Friday, September 30, 2011

Just Say the Word

Matthew 8:8
The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed."

Jesus' encounter with the Roman centurion is a critical turning point in the gospel of Matthew. Up until this moment, the Lord's ministry of teaching and healing has been confined to the Jewish community only. He has never actively sought out Gentiles, understanding that His mission was first and foremost to God's Chosen People. Yet here, a Roman soldier, feared and despised by the Jews, bravely and, perhaps, recklessly, approaches Jesus to intercede on the behalf of his paralyzed servant, trusting in Jesus' powers so completely that a mere word spoken by Him, even from a great distance, is enough to heal the suffering man. Talk about faith! Even Jesus is amazed as He states in Matthew 8:10 - "Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith".

Just as, long before Jesus' time, Abraham's faith was credited to him a righteousness (Romans 4:9), Jesus responds positively and genuinely to the centurion's request. In this one act of boldness, sincerity, humility ("I do not deserve to have you come under my roof"), and belief on the part of this one man, the door to salvation in Christ Jesus is suddenly, extraordinarily opened to the children of all nations. Our Lord recognized that His love and grace extends to all people; He came into the world not to save a sinning few, but to save all who sin; all who sin, and repent, and believe upon Him.

Today, I am so grateful for the courage of that one Roman centurion who approached Jesus in fullness of faith. Scripture doesn't tell us, but I choose to believe this man's experience with the Lord changed his heart that day. Who knows? Perhaps, he was one of the first Gentiles after the resurrection to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I like that thought; I'm sticking with it.

Readings
Psalms 102 or 107:1-32
2 Kings 19:1-20
1 Corinthians 9:16-27
Matthew 8:1-17

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Want Fries With That?


1 Corinthians 9:10
Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing the harvest.

Two weeks ago, our family celebrated another milestone: My oldest stepson, Giovanni, landed his first real job at our local Wendy's! Talk about thrilled! In his first week at the restaurant, he was trained to clean the dining room, pour drinks, run the registers, and make the fries, LOTS of fries. He is working hard to learn the ropes and to do his duties well. He doesn't mind the rather unfashionable uniforms, the long hours on his feet, the smell of grease, or the occasional grease burn; his eyes are set on the prize - that glorious first paycheck and the many to follow. With the advantage of still living at home, he can save his money for whatever he desires with his only obligation to us being to pay his part of car insurance for the vehicle he and I share.

While Danny and I are proud of Giovanni's work ethic and happy for this initial step into the real world, our next goal is to help him understand how impossible it would be, if he were on his own, to pay the bills on a Wendy's salary. Just ask anyone in these tough economic times who has lost a job, a home, or both, who might be able to find work, but not earn near enough to make ends meet. They are willing to put their hands to the plow and their feet on the threshing floor, but the harvest, for them, is meager. If they are drawing unemployment, at least they have a guaranteed income of sorts, usually insufficient, but they are, under the system, not allowed to supplement that amount by taking just the sort of job Giovanni has. I think if Paul, the champion of the work ethic, were here right now, he would denounce this system as being broken and in need of a major overhaul!

Will you pray with me? Father in Heaven, I pray today for all those families and individuals who want to work, but can't find jobs. Guide, comfort, and protect them as they struggle through these difficult times. I pray, too, for an economic turn-around in this country, one that will thrive and put people back to work again. I ask, Father, in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 105:1-22 or 105:23-45
2 Kings 18:28-37
1 Corinthians 9:1-15
Matthew 7:22-29

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bad Apples

Matthew 7:21
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

Jesus has just warned His disciples to watch out for false prophets, those who claim to be followers of the Lord, but fail to follow through in their actions. To illustrate this point, He contends that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit nor a bad tree, good fruit; the "bad apples" are to be avoided as their presence and motives among the "good apples" can spoil the whole bunch. Those who are fully committed to doing God's will and who strive daily to do so cannot possibly produce anything other than good fruits in their lives and in the lives of others.

Where, in today's society, do you see evidence of "bad apples" in the church? Who are the self-proclaimed prophets paying lip-service to the Lord, yet leading many well-meaning and trusting Christians down the wrong path? Are there churches with political or social agendas that are preaching something other than salvation through Christ? Closer to home, have you, yourself, ever had the devastating experience of belonging to a church where you felt the priest or pastor betrayed you or the congregation in some way?

Let us pray today for all clergy in every corner of the globe that they might be faithful servants of our Lord Jesus Christ and unwaveringly committed to doing the will of the Heavenly Father. May their "Lord, Lord" bear good fruit!

Readings
Psalms 101, 109:1-4 (5-19) 20-30 or 119:121-144
2 Kings 18:9-25
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Matthew 7:13-21

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Go Ahead: Make My Day!

Matthew 7:12
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

When was the last time you said, "That made my day!"? Was it when your spouse surprised you with a bouquet of flowers or an unexpected gift? Your child took his first steps? You got that promotion you were hoping for? The test results for cancer came back negative? These are but a few examples of grand and glorious things which happen in our lives that genuinely make our day, but I believe we can, and need to, feel this way about the small gestures we make toward and receive from others in our ordinary, day-to-day existence. When we become focused on treating others the way we would like to be treated, seemingly insignificant overtures will, delightfully, take on a whole new meaning. Let me illustrate this by using the example of my weekly trip to the grocery store. Ready to go shopping?

As I pull out of the driveway and begin winding along the roads in my neighborhood, I spy a lady walking her two dogs. I don't know her, but I smile and wave anyway. When I get to the main road, I see a car waiting to merge into the line of traffic; I slow and signal the driver to pull out in front of me. I arrive at the grocery store, park my car, and begin walking toward the doors. This is when the smiles begin in earnest. Yes, I smile at perfect strangers, strike up conversations while waiting at the deli, stop moms with their babies so I can admire and compliment, exchange greetings and, often, full-blown conversations with the managers and staff at the store, let the other shopper go first if we are about to collide at the corner of an aisle, ask any bewildered-looking customer if I can be of help, and allow someone with fewer item to jump ahead of me in the check-out line. I treat others how I wish to be treated. Whether I know if I made anyone's day by showing kindness doesn't matter. What matters is, by doing so, I've made mine.

What can you do to "make your day" today?

Readings
Psalms 97, 99, (100) or 94, 95
2 Chronicles 29:1-3; 30:1 (2-9) 10-27
1 Corinthians 7:32-40
Matthew 7:1-12

Monday, September 26, 2011

You of Little Faith . . .

Matthew 6:30
If that is how god clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith?

In today's scripture, Jesus points out to His followers the futility of worrying about such things as what they will eat, drink, or wear. To do so is to place fear over faith, to choose vain human pursuits rather than resting in the promise that God will supply their needs. He assures them that God already knows their needs before they ask and will provide as long as they have their priorities straight: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:30) Those of little faith are those who do not grasp the concept of God's immeasurable and overwhelming love for them. They can't, as the saying goes, let go and let God.

What is holding you back, keeping you a prisoner of "little faith"? Are you hanging onto worries, allowing them to consume you with a false sense of purpose and control in your life? Are you micro-managing your life and the lives of those around you? Stop. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Visualize Jesus sitting in front of you. Focus on Him. Ask Him to take away all the things that separate you from the living and loving God. Cast all your cares on the One whose yoke is easy and burden light. Trust fully in the knowledge that, by placing God first in your life, all good things will follow.

Readings
Psalms 89:1-18 or 89:19-52
2 Kings 17:24-41
1 Corinthians 7:25-31
Matthew 6:25-34

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Board With the Lord

Luke 5:5
Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

Last week, I was watching a video posted by a Facebook friend which included this quote from Albert Einstein: "Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results". I would have to wholeheartedly agree. Let's take using the dishwasher for example. If I placed dishes in the washer without rinsing them first and they did not come out clean, I would be foolish to try that again expecting crystal clear glassware or shining plates. Or, how about the washing machine? If I did laundry, forgetting to add detergent, and then wondered why the clothes didn't smell fresh, why would I ever run a load without my trusty Gain again? I'd end up with the same result: wet, not clean, clothes.

In today's verse, Peter and his crew epitomize Einstein's saying: all night long, again and again, they continued to cast their nets into the sea only to realize the same disappointing outcome - no fish! It is early morning, and Jesus climbs into Peter's boat to distance Himself physically from the surging crowd who have come to hear Him teach. When He finishes, Jesus directs Peter back into the deep water and orders him to throw out the nets again. I can hear the whine in Peter's voice when he protests, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything", yet he chooses to obey, thinking maybe, just maybe, with the Lord on board, the results will be different . . . JACKPOT!!! Their nets are suddenly teeming with so many fish, they are at the breaking point and help from other boats near by is required to handle and bring in the glorious catch.

When we try to go our own way, not seeking God's guidance in all that we do, we, too, illustrate Einstein's observation. We can aspire to be good, but we'll never be good enough. We can love others, but incompletely if we don't acknowledge that we love because He first loved us. We can strive for completeness, but never attain the perfection of being in the Lord. And who, without the Savior, can be saved?

Before you set sail on the journey that is today, invite the Lord on board with you. If you let Him steer the course, you're bound for smooth sailing!

Readings
Psalms 66, 67 or 19, 46
2 Kings 17:1-18
Acts 9:36-43
Luke 5:1-11

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Where's Your Treasure?

Matthew 6:21
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

American culture offers an excessive and easily attainable amount of distractions. While it is true that the more monetarily sound you are, the more you can afford to indulge in luxury homes, cars, vacation, and electronic gadgets, even those of modest means still have access to sports, movies, music, and a wide variety of entertainment options through the television and internet. With evidence of wealth and abundance permeating the media, though, it is easier than ever to lead those with lower or middle class incomes down the treacherous path of covetousness. Politicians know this and all too often manipulate those jealous of the "haves" into voting for them on promises to make the rich pay "their fair share" so those less fortunate can somehow benefit. This ploy is only possible because, for so many people, earthly treasures trump heavenly ones.

I am reminded here of one of Aesop's fables: The Dog With the Bone. Seemingly content with his treasure, the dog is trotting along until he reaches the edge of a stream. Peering in and imagining he is seeing another dog with an even better bone than he has, he opens his mouth to wrench the bone away, only to have his own bone land "splash" in the stream and float away while he, in turn, is left with nothing. What a cruel master is greed! Wanting something bigger and better in this world, unabashedly taking away from someone so that we might have more, is a lose-lose situation, one where we cease to count the blessings, rich and vast, that we already have.

Take time today to reflect on all the distractions surrounding you that remove your focus from God. Ask Him to help you place them all aside, giving thanks for both what you have and what you don't. Place your treasures in the storehouse of Heaven, and your heart will follow for eternity.

Readings
Psalms 87, 90 or 136
2 Kings 11:1-20a
1 Corinthians 7:10-24
Matthew 6:19-24

Friday, September 23, 2011

Because I'm Forgiven

Matthew 6:12
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Have you ever been hurt so deeply, so traumatically, that you thought you could never forgive the person who violated your trust? Maybe, it was that bully in middle school who made your life a daily nightmare of fear and anxiety, or the jealous co-worker who lied to the boss about your performance and got you fired, or a spouse in whom you placed all faith only to find out he or she was having an affair. No matter how egregious the sin committed against us, Jesus tells us we must forgive; if we are not forgiving of others, how can we expect our Father in heaven to forgive us for our transgressions? Forgiveness, as we have been exploring here recently, is often difficult to grant even in the smallest of wrongdoings against us, let alone the life-changing ones, yet it is an all-important action that falls under the commandment to "love our neighbor as ourselves". That is why we must do so.

If you are having trouble forgiving someone and letting go of the bad memories, here are some other reasons why you might want to:
  • Anger is debilitating and self-defeating; your negative emotions crowd out the positive ones. This can lead to depression and other illnesses.
  • Anger prevents us from healing our wounds and moving forward with our lives.
  • Anger spills over to the loved ones around us, poisoning their outlook on life.
  • Anger breeds fear: fear of taking risks, fear of standing up for oneself, fear of new relationships, etc.
  • Anger prevents us from growing in God's love and grace.
Read Mark 6:12 one more time. Who, again, must take the first step in this forgiveness business? That's right, we must. Ask God to help you feel the thoughts and shape the words that offer forgiveness to the one who has hurt you. You may have to do this ten, twenty, one hundred, even a thousand times before you can completely let go and arrive at a place where the recollection of the hurt no longer churns your stomach or elevates your blood pressure. And, when the going gets really tough, close your eyes and envision our Lord Jesus Christ, dying on the cross for us, and uttering these words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". (Luke 23:34)

Amen.

Readings
Psalms 88 or 91, 92
2 Kings 9:17-37
1 Corinthians 7:1-9
Matthew 6:7-15

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lord, Teach Me to Pray!

Matthew 6:6
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

For twenty years out of the twenty-six since becoming a devoted Christian, I attended an Episcopal church. Our services were structured and guided by The Book of Common Prayer, a magnificently crafted liturgy followed faithfully to the letter each Sunday. While I took great comfort in the poetic prayers said in unison, in the rich and sacred language of the Holy Eucharist, and, yes, even in the dependable routine of the service, there was one drawback to this which I did not realize until called to lead the congregation in two prayers, the opening and offertory, in all our contemporary praise services. I could not, for the life of me, pray on my feet! Sure, I could pray just fine behind closed doors, away from the crowds and close to God, but without a history of spontaneity in worship, the prospect of leading prayer was overwhelming. How, I thought, was I going to handle this new responsibility without hemming, hawing, and stuttering enough to bring the image of poor speech-impaired Moses to everyone's mind?

In praying about my feelings of inadequacy, God gave me a flash of inspiration: Write the prayers out beforehand; I gave you this gift and I want you to use it! Of course! That was the answer! How simple and straightforward but, in my panic, I couldn't see it without the Lord's prompting. Each week now, I peruse the song selections for the coming Sunday and the sermon topic to create what I hope are meaningful and memorable prayers that go hand-in-hand with the service. My confirmation in this came one day when Pastor Emily commented on how much she liked my prayers and, a week later, when Chris, our music director, asked me to write a special prayer for our upcoming revival. As you might imagine, I was both humble and ecstatic! There's nothing more gratifying than being able to use our gifts in the service of the Lord.

How are you using the special gifts and talents God gave you? If you're not sure, "go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father". He's the one with all the answers.

Readings
Psalms (83) 116, 117 or 85, 86
2 Kings 9:1-16
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:44-45
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

In writing my daily devotions, I like to stay anywhere from a week to ten days ahead. So, as it happens, the day I'm writing this Wednesday's devotional is actually Sunday, September 11, the ten-year commemoration of those deadly and unprovoked attacks on American soil which claimed the innocent and unsuspecting lives of so many. In the week preceding the ceremonies of remembrance planned for this day, images of the events themselves inundated the news media and the internet, heightening emotions and bringing back memories of exactly where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the tragic and heinous onslaught upon our country. The disaster's wake saw an America united unlike any time I can recall in my lifetime, but it shattered the belief that we lived in a nation protected, safe and secure from acts of war on our own soil. We became aware of the enemy, those so desperate to destroy us and our way of life, they were willing to sacrifice their own lives in the process. That evening ten years ago, numbed from watching the footage, and then seeing the shocking, unbelievably horrid video of Muslims celebrating in the Middle East over this victory, I broke down and cried. In my hurt and anger, I was not loving this enemy nor was I praying for them.

The next morning as my students entered my classroom, they were understandably subdued, but their faces revealed all the fear and uncertainty they harbored within. Yesterday's events had crushed the innocence of childhood, and that so grieved my heart. But, it was two of my best and brightest, girls with jet-black hair and brown skin and winning smiles, that riveted my attention at once. Usually enthusiastic and participatory in class, they sat motionless at their desks, heads bowed, looking as though they wished the floor would open up and swallow them. They were Muslim. Now, my heart was breaking.

When the bell rang, I asked the two girls to remain for a minute or two so we could talk. Standing by my desk, stock still like deer caught in headlights, their eyelids rimmed in red, they told me other students had taunted, mocked, and insulted them from the moment they got on the bus until the moment they came into my class. They were hurt, afraid, and confused. Yesterday's devastation had affected them deeply; weren't they Americans like the rest of us? Weren't Muslims among the dead at the World Trade Center? Why are they blaming us? We talked as long as the time allowed; I don't recall the exact words I said, but they must have found them comforting as both were bravely smiling again when they departed with passes to see their counselor and make her aware of the situation. I lifted silent prayers for both those precious girls.

Ten years later, is 9/11 about forgiveness or retaliation? Is it about remembering the fallen and their loved ones in prayer, or remembering the perpetrators with malice? Have we reached the place where we can love our enemies and pray for them? Where do you find yourself ten years later?

Readings
Psalms 119:97-120 or 81, 82
2 Kings 6:1-23
1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8
Matthew 5:38-48

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The "Yeast" of These . . .


1 Corinthians 5:6
Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?

Many years ago, while browsing in a book store, I came across a thin paperback entitled "The Cornell Bread Book". Coincidentally, I had been contemplating baking homemade bread as my children, then in elementary school, were "bread-a-holics" and I wanted them to have a more nutritious alternative. That day, I hit the jackpot!

Cornell bread was developed at that university by Dr. Clive McCay, a nutritional researcher, whose initial goal was to create a healthier bread for consumption by the elderly in nursing homes. When laboratory rats were fed the Cornell bread, they far surpassed their Wonder Bread eating counterparts in size, weight, and energy. The secret ingredients not found in the usual bread? Non-fat dry milk, soy flour, and wheat germ.

Aside from its obvious health benefits, I loved the Cornell recipe because it allowed me to make three loaves at a time, a huge benefit for any working mom. What amazed me the most, though, was how little yeast was required to grow and expand the dough - only two tablespoons or two packages did the trick! Through kneading, shaping, punching down, rising again, separating, rising again, making the loaves, rising again, the yeast never ceased to enlarge the dough as it grew and grew and grew until the bread was oven-ready.

In today's scripture, Paul is cautioning the Corinthians against the yeast of evil and malice. He knows that it only takes a miniscule amount injected into a community to burgeon into a monstrosity, destroying the foundation that he and others so meticulously and lovingly placed among them. Isn't that true for us today? One unkind thought, one careless word, are like two tablespoons of yeast in three loaves of bread; they have the potential to grow within us, overtaking all the good intentions we have toward others and all the work we long to do in Christ's name.

Will you pray with me? Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son, the bread of life, into this world to save and redeem us. Let the yeast working in our lives be filled with love, forgiveness, and grace, helping us to grow in all righteousness and allowing us to spread the good news to those who hunger and thirst for you. Knead us, shape us, into the mold of good works you have prepared for us to walk in. In Jesus' name, amen.

Readings
Psalms 78:1-39 or 78:40-72
2 Kings 5:19-27
1 Corinthians 5:1-8
Matthew 5:27-37

Monday, September 19, 2011

Walk the Walk


Matthew 5:23-24
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Forgiving others is one thing, but asking forgiveness from others, risking the chance it might not be granted, is quite another. Jesus makes it even tougher here when He tells us to be "reconciled to them". A dictionary definition of "reconcile" is to "win one over with friendliness, to settle, or to bring into agreement or harmony". It's not just an "I'm sorry for (fill in the blank). Will you forgive me?", although that's the right place to start. It's going the extra mile with them, doing all in our power to mend the breach in the relationship, listening, without interrupting, to their side of the story so we can truly know how our words or actions affected them, and, once comprehending, vow not to let that transgression happen again.

Jesus tells us is isn't enough to talk the talk; we need to walk the walk. The commandments to love God and our neighbors as ourselves cannot be severed from one another. When we are a odds with a spouse, a friend, a relative, a co-worker, it's not possible, no matter what we may imagine, to fully worship God at home or in church or participate in Holy Communion without feeling those pangs of guilt about what we have done or left undone with regard to the person we harmed in some way. We have sinned, we must acknowledge this sin, and know it separates us from the love of God. I don't think being separated from God's love is a place any of us want to be!

Is there someone in your life today who needs an apology from you? Someone, with whom and for whom, reconciliation is only a step away? Be of good courage! Have faith! If you let Him, Jesus will show you how to make amends while your offering stays at the altar. He will show you how to walk the walk.

Readings
Psalms 80 or 77 (79)
2 Kings 5:1-19
1 Corinthians 4:8-21
Matthew 5:21-26


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Point Me in the Right Direction


Luke 3:16
John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

One of my favorite, must-see-repeatedly movies is "It's a Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey and Donna Reed as Mary Hatch (and eventually) Bailey. Outside the house where George's brother's engagement party is in full swing, George stands with his mother who is attempting, in the way only mothers can, to talk her son into visiting Mary who "lights up like a firefly" any time George is around. George hems and haws, but finally gives in and asks his mother to "point him in the right direction". She gladly does so with a gentle, yet persuasive, shove; George starts out, reverses course much to his mother's chagrin, but eventually ends up at Mary's front gate after all. Thus begins one of the most comic and touchingly memorable love scene in the history of cinema. Yes, George's mother certainly pointed him in the right direction!

In today's scripture, John, the voice crying in the wilderness, is offering the baptism of repentance to all who come to him with sincere hearts, and advising them how to comport themselves in honor of that repentance. The people are impressed; they begin to speculate about whether or not John is the long-awaited Messiah. John, unhesitatingly, sets them straight. His role has been to prepare the way, to make the crooked paths straight, for the coming of the One whose sandals he declares he is unfit to untie. He has duly readied and ripened the crowds to receive the Messiah with glad and thankful hearts; he points them in the right direction, the direction of Jesus.

Did you attend church today? Was the saving grace of Christ at the center of your worship service? Were you pointed in the right direction?

Readings
Psalms 93, 96 or 34
2 Kings 4:8:37
Acts 9:10-31
Luke 3:7-18

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Here Comes the Judge!


1 Corinthians 4:5
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Paul is concerned about members of the Church in Corinth who are engaged in the negative activities of criticism and censure of one another. Passing judgment, he reminds them, is not their prerogative; it is God's alone. Their priorities should be to love and worship God and to love each other as they love themselves. If those are first and foremost, there is no longer room for boasting about their own righteousness or blaming others for their seeming lack of conviction. Love paves the way to look past perceived shortcomings in others, not only opening the door to forgiveness, but also to forgetting each others' transgressions.

In a recent sermon, Pastor Wallace shared an encounter he had with a young man who claimed to have no problem forgiving others, but he simply could not forget about what had happened and didn't think it was possible. Pastor Wallace put him on the spot.

"So, let me understand here. You can forgive others, but you can't forget their sin against you?"
"That's right, sir."
"Do you believe God forgives your sins?"
"Yes, I believe He does."
"If He forgives your sin, do you want Him to remember the bad thing you did, or do you want Him to let it go?"

Touche! This young man saw the light! He understood that we are not to judge, we are to forgive; we are not to hold a grudge, we are to forget. If we do this and love one another, we will each, as Paul said, receive our praise from God.

Readings
Psalms 75, 76 or 23, 27
2 Kings 2:1-18
1 Corinthians 4:1-7
Matthew 5:17-20

Friday, September 16, 2011

Salt of the Earth


Matthew 5:13
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."

In today's society, salt is neither hard to come by nor regarded as more than a staple in cooking, food production, and seasoning. Not so in Jesus' day! Salt was a highly valued commodity for its usefulness in preserving foods which would otherwise spoil and decay if not consumed quickly. This was essential to civilization for whom refrigeration was not-existent. Even now, salt is used for food preservation in everything from canned soups to processed meats and cheeses. The next time you visit the grocery store, pause to read some of those nutrition labels and check for sodium content; if you have to watch your salt-intake as I do, I'm sure this is a familiar activity for you. As someone who has always preferred salty snacks to sweet ones, this has forced an unwanted, but necessary, adjustment upon my taste buds!

When Jesus told His disciples they were the "salt of the earth", they would have immediately recognized how much value He place upon them. They would be the ones to flavor the world with the good news of God's kingdom and preserve His word in the world, preventing the latter from declining into moral decay. They must have felt so honored and humbled in that moment. Yet, so much grander than that, in all the moments, days, weeks, and years after the resurrection, they never lost their saltiness. They continued with faith and perseverance to season the world with the gospel of salvation in Christ Jesus.

Today, think about how you, as a Christian, can be the "salt of the earth", preserving God's word and flavoring others with the taste of His great love.

Readings
Psalms 69:1-23 (24-30) 31-38 or 72
2 Kings 1:2-17
1 Corinthians 3:16-21
Matthew 5:11-16

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Firm Foundation

1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up, we lived 1,000 miles away from grandparents and a slew of other relatives. We would make the pilgrimage from Georgia to Massachusetts once a year, in the summer, and stay for two or three weeks. I have many precious and happy memories of our visits, but only one remembrance of my Great-Grandma Jessie, a devout and practicing Christian, who passed away when I was seven.

I was six-years-old when I learned the song, "The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock", and the hand-motions that accompanied it. I taught it to my brother, Bill, then age three. Duly impressed, our parents suggested it would be a wonderful gesture to perform it for Great-Grandma Jessie when we went to see her. We were so excited and just couldn't wait to visit! The day arrived at last, and this is the memory I have of it, as distinct and clear as if it happened yesterday. Great-Grandma was seated, a bit hunched over on the sofa, flanked by two of her three daughters. I recall thinking at the time that she was, without a doubt, the oldest person I had ever seen in the short span of my life. Her sharp nose and pointed chin made her look more stern and stoic than she truly was. It caused me to wonder, in one fleeting and nervous moment, if she really would like our song after all. There was no time to dwell on this, however; the time to perform had arrived.

As Bill and I sang the song and executed the motions together, Great-Grandma Jessie's eyes grew moist behind her old-timey spectacles and a broad, engaging smile engulfed her care-worn face. She was completely enchanted, and I remember feeling an overwhelming surge of love for this woman I hardly knew. When we finished, she stretched out her lean, bony arms toward us, inviting us to share in a hug of thanks. I know how gratifying it must have been for her to hear her great-grandchildren singing about her precious Lord, the rock, the firm foundation upon which she had built her life.

"Jesus, you're my firm foundation,
I know I can stand secure.
Jesus, you're my sure foundation;
I put my hope in your holy word,
I put my hope in your holy word." ~ Jamie Harvill and Nancy Gordon

Readings
Psalms (70), 71 or 74
1 Kings 22:29-45
1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15
Matthew 5:1-10

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Follow Me!


Matthew 4:19
"Come, follow me, " Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people."

When was the last time you dropped everything to answer a need or opportunity? Maybe, it was when you received the heart-caught-in-the-throat call from school to say your child was injured on the playground or the gut-wrenching news that your parent was rushed to the hospital. On a brighter note, perhaps it was getting last minute tickets from your boss to a baseball game or a spontaneous invitation from your spouse to dine at your favorite restaurant. In all these cases, bad or good, undoubtedly, you canceled any previous plans you may have had for the day or evening, and hastened with all speed to meet the need or greet the opportunity.

What was is about Jesus' invitation to Simon Peter, Andrew, John, and James to follow Him that made them instantly drop their nets and abandon the only life they knew in order to obey? Did they hear authority and assurance in His voice? Were they compelled by the kind, yet intense gaze with which He fixed theirs? Was there an irresistible warmth in His smile exuding a promise of peace for which they longed? Did they feel, in their heart of hearts, that this Jesus was the One, the Messiah, whom they had hoped, for so long, would come? We can never, here on earth, know the answer to the questions and, in reality, they do not matter. What mattered then and what matters to us now is they dropped everything when Jesus called and didn't look back.

Will you take this moment to drop everything and pray, asking Jesus to be with you in all you think, do, or say today? Let Him know you are ready and willing to follow Him, always and everywhere and right away!

Readings
Psalms 72 or 119:73-96
1 Kings 22:1-28
1 Corinthians 2:1-13
Matthew 4:18-25

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who is Wise?

1 Corinthians 1:20
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

We live in an age of information overload. With the click of a mouse, we can instantaneously be connected to the internet where search engines will take any question we pose and guide us to multiple articles on the subject about which we wish to know more. It's astonishing to see how many credited and self-proclaimed experts there are in any random field of study. We are free to acquire any and all knowledge professed by any number of learned individuals, but no matter how much we know or think we know, that in and of itself does not make us wise. We must be discerning, understanding that the wisdom of this world is precisely that: Of this world. It is finite, limited, and made foolish in the light of God's absolute and infinite wisdom.

To the logistics of worldly wisdom, Paul tells us, the cross appears foolish, incomprehensible. It simply doesn't fit into the natural order of things that our senses can grasp. But, that is exactly why God used it in this way. Jesus, through His live, death, and resurrection, is God breaking into history, changing the rules, showing the way, making foolish our wisest preconceived notions. The wise persons, the teachers of the law, the philosophers who continue to lean upon their own understanding and boast in their accomplishments, fail to see that all they know, all they do, and all they are is because God has graced them with those very gifts. The truly wise in this age will give thanks to God for their very being and boast in Him alone.

"I will boast in the Lord, my God. I will boast in the One who's worthy." ~ Paul Baloche

Readings
Psalms 61, 62 or 68:1-20 (21-23) 24-36
1 Kings 21:1-16
1 Corinthians 1:20-31
Matthew 4:12-17

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lead Us Not . . .

Matthew 4:1
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

When is it easiest for you to fall into temptation? Is it when you are fatigued at the end of an arduous day? When you haven't had enough to eat and your blood sugar is dangerously low? When you are lonely, feeling isolated from the lives of others? Jesus faces all three of these conditions during the 40 days (a Hebrew literary term meaning "a long time") in the wilderness before Satan even shows up. Famished, thirsty, and exhausted, the Lord has plummeted to the lowest point of resistance in this human body He has humbly taken on. He is ripe for the picking, or so the devil imagines; what a delicious coup it would be to have the very Son of God betray His own Father! Thankfully, for us, that was not how the story unfolded.

Jesus, though physically to the point of breaking, resists every temptation offered Him. Not only does He refuse to give in, but also rebukes the devil with the Word of God after each enticement. I believe Jesus had to endure the very sufferings and temptations we face as humans in order to understand what we, in our myriad frailties, face. Just as He was baptized to be able to identify with sinners, He was tested under grueling conditions so He could comprehend, empathize with, and stand with us when we strive to overcome our weaknesses.

Mark 4:11 - "Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended to him." The next time you feel tempted, remember Jesus' trial in the wilderness. Know you can turn to Him for the strength and resolve you need to resist. Know, too, that great will be your reward.

Readings
Psalms 56, 57, (58) or 64, 65
1 Kings 21:1-16
1 Corinthians 1:1-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Sunday, September 11, 2011

All Aboard!


Acts 5:38-39
"Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

Gamaliel, a Pharisee in the council gathered to question the teaching of The Way by the apostles, realizes that time and energy need not be spent in persecution and interrogation. His advice is impeccable: This is a matter for God to resolve in His own good time. The success or failure of the apostles' spread of the gospel are in His hands alone. And, who in their right mind wants to discover, to their utter dismay, they are opposing the will of God? Those are most certainly shoes Gamaliel does not want to fit him!

How many times has life happened when you were busy making other plans? What did you learn when you were stopped unexpectedly at that railroad crossing in your life, waiting impatiently for the train to pass by before you could move forward? I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, believe me, and most, if not all, occurred because I didn't pray to God to conduct my decisions, but plunged full throttle like a run-away freight train into something I thought I could handle on my own. Wrong! Inevitably, He would show me the futility of fighting His will, of making plans without including Him in them, and gently, but firmly, get me back on the right track. When we fail to lean on Him, to seek His desire for our lives, we are train wrecks waiting to happen.

Are you on board with God?

Readings
Psalms 24, 29 or 8, 84
1 Kings 19:8-21
Acts 5:34-42
John 11:45-57

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why Was Jesus Baptized?


Matthew 3:14-15
But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness."
Then John consented.

Although I have read this scripture countless times in the past, I never understood why Jesus insisted upon the baptism of repentance by John. After all, He was without sin and had no need, as we do, for confession of our iniquities and being washed clean of them. I accepted Jesus' doing so according to His words, "to fulfill all righteousness". That was sufficient until today. Knowing how, and when, and by whom had been fine, but I suddenly, urgently, wanted to know why. Why was it necessary for Jesus to be baptized?

When I typed this question into that old reliable, Google Search, I discovered a wonderfully informative, yet concise article explaining why the baptism of Jesus was crucial to His ministry. I will provide you with the link at the end of this devotion if you would like to read in more detail, but I have paraphrased the commentary here:
  • Public Recognition - John has been proclaiming Jesus' coming for quite some time. When he sees Him, he immediately knows who He is and acknowledges this before the crowds gathered there. "Here is the One I told you would come!"
  • Identifying with Sinners - "His baptism symbolized the sinners' baptism into the righteousness of Christ, dying with Him and rising free from sin and able to walk in the newness of life." This is, ultimately, the fulfillment of all righteousness.
  • Confirming John's Authority - By coming to John for baptism, Jesus is showing approval of him and his actions and confirming that he has God's blessing.
  • Revelation of the Trinity - Matthew 3:16-17 - As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
Wow! So much importance in one simple act of submission! Knowing these reasons why have certainly enhanced my understanding of this scripture and I hope they have enlightened you, too. This inquiry reminds me of something Pastor Wallace is fond of saying: "God likes questions and we should never be afraid to ask!"

Readings
Psalms 55 or 138, 139:1-17 (18-23)
1 Kings 18:41-19:8
Philippians 3:17-4:7
Matthew 3:13-17

Reference: http://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-baptized.html

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Great Race


Philippians 3:14
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Foot racing in ancient Greece was a highly valued sport, a favored form of exercise, and a necessity in war, as troops needed to be able to engage or retreat quickly, and news of the battles were carried back to cities by trained, long-distance runners. In their Olympic games, the winning runner received no money, no medal, only a crown of perishable olive leaves to adorn his head.* Paul's audience would have instantly made the connection with racing, but the value of the prize, salvation in Christ, would have emphasized all the more the infinite merit of their struggles and suffering in this life as they press on for the glory of God.

Theirs was the Great Race, the only one worth running, the only one worth winning. Where are you in the Great Race? Are you in training, or have you yet to buy your running shoes? Are you running with endurance, or are you continuously out of breath? Is the goal of becoming more Christ-like in sight, or are there ruts in the road tripping you up, hindering your progress? Wherever you may be in your Great Race, press on! Keep your eyes on the prize!

Readings
Psalms 40, 54 or 51
1 Kings 18:20-40
Philippians 3:1-16
Matthew 3:1-12

*Source for info on the sport of running in ancient Greece: www.richeast.org/htwm/Greeks/running/index.html

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Step By Step


Matthew 2:13
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."

My husband, Danny, and I are both step-parents, he to my son and daughter, and I to his two boys. When we got married, my son had already been out on his own for years and my daughter lived with us only briefly before she was off to college and married shortly thereafter. Danny's sons, however, were ages 11 and 13 when I took on the role of the hopefully not-so-wicked stepmother, and they lived, and still do, with us. Yes, I'll be the first to admit it - step-parenting is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes, it's a step by painful step journey. The eldest (now 19) and I didn't take but a few months to acclimate to on another and our relationship has grown in so many positive ways over the years. The younger (now 17), however, is a completely different story; he bucked me from the get-go on everything from getting up on time for school, to picking up his room, to doing his homework, to taking out the trash. We had our share of head-to-head and toe-to-toe until I finally realized I needed to let Danny do ALL the parenting here as mine was as ineffective as scissors trying to fell an oak. I had to remember, too, that neither boy chose me as a step-mom; I assumed the role and took my chances.

So, what does all this have to do with Joseph in today's scripture? For me, Joseph, Jesus' earthly father, was the paradigm and perfect step-parent. He was a righteous man and obedient to God in all things as is attested to by him always heeding, without question, the instructions given him by the angel of the Lord in his dreams. He was kind, patient, protective, loving, responsible, compassionate, and wise.

"Hold on a minute!" You say, "where in scripture does it describe Joseph's character?"

Nowhere. I can infer these personality traits in him based on one fact alone: God chose this man, out of all the men on in Israel, to be the step-father for His only Son. And, God never makes mistakes.

Are you having a rough ride in the step-parent rodeo today? Think of Joseph. Thank him for the example he set for our Lord and Savior. Pray to become more like him.

Readings
Psalms 50, (59, 60) or 93, 96
1 Kings 18:1-19
Philippians 2:12-30
Matthew 2:13-23

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conflict of Interest


Philippians 2:3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I have never been one to invite or initiate conflict. People who squabble, pick fights, and carry on arguments, vociferously and angrily, will never float my boat. Unfortunately, not liking conflict does not guarantee avoiding it; numerous times, I've found myself an unwilling target of unmerited attacks where the perpetrators bullied and belittled, hoping I would verbally battle back. I didn't. I remained silent while the tirade washed over me. While this may appear to be a stance of weakness, it is amazing to see how quickly the onslaught loses its steam, dying off with a cough and a splutter, when it fails to rouse retaliation.

In today's scripture, Paul is concerned about petty jealousies and points of dissension in the church at Philippi. He knows the vagaries of the human heart all too well. His admonitions on how they should behave as Christians is as viable for us now as it was for them then. If we humble ourselves, remembering that Jesus, in all humility, took on flesh and blood for our salvation, and value and place the interest of others above our own, I wonder what this world would look like? Mohandas Gandhi once said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

What can you do and say today to prove Mr. Gandhi wrong?

Readings
Psalms 119:49-72 or 49, (53)
1 Kings 17:1-24
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 2:1-12

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Things First


Philippians 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Who comes first in your life? If you are a Christian reading this post in the safety and comfort of your home, ten to one, your prompt response is, "Jesus, of course!" Now, keeping that in mind, what might your answer be if you were asked the same question in the following situations?
  • Church potluck
  • Your child's football game
  • Hosting a dinner for new neighbors
  • Being invited to a dinner as a new neighbor
  • Business luncheon
  • Job interview
  • Speaking engagement
  • Mission trip
  • Attending or teaching school
  • Political rally
  • Environment hostile to Christians
Did your answer remain the same? Did it waver at all? Did you have second thoughts or ponder the consequences for you or your family if you stayed loyal to Jesus?

Today's scripture finds Paul in prison for his belief in Christ Jesus. He is writing to the church at Philippi to encourage and bolster them in the faith as, they, too, are suffering from opposition and persecution. His life is no longer his own - it is Christ's, fully and completely; to live is meaningless without the Lord, and death, the time when he will see Him face to face, is gain, the immeasurable reward of eternal life. He will not be moved; he will not be shaken. His response to the question posed above will ever be, "Jesus, of course!"

Is it still yours?

Readings
Psalms 45 or 47, 48
1 Kings 16:23-34
Philippians 1:12-30
Mark 16:1-8 (9-20)

Monday, September 5, 2011

My! How You've Grown!


Philippians 1:6
I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Babies grow so fast! I hadn't seen my granddaughter in over a week when she visited with me the other day, and I couldn't get over the new skills she had acquired during that brief period of time. She is now saying "mama" and "dada" with frequency, emits a delighted "mmmmm" when I feed her a spoonful of food, is fitting her duplo blocks together correctly and, albeit not very lady-like, laughs every time she "toots" in her diaper! She has been pulling herself up on anything and everything for several weeks, but now, she is beginning to take those first sidling steps toward actual walking. Best of all, when asked, "Where's Papa?" or "Where's Gammie?", she points directly to Danny and me with full recognition and a contagious smile which lights up her precious face and brings us such unspeakable joy.

While it's easy to discern the almost daily changes in a growing baby, it's difficult at times for us, as adults, to see the changes, though small, constantly occurring within. Even when we feel stagnant, repeating the same, customary routines day after day, God is subtly, quietly working within each one of us to guide us into the fullness of the good work He has ordained for us to accomplish in our lifetime. Reflect upon where you were a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago; how have you grown and changed for the better? How has God moved you forward in His desire to make you complete, to bring you closer and closer to perfection in Him? Can you see the transformation? Trust, then, that today, even if you don't feel it happening, the Lord is leading you, molding you, renewing you in spirit and in truth. Know He will be faithful to complete the good work He began in you!

Readings
Psalms 41, 52 or 44
1 Kings 13:1-10
Philippians 1:1-11
Mark 15:40-47

Sunday, September 4, 2011

To Boldly Go


Acts 4:31
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

When we were children, my brother and I loved watching the original Star Trek series on television. We looked forward each week to a new, action-packed episode with the swashbuckling Captain Kirk, the stoic Mr. Spock, the unflappable Scotty, the wry Dr. McCoy, and the rest of the crew as they daringly tackled new challenges and dangers in outer space with courage and fortitude. Every show was sheer excitement, suspenseful, and, yes, gratifyingly humorous, but the one thing we could count on to happen was the fulfillment of William Shatner's (Kirk) voice-over at the inception of each episode: They would always "boldly go where no man has gone before".

That phrase could confidently be applied to the actions of the apostles and the early followers of Christ Jesus in the Book of Acts. Faced with hostility, threats, persecution, stoning, flogging, imprisonment, and even death, they bravely forge a new frontier for The Way and for the spread of the gospel. Armed with the truth of the resurrection and consequent salvation through the Lord, they boldly go where no men or women have gone before, leaving behind a legacy of Christian communities throughout the known world that will thrive in hope and flourish in grace. Nothing can separate them from the love of God and the knowledge of redemption through Christ; no one can stop them from boldly proclaiming the word of the living God.

Where will you go boldly for Christ today?

Readings
Psalms 63:1-8 (9-11), 98 or 103
1 Kings 12:21-33
Acts 4:18-31
John 10:31-42

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Curtain Call

Mark 15:37-38
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

When my son was in elementary school, he landed the starring role as Wilbur in the chorus' annual musical, Charlotte's Web. I entered the dimly-lit auditorium, along with hundreds of other parents, relatives, friends, and siblings of the children in the play, on opening night. The heavy, midnight-blue stage curtains were tightly drawn against my eyes which were eager to see the stage sets, the lighting effects, and, most importantly, the children in their costumes. I could envisage what they looked like all I wanted but, until the curtain drew back, all was speculation and imagination. Sitting somewhat restlessly in my seats, I waited impatiently for the curtain to open and the play to begin. I even found myself resenting the sense of separation and detachment those curtains imparted, preventing me from becoming one with the happenings on the stage. What a relief overcame me when, at long last, those curtains finally rolled back and the action began; the play play immediately engaged me and welcomed everyone in the audience into a new and different world.

The curtain in the temple obscured the Holy of Holies from the eyes of all but the High Priest who entered only once a year at Yom Kippur to offer prayers to God on Israel's behalf. He alone was their mediator and advocate in the presence of the living God. With the death of Christ, everything changed dramatically, literally, and figuratively. The temple curtain is rent in two, revealing the Holy of Holies to the speechless priests who witnessed it, and access to the throne of the Most High is suddenly available to all through our unprecedented, eternal mediator and advocate, Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus, in His life, His actions, His teachings, and His sacrifice for our salvation, that we can come to know God the Father. We are no longer separated or detached from Him. The curtain to the Kingdom has opened, and we are invited to enter.

"Separated, until the veil was torn; the moment that hope was born and guilt was pardoned once and for all." ~ Mercy Me

Readings
Psalms 30, 32 or 42, 43
1 Kings 12:1-20
James 5:7-12, 19-20
Mark 15:33-39

Friday, September 2, 2011

Undeserving . . .


Mark 15:29-30
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shading their heads and saying, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!"

The verses from Mark's scripture today are horrendously heart-rending. As Jesus hangs on the cross, enduring unimaginable suffering, those gathered at the morbid scene offer no utterance of sympathy or sorrow. Instead, they mock Him, taunt Him, and seem to derive sadistic satisfaction from kicking at one already down. I find it unbearably sorrowful knowing that the last words our Lord heard from those on earth He unresistingly died to save were replete with hate, scornful and malicious. I wonder if, for one fleeting moment, Jesus regretted in His agony His obedience to the Father's will; who, after all, were these wretched, ungrateful creatures and why would God demand His Son's sacrifice to return them into right relationship with Him?

The jeering, malevolent crowd was undeserving; the Pharisees and Saducees, demanding a sign even at this late juncture, were undeserving; the criminals hanging on either side of the Lord were undeserving, and we, too, are undeserving. Yet, as Paul tells us, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) We could never raise ourselves from the quagmire of sin and death on our own; God had to do it for us. As hard and overwhelming as it is for us to believe, He loves us that much.

Take some time today to reflect upon the greatest story ever told and the greatest gift freely given for our salvation in the selfless sacrifice of Christ Jesus. With a humble and contrite spirit, thank Him for this wondrous gift, knowing that neither you nor I , nor any in this world, deserve it.

Readings
Psalms 31 or 35
1 Kings 11:26-43
James 4:13-5:6
Mark 15:22-32

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You Asked For It!

James 4:3
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Children frequently ask their parents for things which are not good for them, but their desire for a third cookie or a second helping of ice cream inspires them to brave the "no" they will most likely hear in the hopes that, this time, mom will relent or dad will cave in. Parents who want the best for their children learn early on how to stand by their "no" despite all the tears and remonstrations on the part of the child. If they fail to do so, as their children grow, so do the demands; Susie has to have those overpriced, too-tight jeans because all the girls are wearing them, or Johnny has to have the latest cell phone because all the kids at school have one. It is a lose-lose situation: Children think they can have anything they want when they want it and their permissive parents shake their befuddled heads, pathetically wondering how they ended up with such selfish, demanding brats.

When we ask God in prayer for something to be, or change, or happen in our lives, often we are just like children who don't know what is best for us. When He doesn't answer us in the affirmative, we react by throwing a mental temper tantrum, not understanding that His "no"means we have either made our request from the wrong motive, or He has other plans for us which are so much better than we could ever conceive of if we will wait upon Him. He wants us to develop a gratitude attitude, not succumb to instant gratification. Whether we hear
, in answer to our prayer, a "no", a "yes", or a "not yet", we need to trust that God hears our pleas, knows our hopes and dreams, and, as our loving Father, wants only the best for us. Will you pray with me?

Heavenly Father, you give me all good things in your time and season. Help me to be discerning in my prayers, knowing that you have my best interest at heart. Help me to be patient in waiting for your answers. Create in me a heart of acceptance for whatever your answers may be. Grant me the grace to know, in all times and in all places, that you hold me close in your steadfast love. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 37:1-18 or 37:19-42
1 Kings 11:1-13
James 3:13-4:12
Mark 15:12-21

Was I Dreaming of a White Christmas?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 There is no need to write you, friends, about the times and occasions when these things will happen.  For you your...