Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jeremiah 25:8-17, Psalms 120, 121, 122 & 123, Romans 10:1-13, John 9:18-41

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth….
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 121:2;8.)

My first federal job, as a budget analyst intern, meant I was given a three year assignment with the opportunity to receive developmental training and promotions, as long as I progressed at an acceptable rate and completed my assignments on time and accurately.

I worked for two years at Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania, and found myself at a cross road. I had to decide which of the available permanent positions within the United States I wanted to pursue and provide a prioritized list to the Centralized Intern Manager within 10 days. The budget analyst positions were quite varied in duties, and I had to call each site individually because no additional information was provided and the decision would greatly affect my future work for the Army. To complicate my decision, I needed to coordinate my selection with a location near the few available pharmacy schools so my future wife could continue her education. If I couldn’t accomplish this while working for the Army, I would need to leave the intern program and find another job. I determined there were only two possible sites that met these criteria, and I needed assurance that I would be selected before I committed to them. I prayed to God for guidance with this very important decision, and He came to my help. He provided me a successful interview with the selecting official at Fort Monmouth, which is located about 25 miles from Rutgers University Pharmacy School. This was truly one of many moments when I could directly see that God watches over our lives and comes to our help!

--REP

Monday, March 30, 2009

Jeremiah 24:1-10, Psalm 31, Romans 9:19-23, John 9:1-17

John 9, verse 16 contains the phrase (spoken by the Pharisees) “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” The implication was that Jesus’ curing of the blind man should not have occurred on the Sabbath; but sometimes doing good means ignoring the “Pharisees”.

When I was twelve, I was playing in my room on a Sunday afternoon when I suddenly remembered that it was my Mother’s birthday. It being a Sunday in the Midwest of the 1970s, there probably were no stores open, but I rode my bike downtown anyway.

Peering through the window at Connor’s Pharmacy, I saw Mr. Connor stocking shelves. Seeing me, he called out, “It’s Sunday; we’re closed.”

I had turned away and climbed on my bike when I heard the store’s door open. “What did you want, anyway?”

“Just a card for my Mom’s birthday.”

Mr. Connor smiled. “Come on in. I think we can break the rules for that.”

After picking out a card, I took it to Mr. Connor along with a fistful of change I had scraped up. He chuckled and said, “Don’t worry about it. I think I can take the loss. Just don’t tell anyone you got it on Sunday.”

I rode home, hurriedly scrawled a pre-adolescent inscription on the card, and presented it to Mom. She was happy (and a little surprised) that I had remembered her birthday and had actually done something.

Mr. Connor did not keep the Sabbath. But he did the right thing.

--PRA

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jeremiah 23:16-32, Psalm 118, 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, Mark 8:31-9:1

This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118: 24.)

10 am: Wake up, brush teeth, take shower.
11 am: Check e-mail and read the news.
Noon: Eat lunch.
1 pm – 5 pm: Check e-mail 100 times; refresh cnn.com repeatedly; play solitaire.

6 pm: Eat dinner.
7 pm – Midnight: Listen to music; check e-mail; refresh cnn.com; watch a movie; bed.

What seems like another boring day with nothing to do is actually a fantastic day! I did not do anything productive. I didn’t have any profound or deep conversations or revelations. Nothing exciting or new happened at all. Well, except another day created by the Almighty.

I know God wants me to use my life to do good, to bring praise to Him, to help ease the suffering of all those around me, to forge deep and strong relationships with my family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers. However, this verse from Psalm 118 gives me joy. It reminds me that even a day when I do nothing is still a day I should be joyful simply because the Lord made it. These days, when I can relax and do nothing, are the days when I can fully enjoy God’s Word in my life. I can sit in relaxation and silence and let God speak to me. I can have the relaxation and silence that I need to really open my heart and ears to God, to hear what it is that He is calling me to do to bring praise to Him and His creation. I thank the Lord for these days.

I know that tomorrow I have a lot of work to do, work that will make the Lord proud. But today, today is a day of rest. A day when I can reflect, replenish myself, and listen to what the Lord has waiting for me.

--APL

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jeremiah 23:9-15, Psalms 107:33-43 & 108, Romans 9:1-18,John 6:60-71

My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. (Psalm 108:1.)

What does it take to sing, or to do something – anything – with all my soul? Is that even possible? I used to think I could sing a song with all my soul. Now, I’m not so sure. I know from experience that to sing (or do anything) with all my soul, I not only have to bring a lot to that song, I also have to leave a lot of my non-soul baggage behind.

I used to think doing something with all my soul could be measured by sheer intensity. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people do things intensely but, alas, few made me believe they were doing what they were doing with all their soul. No, I think the first element is not mere intensity, but commitment. Two bits of wisdom come to mind. The first is an old Chinese proverb that says, “You cannot cross a chasm in two leaps.” The other is an old Okie proverb that says, “In a bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.” If I’m going to make music with all my soul, I will have to commit.
Go whole hog, so to speak.
Hold nothing back.
Play it like I mean it.
Dance like nobody is watching (since much of the baggage I have to leave behind is caring how it looks to others).

Or sing like nobody is listening -- and what if they aren’t? Do I need someone to hear my song in order to make music with all my soul? I don’t think someone has to hear it; it seems like it should be enough just to sing it with all my soul. Granted, it’s unlikely I could muster “all my soul” when singing in the shower, but what about under the stars, in a high mountain valley? I doubt that the psalmist was singing that song for his fans.

And what if someone is listening? I think they will hear it and know that I have made that song with all my soul, and they will believe my song.

What if I wrote a song that made someone say:
“…every one of them words rang true,
and glowed like a burning coal,
Pouring off of every page,
Like it was written in my soul …”

Is there anything stopping me from making such music today?

--DF

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jeremiah 23:1-8, Psalm 102, Romans 8:28-39, John 6:52-59

For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.
Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to skin and bones….

The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.

(Psalm 102: 3-5; 19-20.)

We all are mortal and one day, perhaps soon or perhaps many, many years from now, each of us will die. I began to contemplate my own mortality almost five years ago when my Dad passed away. He was a simple man without even a high school diploma, and he lived a very hard life. By the end, he was literally reduced to skin and bones, the terrible effect of cancer and a stroke after years of smoking and excessive drinking. But despite his flaws, and who among us doesn’t have them, he had a heart of gold, and he loved his children and his grandchildren more than life itself. On the morning of the day he died, he told his nurse that he was taking a trip. When she asked where he was going, he said, “I’m going upstairs today.” Now, I never thought of my Dad as a man of faith. In fact, as a young girl I often invited him to go to church with us, but he always declined, saying the roof would cave in if he went. He knew he was a sinner, and I believe he was ashamed. Imagine my joy, then, and my tremendous peace to know not only that my Dad was no longer in pain, but that he was prepared to meet his Creator.

Dear Heavenly Father, throughout this Lenten season let suffering – our own, that of our friends and strangers, and that of your Son on the cross – move us and remind us that life is short, and that we must do all that we can to live the lives you have called us to live, so that when our time comes we, too, can be prepared to “go upstairs.” Amen.

--JMP

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Jeremiah 22:13-23, Psalm 69, Romans 8:12-27, John 6:41-51

How do I live as a Christian in a suburban world?

I have a house with four bedrooms, an office, family room, dining room and living room - can someone tell me why I need both a family room and a living room? If I get kicked out of the bedroom I’ll never sleep on a sofa. Instead, I’ll get the guest room with its own bathroom. How is it okay that I live in such a large house with so much unused space when I also truly love God?

Jeremiah doesn’t say that it’s bad to have the palace, so long as you don’t take advantage of others to get it. But, aren’t I taking advantage of others to live this life?

A few years ago a teen in youth group wrote a paper on the atrocities in China’s sweatshops, and she wondered how anything like that could happen today. I’ve been walking around stores to see what I can buy that isn’t made in China. The answer? Almost nothing.

Now, I have no idea what the working conditions were for my shirt, but it is so cheap the workers can’t be getting paid very much.

Maybe we’re not all called to give up everything to follow Him, though the psalmist makes pretty clear that even if we look like idiots, if it’s for Him, it will further God’s work. Maybe I’m not ready to give up this life and home that I’ve made for myself, though Jeremiah points out that our fathers got along just fine with less.

Every day I struggle to balance this consumerist mentality with my Christianity. Is it okay for me to take another Christian to lunch at $15 per person and talk about God’s will for us? Is it okay to have conversations over $4 cups of coffee?

I wish I had an answer, but maybe I already know it.

Peace.
--TEL

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalms 101 & 109, Romans 8:1-11, John 6:27-40

Greetings and may God bless you this day. Today’s readings are for March 25; however I am writing this on Sunday, January 4, 2009. I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions, probably because of my lack of success in keeping them. This year seems different somehow. ’08 was a bad year in many ways, and, like many others, I worry about the future.

Fr. Rob in his sermon today reminded us that the root cause of the current financial crisis was the consumptive lifestyles of our society and ourselves. The sin of greed and our “me” culture has shaped our priorities and our behavior. My “lust” for food and lack of self discipline (exercise, etc...) has made me resemble our bloated economy.

Jeremiah tells us not to throw away the old but to use it to rework and reshape (potters wheel) our lives to the glory of God. The Psalm reassures that we will be vindicated from our current persecutions by God’s grace and that we should not fear change. Paul urges us to live “in the spirit,” and this will give us the strength to overcome our weaknesses of the flesh. Finally, John quotes Jesus’ wonderful promise that He is the bread of life and that through Him we have eternal life. We don’t need Haggen Daz ice-cream.

Things must change, and I am confident they will. Scripture, for me, has the power to inspire, inform, and motivate – all at the same time. Today’s sermon and today’s readings have strengthened my resolve to make those changes in my personal life that will help make me a stronger, healthier, and better citizen of God’s kingdom here on earth. I look forward to reading this again on March 25 and to seeing how well I have done. With God’s blessing and real effort on my part, I know it will work.

--JDD

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jeremiah 17:19-27, Psalms 97, 99 & 100, Romans 7:13-25, John 6:16-27

Psalm 100 brims with that splendorous joy that comes from close acquaintance with God’s love. Beginning with an exhortation to shout for such joy, the psalm proclaims God’s goodness in exuberant, heartfelt language. Surely only the love of one as constant, steadfast, and faithful as God could inspire such gladness!

As I read the psalm again and again, trying not just to recite someone else’s words but to pray them as if they were my own, I thought the tone was happy. But slowly I discerned a distinction between happiness and joy – and the author was more than happy, he was joyful. Joy and happiness seem the same, but they are not. Happiness lives in external circumstances, but joy dwells in the mind, the heart, the limbs, and the soul. We are happy when we are with people we love, when we have enough money, and when we are having fun. But joy exists even when we cannot be happy. It encompasses happiness and gratitude, but is deeper-rooted than both, and shows itself by transforming one’s very being. A happy person shows their happiness, but a joyful person lives their joy.

Psalm 100 is a glorious expression of abiding joy. Meditating on it, I started to think about how much I have to be grateful for. The Lord entrusted me to loving parents and phenomenal friends, turned some very difficult times into irreplaceable growth experiences, and, most importantly, counted me as one of his treasured sheep. The Lord has brought me through nineteen years safely, and I can be sure that he will continue to do so. I can trust that the Lord “is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues throughout all generations.” What else can I do but shout for joy to the Lord with the earth and alongside his people?

--KRS

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jeremiah 16:10-21, Psalm 89:1-18, Romans 7:1-12, John 6:1-15

I enjoy taking walks—maybe not as much as the other members of my family, but certainly more than most people I know, and certainly in good company. It seemed a natural course of action, then, to take my boyfriend on a walk once he had discovered that little bit of tree-hugger in me.

It was at the beginning of fall when we took our first walk, and so the colors of the trees were turning and their leaves were falling gracefully down to the ground. There was a light, cool breeze as we walked arm in arm down the paths through the woods behind my house, and afternoon sunlight was filtering in through the branches. At points we would stumble across a quietly trickling, clear-running stream, or patches of faint birdsong. We would sit on fallen logs in isolated thickets of trees and look up at the clear blue sky, watching the world pass us by as the seasons turned.

Those are the moments that I think of when I dwell on this select passage from Psalms, when I ponder the fact that God “built the cosmos and guaranteed everything in it”. I think of all the beauty of nature He filled the cosmos with just for us, and it leaves me in a quiet sense of admiration. More than that, though, I think of how His love has been “our lives’ foundation”; if I can feel so blessed and so loved by just one soul here on Earth, I find it hard to fully wrap my mind around what the love of our Creator is like. I do know one thing: it, like my companion, and like nature, is a true gift.
--MCM

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Jeremiah 14:1-9, 17-22, Psalms 66 & 67, Galatians 4:21 – 5:1, Mark 8:11-21

When we brought Max home, he raced out the door the first chance he got. We finally caught him and put him in our fenced back yard – he dug out. Initially, we gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking ‘dogs will be dogs.’ Over time, though, we discovered that his desire to escape was more than the normal doggy disobedience. We tried punishment, obedience classes, positive reinforcement, and all manner of hindrances to keep Max contained. In spite of our efforts, Max still found ways to escape. I realize that it was probably impossible for Max to understand our desires and intentions for him or how much we wanted the best for him; but I do think that he knew where he belonged and who loved him. In spite of that knowledge, he could not get past his overwhelming desire to “be free.”

As you read today’s Gospel reading, you find Jesus asking his disciples, “Do you still not understand?” The disciples had lived with him, worked with him, traveled with him and had seen him perform miracles, but they still did not seem to understand all that Jesus was and is. I can imagine how Jesus felt when he asked his disciples that question because I know how I felt when I asked our dog Max that question. What did he not understand about us that would cause him to act the way he did?

If I am honest with myself, I realize that there are times when Jesus looks at me and says, “Do you still not understand?”

I am taking this time of Lent to think about our dog, Max, and to examine my life for those areas where I act or think as if I do not understand all that Jesus is and wants for me. If there is a lack of understanding, then I need to learn. Where I am just following my desires and wants, I need to put those aside and fully embrace all that my master desires for me.

Take a moment today and reflect on the question that Jesus asked his disciples and see if you are fully embracing all that Jesus wants for you.

--AKD

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Jeremiah 13:1-11, Psalms 87 & 90, Romans 6:12-23, John 8:47-59

In the reading from Romans, Paul talks about our freedom from sin. Sometimes we think freedom means our ability to do whatever we want, to not have someone telling us what is right from wrong or how to live our lives. I remember similar feelings when my parents would limit my “freedom” by imposing a time to be home, making me go to church regularly, and compelling me to follow many other rules. I didn’t understand the protection and foundation these things were instilling in me. Now - much later in life, I can look back and see that following their rules helped me in ways I didn’t understand at the time. And, they made it possible for me to learn life lessons and escape some real pitfalls.

What Paul says in this reading is similar. Paul is reminding us of what true freedom from sin means for us. It seems to be a conflict, that living life the way Jesus wants us to actually gives us more freedom than living life our way. But, when I look back over my life, I seem to have less stress and more satisfaction when I do live life His way. Jesus’ gift to me is the opportunity to live life His way along with the grace to be forgiven when I fall back into my old ways. Following Jesus protects me, develops within me the strength I need to get through hard times, and helps me to feel compassion for others and to experience joy as I go through life.

Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message explains it in a way that appeals to me. “A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus our Master.” (Romans 6:22-23.)

--SKR

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jeremiah 11: 1-20, Psalm 88, Romans 6: 1-11, John 8: 33-47

"…I count myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11.)

I remember the scene in the movie The Mission when Robert DeNiro’s character receives grace knowing full-well the bloody weight of his own sin. He’s on top of the cliff, his burden has been cut free, and he begins to sob. Just sob. Tears of joy and pain flow down his face as his body continues to shake, absorbing the power and the awe of the moment. I remember tears of joy and pain flowing down my own cheeks as I watched that scene because I knew that I, too, had been forgiven much, had been drawn through grace to a life in Christ, and had been given the very presence of Christ Himself.

My jaw drops in gratitude that Scripture instructs me to count…to consider…to think of it as true that I am alive to God. That it does not demand the opposite – that I wallow in the reminder and weight of my sin. I am alive to God – alive to His grace and acceptance, alive to His delight, alive to His design for me.

Dear Father, I want this transformation. I want to be alive to you. Awaken and sustain in me the desire for You and Your ways. Remind me that service, humility and patience are of You. Remind me to love. Remind me that I am dead to my pettiness, my greed, my apathy, and my service to self above others. Let my heart beat with Yours in truth and goodness through your Holy Spirit. You are risen. You are alive. Thank You that You have raised me along with You. May I live in this truth. Amen.

--JEH

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jeremiah 10:11-24, Psalms 42 & 43, Romans 5:12-21, John 8:21-32

“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19.)

I have many faults but the one that taunts me the most involves the power of speech. What I say and how I say it affects many. As a teacher, I’ve learned that a kind word to a student or a quick reprimand reverberates through the class. Yet, at home with three teenagers, my words are quick to tear down or not used often enough to build up. Sometimes I talk too much; often I speak without thinking. The power of what we say, our tone, our posture, our hidden meanings create a ripple of what we mean to say.

One night, I entered my daughter’s room and found her crying. Thinking it was boy trouble or girlfriend problems, I sat beside her bed and tried to listen. What I heard was how she had lost a valuable item I had given her the year before and she didn’t want me to yell at her for losing it. She was fearful of the power of my words. She had been carrying this weight around, carefully thinking about how to tell me she lost something, about what my reaction would be. What a lesson for me!

Of course, what I really wanted to do was give her a lecture about keeping her room clean and not losing stuff, but what she wanted to hear was that I continued to love her whether things were right or in turmoil. Listening is a great struggle for me, and I continue to work on how to stop the quick knee-jerk reaction of talking without thinking.

Though forgiveness, redemption, and God’s grace we are able to learn from our mistakes, take heed of our ways, and become better people. While it is human nature to sin, it is divine that God can set us free of our failures.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32.)

--JML

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:6, Psalm 119:97-120, Romans 5:1-11, John 8:12-20

“Hot and Cold” is a children’s game that some of you may have played. It’s an old fashioned game. There are no electronics involved. And yes, by today’s standards, it could be considered an obsolete game. The rules for playing are quite simple – one person (it) leaves the room while the others hide an object. When “it” returns, he/she has to try to find the object. The others provide hints by saying “warm, warmer, hot, or cold, colder, etc.” The game can be quite noisy and a bit confusing for “it” to follow. Sometimes the hints seem to change rapidly from “hot” to “cold.” While “it” is always in the dark as to where to look for the hidden item, he/she does have assistance.

This simple game reminds me of our Christian walk. The path to a relationship with Jesus is not usually a straight one – there are missteps. As Christians, we encounter trial and error in developing a true relationship with Jesus, because we do not always hear or heed the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In this scenario, it is the Holy Spirit that calls out the “warm, warmer, hot, or cold, colder”. Like children playing this game, we desire most of all to hear “you are getting hotter” as an indication we are moving in the right direction - following Jesus’ precepts and laws.

Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12.)

--SWG

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jeremiah 7:21-34, Psalm 78:1-39, Romans 4:13-25, John 7:37-52

Have you ever carried burdens so heavy that some days it was all you could do to just keep putting one foot in front of the other? I have. These last few months I have carried some of the heaviest burdens ever. There have been some very dark days for me as of late.

In the midst of this, I met a Christian at Gold’s gym who has been faithful in speaking God’s truth to me. He does not spout platitudes, general wishes of well being, or the pop psychology of self help. He speaks of deeper things, of spiritual things. He speaks of the forces of darkness that conspire against us in truly terrible ways, of the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome, of the urgent importance of not losing sight of God or his mission for us in those times where our pain (or the pain of those we love) make Him seem so very distant. I cannot tell you how much his words have meant to me, or of how deeply I have been encouraged by them when I have sometimes wondered where I was going to find the strength to go on.

The Psalm for today tells the importance of speaking God’s truth. We put a great deal of emphasis on our deeds as followers of Jesus. But our words are just as important. We need to put our faith in action. But we also need to put it in our words as well. People need to hear that God loves them, is with them, and will act on their behalf today as He has in our lives in the past. At least, I need to hear these words. I expect you do to.

May God grant us the faith, the love, the courage, to join the Psalmist in speaking these words to one another, to our kids, and to the world around us. Amen.

--CRM

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jeremiah 7:1-15, Psalm 80, Romans 4:1-12, John 7:14-36

Every other week I host a Bible study in my home and I can’t tell you enough how much I receive from the Lord in the process! It is led by a devoted Christian Dad and attended by 10-15 teens. We listen, read the Bible, cry, pray and give thanks for everything that is happening in our lives. We come together to be renewed by God’s Word and lifted up with His Hope. I have come to know and care about these teens as if they were my own children. I have heard about their parents loosing their jobs, their best friends using drugs, not knowing how they were going to pay for their next semester’s college tuition, and the difficulty in sharing their Christian faith in school. I am always praying to God, asking how I can serve them better. Sometimes I am tired from work and feeling a bit depleted, but when these teens share their circumstances, I am so filled up I forget about myself, and I give thanks for the moment.

I ask myself how I can be a better Christian. And every time I ask God, I hear the same answer: “Be present, give thanks, stay in the word, and I’ll show you the way.” In Psalm 80 God’s people cry out, “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us that we may be saved.”

Thank you, Lord, for these teens being in my life. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you and receive so much in the process. May you continue to shine your face brightly upon us, and may we always seek you first in our lives. Amen.

--SDF

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jeremiah 6:9-15, Psalms 93 & 96, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Mark 5:1-20

I have a confession to make: I love to sing. I’m not very good at it, but since I’m usually my own audience, it doesn’t really matter. Nothing makes me feel better than singing a song of praise to God (not even chocolate, and let me tell you that is something!)

When I was young, my mother dragged me to our Episcopal church on a Friday night for several hours of prayer & praise. When the service first started, it wasn’t where I wanted to be on a Friday night. Miami Vice was on TV, and I was completely missing it! However, by the end of the service, it was singing songs of praise that really made it all worth it. For almost three hours, I sang and worshipped the God who created me, and it was wonderful! Feelings of joy, peace, and surrender flowed in and out of me with the music, and I was so thankful my mom forced me to go. Oh, how I could relate to the trees, the fields, the heavens and the seas as they rejoiced before God in today’s Psalm:

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.
(Psalm 96:11-12.)

And thanks to Jesus who died for me, one day, I’ll get to stand in Yahweh’s courts and sing my praise to him in person.

Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. (Psalm 96:2.)

Thank you, Lord, for all that you’ve done for us sinners. Please help us to remember to lift our voices in praise even when we feel like crying. For it is because of your sacrifice that we will live again, without fear, sorrow, or pain. Amen.

--KLR

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jeremiah 5:20-31, Psalm 75 & 76, Romans 3:19-31, John 7:1-13

As we enter into the 18th day of Lent, our scripture readings cover many areas. In Jeremiah, we read about the foolishness of people, of people not listening to God or seeing His mighty works, being stubborn and rebellious in heart. Then in the Psalms we read how God abases the proud but exalts the righteous. In Romans we read how we all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Our gospel reading tells us about Jesus teaching at the feast and how no one wants to mention “His” name or talk about Jesus for fear that word would get back to the Jews, the very ones that are seeking Him, the ones who deny that He is the Son of God, that He is the Messiah. How often have we, through our words or actions, denied that He is the Son of God, that He is the Messiah?

It is so easy to go to church on weekends yet leave our thoughts of Christ within the church building when we walk out. As believers, we believe that our bodies are a temple, that our bodies are more than just mere flesh and blood. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you whom you have from God?” (I Cor 6:19) There is an eternal soul within us that Jesus inhabits when we become believers, and we are urged to carry the name of Christ, the name of Jesus with us out into the world. Do the people you work with, your families, your friends, know that Jesus lives in your heart? Do you exhibit Christ-like attributes when you are out in the world? Are you someone that a non-believer would seek out?

How often are the words that come from your mouth not Christ-like? In a world where people consider profanity part of our everyday language, are you one that can easily talk with the world and never give it a second thought? Have we become so wrapped up in the world that we no longer can be seen as one that stands apart from the rest of the crowd, one that leaves our beliefs and our love for Christ at the front door of the church? This Lenten season, I encourage each of us to search our heart and see if we can lay aside our worldly talk and take a Christ-like spirit out into the world when we leave church each week.

--SD

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jeremiah 5:1-9, Psalm 69, Romans 2:25-3:18, John 5:30-47

How do you reconcile the idea of a loving God and judgment? Over and over again my mind compares things we deal with in our parenting to God’s parenting of us. If I am teachable, the lessons God has for me come through with more clarity and stick better. In today’s readings I see the same principle.

Jesus is saying His judging is just, and, indeed, it is. When I have been at the exposed end of the lash of judgment, if I am really honest and really teachable, I have to admit that regardless of my whining, my objections, my rationalizations, my pride, etc., to the consequences of my actions, the judgment of Jesus IS entirely just. I am struck in two ways when I read today’s passages:

First, I see the Father heart of God-- longing for His children to trust Him and believe what the Word says of Him and His character. The Word says that we are to believe He is faithful, and that His retribution, His judgment is only meant to save us. You can hear the pain in his heart when He says, "…yet you refuse to come to me; to receive life.... they ignored the lesson." As a parent, your goal in "retribution" toward your children is for them -- in their favor-- for life. There is a deep pain, then, when you are falsely accused of not loving them, and you see that the lessons you have offered them are ignored. But deeper still is the pain that your children don't trust that you have their best in mind.

Second, that God is, indeed, just – and I say this in my mid-40's. Yes, it’s taken me this long to really believe that whatever my present pain happens to be, God is, indeed, just. I know, regardless of the situation at hand, that God is bigger still and trustworthy beyond any circumstance. I know that He only and always allows what He allows in my life because He is for me, He is in my corner, and He wants me to come to Him believing good of Him and knowing, believing, trusting that He lovingly means his judgments to bring life to me.

--SAD

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jeremiah 4:9-28, Psalms 70 & 71, Romans 2:12-24, John 5:19-29

At the beginning of the DC Talk book, Live Like a Jesus Freak, a single quote is printed on a space all its own: “The single greatest cause of atheism today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then go out and deny Him with their lifestyle.”

The first time I read it, this quote hit me like a punch in the gut, like that feeling you get when you’ve just left for vacation and realize you left your wallet at home. It left me with the sudden, crashing realization of a simple truth. It was something I’d like to think I’d known all along but had never seen or heard put into words.

In the New Testament, in Romans, Paul strikes out with seemingly pointless venom at Jews perceived as hypocrites – especially those who flaunted their piety on street corners and prayed loudly enough to be heard over all other voices in the church. Although they didn’t themselves know it, they were undermining the Christian faith for many would-be converts. Today, especially in our own culture, we see this all the time. Scrolling through profiles on Facebook the other day, I was surprised to see how many people on my “friends list” identified themselves as Christians, even though this might have been the last way I would have described them based on their lifestyles. Startled by how sharp this contrast was, I started to make a conscious effort to change my own lifestyle, and people noticed. Through the actions I took, that I believe were sincere, people saw Christ not only move in the lives of others, but in mine as well, drawing me closer to Him.

--JDF

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jeremiah 3:6-18, Psalm 72, Romans 1:28-2:11, John 5:1-18

“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’" (John 5:6-7.)

Imagine lying at a place of healing for 38 years! You know you have to be the first one into the pool in order to receive that healing, but you can’t move yourself. You must have faith that the pool can heal you, or you wouldn’t keep coming back, but it sure sounds like a hopeless cause to me.

Then this guy stops by. He looks at you and speaks. I don’t know if the man at the pool even knows who Jesus is; I would guess he doesn’t. When Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” this guy waffles. He doesn’t get excited and say, “This is it!” He doesn’t say, “Yes!” His response is a complaint about his lot in life.

Sounds a lot like me. Jesus offers me a chance to change my life, and what do I say? Sometimes I say, “But that’s hard, I can’t do that, I need some person to help me.” Sometimes I say, “Yes, Lord, go for it. I want what you have for me.” And sometimes I yank the reins out of His hands and say, “Let me drive this rig.” I have learned to trust Him. I know He wants only the best for me. He’s always there; and when I come to my senses, I give control back to Him.

My prayer is that I will come to the point in my Christian walk where I will just let Him stay in control. How about you? Y’all want to join me in that one?

--LAH

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jeremiah 2:1-13, Psalms 61 & 62, Romans 1:16-25, John 4:43-54

“They have foresaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13.)

Sometimes people see modern technology as miraculous. In many ways it is, and these miracles can be fairly reliable, reproduced, and explained with mathematical models, chemistry, physics, and engineering techniques. These things are not always easy for people to comprehend without first doing a lot of reading, studying, and analyzing data to improve their understanding. Fortunately, it is possible to use technology without having to understand fully how everything works, and many inventions (e.g. GPS, cell phones, Internet) can be used to improve the quality of our everyday lives. Often the underlying technology gets taken for granted.

Yet, if we make technology our cistern, it cannot hold water when compared with the miracles performed by Jesus: being born of the Virgin Mary, walking on water, changing water into wine, feeding five thousand with two loaves of bread, healing the sick, raising the dead, and ultimately rising from the dead himself. Even after two thousand years these miracles remain unexplainable other than by acknowledging that God is the ultimate engineer of the universe. These things are not always easy for people to comprehend without first doing a lot of reading, studying, and analyzing the Bible to improve their understanding. Fortunately, it is possible to use the teachings of Jesus without having to understand fully all the miracles of the past, and the insightful words of Jesus can be used to improve the quality of our everyday lives. During lent we try to do this without taking God for granted.

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told them, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48.)

--PES

Monday, March 09, 2009

Jeremiah 1:11-19, Psalms 56, 57 & 58, Romans 1:1-15, John 4:27-42

The Gospel of John (4:27-42) includes an interesting statement from Christ about food: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work.” Food is a powerful symbol in our lives: on a strictly physical level, it is what keeps us alive. On a social level, it is often used as a way to build and nurture relationships. It is also used to build and sustain community through ritual “meals” of a celebratory as well as other nature. It’s about nourishment, sustenance, and connection on many levels. When food is problematic in our lives (e.g. through obesity, anorexia, binge eating, etc.) it’s a considerable problem, because food is and must be critical to our lives: for our physical health, if for no other reason. So what about Christ’s comment? For Christ, doing the will of God and His work clearly sustains him, keeps him “alive,” gives him purpose, is his “food.” It’s a much broader use of “food” than we generally use. It bypasses the physical, biological, cellular need for food, and says that what really keeps us alive is the purpose of our individual lives. If that’s the case for us – as it was for Christ – then there’s an important question for us to ask ourselves. What really sustains us spiritually as we cruise through life – through the highs and lows, the celebrations, the grieving, the life cycle changes of ourselves and those we love – and how is that reflected in the texture of our lives? It’s about the spiritual “glue” of our lives and how that connects to our ultimate purpose. The ultimate question, then, is about our spiritual diet: what is it we are “eating” and how “healthfully” does it sustain us?

--NJC

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Jeremiah 1:1-10, Psalms 24 & 29, 1 Corinthians 3:11-23, Mark 3:31 – 4:9

In the readings for today a particular line struck a chord with me. That line is from Jeremiah 1: 7 “…for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.” I find this idea has been even more prevalent in my life the past couple of years as I have begun my college career. When I moved away from home, I realized that it was on me to meet new people and make new friends. At first, it seemed like an intimidating task to go up to someone I had never met before and just introduce myself and start a conversation. Often, I would just think that the person was already “connected” and in some social group. But even not knowing if this was the case, and because I wanted to get to know him or her better, I’d take a chance and start the conversation. Sometimes I found that they weren’t in any social group at all. And after talking to many new people, I found that every conversation left me with a new story, a new idea, and sometimes a new friend. One of my now friends came up to me the other day, and she said, “You were the first friend I made at school.” This may seem like a mundane thing to say, but once you’re at school, it seems that friends become like family; I realized that her saying that meant that by me simply starting a conversation with her, she made a friend at school and became more comfortable being away from home. I realized that God puts conversations and people in my life always with a purpose, even if at first I can’t see that purpose.

--CRP

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Deuteronomy 11:18-28, Psalm 55, Hebrews 5:1-10, John 4:1-26

I was so relieved to come home from college to spend Christmas with family and friends. This past semester was really rough for me, but when I came home I found that many of my friends had similar experiences.

It wasn’t that I thought I was the only one who could have had a rough semester. I just figured that some things had happened which would’ve made my semester harder than some of my friends’. My boyfriend and I had split up on our sixth month anniversary; due to living arrangements I was separated from a lot of my old friends; I was juggling two jobs; I was dorm leadership in my dorm; AND I was taking a 17-credit course load. But when I came home, I found that the sense of suffering I’d been carrying around in my chest wasn’t exclusive to me. Almost all of my friends had suffered terrible heartaches and pain this past semester – through fights with friends, strain between significant others, and just struggling to figure out the best way to navigate the sheer strangeness of life. One of my dearest friends even spent Christmas in a psychiatric ward. I can’t even imagine how this friend’s family must’ve felt spending Christmas alone.

Hebrews 5:8 talks about what we can learn through suffering, and how even Jesus suffered. Well, of course Jesus suffered on the cross; but I feel as if we often forget all of the “little” sufferings Jesus underwent throughout his life. It’s also not just “sinners” and non-Christians who suffer. Even someone as pure as Jesus suffered throughout his life. I find that this is one of the most authentic, consoling aspects of Christianity – it does not shy away from the fact that suffering is real. Jesus teaches us how to live a good life, but he does not teach us the magic techniques to escape from pain; just because we suffer doesn’t mean that we’re doing anything wrong. Suffering will plague us throughout our lives, but we can take comfort in the fact that God has a purpose and a place for it, and through Him there is always a way to learn from pain.

--CMM

Friday, March 06, 2009

Deuteronomy 10:12-22, Psalms 40 & 54, Hebrews 4:11-16, John 3:22-36

What a wonderful guide to life this passage in Deuteronomy 10 gives us, and how easy it all sounds: “fear the LORD your God…walk in all his ways,…love him, …serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, … observe the LORD’s commands...” Easy? Well, maybe all but the observing His commands and perhaps the “fear” thing.

I’m not always very successful at observing his commandments. Actually, I’m pretty pitiful at times, but I do try. As for fearing him, well, God, to me, has always been loving and forgiving, though I know I have to do my part. My greatest fear would be to be without Him, to be removed from Him, to be in a void where He is unreachable, unapproachable -- a true Hell.

Our God is, indeed, an Awesome God who demonstrates His love (not to mention, in my case, patience and amusement) for us day in and day out. He doesn’t ask for much either, other than for us to love Him and one another; to serve Him with all our hearts and all our souls. How plain, how simple, but sometimes how incredibly hard….

--EAH

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Deuteronomy 9:23 – 10:5, Psalm 50, Hebrews 4:1-10, John 3:16-21

When I read today’s messages, they brought to mind my life and that of many of us.

We are born and we are loved by our parents. Sometimes, if we are the first born, there is a lot expected of us, as our parents want a “perfect child” - thereby making them the “perfect parents.” Well, that doesn’t always happen. (Even God came to this realization with Adam and Eve.) Yes, we love our parents, we trust our parents, we follow their rules whether they are 20 or 120; but then it happens. We start to get our own ideas - or those of our friends. We break a rule -- maybe two or three, and it puts a rift between us and our parents. We may go hours, days, or even years with no communication between us. But then, hopefully, we realize that time is passing quickly and our parents are getting old - we are getting old! Time is running out. We swallow our pride, give up our stubbornness, and ask for forgiveness. Our parents, who want that perfect relationship, might hug us, kiss us, and say, “I love you, I have always loved you, and I forgive you. I have been waiting for this day. Come, sit by me, and rest.”

Most of us probably did not have the perfect parent or child; neither were we the perfect parent or child. But we do have God, who is the perfect parent; and we have Jesus, who is the one example of that perfect child. We don’t compare, but we can strive to do our best, knowing that God is waiting patiently for us to ask for His forgiveness and to mend the rift between us. God will go on forever, but we have limited days. We don’t know exactly how many days are left, so we must act quickly. If we slip up again, and we will, all we have to do is ask, and we will receive God’s forgiveness, and He will say, “I love you, I have always loved you, and I forgive you. I have been waiting for this day. Come, sit by me, and rest.”

--VAT

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Deuteronomy 9:13-21, Psalm 119:49-72, Hebrews 3:12-19, John 2:23-3:15

You have done many good things for me, Lord, just as you promised.(Psalm 119:65.)

I have always been a believer, always had a relationship with God. Been involved with the church my whole life…took a long hiatus…but never stopped believing or talking to God. The predominant thought I had for most of my life when I thought about God was, “God never gives you more than you can handle”…apparently I can handle a lot.

I could probably write a book about my life so I won’t get into it during this short devotional. A few highlights….started using drugs as a young teenager; ran away from home and lived on “the streets” in Germany during the winter; ended up in rehab; finished high school while working full time to support myself; got sober for 7 years; graduated college with honors; started using drugs again... I had my ups and downs, but things never really settled down for me spiritually until I had children. Nowadays, my predominant thought is, “I am so blessed.”

When I read this passage I immediately thought about my life now…how good it is. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Lord has always done good things for me (i.e., providing me a large enough cardboard box to fit my whole body in to shelter me from the cold), even if my “good” may have appeared to be pretty bad to those looking on. I am blessed and have always been blessed.

Heavenly Father, during this Lenten season I pray we will all see the “many good things” you do for us, even if they may not appear to be obvious at the time. Amen.

--EDC

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Deuteronomy 9:4-12, Psalm 45, Hebrews 3:1-11, John 2:13-22

Today’s Gospel reading has always spoken to me. Perhaps it is because I used to have a bit of a temper. I used to think in today’s Gospel reading that Jesus lost control and let his temper boil over. However, as I have studied the passage over the years, I realize this is not the case.

I do not know about you, but I am startled to see the gentle Lamb make a whip and drive the merchants out of the temple. There is a definite difference between a response full of rage and one that is deliberate and forceful. Jesus did not lose his temper; his action expressed anger, but he was clearly in control of himself. Jesus knew that the irreverent marketplace within the very courts of God’s Temple would not be expelled without the use of force. “So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area.” (John 2:15.)

Also in today’s Gospel reading, after things had calmed down a bit, there is another request from the people to give them some miraculous sign to prove his authority from God. However, Jesus would not give the kind of sign they demanded; he himself was the sign. So Jesus answered the Jewish leaders’ challenge with a counter-challenge. His sign to them was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 1:19.) Jesus, of course, was talking about himself. People would destroy his body (the temple), and in three days He would rise from the dead. Jesus’ ambiguous statement is a good example of how he encouraged people to think and inquire more deeply.

Today’s reading is extremely encouraging to me. It indicates that in the face of wrong, anger is a proper response. It also reinforces Jesus as the Christ. I hope that as you read John 2:13-22, you get the same encouragement as me.

--RPL

Monday, March 02, 2009

Deuteronomy 8:11-20, Psalms 41 & 52, Hebrews 2:11-18, John 2:1-12

Today’s readings in Deuteronomy and John 2 remind me of an old children’s story I am sure we are all familiar with – that of the Grasshopper and the Ant. Remember how the grasshopper went through life playing, eating anything he could without a thought for anyone else and whether they might be hungry. The Ant spent his life in toil, preparing for what lies ahead. When winter came the Grasshopper had nothing left on which to live and went to the ant seeking help, but it was too late. He died.

The grasshopper is a curious creature. He is a loner who often hangs out in large groups, stripping the land of all vegetation, creating hardship for other living creatures. Though in a large group, he is not concerned about the welfare of others, concerned only about his own comfort and how much he can get before the others gobble it up. He puts nothing aside for the cold hard months ahead and dies with the first frost.

The Ant is a social insect. His lot is one of unceasing hard work, searching for and gathering food for his colony. He spends his entire life going long distances in search of food for others, and then he carries huge loads of whatever he finds back to his nest. He doesn’t ruin everything in his path, but rather, he looks for the good stuff that will be best used to sustain his family in the cruel months ahead. If need be, an ant will even sacrifice himself to protect the other members of his colony. What a truly selfless creature.

What kind of creatures are we? Have we lived lives worthy of the gifts God has given us, looking out for others, sharing what we have; or have we spent our lives in reckless consumption, taking everything we can get our hands on for our own immediate use. By our deeds, have we shown that we love one another? Have we stored up those things, those sacrifices and simple acts of kindness, that will be remembered when we reach that judgement day we will all face at a time most likely not of our own choosing? What will we be remembered as – selfish creatures, or sharers always working for the good of others? Personally, I’d rather be an ant.

--DJB

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Deuteronomy 8:1-10, Psalms 63 & 98, 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, Mark 2:18-22

Christians don’t often relate to the stories of Jewish history. Those of us without the Jewish heritage tend to look at the stories of God’s faithfulness to the Israelites as something that happened to someone else; whereas, those who are of Jewish descent identify with them personally. When we read story after story of God’s faithfulness, patience, and love for his people, we see how God was active in their everyday personal lives. What we need to remember is that through Jesus, who was Jewish, we are adopted into this family - into this same history. We are adopted into the history of the Jewish people just as we have been adopted and included in God’s plan for the salvation of all people. Yes, Jesus, and all of the first apostles were Jewish. But Jesus came and extended the call to discipleship, the call to faithfulness, beyond the Jewish people and included all of us.

When we are wondering when and where God is active in the world, we have story after story of God’s faithfulness, patience, and love for us – all of us. Whether we are reading the Old Testament or New, or even some account of the saints who have lived since, or a modern day miracle story, all of these give us hope that even though we may not see or feel the presence of God at the moment, God has been and always will be active in the lives of his people – all of his people. Thanks be to God for His continued faithfulness, patience, and love for all of us. Amen.

--ASM