Daily Devotions – The Best of All Is God Is With Us

It is amazing that when people of faith are faced with death, there seems to be a calm about them.  They know something we do not know or the faith built up over years and years holds them in their final moments on this earth.  This is one of the reasons to work hard on our faith lives now.  So, when faced with death, we are ready to embrace the new life offered to us without price.  John Wesley offered us this same courage when he was about to pass away.

Wesley died on Wednesday March 2, 1791, in his eighty-eighth year. As he lay dying, his friends gathered around him, Wesley grasped their hands and said repeatedly, “Farewell, farewell.” At the end, summoning all his remaining strength, he cried out, “The best of all is, God is with us,” lifted his arms and raised his feeble voice again, repeating the words, “The best of all is, God is with us.”

That is good news indeed.

Daily Devotion – You Have to Wear It

I was struggling with the devotion today so went beyond my typical morning devotions to look for inspiration. I came across this by Jon Bloom from desiringgod.org.  It is part of an article he has up on that website.

 

Private devotions aren’t magic. We know that (for the most part).

But still, we can be tempted to think that if we just figure out the secret formula — the right mixture of Bible meditation and prayer — we will experience euphoric moments of rapturous communion with the Lord. And if that doesn’t happen, our formula must be wrong.

The danger of this misconception is that it can produce chronic disappointment and discouragement. Cynicism sets in and we give up or whip through them to alleviate guilt because devotions don’t seem to work for us.

Our longing for intimate communion with God is God-given. It’s a good thing to desire, ask for, and pursue. The Spirit does give us wonderful, occasional tastes. And this longing will be satisfied to overflowing some day (Psalm 16:11).

“Your devotions may have seemed ordinary today, but God is making something extraordinary through it.”

But God has other purposes for us in the discipline of daily Bible meditation and prayer. Here are a few:

  1. Soul Exercise (1 Corinthians 9:24Romans 15:4): We exercise our bodies to increase strength and endurance, promote general health, and keep unnecessary weight off. Devotions are like exercise for our souls. They force our attention off of self-indulgent distractions and pursuits, and on to God’s purposes and promises. If we neglect this exercise, our souls will go to pot.
  2. Soul Shaping (Romans 12:2): The body will generally take the shape of how we exercise it. Running shapes one way, weight training shapes another way. The same is true for the soul. It will conform to how we exercise (or don’t exercise) it. This is why changing your exercise routine can be helpful. Read through the Bible one year, camp in a book and memorize it another year, take a few months to meditate on and pray through texts related to an area of special concern, etc.
  3. Bible Copiousness (Psalm 119:11Psalm 119:97Proverbs 23:12): A thorough, repeated soaking in the Bible over the course of years increases our overall biblical knowledge, providing fuel for the fire of worship and increasing our ability to draw from all parts of the Bible in applying God’s wisdom to life.
  4. Sight Training (2 Corinthians 5:72 Corinthians 4:18): Jesus really does want us to see and savor him. Savoring comes through seeing. But only the eyes of faith see him. “Blind faith” is a contradiction, at least biblically. Faith is not blind. Unbelief is blind (John 9:38–41). Faith is seeing a reality that physical eyes can’t see and believing it (1 Peter 1:8). And “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So if we’re going to savor Jesus, we must see him in the word he speaks. Faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). And like most of God’s gifts, they are intended to be cultivated. Daily devotions are an important way to train our faith-eyes to see the glory of Jesus in his word and to train our emotions to respond to what our faith-eyes see. Keep looking for glory. Jesus will give you Emmaus moments (Luke 24:31–32).
  5. Delight Cultivation (Psalm 37:3–4James 4:8Psalm 130:5): When a couple falls in love, there are hormonal fireworks. But when married, they must cultivate delight in one another. It is the consistent, persistent, faithful, intentional, affectionate pursuit of one another during better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health that cultivates a capacity for delight in each other far deeper and richer than the fireworks phase. Similarly, devotions are one of the ways we cultivate delight in God. Many days it may seem mundane. But we will be surprised at the cumulative power they have to deepen our love for and awareness of him.

“It’s okay if there was no special spark in your Bible reading today. In fact, ordinary devotions are a good thing.”

There are many more benefits. You could certainly add to this list. But the bottom line is this: Don’t give up on daily devotions. Don’t whip through them. Don’t let them get crowded out by other demands.

Brick upon brick a building is built. Lesson upon lesson a degree is earned. Stroke upon stroke a painting is created. Your devotions may have seemed ordinary today, but God is making something extraordinary through it. Press on. Don’t short-change the process.

Daily Sunday Fall Drive

I miss the days when Sundays were full of nothing but church and family.  We did not have practices, games, work, stress or even shopping.  Most stores were closed so workers could be with families.  This time of year I especially miss it because I am reminded of the lazy Sunday afternoons when my family would get into our car and drive into the rolling hills of Wisconsin to look at the colors on the trees.  Often my mother would make a picnic lunch of fried chicken and we would eat in the car as we gazed at the beauty of God’s creation.

It is possible I have selective memory of these moments.  It is possible that I fussed about having to be trapped in the back of the car with my sister to look at stupid leaves.  It is possible I complained because I wanted peanut butter and jelly instead of chicken.  However, I choose to remember the wonder and amazement of the moment.

While I am sure I took it all for granted back then, it has left an indelible mark on my life, memories and faith.  It is funny how we can try to ignore God, we can let the world overcome our seeking the source, yet in all of it, God can still penetrate and permanently affect our lives.

I am sure I did not always want to be in that car looking at trees, but I am glad I did.  I am sure I do not always want to open up my Bible, stop and say prayers, give more of my time and money away to others and act differently in the world, but ultimately I am always glad I do.

Stop today and look out at the great big blue sky.  See the changing leaves.  Thank God that even when we fail to recognize God and the wonder of creation, God is always there pentetrating our senses with beauty.

Psalm 147 4, 8, 16-18 (NIV)
4 He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
8 He covers the sky with clouds;
he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.

16 He spreads the snow like wool
and scatters the frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
Who can withstand his icy blast?
18 He sends his word and melts them;
he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

Armor of God

Yesterday we shared that in our lives we need the armor of God.  But what does that mean?  How do we wear such a thing in this world?  Obviously it is not a chainlink suit that protects us.  It is not a literal shield or knight’s helmet.

Putting on the armor today can mean many things.

1.  Surround yourself and your loved ones in prayer.  Did you open the day in prayer?  Will you stop and pray duiring the day?  Will you end in prayer?  Prayer is not a magical potion that does your bidding but it connects you to the source that provides comfort, love, peace and joy even when the things around you fail you.

2.  Surround yourselves with people who love you.  None of us love perfectly but the more people you have in your life that can love you unconditionally the stronger you will be.  Disciples are asked to be in community for such a reason as this.

3.  Be more generous. The more you give, the less the stresses of the world can influence you.  When you give more of your time, money, effort and love, it changes your priorities.  The stresses of the world are often caught up in finances, material things or selfish needs.  When you change your priorities to a more giving nature, you quickly find that these things have less control over you.

4.  Struggle with the issues of faith.  Yesterday I was called by a group that was studying the Old testament and they were really struggling with some issues concerning violence and war in the OT.  While we talked about some ways to reconcile the Old Testaement and Jesus, the real value to each of those participants was the questioning and willingness to engage the Word of God.  Sometimes that leaves some dents in our armor, but overall when we struggle and engage issues of faith we come out stronger.

5.  Finally stop and listen.  One of the greatest ways to be stronger in this world is to stop and listen.  The things around us are coming faster and louder.  Technology changes overnight.  In seconds a killer can kill 50 and wound 500.  Fires can blow through an area in seconds wiping out everything in its path.  Our calendars are full from sun up to sun down and then even well into the night.  We are becoming more reactionary, quick to respond and to judge and sometimes that is a good thing, but too often our failure to find the silence causes us more harm.  God is speaking but the world tries to be louder.  Listen for God, listen for direction, find calm in the eye of the storm

There are other ways to wear the “armor” of God, but if you do not put them on, you will not receive their benefits.

Daily Devotion – You Have to Wear It

The following devotion has information and inspiration from wwww.amazingfacts.org.
Kevlar is a synthetic fiber developed in 1965 and was first used commercially in the early 1970s as a substitute for steel racing tires. It has a high tensile strength-to-weight ratio, making it five times stronger than steel. It is used for making a variety of items such as canoes, racing sails, and bicycle tires. It’s most well-known application is in body armor.

When Stephanie Kwolek first invented poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide, the solution was a cloudy substance that was usually thrown away. But she decided to persuade the technician she was working with, Charles Smullen, to test the solution. They were amazed to find the solution did not break like nylon. Her supervisor and lab director realized her discovery was significant because it opened the door to a new field called polymer chemistry. 

In body armor, Kevlar fibers actually “catch” a bullet in a multilayer web of woven fabrics. Different layers in the weave perform different tasks. The “engaged fibers” absorb and disperse the energy of the impact, transferring it to other fibers at “crossover points” in the weave of the body armor. Of course, if you don’t wear the vest, it won’t protect you. The Department of Justice estimates that 25 percent of state and local police are not issued body armor. Of the 1,200 officers killed in the line of duty since 1980, more than 30 percent could have been saved by body armor. The risk of dying from gunfire is 14 times greater for an officer not wearing body armor.

Paul writes – 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

The problem is most of us forget to put on the armor every morning.  We forget that we need the love of Christ to take on the world.  We forget we need the peace of God to overcome the challenges we face. Our faith can get us through anything but if we fail to wear it we are much less likely to utilize the potential it offers.  

Tomorrow we will share ways that we can wear the armor of God.

What can I do

As I have been talking to people about how to respond to all of the bad things that seem to be happening in the world, I thought this was helpful from www.umc.org

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*
October 3, 2017

In the midst of tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas, United Methodists long to participate in God’s work in the world. We pray, worship, and offer well wishes. We also serve, lend a hand, and meet a need.

Through our service, we often find healing for ourselves as the Holy Spirit moves in and through us.

A great guide for finding ways to minister to our neighbors is Jesus’s story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus tells the helpers that they served him by serving those in the greatest need.

I was hungry

“I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat,” Jesus tells us.

Provide a meal. Many churches have ministries that provide meals for those who are recovering from surgery, mourning the loss of a loved one, or otherwise in need of a hot meal. You can also do something similar on your own. Take a meal to one who is hurting. Provide food to those living on the street. Buy the meal for the person behind you in the drive-thru line.

United Methodist Committee on Relief coordinates ways we help offer food, water, and other supplies to those in need.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief coordinates ways to give food, water, and other supplies to those in need. File photo by Bridget Sloane, United Methodist Communications.

Give to the local foodbank. Hungry people are everywhere, even in places you might least suspect. Foodbanks do wonderful work providing meals for men, women, and children who cannot afford to feed themselves. Donate food. Volunteer. Support Heifer International or another organization that helps feed people around the world. Help feed those who are hungry.

I was thirsty

“I was thirsty,” Jesus tells the servants, “and you gave me a drink.”

Donate water. Water is a critical supply in times of disaster. We need clean, safe water to survive. Natural disasters like floods and mudslides often contaminate aquafers, limiting people’s supply of water. Donations of water to a local disaster relief center, to first responders, or to your church mission team heading off to do cleanup, are important.

Give to well ministries. Tragedy reminds us that some live without clean, safe water every day. Donate to ministries that help provide wells like the UMCOR WASH project.

Conserve. The water you save helps someone else have enough. Learn more here.

I was a stranger

Jesus continues, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Embrace love. In our daily living, we can see others as a bother. The difficult people at work. The teacher that doesn’t understand. The other drivers clogging the roads on the way to work. We can make a huge difference in the lives of many, and ourselves, by deciding to lead with love.

Spend time with kids and youth. Volunteer to read at a nursery school. Get involved in the tutoring program at an elementary school. Intentionally listen to your children and their friends. Play with your grandchildren and their friends. Go to the high school football or basketball game in town. Support the young people in your community.

Care for the elderly. Find out how you can help at a nursing home. Ask your pastor about becoming a visitor to those in your church who no longer get out very often. Drive a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment or help them grocery shop.

Do no harm on social media. One of John Wesley’s General Rules for the Methodist societies was to do no harm. Today, we need to take care that our social media posts are loving, do not spread rumors, and do nothing to hurt others.

I was naked

“I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear,” Jesus praises.

Give money during tragedy. One of the tricky things during a tragedy is that the agencies don’t have the resources to sort through clothing donations. They much prefer monetary donations that help them buy the needed clothing. Support UMCOR and other agencies that meet these needs with cash donations.

Donate clothing to proper agencies. There are those who are always in need of clothes. Give to your local coat drive, shoe drive, clothing drive. The agencies asking for those donations are prepared to process them and use them to clothe those with nothing to wear.

Join a building project. To protect them from the elements, people need clothes and shelter. Join a local Habitat for Humanity build, a mission team, or another organization providing housing to the many who live out in the elements. Make a trip with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission to use your skills to help someone in need.

I was sick

“I was sick,” Jesus tells the surprised servants, “and you took care of me.”

United Methodists are always ready to respond to need.

United Methodist are always ready to use their talents and resources to help those in need. File photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

Give blood. The American Red Cross is always in need of blood donations to care for the sick and wounded. Make a donation. (Las Vegas is reporting no blood is needed right now due to overwhelming response.)

Appreciate first responders. Show your love and appreciation for those who run into harm’s way to care for another. A visit, a meal, baked goods, cards, letters, and donations are welcome support.

Share your thoughts. Not only can your thoughts, fears, doubts, and insights be a value to you, they can help others as you work through a tragedy together.

Care for your neighbors. There are many kinds of illness, and as many ways to care for those who are suffering. It starts by knowing the people around you. Share your life with your neighbors. Get to know their joy and sorrow. Find out ways you can pray for and serve them.

I was in prison

Finally Jesus says, “I was in prison and you visited me.”

Learn about prison ministry. Most communities have a prison ministry. Learn more about yours and find ways that you can support those in prison, and those recently re-entering society.

Support addiction and abuse ministries. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and domestic violenceimprison many in our communities. Support recovery ministries. If you are a recovering addict or survivor, your struggle can be an encouragement to others.

Angry?

The news has been full of information and discussion about the violence in Las Vegas and rightfully so.  Information and conversation is very important as we struggle with these issues.  However, as much as we live in a world where we all can be caught up in such tragedy, the reality is that it is still a very, very small percentage of persons who ever experience tragedy in such a large scale.  For most of us, our issues and problems are at a smaller level.  Nonetheless we need to continue to reflect on such issues, even if we never directly face them.

What is fascinating about the teachings of God is that while we may not be murderers ourselves or ever desire to purchase 48 guns to use on a crowd, we have to take seriously our own thoughts and actions.

Matthew 5:21-22English Standard Version (ESV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother or sister  will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother or sister will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Let us not forget that we are called to live in a different way and all of our anger, jealousies, bitterness and unforgiving nature causes us to live outside of the bounds of God’s kingdom.  We may think, I am not a murderer or thief but God is quick to remind us that even our anger causes us to live counter to how God calls us.

Prayer:  God forgive me for the times when I have coveted my neighbors things.  Creator God,  forgive me for the times when I have failed to forgive my brother or sister.  Loving God, forgive me for the times when anger or jealousy has trumped my ability to love.  Forgive me for all my sins.  Amen

“I am trying to understand!” – Sorry, kind of a long devotion today, but necessary!

Yesterday, I heard an interview with a man who had survived the massacre in Las Vegas.  He was very distraught and shaken.  Crying, he wondered why it was that he lived and others died.  There was desperation in his voice to come up with answers. The interviewer tried to console him and offered up that everything happens for a reason but he would have to figure out what that reason was.

I appreciated the care of the interviewer and it was obvious he was shaken as well.  However, I wondered how comforting that theology really is.  Is he saying that God made the bullets from the madman hit some people but not him?  Did God intentionally cause some to die but others to live or did God just save this man but did not lift a finger to save another?  Thinking about God as a cosmic puppeteer does not give me much comfort, in fact, it makes God seem arbitrary and even mean.

Certainly this man has an opportunity to take the tragedy and use it to make a bigger difference in his life and those around him.  It offers a chance to reevaluate his life, to stop taking things for granted and help provide peace and love in a world desperate for such things.  But where is God in this?  God is present, helping him, comforting him, guiding him.  God is grieving with him and offering opportunities for joy in the midst of the pain.  God is here, God is present but I would have difficult time telling someone that this event is part of God’s plan.

Instead, consider this.  God has given us freewill.  We are free to be who we want to be, to accept God’s grace or reject it, to live as we are called to live or be tempted and overcome by sin.  God does not treat us like puppets, controlling our every move.  Rather, God treats us as children, inviting us to live in relationship with others and with the Trinity in a way that is not equal but relational.  It is not a controlling God that manipulates our lives, it is a loving God that gives us freedom. So, you might ask, is God a hands off God, not caring about us but letting us live in pain and suffering without caring for us?

I would offer this.  In the midst of our living, God is present, directing us, guiding us, teaching us how we might live and how we might understand.  God comforts us in our times of need and shows us a way to live in joy even when the world offers us pain and anguish.  God offers us love even when the world offers us loneliness and despair.  God offers us hope when the world crushes our dreams.  God offers us peace when the world attacks us.  God is indeed present and working in our lives.

So, you say, there is no plan?  Everything is just chance or luck and God reacts to it?  Obviously God has not given me the cosmic plans to the universe but I trust in Christ when he tells me that the victory has been won and the things of the world have been defeated.

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” – John 16:33

God indeed has a plan, but it is a cosmic plan that gives final victory.  Part of that plan is our freedom to live or reject love or peace.  As God works in the world, and as we do our part, slowly and inevitably God’s plan is revealed.  We see it on mission trips when a family devastated by poverty finds hope in the new floor we install.  We see it at the death of a loved one when friends bring roses to plant as a reminder of the joy of life.  We experience it at church when we sing a song of faith and goosebumps arise.  We experience it in conflict when we might disagree but peace and calm prevail.

The world is not perfect by any stretch, but I trust in a God who has proven dominion over death and violence and offers us to live in a different way.  The world may try to thwart God’s plans but ultimately God wins.

I feel awful for the man who was interviewed, as much for his pain he experienced that day but that he had taken life for granted for so long that he did not prepare himself for a day like he encountered.  Certainly, just because I have faith does not mean I will not experience sadness.  However, I do know that a deep faith will give me a foundation to answer more quickly those questions that arise, to more fully stand up against the storms of my life and be ready when I need it most.

Thanks be to God.  Amen!

 

Enough is Enough

By now you probably have heard of the Las Vegas shootings that killed 50 plus people and wounded hundreds more.  Here we go again with another action that has devastated lives and families.  Enough is enough.  Why is it that we fail to love one another?  What makes us hate each other so much that we will randomly kill people we do not even know?

As I entered into my morning time of prayer, I asked God what we are to do as Christians to change the current culture.  I open up Scripture and read about the times that Jesus showed righteous anger.  Maybe it is time we turn the tables and throw up our hands and get angry!  Enough is enough.

Silently meditating, I began to relax and realize maybe that was not the answer.  The anger of Christ came not in response to petty differences or at the weakness of others but rather at the deep imbedded sinful nature of humanity that questioned and countered the power and love of God.  In this instance as with others when we slaughter each other righteous anger may indeed have a place but as I further studied Scripture this morning I opened myself up to a broader listening of the work of Christ.

It may be righteous to be angry over issues like we face today in Las Vegas but the typical response that we have as human beings is not the answer.  Our nature tells us to bunker down, be distrustful of those who are other than us and seek revenge.  Christ’s answer was so counter to that type of response that it is difficult to imagine.  His response to hatred was love.  His response to violence was peace.  When soldiers came to arrest him and the disciples drew arms to protect him, he told them to put the swords away.  When he hung on the cross and bled he forgave those who hurt him.  He forgave us of our sins not because we made amends for our actions, but simply because of his great love.  He said enough is enough but that referred not only to those actions we initiate in our selfish, sinful nature, but to our responses as well.

So, this morning, as I offered myself in prayer, I found myself grieving for the families who lost loved ones and praying for the person so caught up in sin and hatred or lost in mental illness that he would kill so many.  Wow, I wish we would live in love!  Enough is enough!

Matthew 5 (The Message)

17-18 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.

19-20 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.

38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Murder

21-22 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

May you live in love and peace this day!

Daily Devotions – Ha Ha

Some days we just all need a good laugh.

A clergyman awoke one morning to find a dead donkey in his front yard. He had no idea how it got there, but he knew he had to get rid of it. So, he called the sanitation department, the health department, and several other agencies, but no one seemed able to help him. In desperation, the good reverend called the mayor and asked what should be done. The mayor must have been having a bad day. “Why bother me?” he asked. “You’re a clergyman. It’s your job to bury the dead.” The pastor lost his cool. “Yes,” he snapped, “But I thought I should at least notify the next-of-kin.”

May your day be filled with many laughs, many smiles and the grace and peace of Christ!