Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pilate Revisited

Luke 23:22-23
For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore, I will have him punished and then release him."
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.

If you attend a traditional service in a Catholic or Episcopal Church, then you are readily familiar with the Nicene Creed which is recited during worship. It is both a recounting of the events preceding and following Jesus' death and resurrection and a declaration of Christian beliefs. Amazingly, aside from Mary, the Lord's mother, the only mortal mentioned in the Creed is the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate: "For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate". While this phrase solidly fixes the time of Jesus' death in history, it renders the reputation of this man, so reluctant to sent Jesus to the cross, infamous at best.

Is this being fair to Pilate's legacy? Yes, I know that, under the pressure from the crowds whipped into a frenzy by the Sanhedrin and the insistence of the Jewish leaders themselves, the prefect caved to the demands and finally ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. However, in this verse from Luke today, we see him pleading no less than three times with the mob to spare our Lord. Pilate also declares Jesus' innocence: he can find no crime, no circumstance, nothing to compel the death penalty. Was a Gentile, ironically, the first to point toward the sinless nature of the Savior? Now, that is something to stop and think about!

"He became sin who knew no sin that we might become His righteousness. He humbled himself and carried the cross. Love so amazing! ~ Chris Tomlin

Readings
Psalms 131, 132, (133) or 134, 135
1 Samuel 13:5-18
Acts 8:26-40
Luke 23:13-25

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wait Upon the Lord

Psalm 130:5-6
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

The darkest hour, as the saying goes, is just before dawn. Envision the weary watchmen, guarding an ancient city at the gates or along the walls through the night with only the stars in the heavens to illumine their steps. Yawning and bleary-eyed, they long for that firs, faint glimmer of light on the eastern horizon, the promise of day break and relief from their tedious duties. Their wait becomes more interminable with every passing second, yet they cling to the hope: "Any minute now . . . any minute now . . ."

Have you experienced days of darkness and desolation when you could not feel God's presence in your life? Perhaps you were facing a difficult choice or circumstance about which you had prayed, but there was no immediate answer. You waited for the Lord with every fiber of your being, holding fast to the hope that seemed so far away, desperately desiring the light of His company. Did you continue to pray because, even though you cont not feel His presence, you knew, in your heart of hearts, He was listening, that He cared for you and your needs?

In those times when God seems so removed from you, remember that His love is as steadfast and reliable as the dawning day. Let strength rise within you as you wait for Him, trusting like the watchmen: "Any minute now . . ."

Readings
Psalms 119:145-176 or 128, 129, 130
1 Samuel 12:1-6, 16-25
Acts 8:14-25
Luke 23:1-12

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Show Me the Way!


Acts 8:3
But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Zealous to maintain the status quo of the Jewish traditions, Saul leads violent assaults on those converted to "The Way", the appellation used by early Christians to describe their religion. He is a cold, unfeeling witness to the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He instigates the fervent charge to round up and unmercifully imprison those he considers heretics. Later, in Acts 9:1-2, Saul, "still breathing threats and murder against the disciples", decides that persecuting them in Jerusalem just isn't enough. He petitions the High Priest for permission to travel to the synagogues in Damascus to warn them of this misguided, dangerous movement, and, while on his journey, capturing and sending back to Jerusalem any claiming to follow The Way. No one, least of all Saul, could have predicted the radical, miraculous transformation about to transpire in him along that fateful road when, in a flash of light that leaves him blinded, the Risen Christ confronts, convicts, and converts him.

I find it decidedly ironic that Paul (the Greek version of his name which he uses among the Gentiles), the most ardent, obsessive defender of the Jewish faith became the most passionate, devoted champion of Christianity. His conversion testifies to the fact that, with God, all things are possible. I believe the Lord saw through Paul's malevolent behaviors toward His people and recognized the qualities that would make Paul an indispensable apostle: determination, zeal, dedication, knowledge of the law, and devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He simply needed his vision corrected. Jesus made that happen in a mighty way!

Have you ever known someone who experienced a dramatic conversion like Paul's? Was your own conversion one of out-of-the-blue magnitude, or was it, like C. S. Lewis', a quiet conviction within your soul? Is there a friend or acquaintance in your life for whom you wish there was a Damascus Road? Love them, pray for them, and witness through example. Believe that God can and will meet them at their crossroads; be prepared to take their hand and help show them The Way.

Readings
Psalms (120), 121, 122, 123 or 124, 125, 126, (127)
1 Samuel 11:1-15
Acts 8:1-13
Luke 22:63-71

Monday, June 27, 2011

Heaven Is My Throne


Acts 7:48-49
"However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet (Isaiah 66:1-2) says:
'Heaven is my throne,
and the earth my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?'
Says the Lord.
'Or where will my resting place be?'"

The Hubbell telescope has revolutionized human perception of the unfathomable vastness that is the universe. The scale and grandeur cannot be measured; its span is beyond human knowing. We can only gaze at the billions of galaxies, nebulae, black holes, dying and forming stars with awe and wonder, and feel infinitesimally small, irrelevant, insignificant, and unworthy before the omnipotence of God. We cry out, "Oh, gracious Heavenly Father, God of the Universe, Creator of All Worlds, who are we that You are mindful of us?"

The miracle and blessing for us in this is to realize that, just as God has created a humanly incomprehensible universe, He has created us, too. He placed withing us the desire and longing to know and love Him who is beyond our understanding. In His great mercy and compassion, He sent Jesus, His beloved Son, so we could grasp to the fullness of our human capacity, who God, the Father, is, was, and ever will be. No house built by human hands could contain the greatness of the Lord but, because we are His creations, He can reside in our hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit.

The next time you gaze at the mighty and breathtaking heavens, let your heart in which He lives leap for joy; the "God of wonders beyond our galaxy" is holy and "the universe declares His majesty". (Third Day) His love for you endures forever.

Readings
Psalms 106:1-18 or 106:19-48
1 Samuel 10:17-27
Acts 7:44-8:1a
Luke 22:52-62

Sunday, June 26, 2011

On Level Ground


Psalm 143:10
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

When I use the treadmill at the gym for my cardio-workout, I place the speed at a stiff, power-walking pace (I don't do running) and hike the incline gradually until I can feel my leg muscles straining. I stay the course for as long as possible, usually about half-a-mile, before I begin reducing the incline's intensity bit by bit until I am, at last, down to zero. After all that uphill struggle, it's always a relief to return to level ground, to lower my speed, to feel my legs start to relax and embrace the stroll.

Doing things our way, not God's way, is like walking the treadmill at maximum speed and incline: It's a constant battle that gets us nowhere; it wears us down and finally wears us out. When we pray daily, however, that we might do His will and walk in His ways, the obstacles in our lives that were mountainous dwindle to molehills. God sets our feet on His straight and level path where we can stride in faith and confidence, knowing His holy presence is leading us. We are no longer consumed by the desire to know where we are going but, rather, free to delight in the journey He has set before us.

Lead on, Holy Spirit!

Readings
Psalms 118 or 143
1 Samuel 10:1-16
Romans 4:13-25
Matthew 21:23-32

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Take This Cup . . .


Luke 22:42
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

Jesus knew all along that this moment would come. He had shared with His disciples how the Son of Man must suffer that His mission might be fulfilled; they would not or could not comprehend the magnitude of the agony their Lord must endure. Now, in Jesus' last moments with them, they cannot even stay awake to pray with Him, to comfort Him with their companionship. Jesus, betrayed and abandoned, is left to face this nightmare of impending death on His own.

On His own? Wasn't the Father there with Him? I'm sure God was there, but I am just as certain that Jesus, for the first time in His life, couldn't feel His Father's presence. Jesus' full humanity is nowhere in scripture as evident as at that dreadful, desperate time in the garden. "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me . . ." As the reality and proximity of His imminent torture and crucifixion loom glaringly before Him, so does His human longing to cling to this life, to question why it is He who must bear such suffering.

Haven't all of us, at a time of tragedy or disaster, begged God to take these cups away from us? When He didn't, what was your reaction? Did you feel forsaken and miles away from the Father's comforting touch? Or, did you, as Jesus did in the garden, pray the "prayer that never fails" (Jan Karon, author, Mitford Series): "Yet not my will, but yours be done"?

Trials and tribulations are inevitable in this life and, in the midst of these, you may not be able to feel God's presence with you. But, remember this: God allowed His beloved Son to endure an excruciating death for the price of your sins and glorified Jesus forever in the resurrection. You are His child. He will one day glorify you.

Readings
Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6 (7-13) or 33
1 Samuel 9:15-10:1
Acts 7:30-43
Luke 22:39-51

Friday, June 24, 2011

Because I'm Forgiven


Luke 22:33-34
But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."
Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me."

Was there ever a moment in your life when you felt you were absolutely committed to doing something but, when the time came, you couldn't follow through? Whether you make the commitment from a stand of weakness, i.e., you had not yet learned to say "no", or in self-assured sincerity, i.e., "I do" at the altar, failure to deliver on that promise gives rise to painful feelings of inadequacy and shame. It's embarrassing enough to admit your own failures, but you can be, unless you're a celebrity, so grateful your lurid shortcomings aren't graphically splashed on every tabloid in the supermarket, aired like dirty laundry for all to see.

Not so, poor Peter! He made the headlines in every available media source of his day. All four gospels contain his denial of Jesus in detail; Mark reports that he wept, and Luke and Matthew add the telling adverb, "bitterly". Peter, the disciple who first knew Jesus as the Christ, the rock on whom Jesus declared the church would be built, crumbles in humiliation and disgrace. He has forsaken his Lord, his Master, his Savior; how will anything in his life ever be right and good and true again?

Jesus dies on the cross; Peter is in hiding. Jesus rises from the dead; Peter is forgiven and healed, infused once more with hope and faith. The Holy Spirit descends upon him and the others in power and glory, and Peter is reborn, honed and prepared to keep the commitment he made at the Last Supper, one that now he is empowered to honor. Jesus' promise is fulfilled; this man adrift on shifting sands has become the rock envisioned upon which Christianity would thrive.

Did you break a promise, a vow; have you let someone down? Do you think that your mistake is unforgivable? Think again. Jesus counted on Peter to build the church and He is counting on you to do the same. He forgave Peter and He forgives you. It is only in the light of forgiveness that you can truly live. I say, "Live it up!"

Readings
Psalms 102 or 107:1-32
1 Samuel 9:1-14
Acts 7:17-29
Luke 22:31-38

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One Who Serves


Luke 22:27
For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Have you ever attended a banquet or reception where you were the guest of honor? Where were you seated? That's right, smack dab in the middle of the high table reserved for the most important persons in attendance. While basking in the glow of attention and, perhaps, even adoration, did you even notice the silent servers who met your every dining need before you could even think to ask? Did you take time to honor them with a "thank you" when they refilled your glass or deftly removed your plate, or were you too caught up in your moment?

At the Last Supper, I am certain the disciples reserved the highest seat at the table for Jesus. After all, was there among them anyone more deserving of such an honor. The squabbles that arose between the disciples about who was greater may have stemmed from the desire of each to be seated next to their Lord, to be perceived by the others as being more important, more beloved. Once again, Jesus literally turns the tables on them by reminding them, as He had done many times before, that the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28). Only by serving one another, in loving their neighbors as themselves, would the disciples gain true honor and the glory of God's Kingdom.

I leave you with this question: To whom can you be of service today?

Readings
Psalms 105:1-22 or 105:23-45
1 Samuel 8:1-22
Acts 6:15-7:16
Luke 22:24-30

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sin's Sorrow


Psalm 119:132-133
Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.
Direct my footsteps according to your word;
let no sin rule over me.

In his book, People of the Lie, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck argued that evil people practice "militant ignorance" with regards to their consciousness. Most, he stated, realize this evil lurks deep within them, but are unable to admit it to themselves. Instead, they continually flee their sinful nature by placing themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the focus of evil on other people. Sin, indeed, rules over them.

Have you ever known anyone like this? Unfortunately, I have, and the experience was truly regrettable. This person was manipulative, prideful, smug, and never missed an opportunity to blame others for his misfortunes. He never apologized because he never said or did anything wrong. In his narcissistic world, others existed only to serve him and his needs. And, there was definitely no room for God. How could there be? That emptiness in all of us that craves to be filled with God's love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness had been filled with a layer of evil so thick, if it were pavement, not even the most persistent blade of grass could peep through the cracks.

Can you help someone like this see the error of his or her ways? Truthfully, no, but you can pray mightily that God will somehow reach out and snare them with His truth and convict them to turn from evil and become a person who loves His name. Even though they have shut and sealed the door to their hearts, pray they forget to lock it just once, just long enough for the Lord to enter in.

Amen.

Readings
Psalm 101, 109:1-4, (5-19), 20-30 or 119:121-144
1 Samuel 7:2-17
Acts 6:1-15
Luke 22:14-23

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 21, 2011 - WWJD?


Acts 5:29
Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than human beings!"

The acronym, "WWJD", or "What Would Jesus Do?", became a popular phrase, especially with young Christians, in the 1990s. It appeared on everything from bracelets and necklaces to bumper stickers and t-shirts. I actually still have my key-chain emblazoned with WWJD that my daughter, then about 10, gave me for my birthday. While some might argue that such commercialization cheapened the slogan and over-exposure watered down the message, I, personally, don't think that we can see it, hear it, or think about it enough. Before we act on or react to any situation in which we find ourselves, shouldn't this be the first question we ask?

The apostles knew first-hand what Jesus would do. They understood their mission: to spread the good news of salvation through Him and to teach others the lessons He taught to them. The authority that once belonged solely to Jesus has embraced them through the Holy Spirit. They did not see obedience to the will of God as a choice and were prepared to endure any persecution, imprisonment, and even death to bring the Gospel to the world. Without their commitment to Jesus' Great Commission, Christianity would have floundered, not flourished.

The next time you find yourself in a difficult predicament or facing temptation, stop right then and ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" I think the ensuing decision you make will be the right one.

Readings
Psalms 97, 99 (100) or 94, (95)
1 Samuel 6:1-16
Acts 5:27-42
Luke 21:37-22:13

Monday, June 20, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 20, 2011 - Transformed!


Acts 5:14-15
Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.

When my son was a little boy, he was given a set of transformer toys just like the ones pictured above. I was amazed at how deftly his chubby fingers could manipulate these objects, changing them from letters to robots in a twinkling. Once changed, I was hard pressed to visualize the shape of the original object; most of the time, it completely eluded me.

That's precisely how I felt when I read today's verse. What has happened to Peter? Isn't this the same disciple who sank when Jesus commanded him to walk on water? Who chastised the Lord when He tried to explain what must befall the Son of Man? Who, at Jesus' darkest hour, denied Him three times before the rooster crowed? Now, I see someone I don't recognize, a man so infused with the grace of God that people believe even his passing shadow has the power to heal! Where in the world is the "old" Peter?

He has been transformed forever by God's gift in the Holy Spirit. And, unlike the toy that can be returned to its former shape, there is no turning back for him or the other apostles. They have been made new, ready to teach with boldness about the Savior, able to heal in the name of the Lord, devoted to bringing His kingdom to the world. As Paul most aptly put it in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"

Alleluia and Amen!

Readings
Psalms 89:1-18 or 89:19-52
1 Samuel 5:1-12
Acts 5:12-26
Luke 21:29-36

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 19, 2011 - Who Can Be Saved?


Matthew 19:24-25
"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Why were the disciples so astounded by Jesus' words concerning the difficulties of the wealthy entering the Kingdom of God? According to information found at www.biblicalhebrew.com, the Jews believed that prosperity was a sign of God's blessing. Their incredulity stemmed from the notion that if the rich couldn't be saved, then how in the world could anyone else be?

Jesus understands, however, that wealth, while in and of itself is not evil, can all too easily become an earthly distraction, the same as any other sin. People of substantive means enjoy power and prestige in society. These accolades can tempt them to forget that God is the only one large and in charge. They focus on their worldly treasures in lieu of the eternal treasures of Heaven, and that seals their fate.

Or, does it? In Matthew 19:26, Jesus states that what seems impossible for man to accomplish is not impossible for God. While man can establish a temporal sense of happiness and security in life, only God can provide true joy and ultimate salvation. He can melt the hardest of hearts and place a right spirit within them. The catch? We need to seek Him first. We need to choose Him as Master over everything in our lives. We need to believe that He, and only He, is mighty to save!

Readings
Psalms 66, 67 or 19, 46
1 Samuel 4:12-22
James 1:1-18
Matthew 19:23-30


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 18, 2011 - Time's A-Wasting!


Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

When did you last state, "That was a waste of time!"? Was it after sitting through two hours of a disappointing movie? Attending a dull meeting or lifeless party? Standing in a long line at the grocery store only to have the cashier close the lane when you were next? The latter scenario begs for more colorful language than "that was a waste of time", but I'll leave that to your imagination. The point here is, we are well aware that there are only so many hours in the day; we have places to go, people to see, and duties to fulfill. We resent anything that interferes serendipitously with our busy schedules and, consequently, wastes our time. God has taught us the value of our days, for they are numbered and finite. We don't wish to waste one moment of them!

So, what do we do when wasted time is thrust upon us, when we're stuck in a traffic jam on the interstate, enduring an interminable stay at the DMV, or waiting for the doctor who was scheduled to see us an hour ago? Why not use it to go to God in prayer? In so doing, you can reclaim the time deemed wasted in a mighty and powerful way. Remember: A day sewn with prayer is unlikely to unravel and time spent with the Lord is never, ever wasted.

Readings
Psalms 87, 90 or 136
1 Samuel 4:1b-11
Acts 4:32-5:11
Luke 21:20-28

Friday, June 17, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 17, 2011 - The Fellowship of Believers


Acts 2:42
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The Book of Acts records the birth of Christianity and its earliest history. Today's verse follows directly on the heels of the conversion of the 3,000 who witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and Peter's testimony to Jesus being the Christ. It succinctly describes what these first Christians practiced and how they worshiped. I take great comfort in the fact that, over 2,000 years later, the church continues to follow in those first footsteps, exhorting us to read our Bibles, to fellowship with other Christians at church, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in remembrance of Jesus' love and sacrifice, and, always and everywhere, to pray.

Through the years, I've met many people who espouse they are Christians, yet do not attend church except on Christmas and Easter. The might be Christians, but they are not practicing Christianity. From the earliest days, Christians gathered in communities to share the teachings, to hold one another accountable, and to worship, praise and pray together. Jesus didn't say He would be there when only one was present, but when two or three gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). Fellowship is basic to the Christian faith.

Do you have a church home? Are you attending regularly? If not, why not? If you do, why not seek out a Christmas/Easter Christian to invite to your house of worship this Sunday? Help him or her experience the joy and affirmation found in the fellowship of believers.

Readings
Psalms 88 or 91, 92
1 Samuel 3:1-21
Acts 2:37-47
Luke 21:5-19

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 16, 2011 - Give It Your All


Luke 21:3-4
"Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

God has graced each and every one of us with gifts and talents. You may be blessed with a multitude, i.e., athletic, musical, academic, humorous, or you may feel you have only one, i.e., cooking. The amount of gifts and what kind you've received, however, are not what is important. It's how you develop them and use them in service to God and others.

Every talent, innate or not, will lie fallow and unproductive without practice. We must first recognize the gifts we've been given and work diligently to bring them to fruition. Only then can we realize how we can use these to glorify God and bring the joy of His Kingdom closer to others. Talent for cooking? Organize a meal at a local shelter. A baseball champ? Coach a little league team. Musically gifted? Volunteer to sing in your church's choir or assist with the children's choir. I could go on, but the list of talents out there and opportunities to use them are endless.

Never think that the gifts you have been given are too insignificant to matter. The poor widow had little to give when compared to the amount the wealthy could afford without suffering any personal inconvenience. She gave all that she had to God in faith and trust.

When you use your gifts for the benefit of others, remember the poor widow: Give it your all!

Readings
Psalms (83), 34 or 85, 86
1 Samuel 2:27-36
Acts 2:22-36
Luke 20:41-21:4

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 15, 2011 - Light Up Your Life


Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path.

This summer, my church challenged our members to participate in reading through the New Testament, three chapters per day. Emily, our associate pastor, created a marvelous blog where she offers her thought-provoking observations on the scripture, how she can best apply it in her life, and leaves us with an uplifting prayer each day. Comments are encouraged, and I have been genuinely touched and impressed by the diverse and heart-felt impressions fellow church members have contributed. This experience has opened the eyes of my heart to see God's word in a fresh, new light.

What has equally accomplished this for me are the scripture reading assigned for each day in the Book of Common Prayer. As I read through them, always more than once, I pray that God will guide me to choose an appropriate verse upon which to meditate as I prepare each daily devotional for you. While I have done Bible studies in the past and am currently participating in one, I have never attempted anything so disciplined before in studying God's word. He has shined His lamp that I might stay on this path to which He has called me: sharing His word with you. May His words light up your life!

Readings
Psalms 119:97-120 or 81, 82
1 Samuel 2:27-36
Acts 2:1-21
Luke 20:27-40

Remember, it's easy as can be to post your comments here by using your name. Hope to hear from you soon!
Link to Kennesaw United Methodist Study Blog: www.kennesawumc.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 14, 2011 - Giving Back


Luke 20:25
He said to them, "Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Show me the person who likes paying taxes, and I'll show you someone who doesn't earn enough to be required to pay them. Although the remaining populace may do so begrudgingly, we know that without tax collecting, governments, local, state, and federal, could not provide the essential services upon which we've come to depend. We may not always agree on how our elected officials choose to spend our money, but the bottom line is, it is spent, for the most part, for the overall safety and security of our cities, states, and country.

This certainly was not true in Jesus' time. In Roman-occupied Palestine, the Jews were taxed for the purpose of sustaining Rome's power and presence in the region. Resentment and hatred toward tax collectors, many of who were known to over-charge and line their own pockets, were rampant. However, to encourage non-payment of taxes would be akin to treason; had Jesus espoused this view, He could have been arrested on the spot.

Jesus understands the temporal issues of the day and knows that any kingdom, empire, or government instituted by man is a fleeting entity. All that truly matters is the eternal kingdom, the Kingdom of God. When we enter into it, we, too, are able to see our present situations in calm perspective, living in faith and hope, knowing assuredly that all we are and all we have is because God gave those gifts to us.

What will you give back to God today?

Readings
Psalms 78:1-39 or 78:40-42
1 Samuel 1:21-2:11
Acts 1:15-26
Luke 20:19-26

I've simplified the comment process! You can choose to simply use your name or "anonymous" to quickly and easily post. I look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 13, 2011 - Better Than a Hallelujah


Psalm 77:1
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

Are there any atheists in foxholes? When people face times of tribulation and turmoil, even those who never darken the doors of a church or utter prayers during the good times, often find themselves crying out to God for help, praying for Him to hear them. Some find Him in their desperation and their lives are transformed forever; others, when the storms have passed, pick up exactly where they left off and go along their merry, though mistaken, way until the next crisis hits.

Does God hear the cries of the righteous and unrighteous alike? Of course, but He won't compel anyone to listen to His answers of comfort and consolation. He gave us free will so that we can choose to love Him, to worship Him. He never forces our hand; He loves us too much for that.

When you are grieved, distressed, or hurting, do you cry out to God, knowing He will hear you or do you keep it all inside, alone in your suffering? Cry out to Him when you hurt. Expect that He will hear you. Listen for His healing response. In the words of Amy Grant: "We pour out our miseries; God just hears a melody." They're "better than an hallelujah sometimes"!

Readings
Psalms 80 or 77(79)
1 Samuel 1:1-20
Acts 1:1-14
Luke 20:9-19

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 12, 2011 - Home, Sweet Home


John 14:23
Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

The word "home" evokes a gamut of sentiments in most of us. They range from Dorothy's declaration, "There's no place like home" to Thomas Wolfe's renowned novel titled: "You Can't Go Home Again" with a little bit of everything in between. Home for one person might always be the house in which they grew up and where their parents still live. For another, it could be a grandparent's farm where summers were spent. Maybe, for you, it is the house you now share with your spouse and children. No matter what or where you consider as "home", I can guarantee it is where you feel or felt peace, comfort, love, happiness, and contentment, in the here and now or in the hazy sweetness of fond memories.

This Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost, the birth of the church through the coming of the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. It is monumentally overwhelming to me when I think of the God of the Universe desiring, deigning to make His home with me, but that is precisely what He has done. Have you told Him lately, as you would a visitor to your house, "Make yourself right at home"? If you haven't, perhaps today is the perfect time to do so. He'll create for you the ultimate "Home, Sweet Home".

Readings
Psalms 118 or 145
Isaiah 11:109
1 Corinthians 2:1-13
John 14:21-29

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 11, 2011 - Teamwork!


Luke 11:17
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall."

Ask any couple whose marriage dissolved in divorce, any CEO whose company failed, any restaurant owner whose crowds are dwindling, any child who played on a losing team: "What happened?" While there would be many answers that sound varied on the surface, the common thread, more than likely is this: lack of teamwork.

Learning to work with and as a team is an essential life skill. At home, on the job, at school, or on the field, cooperation, communication, and compromise are the keys for success. While individuals are valued and respected within the team, there is a shared vision or goal that guides and directs them in working together to accomplish it. When there are ball hogs on the court of life, refusing to follow their coach's advice, everyone on the team suffers; the house crumbles like a flimsy stack of cards.

Are you struggling today with a friend, family member, or co-worker who simply has no team spirit? Lean on Jesus, let Him give you wisdom and strength, be thankful that you are a member of His everlasting team!

Readings:
Psalms 107:33-43 or 108:1-6 (7-13)
Ezekiel 43:1-12
Hebrews 9:1-14
Luke 11:14-23

Comment below or send your thoughts to me at marthaorlando@gmail.com.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 10, 2011 - Who ARE You?


Luke 10:41-42
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed - or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken way from her."



Our culture does not place great value in "being". If you attend any function where you are meeting new people, within moments of the introduction you can veritably count on hearing the question: "So, what do you do?" At this point, you would probably describe your job, but does that define all that you do and, more importantly, who you are? Hardly!

How hectic is your schedule on a daily basis? Are you frustrated and angry when you don't accomplish everything on your list? Are you hassled and flustered in trying to juggle career and marriage with children? Do you feel worthless and dissatisfied when you are not doing something? Are you allowing what you do to define who you are? Is your life so crammed with activities that even God is crowded out?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, it's time to slow down, take a deep breath, reflect, and reset your priorities. That's what Jesus was advising Martha to do. He gently reminds her that while her chores are not unimportant, they can never and will never define who she is in God's eyes. Mary, sitting at the Lord's feet, quietly being in His presence, already knows all she needs to know about whom she is, and that is more than enough for her.

Be still today, my friends, and know He is God and know who you are: His beloved child.

Readings
Psalms 102 or 107:1-32
Ezekiel 34:17-31
Hebrews 8:1-13
Luke 10:38-42

Friends, some of you have wanted to post on the blog, but have not been able to. If you would like to send a comment, feel free to contact me at marthaorlando@gmail.com. Thank you!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 9, 2011 - The Walls Will Come Down

Luke 10:29
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"


In his poem, Mending Wall, Robert Frost recounts working with his neighbor to repair the stone wall between their properties. He wonders why they are exerting this effort when "He (the neighbor) is all pine and I am apple-orchard" and neither can possibly bother the other. When Frost asks his neighbor about it, the man states flatly and firmly: "Good fences make good neighbors." The poet, however, is not convinced and muses privately: "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence."

Human history is strewn with myriad walls erected by one culture or group against the "outsiders", those who are strange, different, deemed inferior or undesirable. One of these prevalent in Jesus' time was raised and maintained vigilantly between the Jews and the Samaritans. Religious leaders of both groups encouraged complete isolation from one another and fostered a mutual animosity. Imagine, then, the shock and disbelief of Jesus' listeners when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan. Talk about tearing down their walls and turning their world on its head! Jesus knew, and wants us to know, that good fences do not good neighbors make.

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down." With all due respect, Mr. Frost, it is someone. His name is Jesus.

Readings
Psalms 105:1-22 or 105:23-45
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-32
Hebrews 7:18-28
Luke 10:25-37

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 8, 2011-What Are You Watching?

Luke 10:23-24
Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did no
t hear it."



When I was growing up, television offere
d three standard stations and a fuzzy, unpredictable UHF band for America's viewing pleasure. There were no VCRs, DVDs, and, most certainly, no Tivos. If your parents made plans for the evening that your favorite show aired, you could hope to catch the rerun during the summer that seemed an eternity away or you could simply kiss it good-bye and hope your friends could fill you in the next day. Although the latter was better than nothing, it could not replace the experience of being there, seeing, hearing, and experiencing the show for yourself.


The prophets and kings about whom Jesus speaks were allowed only sneak peeks and enticing previews of the coming Messiah's "show" through predictions in the Old Testament. The disciples are blessed because they are present with Jesus for every live-action episode of the greatest story ever told. They are His friends-in-the-flesh, believers, the first Christians who later wrote the screenplay we call the Gospels. Thanks to them, we can see and hear our Lord as though we, too, are present with Him on every page of the New Testament.

Are you watching the show where the re-runs are always available and never grow old or tiresome, guaranteed? Open your Bible! Read! See and hear! Be blessed!

Readings
Psalms 101, 109:1-4 (5-19), 20-30 or 119:121-144
Ezekiel 11:14-25
Hebrews 7:1-17
Luke 10:17-24

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 7, 2011

Psalm 95:6-7
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.



My Uncle Harris was a horse whisperer long before the term was coined. When we would visit his and my Aunt Mary Jane's farm in Massachusetts each summer, my brother and I loved to accompany him when he would walk down to the pasture gate to bring the horses in for the evening. Cautioning us to stand well to the side of the dirt path at a safe distance from straying hooves, Harris would open the gate; its subtle creaking was enough to alert the horses in the field. Their heads flew up from where they grazed and swiveled, ears in alert, toward the sound. The moment they caught sight of my uncle, they trotted headlong in his direction, snorting and whinnying their greetings long before reaching him. Once through the pasture gate, each horse headed obediently toward the barn and entered its respective stall to wait patiently for their master to feed them their nightly grain.

Harris never had to call or whistle to get their attention. As he fed them, he stroked each one and spoke in a voice so soft and low, I could never understand what he said. But I am certain that these powerful, free-spirited creatures, so docile in his presence, understood every word he uttered. They knew where they belonged and to whom they belonged; they were the horses of his pasture, the herd under his care.

Jesus is standing at the pasture gate; does he already have your attention? Are you running toward Him with gladness? Are you thankful to be in His care? "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker."

Readings:
Psalms 97, 99 (100); 94 (95)
Ezekiel 7:10-15; 23b-27
Hebrews 6:13-20
Luke 10:1017

Monday, June 6, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 6, 2011

Luke 9:59-60
He said to another man, "Follow me." But he replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

Imagine that you have been made the general manager of your company's new branch. The good news is, you need to hire 70 workers with
appropriate qualifications for each available position. The bad news? You've received 1,000 applications through which you must read and sort, and contact prospective candidates to set up interviews all in the span of one week! How are you going to accomplish this gargantuan feat? My guess is that you will choose particular key words or phrases in a candidate's resume, the lack of which would send up a red flag, and hastily move on to the next and the next and the next.

In the passage above, Jesus is the general manager and He is hiring. He is preparing to send 70 qualified followers into the towns and countryside to proclaim the good news of God's kingdom. The need is urgent and time is of the essence. Taken out of context, Jesus' rebuke of this man sounds harsh, callous and completely uncharacteristic of the Lord of Love. It is, however, the ultimate litmus test for one who has hesitated when Jesus says, "Follow me." He understands that this man, like so many of us, are enamored with the new, yet cling to the old, to the past, with much more tenacity than is healthy for us, and it prevents us from moving forward with our lives as God wants us to.

When we contrast the response of this man to Jesus with those of James, John (Mark 1:19-20) and Levi (Luke 5:27-28), his excuse seems out of place in the presence of the Master. Even so, in Jesus' command to him to "go and proclaim the kingdom of God", I think he was hired. How about you? Have you placed your application with the Lord? Have you been hired? If so, then rest assured that you hold the grandest job in all of creation!

Readings
Psalms 89:1-18; 89:19-52
Ezekiel 4:1-17
Hebrews 6:1-12
Luke 9:51-62

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 5, 2011

Matthew 10:29-31
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

One of the most rewarding gifts Danny gave to me for Christmas a few years ago was a bird-feeder. It hangs, with all its squirrel-buster features (don't get me wrong - I LOVE squirrels and am elated that the messy birds leave plenty of seed on the ground for them), on the struggling dogwood outside our front window. Our observation of the diverse species arriving at this oasis at different times of the year always presents the opportunity to rejoice in these winsome creatures who keep our binoculars and cameras ever busy and at the ready. We never cease to be entertained by their antics, habits, and calls as we provide for their needs. They are wonderful to watch and remind us daily of God's vast, indescribably beautiful creation.

In today's scripture, Jesus reveals just how much God cares for every living thing He has created; each one is precious and dear to Him. When Jesus tells us that we are "worth more than many sparrows", and we know He loves them deeply, how are we to begin to fathom the height, depth, and breadth of His love for us? We have done nothing to deserve it, can do nothing to earn it, and cannot live without it.

Today, and every day, let us walk humbly with this God of immeasurable love and give Him, unceasingly, thanks and praise.

Readings:
Psalms 66, 67; 19, 46
Ezekiel 3:16-27
Ephesians 2:1-10
Matthew 10:24-33, 40-42

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 4, 2011

Luke 9:48
Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For whoever is least among you all is the greatest."

The disciples are arguing over which one of them is the greatest. I've often wondered "greatest at what"? Following Jesus? Obeying His teachings? Healing the afflicted in His name? Providing food and shelter for the entourage? I envision this confrontation as devolving into a finger-pointing, in your face, "my dad can beat up your dad", scenario when Jesus picks up a little child, place him in His lap, and proceeds to quell the conflict with the words recorded in Luke 9:48 above.

Children are the "least of these" not in terms of value, but in terms of power. They are born helpless and needy and they depend wholly upon parents and family for love, guidance, and nurturing as they grow. They are innately innocent, filled with wonder at the world around them, and implicitly trust in those who care for them and protect them. Is it any surprise, then, that Jesus would later state in Luke 18:16 that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?

In their pride and politics, the disciples failed to remember that all they are and have is because the Heavenly Father has blessed them. When we acknowledge that we are helpless, needy, and dependent upon the grace and love of God, that is the paradoxical moment when His unsurpassed power shines in and through us. We truly are the greatest when we are the least.

Readings:
Psalms: 87, 90, 136
Ezekiel: 3:4-17
Hebrews: 5:7-14
Luke 9:37-50

Friday, June 3, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 3, 2011

Hebrews 4:14-16
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
In the classic film, The Sound of Music, Maria sings the song "I Have Confidence" on her bus journey from the abbey to the home of Captain Von Trapp and his seven children for whom she been chosen as governess. The bold and boisterous number convinces us, as we watch, that she is indeed pumped for this new adventure and challenge in her life. We are swept away by her buoyancy up until the moment she reaches the wrought-iron gates and is instantly awed by the massively elegant mansion, her destination and her destiny, behind them. Her voice trails off with disquieting uncertainty, and the silence that ensues as we pan the scene with her is deafening. After what seems an eternity, she finally utters two small but overwhelmingly important words: "Oh, help!"

Before Jesus became our great high priest, before the veil was forever torn, we stood before God's throne of grace like Maria at the iron gates, humbled, awestruck, speechless, without a shred of confidence to swing wide the gates and approach the presence of the Almighty. But Jesus is our mediator and advocate, knowing our frailties and temptations, willing and able to greet us at the gates, take our hands, and lead us confidently toward God. He heard Maria's "oh, help" just as He hears ours today. He renewed her strength and courage and enabled her to complete her journey with boldness; He will do the same for us.

Readings:
Psalms: 85,86,91,92
Ezekiel: 1:28-3:3
Hebrews: 4:14-5:6
Luke 9:28-36


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 2 - Ascension Day

Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Matthew's gospel ends with Jesus' final instructions to his disciples, what we now call "The Great Commission", before He ascends to the Father. These three verses perfectly summarize the essence of the Christian faith: we acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all, having authority over all creation; we practice evangelism, sharing our faith with others and bringing them into God's kingdom; we follow the tradition of baptism; we believe in the Holy Trinity, the three forms of God in one; we strive to follow Jesus' teachings, and we believe He resides with us when we ask Him to be the Lord of our life.

And, as surely as we know Jesus ascended to His Heavenly Father, we believe He will come again in clouds of glory to judge the living and the dead. Though many have predicted Christ's return, the latest having been May 21st of this year, not even the Lord Himself, while He walked on this earth, claimed to know the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). Therefore, we are to live fully and faithfully, day by precious day, placing all our trust and hope in the Lord and in His promises. If we do so, each day will be a blessing to ourselves and to others and the "end of the age" will be a glorious surprise!

Readings:
Psalms: 8, 47, 24, 96
Ezekiel 1:1-14; 24-28b
Hebrews 3:5-18
Matthew 28:16-20

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Daily Devotion, June 1, 2011

Luke 12:29-31
And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and you Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

In those dark days before I allowed the light of Christ into my life, I was an inveterate worrier. I fretted over my looks, my finances, my work, others' opinions, and anything else I could conjure up at the moment. Anxiety was my constant companion; in worrying, I felt that I had some measure of control over my life and, to some extent, the lives of others. It wasn't until God revealed His truth - He is the one and only in control of everyone and everything - that I began to turn from the worry that paralyzes to the prayer that frees.

Jesus is speaking to us in this scripture not only about worries that fetter us, but also about setting our priorities correctly. We are told to seek God's kingdom first and foremost, resting in the promise that He knows and will meet our needs before we ask, and not place worldly treasures on a pedestal. If we are to live fulfilled and meaningful lives, we must learn to let go and let God.

Are worries plaguing you today? Turn them, instead, into prayers, petitions, and supplications to the One who knows you and loves you without measure. He will provide. Your cup will be overflowing.

Readings:
Psalms: 119:97-120
Baruch (Apocrypha) 3:24-37
James 5:13-18
Luke 12:22-31

Big Plans for Big Play

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to gi...