. One thing Adam and Eve’s rebellion wasn’t able to do was to lessen God’s love for them or keep God from caring for them.

Steadfast Lover, your decision to allow nothing to separate us from your love is overwhelming. Certain of your love, may we tell others about your love for them. Amen.

Trials, Temptations and Evil, Matthew 6:13; Mark 5:1-15

temptation

Devotions for Matthew 6:13; Mark 5:1-15

August 29-September 4, 2016

 

Monday, August 29, 2016

“Do not bring us to the time of trial” (Matthew 6:13a).

Jill did not do well with tests. It’s not that she’d sluff off during the semester and not know the material. Quite the contrary. Jill would study hard and master the various concepts and facts of the class, but on the little pop quizzes and the big finals she would freeze. It didn’t help that Jill would worry about her testing performance throughout the semester. As a disciple of Jesus, Jill would pray that the Lord would help her during her tests—that God would be present with her, calm her nerves and help her to recall the material that she had studied.

Not too many people like tests and trials. Most of us fear trials and some of us spend a considerable amount of energy avoiding trials. Still, struggles and tough times are a part of life. In this petition we aren’t praying that God would allow us to live charmed lives free from pain and suffering—even though the thought is rather attractive. We are asking that God will walk with us through life—even the trials and tribulations—and give us the ability to honor God in all that we say and do.

Powerful God, you never leave us nor forsake us. Enable us to live in this truth and allow it to give us comfort and strength when we face the trials of life. Amen.

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

“And deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13b).

There is a popular game show where contestants are asked to estimate the price of an item. Whoever comes closest to the actual price without going over it wins the item. During the time that they are trying to figure out their answer the crowd is yelling wildly the answers they think will win the prize. Dozens of numbers fill the air at the same time. The contestants’ challenge is to listen for the voice that has the correct answer.

Like the game show there is a cacophony of voices that fill our lives. Voices tell us to buy something, do something, say something and act in a certain way. It is difficult to discern what voices will enable us to be faithful witnesses and followers of Jesus and which voices lead us toward evil. There are times when it is difficult to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us. This petition is our cry for help that the Lord will open our ears to hear God’s voice and follow the guidance that we are given. As disciples of Jesus we want to honor God by being faithfully obedient to God.

Divine Guide, help us to hear your voice so that we can follow you along the way and not get lost. Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

“A man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him” (Mark 5:2).

Whether or not we believe in demon possession, we all fight our own “demons.” Shirley was in her third treatment program as she battled her alcoholism. Her drive to drink had separated her from her family, friends, job and co-workers. Lamar battled with anger issues that erupted because he was always judged a black man rather than seen simply as a man. Because of his anger, only a few people wanted to be around Lamar. Carter battled PTSD, post-traumatic stress syndrome after three tours in Afghanistan. His deep depression bruised and broke relationships with others.

The demoniac who Jesus encountered was an outcast. No one wanted to be around him, so the people of his community shunned him. The man lived among the tombs. Many people would not have wanted to touch him because he was unclean from his exposure to death. Jesus did not run from the man, though. Jesus met the man, touched his life and healed him.

Sometimes our demons separate us from others. We find ourselves rejected and alone—often misunderstood and judged. Jesus, though, does not turn away. Instead, Jesus embraces us with his love and with his strength enables us to face the demons of our lives.

Almighty God, you are stronger than all of our enemies. Empowered by your presence, strength and love, enable us to overcome. Amen.

 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

“No one had the strength to subdue him” (Mark 5:4).

Evil is frightening. It can be powerful like the Nazi regime, religious terrorism or the local bully. Evil can be subtle like the racism and bigotry that most of us harbor. Evil can be enticing like the materialism, greed and self-centeredness of modern society. We may see evil and not recognize it and we may be under its influence and not sense it.

Jesus knew that the man who ran to him from the tombs was demon possessed. Jesus did not run but rather he stood his ground and confronted evil. Jesus’ presence in our lives enables to deal with the evil with which we are confronted. Jesus opens our eyes that we might recognize the evil. He gives us courage to stand against it and Jesus gives us the strength to overcome it. In the presence of Jesus evil never wins.

Lord of all, so often we cower and run from evil. Inspire us and strengthen us so that we can stand firm against the evil in our lives and in our world. Amen.

 

Friday, September 2, 2016

“’What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God’” (Mark 5:7)?

Several years ago there was a publishing craze with Where’s Waldo? books. The reader had to find the character Waldo on every page of the book. Sometimes it was easy to spot Waldo and sometimes it was not. It was not necessarily the adults who found Waldo before the children. Finding Waldo did not depend on age, intelligence, education or experience. People simply needed to know for whom and for what they were looking.

The demons knew who Jesus was. Like Waldo, Jesus stood out from the crowd. Jesus was the one who didn’t run from them. Jesus was the one who loved the man so much that he stopped and helped him. Jesus was the one who cast out the demons and restored the man to health and society.

We try to see Jesus in our daily lives. Often we try to find Jesus in the successful, the affluent, the comfortable and the secure. Rarely do we find Jesus when we look in these places. Instead, we see Jesus when students and faculty stand together against bullies. We see Jesus in the homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Jesus can be seen in protests against racism and in the support of gay rights. When we look around for Jesus we might find him in places we would least expect to see him.

Open our eyes, Lord, help us see Jesus. Inspire us and empower us, Lord, help us to be Jesus to the people around us. Amen.

 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

“The unclean spirits came out and entered the swine and the heard … were drowned in the sea” (Mark 5:13).

Bridge to Hope is a ministry to homeless mothers and their children. Several congregations and scores of people who participate in this ministry seek to get mothers and families off the streets, provide them with shelter, help the mothers face their addictions and teach them a marketable skill so that they can become self-sufficient. The ministry isn’t inexpensive. Congregations agree to pay $400.00/month and recruit a team of at least seven volunteers to work with the mothers and their families for the two years that they are in the program. The time, money and commitment given to the ministry transforms lives.

For some reason, Jesus allowed the demons to possess a herd of pigs when they released their grip on the man. The pigs stampeded over a cliff and fell into the Sea of Galilee where they drowned. The owners were upset at the loss of their herd. They didn’t really care that the man had been set free. For them the cost of salvation and freedom was too great.

Standing against evil, seeking justice and loving mercy demand a price. As disciples of Jesus, are we content only to pray to be delivered from evil, or are we willing to pay the price to stand against evil and overcome it? Sometimes the answer to our prayer involves more than just a prayer.

Precious Jesus, you paid the price to defeat evil and set humankind free. As your followers, move within us that we too are willing to pay the price that others may be freed. Amen.

 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19).

It was Thursday evening. The campers gathered around the campfire and shared what the week at Bible camp meant to them. Many lives had been changed. The young people didn’t want to return home the next day. They wanted to continue to be close to Jesus. The congregation’s worship service had been a special blessing. The music moved the people. The sermon both taught and inspired them. When the last note had been sung, the people didn’t want to leave. They wanted to blessings to continue.

We can certainly understand how the man who had been possessed by demons felt. Jesus had changed his life. He wanted to join the disciples and stay by Jesus. Jesus had other plans for him, though. “Go tell your friends,” Jesus instructed. “Tell them what has happened.” The man did as he was told. The people listened and when Jesus returned they welcomed him. As much as we want to stay to listen to the music, enjoy the fellowship, coffee and pastries, Jesus tells us the same thing he told the man in this story. “Go tell your friends.” That is the way our prayers are answered and both ourselves and others are delivered from evil.

Savior, we’ve a story to tell to the nations. Empower us to tell it lovingly and boldly. Amen.

 

Forgiven to Forgive, Matthew 6:12; 18:21-35

forgive us trespasses

Devotions for Matthew 6:12; 18:21-35

August 22-28, 2016

 

Monday, August 22, 2016

“Forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12a).

 Carlton was the type of guy who couldn’t say the words, “sorry” or “forgive me.” We might think that this was a minor character flaw that could be easily overlooked. Carlton’s inability or unwillingness to say, “I’m sorry,” however, caused significant pain in several of his relationships. When Carlton forgot his wedding anniversary, his refusal to apologize caused his wife to feel overlooked and underappreciated. Carlton’s son lost trust in his father when Carlton missed a major dance recital and didn’t say, “Forgive me.” Carlton’s daughter was so angry with him when Carlton didn’t apologize for missing her soccer tournament that she didn’t speak to her father for several days.

It takes personal strength to admit that we have been wrong. We must confess that we are not perfect and that our imperfections hurt ourselves and others. Asking for forgiveness demonstrates to others that relationships are more important to us than our facades of perfection.

In reality, because of what Jesus accomplished in his life, death and resurrection, God has already forgiven our sins. We ask for forgiveness, though, in order to admit our wrongs, our imperfections and to remind ourselves of our dependence on God’s mercy and grace.

Loving Lord, prevent us from being so proud that we cannot admit our wrongs or so uncaring that we do not seek to restore and renew relationships. Amen.

 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

“As we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12b).

It is so easy to hold a grudge. We really don’t have to do anything. We can ignore the relationships we had with others. We can turn away from the relationships so that we don’t see them wither and die. We don’t need to talk to the people who offend us. We don’t need to make an effort to “patch things up.” Grudges are so easy that we slip into them without thinking as we follow that path of least resistance.

As followers of Jesus, however, we do not choose the easy instead of the hard. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we are up to the task of forgiving. We realize that forgiveness is a two way street. If we want to feel the relief that washes over us when the Lord assures us of God’s love and says, “You are forgiven,” we need to share those words with others. It is a joy to see the guilt and shame slide off the backs of the people whom we forgive. It is thrilling to experience the flow of life in restored relationships. Though forgiveness is never easy, it is worth our effort.

Merciful Savior, as your forgiveness has saved us from the pain of our sin, so may our forgiveness of others save them. Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

“How often should I forgive” (Matthew 18:21)?

 Juanita was tired of forgiving. Maria, who Juanita thought at one time was a good friend, spread some vicious, untrue gossip about Juanita. Juanita was deeply hurt personally and her standing in the community was tarnished. Maria denied facts that proved her words to be wrong and refused to apologize for spreading the gossip. Juanita decided that she needed to get on with her life and the only way she was going to do that was to forgive Maria.

Juanita forgave Maria. She shared her action and the reason behind it to her friends. Juanita, however, discovered that forgiveness was not a one-time thing. She would forgive Maria. A few moments later Juanita would discover herself ruminating over the hurt Maria caused or conjuring up a way to get even with Maria. Catching herself Juanita would again forgive Maria. This pattern of forgiving/not forgiving went on for months. Slowly, though, the thoughts of revenge grew farther and farther apart. One day Juanita was able to replace her evil thoughts with a prayer of blessing. How often should we forgive? As often as it takes to forgive and to love.

Patient Lord, your forgiveness is endless. Grant us the ability to follow your example. Amen.

 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

“One who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him” (Matthew 18:24).

During the early morning a driver swerved into the lane ahead of Jocelyne cutting her off and forcing her to slam on her brakes. Jocelyne has tempted to display a mild form of road rage and flip off the offending driver. Thinking better of it, Jocelyne decided to forgive the driver of this minor offense and raised her hand and spoke a brief prayer of blessing. On the other side of town a distracted driver who was busy texting ran a red light and plowed into the Valenzuela family’s minivan. Raul Valenzuela sustained minor injuries but his wife and two children were rushed to the hospital in critical condition. The texter had a few cuts and bruises. She was overwhelmed with guilt, though, over the pain and damage that she had caused. In the next days and weeks, as he hovered over the hospital beds of his family, Raul struggled with his desire for revenge and his need to forgive.

This parable contains vastly varying values: ten thousand talents and one hundred denarii.  They are incomparable. Yet, in both situations forgiveness of the debt was required. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to forgive; it is our way of life. The amount that is needed to forgive doesn’t matter. What does matter is our need to forgive in order to free ourselves and others from the effects of sin.

O Lord Our God, no matter how great or how small, give us the ability to freely forgive for the benefit of both others and ourselves. Amen.

 

Friday, August 26, 2016

“Have patience with me and I will pay you everything” (Matthew 18:26).

Little Andrew Mellon was visiting his grandmother. His visits were infrequent enough that his grandmother had not “childproofed” her home. While running down the hallway—when he had been told to always walk in grandma’s house—Andrew tripped over his shoelace. When he fell, he accidentally pushed over a stand on which stood a vase and flowers. The vase was a family heirloom that had been passed down through six generations. The vase shattered when it hit the floor. Andrew sustained no injuries from the fall, but he knew that he had done something wrong and he cried in fear and shame.

Andrew’s grandmother rushed to the scene when she heard the crash and Andrew’s crying. Seeing her prized vase in scores of pieces on the floor, she was ready to lash out in anger at Andrew. There was nothing that Andrew could do, though, to make things right. The vase could not be repaired and anger wouldn’t help the situation. Instead Andrew’s grandmother knelt down and opened her arms to Andrew. He rush over, buried his face in her chest and sobbed, “I’m sorry grandma.” Andrew’s grandmother folded her arms around him and said, “It’s okay, Andrew. I love you so very much.”

There was no way that the servant could repay ten thousand talents to his master. The servant could only hope that the master would be merciful, and the master was. The master forgave the entire debt. We, like the servant, come before God empty-handed. We cannot make things right. We can only ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy, and that is exactly what God’s gives us.

Holy Parent, we thank you for your steadfast love, endless mercy and overwhelming grace. Amen.

 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

“Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me and I will pay you” (Matthew 18:29).

Andrew returned to his house from visiting his grandmother. The next day he was playing with his neighborhood friends, Tina and Christopher. In the course of their play, Christopher broke one of Andrew’s favorite toys. Andrew started to get angry at Christopher, but then Andrew remembered his grandmother and what she did when Andrew broke the vase. Holding back a few tears, Andrew picked up the pieces of the toy with Christopher. “That’s alright, Chris,” he said. “I know you didn’t break the toy on purpose. I forgive you.”

The words are the same. The unforgiving servant and said to his master, “Have patience with me.” Now a man who owed the servant money asked the same thing, “Have patience with me.” Forgiveness is not just to be received. Forgiveness is to be shared. We don’t need to remember the number or gravity of our sins. All we need to remember is God’s unconditional forgiveness of us and God’s steadfast love. Embraced in God’s love we are motivated and enabled to love and forgive, also.

Forgiving Lord, you never withhold your forgiveness from us. Move within us that we may never withhold forgiveness from others. Amen.

 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

Really?! Will God actually NOT forgive us and hand us over to be imprisoned and tortured like the master did to the unforgiving servant? No! There is no limit to God’s forgiveness nor is there ever a precondition for God’s forgiveness. This doesn’t mean that we have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

The lack of forgiveness creates its own prison and torture. It robs us of life as we review the wrong perpetrated against us and imagine what we would like to do to our enemy. We lose the joy of life, the depth of love and the freedom of an unshackled life. Like a festering wound the lack of forgiveness can cause sickness to spread through our entire being.  There may come a time when we realize the hell that we have created for ourselves. We then release the hold we have upon the offense and forgive. When we do, God welcomes us to new life. It is a life that is filled with God’s love, forgiveness and grace.

Merciful God, open our eyes that we may see the pain that we wish for others is actually experienced by ourselves. Move us to let go and forgive so that we might live and love. Amen.

 

 

Daily Gifts and Worry Over Nothing, Matthew 6:11, 25-35

liliesA Field of Calla Lilies

Devotions for Matthew 6:11, 25-34

August 15-21, 2016

 

Monday, August 15, 2016

“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Seth Meyers regularly attend worship services at Community Church. During every service the Pastor would invite the congregation to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Seth would join in until he got to the “give us this day our daily bread” phrase. It just didn’t make sense to Seth. The Lord had never caused manna to cover the ground so his family could eat. Unlike the Israelites in the wilderness whose clothes didn’t wear out for forty years, his children were going through clothes and shoes at an alarming rate. Seth couldn’t see the gift. He worked hard to provided food, clothing and shelter for his family.

Seth’s discomfort with the Lord’s Prayer began to eat at him. He decided to schedule an appointment with his pastor. When they met Seth explained his struggle to her. After some thought the pastor replied, “Perhaps were focusing on the wrong gift. Instead of the food and clothing for which you work hard, you might thank the Lord for the gift of a job, or the physical and mental gifts that allow you to work. You might also be thankful for a country that allows you to live in peace and for the family and friends that fill your life with companionship and joy.” Seth was quiet, thinking about what his pastor had said. Nodding his head he looked at his pastor and said, “You’re right. God does provide our daily bread for us in a variety of ways.”

God of Abundance, thank you for the multitude of blessings and gifts you pour into our lives. Please keep us from forgetting that all of life is a precious gift from you. Amen.

 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

“Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25a).

No one wants to worry. All of us fall into the worry trap, though—some more than others. The moment we tell ourselves not to worry, we begin to worry more. We look around us and there appears to be so much to worry about. The problem is that we can’t change any of the worrisome problems by worrying. Worrying accomplishes absolutely nothing except high blood pressure and sleepless nights. Because of worry’s adverse effects and uselessness the Lord gives us the command, “Don’t worry!” God’s words are not a suggestion nor an invitation. They are a command.

We cannot follow God’s command by telling ourselves not to worry. Nor can we wait until a solution presents itself. We can stop worrying, though, by looking away from the problem and looking to our loving Lord. The Psalmist understood this truth when he penned, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?/ My help comes from the Lord,/who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Divine Obsession, enable us to keep our eyes fixed on you. Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Matthew 6:25b)?

It is easy for us to reply to Jesus’ question, “Of course life is more than food and the body more than clothing.” Our actions, though, speak louder than our words. The Epicureans (followers of an ancient Greek philosophy) were materialists and focused on the here and now. They had a saying, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die.” Even though this may not be our official motto, it is easy to get wrapped up in the physical demands, family expectations and societal pressures of everyday life. Jesus’ words remind us that there really is more to life.

As disciples of Jesus we live each day in a relationship with a living God. Besides nurturing our body, we also nurture our spirit; we spend time in prayer and worship. Jesus’ resurrection has opened up an eternal dimension to our lives. We are free to do more than make ends meet. We can share our blessings and serve others. Life can be limited to food and clothing, but because of what Jesus did on the cross there can be so much more.

God of Life, enable us to loosen our grip on our physical lives and to open our hands to all of life. Amen.

 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life” (Matthew 6:27)?

 Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Let go and let God.” It’s good advice. Carley and Jim Franks figured this out when their oldest son left for college. They had bordered being “helicopter parents,” but they no longer could do that. Now they needed to trust that they had raised a responsible young man and that everything was in God’s hands and not theirs. Carlota Sanchez realized the reality of this saying when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. She could work hard to stick to her diet and follow the doctor’s orders, but beyond that she needed to let Go and let God. Worry would not help her. Lamar John lost his job during the economic downturn. He sent out resumes to scores of companies. He was asked for a few interviews, but his worrying kept him from doing well. Once he decided that God would open the right door for him he was able to let go of his worry. His interviews went better and eventually he snagged a great position in a growing company.

We are all confronted with the temptation to worry. As followers of Jesus we have a choice. We can either worry, or we can “Let go and let God.”

Faithful God, break the chains of our worry. Empower us to concentrate on doing great things for you while expecting great things from you. Amen.

 

Friday, August 19, 2016

“For the Gentiles strive after these things” (6:32).

We are individuals but we are also members of various groups. While keeping our identity we strive to fit into those groups. We want to be in style so we dress in a similar fashion. The people in some groups may have the same political or sociological beliefs. They may drive similar cars or possess the same toys—boats, ATV’s and PWC’s. At the same time that we want to be a part of the group, we may also want to stand out in the group, so we have the most expensive car, the biggest house, or toys that are top-of-the-line.

Groups are distinctive also. The French dress differently than the Americans. Australians speak differently than their United Kingdom brothers and sisters and those in Canada. Followers of Jesus are different, too. In our call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus, we use our gifts and talents for others. Another difference is that the followers of Jesus are not to get caught up in the materialistic rat-race of the world. Because of who we are, our lifestyles are different and our questions. Instead of asking what is the best, biggest and most expensive we ask ourselves, “How can we best love our neighbor as ourselves?”

O Holy Teacher, instruct us on how to ask the right questions to serve you and love our neighbor. Amen.

 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

“But strive first for the kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a).

Two teenagers came across the eagle as they hiked along a stream. It had been injured and it couldn’t fly. They called for help. The eagle was captured and brought to the town’s veterinarian. She examined the eagle and found that its wing had been broken. Setting the bone, she cleaned the eagle, fed it and put it in a cage so it would be safe and could heal. Several people volunteered to help care for the eagle; for a brief time the eagle became the town’s mascot. The day came, though, when the eagle’s wing was healed and it was time to let the eagle fly. A crowd watched as the eagle flapped its wings, circled the crown and flew high into the sky. The eagle was free.

We too have been set free. We no longer need to be concerned about our salvation because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In this passage of scripture Jesus assures his followers that we do not need to be concerned about what we will eat or what we will wear. The Lord will provide for our physical needs. Now we are free to seek the kingdom of God. Without distraction we can love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. We are free to be the people God created us to be.

Loving God, thank you for setting us free. Move in us and through us so that we do not use our freedom for ourselves, but to serve others and to share your love and grace. Amen.

 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

“These things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33b).

 It was a difficult time for Akihito and his family. Akihito had lost his job due to a corporate merger. He had a severance package, but it was no golden parachute. After four months it ran out and Akihito was forced to apply for food stamps. His family cut their spending drastically. Akihito focused on searching for a new job and worrying about his family’s finances.

Sue Kennedy was badly hurt in an accident at her work. For several months she endured surgeries, physical therapy and rehabilitation. During that time, she received disability payments but they covered only a portion of her regular income. Things got tight for the Kennedy family. Instead of staring at her problems and worrying about finances, Sue decided to look for ways that she could help others during her recovery. She began work at the local food bank helping the people who needed assistance through the application process. Focusing on helping others, Sue discovered that her other problems worked themselves out.

As followers of Jesus it is amazing what happens when we stop being selfish, self-centered and turn our attention to helping others. In a remarkable way our needs are met and so are the needs of others.

Loving Parent, thank you for your care and your involvement in our lives. Thank you also for the opportunities that you give us to share your love and grace with others. Amen.

 

 

The Lord’s Prayer-God’s Will Be Done Matthew 6:9-10; 26:36-46

Lords Prayer

Devotions for August 8-14, 2016

Matthew 6:9-10; 26:36-46

 

Monday, August 8, 2016

“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9a).

Seth Jones had a loving father who worked hard to provide for Seth, his mother and his sister. Seth’s father’s love didn’t stop at simply providing for his family. Seth’s father also wanted to be involved in Seth’s life; to spend time with him. Seth had joined a youth soccer program and his father had started taking Seth to practices and watch Seth’s games. Knowing that he had a loving father, gave Seth the boldness to wake his dad up from a nap and ask him to kick the soccer ball around with him. Seth was soon practicing his new soccer skills with his father.

As disciples of Jesus, we have a loving father. Following Jesus’ example we address the God of all creation as “Father.” Such a practice stresses the relational character of the Christian faith. Living in a close, loving relationship with our heavenly father, we are able to approach God boldly and share our wants and needs and those of the people around us with God. What a privilege and blessing it is to have a relationship like this with our God.

Loving Father, thank you for your love and for your desire to be intimately involved in our lives. Amen.

 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

“Hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9b).

The ring wasn’t encrusted with diamonds and gold. It was rather a simple ring, hand crafted with a small diamond. The ring was a family heirloom and it had been handed down from generation to generation. It held an honored, almost holy place in the family’s history.

Unlike the heirloom ring, God is holy independent from our thoughts, words and actions. As disciples of Jesus, though, we want God’s holiness to be evident not only to ourselves but to everyone around us. We do this by words that thank and praise God, and with lives that honor God and reflect God’s love and grace. We live this way not because we want God to think well of us, but because of our love for God.

Holy God, release the Holy Spirit to move in and through our lives so that your holiness will be experienced by all. Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)

There’s a lot of talk about the coming of God’s kingdom. One branch of Christianity believes that Jesus will return at any moment, rapturing believers into heaven and beginning a period of tribulation and the end times. Other Christian expressions have the return of Jesus in their official documents, but don’t spend much time talking about it or speculating when it will happen. Many other Christians wait for God’s kingdom by working to establish it on earth today.

When Jesus walked among us, he said that the kingdom of God had come and called on people to repent and to believe. Jesus demonstrated the presence of God’s kingdom by healing the sick, casting out demons, stilling storms and feeding the hungry. We spread God’s kingdom today by continuing Jesus’ ministry. We seek justice for the oppressed, include the marginalized, feed the hungry, strive for equality and stand against evil. As followers of Jesus we not only live in God’s kingdom, we live so that others may experience the kingdom of God in the world today.

King of kings, empower us that we may use the blessings that you have given us to spread your kingdom in the world. Amen.

 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

“He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated” (Matthew 26:37).

There are times when the will of God is challenging. Jim Elliot felt God’s call to be a missionary. Jim and his wife travelled with a friend to Ecuador so that they could begin a ministry to the Auca people. Jim and four other missionaries made contact with the Aucas. Together the missionaries accomplished something that they couldn’t do alone. The missionaries began to build relationships with the Auca people, but they were martyred for their efforts by Auca warriors.

Jesus’ confrontations with the religious authorities and Roman powers were increasing. He knew what lay ahead. The cross was something he had to do alone, but Jesus still surrounded himself with his disciples on that fateful Thursday night. As he wrestled with God’s will, he brought with him Peter, James and John.

God’s kingdom is spread and God’s will is done when followers of Jesus join together. Combining our gifts and talents we are able to live out God’s will more effectively than we can individually. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray and to work together and to accomplish the tasks that the Holy Spirit sets before us.

Three in One, thank you for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Use our talents together to accomplish your will and to share your love and grace. Amen.

 

Friday, August 12, 2016

“I am deeply grieved, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).

Death and life are involved in following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” We might have to die to old habits, pet sins and prejudices. Changing job, communities where we live and comfortable lifestyles may be involved in following God’s call and accomplishing God’s will. Death is never easy; it hurts. Death is also scary, because we don’t know what’s on the other side.

Yet with death there comes new life. Bad habits are replaced with good habits. New jobs bring with them new opportunities. Changes in our lifestyles may bring a new zest for living.

Grief is okay. Grief is a part of being followers of Jesus. Still, grief isn’t everlasting. There is also thanksgiving, praise and joy as we live to accomplish God’s will and share God’s love and grace.

Comforting God, don’t allow our grief to prevent us from following you. May our obedience both accomplish your will and bring new life. Amen.

 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39)

Our will is often at odds with God’s will. Ed and Carol Baker were active members of their congregation and comfortable middle class Americans. One fall their pastor preached on the subject of Christian stewardship. The Holy Spirit moved through the pastor’s words and Ed and Carol felt called to increase their giving to a tithe. It wasn’t a simple decision, though. To give at that level would force them to alter their lifestyle and there was a part of them that did not want to make the sacrifice.

Carlos had a good paying job as a bank executive. In his spare time he worked with immigrant families teaching them how to practice good financial management. As time passed he became more involved in his volunteer activities. Carlos began to sense that the Holy Spirit was guiding him to expand his work with the immigrants and work full-time. Such a move would require many changes to Carlos’ life and to his family. Carlos struggled many months with this call to do God’s will in a new way.

Life as followers of Jesus is abundant and free. It is also challenging and often requires sacrifice. We are frequently reminded that life is not about us, but rather about doing God’s will and serving our neighbors. The Holy Spirit is patient with us when we struggle to follow the Spirit’s leading. As with the rest of our lives God is by our side as we wrestle with God’s will. God never leaves us even when we are hesitant to follow.

Holy Spirit, lead us and enable us to follow you so that God’s will is accomplished in and through our lives. Amen.

 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Matthew 26:42).

Jesus had struggled. He had asked God to take the cup away from him and to help him avoid the cross. That was not God’s will, however. The cross was part of God’s plan. In the end Jesus yielded and accepted God’s call. Jesus walked out of the Garden of Gethsemane at peace, both strong and confident that whatever happened God’s will was being accomplished.

Saying, “Yes,” to the leading of the Holy Spirit brings peace. We may be unsure as to what the future holds. We still may be apprehensive. At the same time, we are able to rejoice that no matter what happens God will be with us and God will see us through.

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief. Amen.

 

Restoration and Reunion, Job 42:7-16

reunion“There came to him all his brothers and sisters

Devotions for Job 42:7-16

August 1-7, 2016

 

Monday, August 1, 2016

“My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends” (Job 42:7a).

It is difficult to practice what we preach. The story-teller of Job found this to be true. For forty-one chapters of his story, he has sought to tell his listeners that neither their misfortune nor their blessings were directly related to their pleasing or displeasing God. Now, as the story-teller wraps up his story he has the threat of God’s wrath directed at Job’s three friends. Suddenly there is a disconnect.

The story-teller may have revealed to us a very human trait. God’s steadfast love, overwhelming grace and unconditional forgiveness is beyond our belief and understanding. Punishment is so much a part of our lives that we cannot imagine lives without it. Yet the truth of God’s love is what the Holy Spirit continually reminds us. Bad times do not come from God nor do they separate us from God.

God of love, enable us to always remember your love and to walk in the freedom that it provides us. Amen.

 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

“For you have not spoken what is right” (Job 42:7b).

Job’s three friends were quick to share their thoughts and opinions with Job, and they believed that they spoke the word of God. Job successfully refuted their accusations and judgments. He was not what they claimed him to be. Now, as the story of Job draws to a close we read that the words of Job’s three friends were not right and they were not pleasing to the Lord.

Job’s three friends teach us a lesson. We live at a time when there are deep divisions between people. We are slow to listen and we are quick to argue. In our haste to proclaim what is right our words can appear to be judgmental and condemning. We might be more like Job’s friends than we want to be. In such a climate, we as disciples of Jesus are challenged to speak words of respect and love. We may not win the argument, but we will remain true to our calling.

Divine word, enable us to speak words of love to our friends and our enemies and to those who agree with us and those who don’t. Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

“My servant Job shall pray for you” (Job 42:8a).

Sometimes the words, “I’ll pray for you,” slip off our tongues all too quickly. We make a brash commitment to pray and then forget to do what we have promised. At other times the offer to pray seems to be so superficial. We want to do more, but for one reason or another we are limited to prayer. As disciples of Jesus prayer is a part of our lives. Prayer can be a very powerful part of our lives.

Ken and Mary sat by the hospital bed of their son. He had been critically injured in an automobile accident. The people of the congregation where Ken and Mary worshiped heard what had happened and immediately began to pray. Later, when their son had recovered and returned home, Ken and Mary shared during a worship service how they had felt supported and encouraged by those prayers. Over coffee at the local coffee shop Carlota shared about her troubled marriage with a close friend. Near the end of their time together Carlota’s friend offered to pray for her. There in the coffee shop with bowed heads and holding hands they prayed and Carlota felt peace and hope flow into her life.

It may be a cliché, but it is true. “Prayer Changes Things.” Alleluia!

O Holy Listener, hear our prayers as we lift up the needs of others and our own needs to you. Amen.

 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

“I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly” (Job 42:8b).

Surely Job’s three friends rejoiced when they heard that the Lord would not deal with them according to their folly. We can join Job’s three friends. We too have received God’s mercy and God has not dealt with us according to our folly. We are not rare cases, however. Throughout history God has not dealt with God’s people according to their folly.

In the garden of Eden God clothed Adam and Eve after their rebellion. In the Sinai desert God wanted to vent God’s wrath against God’s people when they crafted the golden calf as their idol/god. Moses interceded and God withheld God’s fury and then for the next forty years God lead the Israelites, provided for their needs and defeated their enemies. God forgave David’s folly with Bathsheba and established a covenant with David for his continued dynasty. Once the Israelites were in the Promise Land, God forgave their inclination to follow idols and false Gods. When Jesus had breathed his last God forgave all of humanity who had nailed God’s son to the cross.

Thank the Lord that God does not deal with us according to our folly. God is not a God of judgment and wrath. God is a God of love who wants the very best for God’s people and all of God’s creation.

Forgiving God, thank you that you do not judge us or condemn us, but rather forgive us, correct us, and assure us of your love. Amen.

 

Friday, August 5, 2016

“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job” (Job 42:10).

The teller of Job’s story must be the prototype of the American playwright and scrip writer. He had to create a happy ending. Unlike some of the European plays and movies, American plays and movies usually have an ending where good defeats evil and there is at least a hint of hope. After all of Job’s suffering and his misguided rantings God restored everything that Job had lost. In the end Job had twice as much as he had when the story began. It would be nice if life was like that, but it is not.

Even with the miracles of modern medicine there is no guarantee that our prayers will be answered and our loved ones healed. A better job with more money and nicer bosses is not a sure thing when we lose our job. We trudge through our trials and tribulations not know what is in our future.

There is only one thing that we can be sure of—God’s steadfast love. God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us and God has kept all the promises that were made. We are not alone and often God sends family, friends and sometimes even strangers to walk with us through the tough times and help us over the obstacles before us. Assured of God’s love and grace we place one foot in front of the other and continue the journey toward the end of our suffering.

Trustworthy God, move in us that we may rest in your promises as we live each day loving you and serving our neighbor. Amen.

 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

“Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before” (42:11).

 Twelve year-old Stacey was diagnosed with cancer. Her treatment involved several bouts of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. She was in the hospital for weeks on end and surprisingly she had very few visitors. Many of her schoolmates were uncomfortable with her illness and didn’t know what to say. Others were too busy with their own lives and interests. When Stacey returned to school her friends were quick to reestablish their relationships with her, but they couldn’t walk with her through the dark days.

Job had a similar experience. Everyone abandoned him except for his three friends who play major roles in his story. The story-teller used the return of Job’s family and friends to illustrate the reversal of Job’s plight and the renewal of Job’s fortunes. Still, we can question the closeness and strength of the relationship Job had with them. On the surface it appears that they were “fair weather friends.” Even though they did not speak what is right, at least Job’s three friends stayed with Job.

Walking with someone through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23) is not easy. There are many times when we will not know what to do or to say. It is important, though, that we are present to bear each other’s burdens. Being present is not only what friends do, it is our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Loving Lord, you walk with us through our most difficult days. Empower us to walk with those around us who are going through difficult times and who should not be alone. Amen.

 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

“Job died old and full of days” (Job 42:17).

There are times when life hurts us so badly that we hesitate reengaging. We don’t want to be hurt again. We don’t want to open ourselves up to the possibility of repeating our sufferings and struggles. There are times when we echo those famous words of movie star Greta Garbo, “I want to be alone.”

Job resisted the temptation. After his suffering he reentered life with gusto. He managed his riches, had more children and lived a full life into old age. Job had learned an important lesson during his journey through suffering. He realized that God was a powerful God who was intimately involved in his life. Job understood that God would never forsake him. Such knowledge allowed Job to step into his new life with courage, faith and hope.

Job’s God is our God. God’s steadfast love is something that we have experienced. God’s presence and power are things to which we can bear witness. These truths enable us to take our first steps into the day, and begin our journey into the future.

Faithful Lord, like Job, may we live the full and abundant lives that you created us to live. Amen.

 

The God of Creation Speaks Job 38:25-27; 41:1-8; 42:1-6

creation

Devotions for Job 38:25-27; 41:1-8; 42:1-6

July 25-31, 2016

 

Monday, July 25, 2016

“Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt” (Job 38:25)?

Some people like to watch a power storm sweep through the community. We don’t like the storm fronts with tornadoes, microbursts and damage to life and property. We do like, though, to hear the deep roll of thunder, the firework display of lightning and a hard rain. The strength of these storms is awe inspiring, and while enjoying the cacophony of light and sound it is easy to begin to reflect on God’s power. As disciples of Jesus we serve a powerful God.

During those times when life threatens to overpower us and things get out of control, it is both comforting and encouraging to know that the Lord is a powerful God. We journey through each day in the presence of such a God.

Almighty God, when we are weak and heavily burdened we thank you that we can run into your strong embrace and find rest. Amen.

 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

“To satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass” (Job 38:27).

Binh popped a TV dinner into the microwave and sat down alone to ingest tasteless Salisbury steak, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes and apple crisp. Things weren’t going well at work; there was conflict with his boss and some of his coworkers. Binh had just broken off a three year relationship that wasn’t going anywhere. Now single, all Binh’s friends were couples and he felt separated from them. To Binh his life was a desolate land.

Like Binh there are times when, for a multitude of reasons, we feel that our lives are desolate lands. They are voids where nothing grows and a hot, dry wind is free to blow. Clouds can cover a wasteland, however, and rain can fall. When it does, lands that appeared empty burst for with life. This is our hope that the Lord who sends clouds and rain to the wastelands of the world will bring rain and new life into our lives. We might not see life, but when the rains come life bursts forth abundantly.

God of Creation, may the refreshing rain fall upon the dryness of our lives and sprout the beauty of new life. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook” (Job 41:1)?

Fishermen always are angling for the big catch. No one, though, would want to snag the Leviathan. This mythical sea dragon was gigantic and powerful. Along with the storm waves of the sea the Leviathan represented chaos. No one among us wants to catch chaos and bring it into the boat of our lives. Though unfortunately, this does happen.

The God whom we worship, however, is more powerful than the awful Leviathan. God is able to catch it, fillet it and serve it with a savory sauce—no problem. We can rest easy. The Leviathan will not capsize our boat—though he may give us a frightening ride. Our comfort and strength comes in knowing that God is in the boat with us.

Lord, we praise you that you are a God who walks on water, stills the storm and whispers in our hearts, “Do not be afraid.” Alleluia! Amen.

 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

“Will it make a covenant with you to be taken as your servant forever” (Job 41:4)?

Control—a master must be able to control his or her servant. That control may be the payment of a salary, the master’s position in society, society’s values and norms or even physical power. Without that control the master can easily become the servant. The Leviathan will never be our servant because we can’t control it.

There is someone who can control the Leviathan, though. The Lord is able to control the beast. Not only can the Lord control the Leviathan, but God can also use the Leviathan as God’s servant. Imagine, chaos can be a servant! Encountering chaos is never a pleasant experience. Still most of us will admit that it is those chaotic times in life that shape us, make us stronger, and even empower us to be the person God wants us to be. The Leviathan will never be our servant, but as God’s servant it can bring us a delicious cup of coffee and a delightful pastry. Yum!

Divine Potter, use the Leviathan of our lives to mold us and shape us into the people you want us to be—to your honor and glory. Amen.

 

Friday, July 29, 2016

“I know you can do all things” (Job 42:1).

 Seven year-old Raul Sanchez idolized his father, Francisco. His father was a firefighter who had served a decade in the city’s fire department. Francisco had helped put out many fires and he had saved several people. Francisco’s bravery was only one reason why he had won the respect of his son. Raul was proud of his father because his father provided everything Raul needed from day to day, was present at all of the important activities in Raul’s life and Francisco loved Raul. Raul truly believed that his dad could do anything.

Most of us have had people in our lives when we were growing up who we thought could do anything. Their powers have diminished as we have grown older, but they still may have a place of honor in our lives. There is one, though, whose power never diminishes—the Lord. Job asserts this truth when he says to God, “I know you can do all things.” It is this truth that empowers us to step boldly into the future and to carry on the ministry of Jesus the Christ.

Powerful Lord, we confess that we can do nothing without you, but with you we can do great things. Empower us, Lord. Move in us and through us to accomplish your will. Amen.

 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

“Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:5).

Ask a teacher what he or she thinks is the most important thing they can teach a child. They won’t say it is proper English grammar, the multiplication tables, world history, evolution, sex education or even the joy of reading. Teachers will say that their most challenging task is to instill a love of learning in the child. They want to teach their students to journey through life with open eyes and an open mind ready to investigate and to learn new things.

In the story, Job comes to a point where he is quite sure of himself. He doesn’t need to learn anymore because he knows it all. He says that he could approach God like a prince. In that vaulted evaluation of himself, Job pontificates on subjects he knows nothing about. Job realizes his error when God comes to him in a whirlwind and gives Job a glimpse of the mysteries of creation.

Disciples are those who follow and learn. As disciples of Jesus it is a good idea for all of us to cultivate the trait of journeying through life with open hearts and minds. God has much that God can teach us.

Holy Teacher, create within us a love of learning so that we may walk with you with open hearts and teachable minds. Amen.

 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5).

They teach pastors many things in seminary, but it isn’t until they begin to serve in their first calls that pastors truly understand what it means to be a pastor. College graduates wave diplomas and teaching certificates in the air, but it isn’t until they have taught that first year that they begin to understand what it means to be a teacher. It is one thing to read, but it is something entirely different to do.

We can sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” or popular contemporary songs in our congregations’ worship services. We can shout “Amen!” during the preachers’ sermons and offer our opinions in a small group Bible study. These actions are different, though, from living our daily lives trusting in God’s steadfast love, overwhelming grace and unconditional forgiveness. They are different from holding a friend’s hand and sharing the hope of the gospel, or stooping down to help the poor, needy or fallen. In one set of actions we hear. In our daily walk we see; we behold a living and loving God.

Loving Lord, may our walk with you not be confined to hearing about you. Empower us to love and to serve that we may behold your glory. Amen.