Sunday, July 31, 2011

With a Passion!


Psalm 34:3
Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.

Last Sunday, our pastors continued with their five-week sermon series based on the book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, by Robert Schnase. The topic was "Passionate Worship" and Wallace and Emily, preaching in tandem, were truly ardent in their deliveries on this subject! Worship, whether in a traditional or, like ours, a contemporary service, is not about coming to church to "fill up your tank" for the week, expecting that is enough, nor is it a spectator sport where participation is optional. Passionate worship requires the utter and complete engagement of your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength to glorify and exalt the Lord who deserves nothing less from you.

Passionate worship also demands preparation. Just as those leading the service painstakingly choose songs and prepare sermons applicable to the day's scripture to make it meaningful to the congregation, we must spend each and every day of the week in prayer, in the study of God's word, and in activities that enhance our awareness of God's presence outside of the building we call "church". One of my favorite things to do to heighten my cognizance of His presence is listening to contemporary praise music when I work out at the gym. While I don't sing out loud, it feels like I am as the lyrics and notes flood every recess of my mind; this has become an integral part of my spending joyful time in worship of the Lord each day.

So, I ask you: What could you do to bring an authentic passion to your worship experience? If you are already there, how could you encourage another to be more involved in body, mind, and spirit during worship? I pray this week you will reflect on this oh, so valuable and necessary aspect of being a Christian and find more ways to be passionate for the One who has so much passion for you!

Readings
Psalms 93, 96 or 34
2 Samuel 6:12-23
Romans 14:7-12
John 1:43-51

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Plentiful Harvest

Acts 17:23
For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship - and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

In his fascinating book, Eternity in Their Hearts, Don Richardson documents ample and world-wide examples of cultures never exposed to Christianity whose religious beliefs retained the idea of a Supreme God. When missionaries arrived in these regions and tapped into the keys of a culture, searching for grains of truth and affirming them, their presentation of the Gospel as the missing link in the lives of these peoples was widely and enthusiastically received. Surprisingly, or maybe not, Richardson states, ". . . more than 90 percent of this world's folk religions acknowledge at least the existence of God. Some even anticipate His redeeming concern for mankind."

How great is our God! He has planted His image and our longing for Him in the hearts and minds of His children everywhere. He wants all of us to know the truth of His Gospel and His promise of salvation. Paul recognized in the Greeks' monument to their unknown god that grain of truth which, when sowed in their hearts, would yield a bounteous harvest. He affirmed their belief and filled the gaps with the rest of the glorious story. Just as the missionaries in Richardson's book experienced astounding success, Paul, too, gained many converts that day in Athens. Before all was said and done, he would add countless more to the fold.

Take a moment today to pray for the thousands of missionaries throughout the world who have dedicated their lives to bringing the Gospel to those in need of salvation. Pray for a plentiful harvest!

Readings
Psalms 75, 76 or 23, 27
2 Samuel 5:22-6:11
Acts 17:16-34
Mark 8:1-10


Friday, July 29, 2011

Close to You


Psalm 73:28
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

The inspiration to convert my blog from an occasional musing to a daily devotional came to me just over two months ago. I have yet to miss a post and never intend to. The time I have spent immersed in God's word, meditating upon it, and writing reflections based on a verse from that day's scripture has fostered my faith and honed my skills as a writer. Best of all, though, are the butter flies of anticipation fluttering in my stomach each day when I open the assigned readings, locate them in the Bible, and begin perusing them. I can't wait to hear how God will speak to me! It is so, so good to be near God!

How are you drawing close to the Lord today? Have you made Him your refuge and strength? Are you telling others of the wondrous deeds He has done for you? Are these daily devotions here helping you to realize God's presence in your life in a new way? I pray this is so!

May the Lord bless you and keep you in the light of His word and may His love surround you always!

Readings
Psalms 69:1-23 (24-30) 31-38 or 73
2 Samuel 5:1-12
Acts 17:1-15
Mark 7:24-37

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Be Cleansed!


Mark 7:14-15
Again, Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside you can defile you by going into you. Rather, it is what comes out of you that defiles you."

Jesus is making clear, once again, the difference between man-imposed restrictions and God's rules. The Pharisees have accused the disciples of eating with unclean hands and the Lord defends their actions. He goes on to declare all foods permissible for consumption as they enter the stomach and pass through the digestive system. It is, rather, the sins of the human heart that defile us, that render us "unclean" and separate us from the love of God.

The list of sins articulated by Jesus in Mark 7:21-22 is formidable. I would venture to say that all of you reading this are guilty of one or more of them at some point in your life. I am no exception. The crucial matter for us as Christians is to recognize the sin, repent, ask forgiveness from God for our shortcomings, and shine the light of hope and redemption to others. Too often, we fail to admit our sins, choosing instead to wear that plastic smile to church every Sunday, striving to convince others of our better-than-thou piety, afraid to allow anyone to see our broken and bleeding hearts. How can we possibly bring others to the saving grace of Christ if we are unwilling to go there ourselves? We can't; our hypocrisy about our own failures defeats us in the end.

Are you donning that artificial smile every Sunday? Are you, like the Pharisees, judging others before addressing your own issues? Take a good, long look in the mirror. See that face? Know that it and you are so loved by God! He is prepared to forgive every sin, every error in your ways, but you have to take the first step. Confess and be cleansed!

"Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain?
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken,
Maybe, then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade." ~ Casting Crowns

Readings
Psalms (70), 71 or 74
2 Samuel 4:1-12
Acts 16:25-40
Mark 7:1-23

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Be Healed


Mark 6:56
And wherever he went - into villages, towns or countryside - they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

"And all who touched him were healed." Not a few, not some, not many, but ALL! What a testimony this is to the faith of these people who trusted and believed that Jesus had the power to restore their health and well-being! Time and again, Jesus tells those He has healed that it is their faith that has made them well; He cannot perform miracles in those who do not believe in Him and His ability to do so. Faith is the key that unlocks the door to God's Kingdom and the promise of a life lived fully and abundantly.

As I write today's reflection, I'm thinking of all the sick and suffering individuals and families on my prayer list. How I wish Jesus was here to walk among them in their homes, their hospitals, touching and curing each one of them! But, regrettably, He is not; we are His hands and feet in this world, going to, caring for, comforting, and praying for those in need. In serving and interceding for others, our faith grows stronger and more certain every day. When the people we love lose their battles with illness, we can rest assured the war is still won, for the Lord will heal, if not in this life, in the next where there will no longer be any pain, sorrow, heartache, or suffering.

Our faith, indeed, will ultimately make us well.

Readings
Psalms 72 or 119:73-96
2 Samuel 3:22-39
Acts 16:16-24
Mark 6:47-56

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Loaves and Fishes

Mark 6:41-42
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.

Pot-luck dinners at church are the best! Everyone, it seems, brings their favorite, crowd-pleasing recipe to share, and brings it in abundance. I'm not one for seconds, but at these affairs, I almost always go back for one more bite of that irresistible brownie, that mouth-watering fried chicken, or, that ultimate comfort food, macaroni and cheese. (If you didn't know it already, I'll bet you've guessed by now that I live in the south!) Everyone eats until full and satisfied; no matter how many people show up or how many dishes are served, there is always plenty left over to be wrapped up and taken home.

The miracle of Jesus' feeding of the five-thousand is nothing short of astounding. He took the loaves and fish that someone was willing to share, blessed them, broke them, and more than generously fed the overwhelming crowd. I'm certain no one left there that day hungry either in body or in spirit. God has graced us with prolific resources on this earth and has provided everything we need. It is when we are willing to share what little or what plenty we have with others that His bounteous gifts multiply ten-fold, a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold.

How can you share food with others in a way that will grow God's kingdom? Can you fix and take a meal to a family in need? Can you, even if these tough economic times are trying your budget, donate one box of cereal to a food pantry? Could you organize a pot-luck dinner at your church and invite friends and neighbors who don't attend to join you for food and fellowship? Perhaps, you could remember to pack a sandwich for that bedraggled, homeless man you pass every day on your way to work. Whatever you choose to do, know it is in the sharing that miracles happen.

Readings
Psalms 61, 62 or 68:1-20 (21-23) 24-36
2 Samuel 3:6-21
Acts 16:6-15
Mark 6:30-46

Monday, July 25, 2011

Agree to Disagree

Acts 15:39-40
They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.

When I first read this passage, I found it hard to believe. Paul and Barnabas had been such close friends and companions in Christ, traveling, teaching, and spreading the gospel together for the longest time. After everything they had been through, I thought they would have better learned the art of compromise and have more flexibility with regards to each others' wishes. Not so in this case! Mark had definitely rubbed Paul the wrong way a while back and he could not understand why Barnabas wanted anything to do with him. As they could not see eye-to-eye on this issue, the only option left to them was to part ways.

Did Paul and Barnabas remain friends in spite of this quarrel? The scripture doesn't tell us here, but I believe they did. After all, haven't we experienced disagreements with friends, with family, with spouses that blew up, blew over, and didn't ultimately taint our relationships? Even in the best of marriages, friendships, or family relations (my mother and I do not discuss politics and everyone is happy), no one is ever going to agree on everything one-hundred percent of the time. It's impossible!

As Christians, we are called to love one another as Christ loved us. We can agree to disagree, still respecting and caring for the person with whom we've had a temporary falling out. We forgive and we move on. Whether that calls for drastic measures as in the case of Paul and Barnabas, and let us hope not, or a simple, brief time-out from the person involved, we can continue to remain friends in the Lord.

"And friends are friends forever
If the Lord's the Lord of them.
And a friend will not say never
'Cause the welcome will not end.
Though it's hard to let you go,
In the Father's hands we know
That a lifetime's not too long to live as friends. ~ Michael W. Smith

Readings
Psalms 56, 57, (58) or 64, 65
2 Samuel 2:1-11
Acts 15:36-16:5
Mark 6:14-29

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good Intentions

Matthew 26:33-34
Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."
"Truly I tell you, " Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."

Peter has a big heart; the problem is he has a big mouth, too. He reminds me of the student in class who can't wait to be called upon and has to urgently blurt out the answer, right or wrong. While Peter's intentions are worthy and honorable, Jesus knows that this disciple upon whom the church would be built will not be able to keep the promise he made so impulsively. He has not yet been brought to the time of rial, the test he will fail so miserably. Indeed, before the rooster crows that morning, Peter has denied his Lord three times. His brash, bold words uttered just hours before are now nothing more than hollow, empty shells crumbling before his eyes. Ashamed of his inability to live up to his vow to Jesus, he weeps bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

Has someone ever promised to be there for you, no matter what, but let you down? Have you ever made a pledge to a friend or family member, but could not follow through? I imagine there isn't one of us who hasn't been on one side or the other of this pendulum; each swings with the same emotions: despondency, disappointment, and grief. The good news is, Jesus forgave Peter his transgression, He forgives you, too, for the times when you hurt someone, and He calls you to forgive, with a big heart, those who hurt you.

Can you accept His forgiveness? Can you forgive others? Don't tell Jesus you can until you know you are able and ask for His help along the way. Good intentions are never good enough.

Readings
Psalms 24, 29 or 8, 84
2 Samuel 1:17-27
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 25:31-46

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fearfully, Wonderfully Made!













Psalm 139:14
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

By the time you read this devotion, my family will have celebrated the first birthday of my granddaughter, Virginia Rose. How time has flown since that thrilling morning, July 21, 2010, when she arrived into the world! Just moments after she was born, my husband and I were able to see her; I marveled at her perfection from the top of her smooth, rounded head to the very tips of her tiny fingers and toes. Indeed, she was fearfully and wonderfully made and I knew as I gazed at her in awe and with thanksgiving, that I was a witness to God's miraculous handiwork.

Every day of what I call my "Gammie Time" since then has been replete with joy and amazement as I've watched Virginia Rose change from infant to almost-toddler over the course of this year. Alert and aware from the get-go, her learning about the world around her has grown exponentially. She has a happy disposition and loves people and the attention they give her; her most endearing habit is waving and smiling at anyone she sees! Needless to say, my daughter and son-in-law can't get through the grocery store without everyone stopping to wave back and compliment the baby. I pray that Virginia Rose will stay this sweet, this loving, and this friendly through all the years ahead.

Which of God's might and glorious works is wonderful in your life today? I hope it is not just one, but many that leave you awestruck and blessed. Praise Him for miracles, large and small!

Oh, and, Happy Birthday, Virginia Rose! Gammie and Papa love you!

Readings
Psalms 55 or 138, 139:1-17 (18-23)
2 Samuel 1:1-16
Acts 15:23-35
Mark 6:1-13

Friday, July 22, 2011

Got Faith?


Mark 5:27-28
When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed."

Astounding! What incredible faith this woman has! She has suffered for years from hemorrhaging, going from doctor to doctor for a cure, only to spend all that she has without results. Yet, all this time, I believe she prayed daily to God for help, for healing, trusting that, in His time, He would hear her pleas and make her well. Her faith is so immense; she is convinced that she only has to touch the hem of Jesus' garment to be restored to health, and that is exactly what happens.

What would it feel like for us to have faith like hers? In last Sunday's service, Pastor Emily's sermon, once again based on the book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase, focused on intentional faith building. She challenged us to think about where we were currently in our walk with the Lord and what we could do to improve our understanding of and relationship with Jesus. Were we in a Sunday school class, a Bible study, or a prayer group? Were we spending intentional time with God each day in prayer and in meditating on His word? Were we increasing our faith through fellowship with other Christians? The bottom line was this: Attending church each Sunday just doesn't cut it if we truly want to grow our faith. We must purposefully seek God's presence each and every day of our lives in order to mature spiritually.

Are you intentionally building your faith? Take a moment today to assess where you are in your journey with God and know He is ready to help you make that first step.

"Take a step of faith, take a step of faith.
When you can't see your hand in front of your face,
Take a step of faith.
With no star to guide your way, God's still beside you saying,
'Take a step of faith, just take a step of faith'." ~ Kathy Hill, Wise Guys and Starry Skies

Readings
Psalms 40, 54 or 51
1 Samuel 31:1-13
Acts 15:12-21
Mark 5:21-43

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Testify!

Mark 5:19
Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you."

In today's reading, Jesus heals a man possessed not by one demon, but by an entire legion of unclean spirits who have tortured and tormented him night and day for years on end. I find this encounter to be on of dramatic and horrifying intensity. A raving, frothing lunatic who foils all chains and restraints, who dwells among the tombs of the dead; a herd of two-thousand swine whose keepers most certainly were not Jewish; a host of ghastly, blood-curdling demons who rise from the crazed man, moaning and screeching like a howling gale, invading the bodies of the pigs who then, in a manic frenzy, stampede toward a cliff and into the sea where they drown. If this were a movie I was watching, it would be the scene where I scream and hide my eyes in sheer terror!

I am not alone. The people who lived in this place are beside themselves with fear and trembling at what has just happened. They are blind to the astonishing miracle which has transpired; their hearts and minds are shrouded with apprehension. Instead of rejoicing in the healing of the mad man, they beg Jesus to depart from them. He understands them better than they could ever know for, when the healed man asks the Lord to take him along, Jesus does not allow it. He recognizes that the only way these people will accept what He has done and acknowledge the mercy He has shown to this man is through the testimony of the man himself.

What has the Lord done for you? How has He shown you His great mercy? Are you sharing His blessings upon you with others? Be a witness to the world for Him; testify to His everlasting love!

"For as long as I shall live, I will testify to love . . ." ~ Avalon

Readings
Psalms 50, (59, 60) or 66, 67
1 Samuel 28:3-20
Acts 15:1-11
Mark 5:1-20

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Who Is This Jesus?

Mark 4:41
They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

The disciples and Jesus are crossing the Sea of Galilee when a massive storm arises unexpectedly and threatens to swamp their boats. While the disciples are shouting, bailing, panicking, Jesus lies calmly asleep through all the commotion. His inaction and presumed indifference alarm the desperate men. Frantically, they wake Him up: "Teacher! Do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38b)

Drowsy and, most likely, perturbed by this disruption of His coveted rest, the Lord commands the storm to cease. Within seconds, all is calm again. The disciples are more petrified by this act than they were by the raging winds and pounding waves. They question each other: "Who is this man?" "How did he do it?" "We've seen him cure the sick and the lame and drive out demons, but this?" "Who is this Jesus?"

For us, who know the rest of the story, the obtuseness of the disciples seems ludicrous. Before we judge them as being dense or slow-witted, however, let us remember that Jesus has not, at this point, come right out and told them who He is. He is allowing, instead, the words of His teaching and His miracles to, little by little, reveal His true identity. When their hearts and minds are ready, He knows they will see and understand that He is the Messiah, the Christ, and the author of their salvation.

If someone were to ask you today, "Who is this Jesus?", what would your answer be?

Readings
Psalms 119:49-72 or 49, (53)
1 Samuel 25:23-44
Acts 14:19-28
Mark 4:35-41

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This Little Light of Mine


Mark 4:21
He said to them, "Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand?"

As a child, I was afraid of the dark. Every night when my parents tucked me in and before switching off the lamp, they would turn on a nightlight to comfort me as I fell asleep and to reassure me should I wake up from a bad dream. I loved the soft, ambient glow of that tiny light, so miniscule, yet so potent in dispelling the gloomy shadows and creepy monsters I envisioned lurking in the closet, under my bed, or hovering just outside my window. When I would awake in the morning to a room drenched in sunshine, the nightlight, so powerfully bright against the darkness, appeared faded and worn, rendered ineffectual by the sun's brilliance; still, its light was precious to me.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world; as Christians, we are to shine the light of His love on those who are shrouded in darkness. So, how is your light performing? Is it as luminous as the staunch nightlight, chasing away the shadows of fear and hopelessness? Do you feel it is somehow inadequate or feeble as a nightlight in the blaze of morning? Even worse, are you hiding that light of yours away from a world so desperately in need of Christ's love?

Know this: No matter how menial or insufficient you perceive your light to be, the Lord can and will use it to further His kingdom. Go ahead! Place that little light on its stand for all to see. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Readings
Psalms 45 or 47, 48
1 Samuel 25:1-22
Acts 14:1-18
Mark 4:21-34

Monday, July 18, 2011

Are You Listening?


Mark 4:9
Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."

How many of you, from time to time, are guilty of tuning out a person speaking to you? I know I am. In grade school, I was an incorrigible daydreamer, constantly drifting away from the voice of the teacher, and, consequently, missing valuable instructions. My payback came a thousand-fold during my teaching years as repeating instructions became a predictably unpleasant part of the daily classroom routine. Although this experience aided me outwardly in developing the patience of Job, the inner frustration and upset regarding not being listened to the first time festered resentfully within me. I think we would all agree that being heard, but not listened to, is downright aggravating!

In today's gospel, Jesus is telling the parable of the sower. Before He begins the story, He exhorts the crowd with one word: "Listen!" (Mark 4:3). What He has to say is crucial, all-important; they need to be alert, aware, and paying attention. If they were in school, this would not be the moment to place their heads on their desks for a doze or to gaze abstractedly out the window like space cadets. Jesus is only giving the instructions once. He's not going to repeat them, at least today at this gathering. If they snooze, then, regrettably, they lose.

How are you hearing the voice of Jesus speaking to you today? What is He saying to you? Most importantly, are you listening?

"The voice of the Lord is calling His children . . . hear the voice of the Lord!" ~ Philips, Craig, and Dean

Readings
Psalms 41, 52, or 44
1 Samuel 24:1-22
Acts 13:44-52
Mark 4:1-20

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Not of This World


Romans 12:2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The world is rife with temptations everywhere we turn. Commercials bombard us from our televisions, radios, newspapers, magazines, and internet, enticing us to purchase everything from the latest model mini-van to the slinky new fashions, from extravagant vacations to that wrinkle cream guaranteed to take twenty years off our faces. They beguile us into believing that, without these products or services, we are incomplete persons who will not experience fulfillment until we've made these all-important purchases. Sadly, there are many who fall for and into this trap, madly and relentlessly chasing anything material they hope will make others view them as popular, successful, suave, and in-the-know.

If that in itself is not reason for concern, there are deeper, more insidious implications for those mesmerized by the world's patterns. Those who cannot afford such luxuries or as many as they see enjoyed by their neighbors develop what I call the "not enough" syndrome: I'm not rich enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not young enough, not good enough, not, not, not, not, not! Their self-worth crumbles before their eyes as they wallow in self-pity and envy of others.

The only "not" that Christians should be concerned for is the "not" in "not of this world". Jesus told us to place our treasures in things eternal, not temporal. When we are tried and tempted by earthly cravings, we need to stop, drop, and pray to know God's will for us. We need to temper our minds and hearts with daily Bible study and gain strength and wisdom from the scripture. We must remember that, as God's children, we will always be precious and worthy in His sight. And, if that's "not enough", I don't know what is!

Readings
Psalms 63:1-8 (9-11) or 103
1 Samuel 23:7-18
Romans 11:33-12:2
Matthew 25:14-30

Saturday, July 16, 2011

God's Family


Mark 3:33-35
"Who are my mother and my brothers?" He asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Jesus' family is worried sick about Him. They have been told by some that He has lost His marbles and is antagonizing the scribes who have accused Him of casting out demons by the Devil's powers. They hasten to where He is staying only to find the crush of the crowd within and without the house impenetrable. Frantically fearful for Jesus' sanity and safety, they send a message through the throng that they have come to see Him. I imagine that Mary, like any loving mother, especially needed reassurance that her precious son was unharmed and well; if she could only see Him, talk with Him, this horrid dread would be dispelled from her heart.

Can't you just hear the brothers' reactions to the words spoken by Jesus in today's scripture?
"What?! But, I'm his real brother!"
"How could he treat us this way?"
"Hey, Jesus, get out here now! We need to talk!"
"Don't do this to Mom! You're being terribly unfair!"

And, Mary's reaction? Knowing full well Jesus' destiny, having pondered it for years in her heart, I think she understood perfectly what her son was saying. That's not to imply that she didn't feel hurt or disappointment at not seeing Him, but His words assured her that He was in His right mind and on the right track: Doing the will of His Father. After all, hadn't she, herself, obeyed that same will when she agreed to bear the Christ child? I envision Mary turning toward home, her bewildered family in tow, with a smile on her face and a heart serene.

"God our Father, Christ our brother,
All who live in love are thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine." ~ Henry J. Van Dyke

Readings
Psalms 30, 32 or 42, 43
1 Samuel 22:1-13
Acts 13:26-43
Mark 3:19b-35

Friday, July 15, 2011

Risky Business


Acts 13:16
Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said, "People of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!"

Last Sunday, Pastor Wallace continued our five-week sermon series based on The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase with his sermon "Risk-Taking Mission and Service". As our associate pastor, Emily, was at that very moment on a mission trip to Nicaragua, Wallace's message really hit home with me. She would be training, during this time, on how to lead mission trips, help to construct a home, and teach Vacation Bible School, all without previous experience in missions, barely able to distinguish between a hammer and a screwdriver, and not knowing a lick of Spanish. She had every right to feel fearful and inadequate, two emotions that Wallace explained hinder us from taking risks in mission and service, but she chose to have faith, the antithesis of fear, and trust that God would use what gifts she has in a mighty way.

In today's reading, Paul has traveled to Antioch and is speaking in the synagogue about the good news of Jesus Christ. It is the first of many missions upon which he will embark, each time risking the loss of life and liberty. His deep faith and conviction that the Lord has called him to this service places any trepidation or misgivings he could entertain on the back burner. Indeed, it's risky business, but he has donned the full armor of God and is committed to spreading the gospel of salvation and redemption to the ends of the earth.

How about you? Where has God or is God calling you to step out of your comfort zone and embrace the world in a new way for him? Can you make that leap of faith? Can you trust Him enough to know H will see you through? Yes, working to spread God's Kingdom through mission and service can be a risky business, but the rewards far outweigh any risk you could take.

Readings
Psalms 31 or 35
1 Samuel 21:1-15
Acts 13:13-25
Mark 3:7-19a

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lord of the Sabbath


Mark 2:27-28
Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

Jesus' words infuriate the scribes and Pharisees. In two short sentences, He negates every man-imposed regulation regarding Sabbath behaviors which they oversee, and, in their minds, commits blasphemy by referring to Himself as the Son of Man. Their power and control over the Jewish people is threatened, shaken to the very core, by this irreverent upstart whose startling authority rings true in the ears of those they once held in their sway. With their supremacy in question and their preeminence waning, the sin of pride clouds their hearts and they begin to plot Jesus' destruction (Mark 3:6). Is it any wonder the Lord describes them as a brood of vipers (Matthew 23:33)?

When God gave the fourth commandment to Moses - "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy" - He knew human beings required two necessities in life that we have the option not to practice: rest from the routines of our daily tasks and purposeful time spent in communion with God. To deny either one is to doom us to ill health, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To live full, meaningful and productive lives, we must allow ourselves time to relax and rejuvenate and we need to attend worship regularly in addition to setting aside focused time each day to spend in prayer and praise to the Lord who always knows our needs before we ask.

How have you been spending your Sabbath? Is there something you need to change in your practices in light of knowing that this day was created for you? Go to the Lord of the Sabbath; He will give you the answers you seek.

Readings
Psalms 37:1-18 or 37:19-40
1 Samuel 20:24-42
Acts 13:1-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Party On!


Mark 2:19
Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them."

The grandest parties I've ever attended were wedding receptions. The bride, always radiant, and the glowing groom are the center of attention, from toasts, to cake-cutting, to that first dance as man and wife. The families and guests of the couple are jovial and celebratory as libations flow and banquet tables are heaped with generous fare. Now is definitely not the time to think about your diet; this is the moment to revel in the festivities and make merry while the bride and groom remain at the gathering. This is their special day and you were thought of enough to be included in it. The party will be over before you can find yourself wanting it to be.

Jesus knew His time on earth was brief. His presence among His disciples and followers was an experience to be cherished, treasured, and celebrated. The time for mourning and for fasting would come all too soon. But, for now, with the Bread of Life and the Living Waters close at hand, Jesus invites all to partake of this glorious, once-in-a-lifetime repast. Indeed, while He dwells among them, it's time to party on!

Readings
Psalms 38 or 119:25-48
1 Samuel 20:1-23
Acts 12:18-25
Mark 2:13-22

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mission Impossible!


Acts 12:7
Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell of Peter's wrists.

Peter is up to his neck in hot water. On Herod's orders, he was arrested for preaching the good news and now sits in prison, chained and heavily guarded. Tomorrow, he will be paraded before the people by Herod, just as Pilate did with Jesus before the Lord was sentenced to death. The church, meanwhile, is praying fervently for Peter's release, but such a reprieve seems bleak at best. The disciple that Jesus declared would be the rock upon which the church was founded lies on harsh, unrelenting stone and, overwhelmed with grief, sleeps, just as he did in Gethsemanes' Garden the night of Jesus' betrayal. What now, after all, could possibly save him?

Cue the theme from Mission Impossible! It's Action Angel to the rescue! Slugging the slumbering Peter and barking orders like a drill sergeant, the angel dislodges him from the chains and proceeds to guide him invisibly and hastily past the guards and soldiers until they reach a point of safety. Then, without another word, the angel disappears. Peter, dazed and confused, suspected until the moment of the angel's departure that this was only a vision; now he confesses that it was, indeed, a miraculous act of the Lord.

Where in your life are you felling imprisoned, chained, or hopeless today? I pray you are not, but if you are, take heart! Call upon the Lord to set you free; no mission is impossible for Him!

Readings
Psalms 26, 28 or 36, 39
1 Samuel 19:1-18
Acts 12:1-17
Mark 2:1-12

Monday, July 11, 2011

Let Us Pray

Mark 1:35
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Jesus awakens and slips out of peter's slumbering household, unheard and unseen. The previous evening had been marked by cacophonous, overbearing crowds, desperate for healing of illnesses and demonic possessions. Jesus had cured all that came to him. Now, He needs to be away from all distractions and demands upon Him; He longs to spend quiet moments in prayer, communing with His Father in Heaven. In so doing, His strength and resolve are renewed and any fatigue or uncertainty melts away. This time spent in prayer is so beneficial that, when the disciples locate Him after much searching, Jesus is prepared for the next stage of His journey: Spreading the good news of God's Kingdom throughout all Judea.

When and where do you pray? Do you pray best when, like Jesus, you can find a solitary place in which to be still and know that He is God? Are your prayers lifted silently or aloud? Can you focus on prayers offered in church, or does being in a large group dilute your concentration? Are you practicing contemplative prayer? Have you ever considered attempting to spend a day in prayer without ceasing? Would you be so kind as to share your prayer habits on this blog for the benefit of other readers? What makes prayer so real and true for you might be just what someone else needs to hear.

"Let us pray without end, and when we're finished, start again; like breathing out and breathing in. Oh, let us pray!" ~ Steven Curtis Chapman

Readings
Psalms 25 or 9, 15
1 Samuel 18:5-16, 27b-30
Acts 11:19-30
Mark 1:29-45

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rejected!

Matthew 23:37
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stoned those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing."

When was the last time you felt rejected? Was it when your love for someone went unrequited? When you got passed over for a promotion at your job? When your best friend snubbed you at a party? Maybe you, or someone you know, have even suffered the rejection of family members because of past mistakes or misunderstandings. No matter how you experienced rejection, one thing holds true: It HURTS!

God's unquenchable desire to love and guard His people, to give them protection and comfort under His merciful wings, was met, time and again, with rejection. Like rebellious children, the Israelites refused to heed the warnings of the prophets to repent of their sins and return to Him, the one true God. The anguish and grief in Jesus' words, spoken to His beloved Jerusalem, are palpable, excruciating. He knows the time is coming when even He, the chief cornerstone, will be rejected by His own people. Yet, despite all the pain and disappointment, He will love them enough and love us enough, to lay down His life for the forgiveness of our sins.

In those trying times when you suffer rejection, remember that you are always accepted, just as you are, by a loving and merciful God. Rest beneath His protective wings and find an everlasting peace.

Readings
Psalms 148, 149, 150 or 114, 115
1 Samuel 17:50-18:4
Romans 10:4-17
Matthew 23:29:39

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Authentic Authority

Mark 1:27
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching - and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and the obey him."

Made popular in the 1970s, the phrase, "Question Authority", was a reaction to government leadership that claimed to right to control, command and determine the paths our lives would take, regardless of personal choice or opinion. This adage, for many, is still valid today. A preponderance of Americans view the political status quo as hypocritical, promising on thing to constituents yet doing another. Once in office, it seems, the exhilarating enticement of power erases the memory of being elected to serve, not dominate. Such duplicitous behaviors earn people's distrust and disgust; the representatives may have authority, but it is in no way authentic.

Not so the authority with which Jesus taught and the crowds, hanging eagerly onto His every word, recognized immediately. Unlike the scribes and Pharasees who told the people what to do, yet did not, themselves, adhere to the same rules, Jesus' words and character are inseparable. To quote Father Joseph Pellegrino (http://www.st.ignatius.net/01-29-06.html), "He didn't just speak the truth, he was Truth Incarnate." His authority and God's are one in the same. It is because Jesus is the Son of God that demons name Him, fear Him, and are cast out of their victims by Him. His is THE authentic authority. It never needs to be questioned.

Readings
Psalms 20, 21:1-7 (8-14) or 110:1-5 (6-7), 116, 117
1 Samuel 17:31-49
Acts 11:1-18
Mark 1:14-28

Friday, July 8, 2011

Changes


Psalm 16:8-9
I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure.

Whether we welcome it or not, change is an inevitable part of this life. Some changes are forced upon us, i.e. learning a new technological skill or accepting a transfer in order to maintain our jobs. Others a re life-altering: the birth of a child; the death of a loved one; a move to a new home; a divorce, a diagnosis of cancer. Still others convince us of our lack of control over our own destinies: the savage tornado that destroys our property; the woods we played in as children cut down and leveled to entertain a shopping mall, a childhood home razed for the sake of more modern and upscale abodes. All change affects us in one way or another, but whether we choose to regard ourselves as the victims of change or view change as an opportunity for greater possibilities in our lives, is up to us.

My consolation through the many changes I have either endured or welcomed with relief is knowing God is steadfast in His everlasting presence and love for me. He is the same today as He was yesterday and will be for all the days to come. When we keep our eyes always on the Lord, no matter what events, tragic or blissful, stir the pots of our lives, we can rest securely in His peace and promise. Whatever changes occur her on earth, we will not be shaken!

Readings
Psalms 16, 17 or 22
1 Samuel 17:17-30
Acts 10:34-48
Mark 1:1-13

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Radical Hospitality

Acts 10:28
He (Peter) said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean."

Last Sunday, our pastors initiated a five-week sermon cycle based on the book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, by Robert Schnase. The first topic was entitled "Radical Hospitality". Pastor Wallace shared with us what a church practicing this radical hospitality should look like, feel like, and act like when visitors come to call. As you peruse the recommendations below, I hope you will reflect upon how your own house of worship currently practices hospitality and how you can be more effective in inviting and welcoming newcomers into your congregation.

  • Is there a greeter's table at the main doors, clearly marked "Welcome, Visitors", and manned by a smiling, friendly, outgoing church member?
  • Are you being purposely aware of the people who regularly attend your church service so you can spot a new face immediately?
  • If you have a time for "Meet and Greet" or, in some congregations, "Passing the Lord's Peace", don't just exchange greetings with your friends; make an effort to shake hands with that new family and introduce yourself. Let them know you are glad they are here.
  • If a visitor asks directions to a Sunday school class or the parish hall, don't tell him where to go - escort him there; get to know him better along the way.
  • Don't allow anyone, visitor or long-time member, to sit by himself or herself. Get up out of that pew your family has occupied for the past 30 years and go sit next to that person! You may very well be the one who absolutely makes that person's day.
  • And, if you arrive at church to find new faces sitting in your hallowed pew, meet them, greet them, and sit somewhere else. Is it really going to hurt?
  • Are there visitors' information cards in every pew at your church?
  • Is there a spoken welcome to visitors from the pulpit each Sunday?
  • Are there volunteers who collect these cards after services and either visit or call these newcomers (per their requests on the cards) to thank them for visiting and to invite them to come again?
In today's scripture, Peter realizes that this new church, unlike the traditional synagogue, is not an exclusive club. The salvation of Jesus is available to Jew and Gentile, free and slave, male and female (Galatians 3:28). It is not our job to judge who walks through the doors of our church; it is, rather, an opportunity to welcome them with open arms, rejoicing in the growth of God's Kingdom

"Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come. We are the Body of Christ." ~ Casting Crowns

Readings
Psalms 18:1-20 or 18:21-50
1 Samuel 16:14-17:11
Acts 10:17-33
Luke 24:36-53

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Along the Emmaus Road


Luke 24:30-31
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

For me, the story of Jesus' encounter with two of His disciples, not in the inner circle of the twelve, is one of the most poignant and illuminating in all the gospels. The men are departing Jerusalem after three grief-stricken and bewildering days to travel the road to Emmaus. Why? Are they disillusioned by the Christ they had hoped would save Israel? Are they returning to the homes they abandoned for His sake? Dismal and disheartened, they seek strength and solace in each others company as they walk along, and are deep in conversation when Jesus, whom they do not recognize, joins them and inquires about their discussion.

Astonished by the stranger's seeming ignorance of the overwhelming events of the last three days, the disciples explain everything that has happened. Jesus proceeds to open their hearts and minds to the scriptures pertaining to what must happen to the Son of Man, just as He had so many times to His followers before His crucifixion. Amazed by the knowledge of this man, the two implore Him to stay and share a meal with them instead of going on ahead, alone, as evening is approaching. It is in the reenactment of the Last Supper, what Jesus requested the disciples do perpetually in remembrance of Him, that His identity is revealed. The two men are astounded. They drop any plans they may have entertained along the road to Emmaus and return in haste that very night to rejoin the other disciples in Jerusalem.

These two were as lost sheep, wandering away from the fold, mercifully rescued and redirected by the Good Shepherd before it was too late. I am touched by the time Jesus took with these men and His patience in pointing them yet again toward the truth of His suffering and resurrection. The miraculous thing is, Jesus is willing to spend that kind of time with us whenever we call upon Him, ready to reveal to us the wonder of His saving love.

Where, along your Emmaus road, has the Risen Christ met you?

Readings
Psalms 119:1-24 or 12, 13, 14
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Acts 10:1-16
Luke 24:13-35

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Not What I Expected . . .


Luke 24:1-3
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

We entertain expectations each and every day. When we wake in the morning to a clear, blue sky and singing birds, we anticipate a good day ahead. In planning a vacation to a place we've never been, we imagine the best of possibilities for sight-seeing and relaxing. We work hard at our jobs, hoping for a raise. We expect the best from our children, in behavior, in school work and we dream about their future success and happiness. Unfortunately, high expectations, as we know all too well, don't always pan out. That great day ahead was fantastic until you wrecked your car, it rained your entire vacation, you didn't even get a bonus at work, let alone a raise, and little Bobby failed math this year. We find ourselves saying, "This is certainly not what I expected!"

Paradoxically, if our expectations about situations, people, or places are not unrealistically high, we are often pleasantly surprised to find things are better than we could have hoped for or ever dreamed of. The women carrying their spices to anoint Jesus' lifeless body anticipated doing just that. They were probably weeping along their way and wondering who would help them roll back the stone. Imagine their utter astonishment when, arriving at the tomb, the shone had already been removed and the tomb itself stood empty! Who had taken their Lord away? Suddenly, two men appear before them in dazzling whiteness and turn all their expectations on their heads: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 24:5b-6a) Oh, what glorious news and absolutely, positively not at all what the women expected!

When it comes to God, be ready to expect the unexpected.

Readings
Psalms 5, 6 or 10, 11
1 Samuel 15:24-35
Acts 9:32-43
Luke 23:56b-24:11

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day


Psalm 4:6
Many, LORD, are asking, "Who will bring us prosperity?"
Let the light of your face shine on us.

Are we celebrating this Independence Day with cookouts and family gatherings? Watching or marching in parades on our city streets? Lolling about, gratefully relaxing on our day off from work? Hanging American flags from our porches? Leisurely stretched on blankets at the local park as dusk approaches, anticipating the gala fireworks display?


No matter how you commemorate the most important date in our country's history, I hope you will take time to pause and reflect upon these questions:
  • What does freedom really mean to me?
  • Are my "inalienable rights" endowed by my Creator God being honored in America in the 21st Century?
  • Have I acknowledged the sacrifices made by my Founding Fathers to grant me these rights and freedoms?
  • Do I pray for and honor the brave men and women in harm's way daily to protect me, my country, and my way of life?
  • Is America still God's "shining city on the hill", or have we fallen from grace; how can I give new meaning to the phrase, "One nation, under God"?
In these difficult economic and political times, not just in our country but throughout the world, many, indeed, are asking, "Who will bring us prosperity?". Paradoxically, it is dependence upon God and His will for our lives that grants us the ultimate independence to realize the potential for greatness and success in our lives and the lives of others. I pray that the light of God's face shines upon all of us this Independence Day and in all the days to come.

God bless the U.S.A.!
http://www.google.com/ig?hl=en&source=iglk#m_1_%22God%20Bless%20the%20U.S.A.%22

Readings
Psalms 1, 2, 3 or 4, 7
1 Samuel 15:1-3, 7-23
Acts 9:19b-31
Luke 23:44-56a

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Gift Most Grand


Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Have you ever been given a gift so grand you felt you didn't deserve it? Maybe, it was that shiny, new car your parents surprised you with at college graduation, or that unexpected cruise to the Bahamas for your 25th wedding anniversary, or a medal awarded for your brave service to our country. My most splendid and undeserved gift came from my husband, Danny. When he proposed to me and I, knowing full well that finding this loving man was an unwarranted gift in itself, accepted, he handed me a red-polished wooden box. I knew it contained my engagement ring and, not daring to let my fantasies run wild, I visualized the standard gold band with a single sparkling diamond mounted on it. Imagine my astonishment when I lifted the lid to find not just a solitaire, but one graced brilliantly on each side by six tiny, yet iridescent, diamonds! The ring was, and still is, beautiful beyond description; I was overwhelmed, over joyed, and certain that I had none nothing to merit such a glorious gift.

Out of His great love for us, God sent His Son to die for our sins, to redeem us, to bring us back into a relationship with Him. He knew that, no matter how hard we tried, we could never save ourselves from ourselves. None of us can earn God's grace and mercy and, most definitely, none of us are worthy of them. Yet, because of Jesus' sacrifice for us, we all have access to the most undeserved gift of all: Forgiveness.

Have you unwrapped God's ultimate gift for you? Go ahead; open it! Sure, it's not what you deserve, but it's your heart's desire.

Readings
Psalms 146, 147 or 111, 112, 113
1 Samuel 14:36-45
Romans 5:1-11
Matthew 22:1-14

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Not Me!

Luke 23:40-41
But the other criminal rebuked him, "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

Children are notorious for dodging blame when an action committed could get them into trouble with their parents or another authority figure. Bil Keane, creator of the timeless comic strip, "Family Circus", knew this well when he drew the "Not Me" gremlin anytime of the kids made a mess or caused chaos in Mom and Dad's otherwise orderly environment. In the 1990s, Bart Simpson would carry the "Not Me" syndrome to unparalleled heights with his culturally popular phrase, "I didn't do it!". This was made all the more egregious by the fact that viewers actually saw him do it and then heard his denial. While both scenarios evoke chuckles from us as we recall times in our childhoods when "Not Me" reigned supreme, we know that in raising our children to be responsible adults, we must teach them to view their shortcomings honestly, to admit their mistakes, and accept the consequences their actions engender.

We are not told the unlawful acts committed by the two criminals who flank Jesus on either side of His cross, but we can glean something of their characters. While one chooses, even with his last breath approaching, to join in with his own tormentors to mock Jesus, the other recognizes that their punishments are deserved in light of their deeds and accepts the inevitability of his fate. He has sinned and he is not reluctant to own up to it. He reveals his belief in Jesus as the Messiah who came to save sinners like he when he asks the Lord to remember hism when He comes into His kingdom. Jesus responds, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise". (Luke 23:43)

Are you living with children or grandchildren who are going through the "Not Me" stage? Are you modeling how to admit to mistakes, how to apologize, how to accept blame graciously? Help them understand that admitting their sin doesn't make them bad persons; it opens the door to forgiveness from a loving and merciful God. What could be better than that?

Readings
Psalms 137:1-6 (7-9), 144 or 104
1 Samuel 14:16-30
Acts 9:10-19a
Luke 23:32-43

Friday, July 1, 2011

Loose Lips Might Sink Ships

Psalm 141:3
Set a guard over my mouth, LORD;
keep watch over the door of my lips.

One of the worst idioms to ever prance down the pike is: "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me".It's just not true. Sure, some people have thicker skins than others and can hit that nasty name, the unfair criticism, or that insidious rumor out of their ballpark with panache. And, if the source of the insult is not from a friend or a loved one, I daresay that most of us, though temporarily hurt, are able to eventually let it go. It is the harsh word from parent to child, the angry accusations by a spouse, the gossip initiated in the office by a trusted co-worker, the falsehoods perpetuated by someone regarded as a best friend - these cut to the quick, wounding us gravely; some leave scars that never heal.

On the flip side of the coin, the most reliable adage with regard to the door of our lips is one I learned at my mother's knee: If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all". That is not to imply it is never alright to offer correction or chastisement when called for; it is what we say and how we say it that matters. We need to think, sometimes long and hard, before we loosen our tongues. The reality is, once the words are spoken, we can't take them back. There is no magic eraser to remove them from the ears, the minds, or hearts of the people who hear them.

Do you have trouble guarding your wayward mouth? Ask the Lord to set His faithful watch over your tongue. Forgive yourself for past transgressions. Are you a victim of gossip, slander, ruthless criticism, hateful insults? Ask God to give you comfort and pray for those persons afflicting you. Forgive them and sail onward, assured that loose lips cannot sink your ship.

Readings
Psalms 140, 142 or 141:1-11 (12)
1 Samuel 13:10-14:15
Acts 9:1-9
Luke 23:26-31

The Truth Will Set You Free

John 8:32 You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Peter is the disciple with whom I most readily relate.  Impetuou...