Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lamentations 2:1-9
Psalms 55, 74
2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11
Mark 12:1-11

I chose today’s reading from 2 Corinthians to write about. I think that forgiveness is one of the most difficult things we, as Christians, are called to do. In 2 Corinthians 2:7, Paul instructs his readers to forgive and comfort the sinner “so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” He is instructing us not to forgive this person for our sake, but for the sinner’s sake.

Many times, if not most times, when we forgive somebody of something we do it, frankly, out of self-righteousness. I can almost hear the speeches I give myself in my head “Okay, fine, I’ll forgive them, but only because I’m supposed to.” But, where is the love in that?

So, what does forgiveness really mean for a Christian? In Matthew 6:14, Jesus says “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” In Mark 11:25, Jesus tells us “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” In Colossians 3:13, we are told to “[f]orgive as the Lord forgave you.” In Ephesians 5:32, we are told to “[b]e kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

These passages tell me that we are not only called to forgive, we are called to forgive as Jesus forgave us. How did Jesus forgive us? He forgave us by giving His life to save ours.

I can tell you that I have never forgiven anyone to that extent. As much as I say I have forgiven and forgotten someone’s transgression against me, I have never loved them as Jesus loves me. I think love is a very touchy subject for most if not all of us. I think most of us want to love with the abandon of Jesus. But, we just can’t bring ourselves to forgive others to the extent of truly loving them. I can tell you the reason I have a hard time doing this is the fear that I will be hurt again by that same person. So, I forgive them conditionally. That way I can tell myself that I really wasn’t a fool by forgiving them and then falling prey to their hurts again.

But, that’s exactly what Jesus did. He went into the viper’s den many times before they caught him and crucified him, all the while knowing exactly what was going to happen. Can I do that for you? Could you do it for me?


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lamentations 1:17-22
Psalms 6, 12, 94
2 Corinthians 1:8-22
Mark 11:27-33

I really enjoy the 2 Corinthians 1:8-22 reading today. Particularly the first part of the reading, 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, where Paul assures the Corinthians of his affection for them, in spite of his delayed visit. Whatever the Corinthians had heard, Paul had actually been in great hardship while ministering in modern-day Turkey. We know he endured riots, vicious attacks, imprisonment, and physical illness. The problems had been so great that Paul had "despaired even of life," losing hope that he would survive, "felt the sentence of death." Paul almost succumbed to defeat.

However, Paul overcame this hardship and continued his ministry. How?

Paul reflected on these past events and realized that he "might not rely on himself but on God." Paul learned that he could not be self-reliant. Only when circumstances had exceeded his own ability had Paul learned to rely on God.

I feel this is a great lesson for all of us. When life is easy we often depend on our own skills and abilities. It is easy to fall into the trap of only turning to God when we feel unable to help ourselves. Today's reading reminds me, and I hope you, that God is the source of all power, and we receive His help by keeping in touch with him. We need this attitude of dependence so problems will drive us to God and not away from Him.

Let’s remember to have faith in God to get us through our trials. Genuine faith has great potential!

Wishing you a powerful Lenten Season.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Lamentations 1:1-12
Psalms 51, 69:1-23
2 Corinthians 1:1-7
Mark 11:12-25

Jesus says, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:24)

In prayer, I frequently ask God for his guidance, especially when I’m not sure about what to do in a given situation. Do I go with what is best for me? Or what is best for my family? Or perhaps what is best for someone else? My bottom line is usually to ask God, “What is the right thing for me to do? What would Jesus do?”

I recently had the opportunity to “do the right thing,” but I did not. Now, I’m still paying the price. That price is carrying around that “feeling” – the one you get on the inside, when you know you did not make the right choice but then somehow rationalize it to feel better.

I was offered the opportunity of volunteering at Youth For Tomorrow, a Christian school/home for troubled teens in Gainesville VA.  I was asked by my friend, its outreach minister, to help celebrate Christ and the Christmas season during a weekend of planned activities.  I could come anytime from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, whatever worked for me.  Although I had other things planned, I accepted, thinking I could fit it in.  Well, I did not fit it in.  Instead, I put up my Christmas tree, went shopping with my daughter, wrapped gifts, and did whatever else I had originally planned.  Afterwards, I apologized to my friend for not showing up.  Of course he said that was just fine; but inside me, it was not just fine.  In fact it's bothered me ever since. I knew God was speaking to me because I'd been praying for a bigger heart to serve others.  God had heard me and had answered my prayers.  Not only had He answered my prayers, but He’s been letting me know on the inside that I had received the answer to my prayers. 

All I need to do is to seize the opportunities God is giving me…..and to act upon them.

Thank you God for hearing me and answering my prayers.  Thank you for continuing to work with me to discern the right and wrong choices for me in my life.  Thank you for moving me forward on that path of service to you and to others and drawing me closer to your eternal kingdom. Amen.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Zechariah 9:9-12, 12:9-13-9
Psalms 24, 29, 103
1 Timothy 6:12-16
Luke 19:41-48

PEACE- We often hear this word. Indeed, we hear it every Sunday as we greet one another during our worship. I wonder how much we think about peace, even as we exchange the word with one another. Perhaps some mental images might help: The gentle sighs of a sleeping infant; the silence of a nighttime walk through freshly fallen snow; the musical sounds of a mountain stream; the warmth from sharing a garden’s bounty with friends and neighbors; a family’s laughter as they sit around a campfire squishing s’mores between their fingers; the companionship of a quiet dinner with friends; the comfort that comes from being safe and secure.

Less peaceful are the lunacy of a rush hour commute; the painful fights leading to a divorce between husband and wife or fights between a parent and child; the pain experienced after the death of a loved one as we recall some piercing words spoken in anger that can never be taken back; the stress caused by the constant wars of this world.

One thing is clear -- our Lord meant for us to have peace. The Bible tells us the way to peace is to accept the teachings of Christ. In the Book of John, Jesus said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

What better gift could we be given? I only hope we have the humility and grace to accept it in the spirit with which it was given. Even more, I hope we have committed ourselves to sharing His peace with the world we live in.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Exodus 10:21-11:8
Psalms 42, 43, 137, 144
2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Mark 10:46-52

Our youth group had a team building event at George Mason this fall. One of the events that we did that day was to find a single path through a giant checkerboard-like grid. Our facilitator knew the path and would tell us when we made a wrong move -- at which point we would have to start from the beginning. Once we got the first person through the grid, we had a limited amount of time to get the rest of the team through. We thought we were making good progress when our facilitator threw us a curve ball -- we had to get a person through the grid blindfolded! It seemed simple enough, but as we tried to talk our blindfolded teammate through the grid, one step forward, one diagonal, one to the left, one backward, etc., it struck me how easily and quickly our blindfolded teammate became disoriented. We had to keep adjusting his orientation so that our next verbal direction could be followed correctly.

Today's readings reminded me of this event, as it is kind of like this with faith. We can choose to accept the way of God and walk in the light, with our faith leading the way, or walk in darkness apart from God and become disoriented. In the darkness, we can easily lose our orientation and begin to stumble over various things that are hidden from our sight, the greatest of which is the saving grace of Jesus. Bartimaeus' physical condition is an example of people who are not in a saving relationship with Jesus. They are spiritually blind, unable to see the path forward to eternal life.

In contrast, Bartimaeus' faith allowed him to see things about Jesus that others did not. He saw that Jesus was the Messiah and believed that Jesus could heal his blindness. Jesus says that it is the blind man's faith that “opens his eyes.” Faith brings about the transformation in him. Faith allows him to cast away his only possessions for a new life in Jesus.

Similarly, Paul tells the Corinthians' to fix their eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. This requires faith and acceptance of Jesus as our Savior. Faith allows the Holy Spirit to renew us inwardly, day by day, and allows us to walk in the light.

Do you want to walk in the light of Christ on the path toward eternal life? Call on Jesus and have faith in Him to change your life, wash away your sins, and save your soul.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Exodus 9:13-35
Psalms 22, 141, 143
2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Mark 10:32-45

“Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45)

Today, I had occasion to be in the LINK food pantry. I saw many bags ready for delivery to those in need. I was touched that with every bag at least one person was giving of themselves to help those less fortunate. These days I tend to look a little more closely at what is going on around me. At least weekly I newly learn of people who are finding ways to help others in our church and community. I doubt that any of these people is thinking of this bible verse as they go about helping others, yet here they are……living it. I am continuously humbled by the efforts of those around me who are making it a priority in their busy lives to spread the love of God, and I am thankful for them.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Exodus 7:25-8:19
Psalms 131, 132, 133, 140, 142
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Mark 10:17-31

Daily we witness, directly or through the media, just how little unity there is in the world. I am writing this devotional one day after the shooting rampage at Fort Hood. A man trained to help others in handling many of the issues that are at the root of our inability to live in unity – distrust, fear, anxiety, and apprehension – to name a few, now stands accused of this unthinkable act. Why is it so hard for us to live in unity? The problem exists in all areas of our lives: our family life, our work life, and even our church life. Often, the issues are small and insignificant, yet we spend our time arguing and in some cases actually fighting over them.

As Christians, we believe that disharmony is the result of evil being introduced into the world. Yet, even within the Episcopal Church there are issues that divide and create discord and disunity – for example, some congregations are breaking away and ‘fighting’ over property ownership. But whether the issues are small or large, we are called to live in unity.

Is it really so important that our opinion always be “right,” that we cannot seek a more open-minded solution? Can’t we be respectful of one another even if we are not in agreement?

In Psalm 133:1, we read, “How good and pleasant, it is when brothers [sisters] live together in unity!” How much better could our world be if we all envisioned a world in which people ‘just get along’ and made the effort to achieve that vision? As the lyrics to “We Are the World” (written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie) advocate: “There comes a time when we hear a certain call – when the world must come together as one – we are the ones who make a brighter day.” Are you ready to do your part, and then some?


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Exodus 7:8-24
Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130
2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6
Mark 10:1-16

In 2 Corinthians 3: 1-7 we are asked to be ministers of a new covenant when we become believers. As believers, we are to become servants of God. How often have each of us not been a servant to others we come in contact with every day? How often do we size people up when we first look at them and decide we don’t want to talk with them or even know anything about them? We don’t look at them and see them as God sees them; we make a hasty decision to steer clear of them. Yet, we are supposed to be servants of God and be willing to reach out to the hurting, the friendless, the maimed, etc. If someone doesn’t look like we think they should, we usually just walk on by.

As believers, we need to ask God to let us see something good in a person and to look beyond the exterior that we see. It is easy to be wrapped up in our thoughts, our lives and the lives of those we love, but each of us also needs to be a servant to the friendless and the needy. Next time you are in a car and you see a homeless person on the street, ask God to bless them and keep them safe. Next time you come across a person that doesn’t look like someone you’d want to befriend, ask God to show you something good about that person, and then pray for them. We are a chosen people…God chose us. He knew us before the beginning of time, and He takes time to hear us when we pray. You, too, must take time for others and be a true servant of God.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Exodus 5:1-6:1
Psalms 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126
1 Corinthians 14:20-40
Mark 9:42-50

What a wonderful picture of protection we have in Psalm 121. I know in my head that God shelters and protects His loved ones. Psalm 121 says that God watches over us without sleeping. When I am anxious for my loved ones I try to think of them in God’s care and entrust them to God. But often in our fear, we forget we are being cared for.

The word shelter conveys to me protection against a threat. I recently read an account of mountaineers inside their tent while a snowstorm raged outside. They hung onto the tent poles, eyes wide, amazed that a thin wall of nylon could stand between them and death from the elements of wind, snow, and cold.

This year a duck showed me very powerfully how tenderly God shelters us. In the courtyard where I work, a mother duck cared for her babies. One rainy day I walked by the courtyard, looked out, and stopped in my tracks as I noticed the mother duck. She wasn’t very big or impressive herself -- a modest looking brown bird. However, in the face of the rain, she had extended her wing to its full length, and gathered under her wing were many fluff balls -- her babies, huddled together. I was stunned by the poignant scene of this small bird trying with all her might to protect her smaller vulnerable offspring.

Jesus said He longs to care for and protect us like that (Luke 13:34). He will hold us close to Himself in the face of threats. Let us thank God for His tender care for us.

God, thank you for watching over me. Help me to be at peace, knowing You shelter me and those I love. Amen.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Exodus 4:10-31
Psalms 31, 35
1 Corinthians 14:1-19
Mark 9:30-41

“He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’ ” (Mark 9:36-37)

When I think about children I think about joy. Every time I see children I notice how happy they are. They are able to find joy and happiness in most situations. We adults have "learned" to filter out most of the joy in life.

This past Sunday my kids were in church, being themselves. Several people around us were smiling at them and trying hard not to burst out laughing. While the timing was not great, the feelings of joy and happiness were contagious.

I read a statistic recently that noted children laugh over 10,000 times a day, and adults laugh less than 30 times a day.  HOW SAD IS THAT? I believe that there must have been incredible periods of joy throughout Jesus' life -- joy at the miracles performed, joy for and from the people whom he healed and touched in his powerful way, and the ultimate joy of taking on our sins so that we may be saved. 

When I read the passage about taking in a child, in Jesus’ name, I thought of all the joy that comes with a child and all the joy that comes with taking Jesus into your heart.  Not having Jesus in your heart is like laughing only 30 times a day. I am thankful that my life is full of joy, and I will strive to take the filters off and regain the complete joy that only children seem to have in the full embrace and love of Jesus.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Exodus 3:16-4:12
Psalms 118, 145
Romans 12:1-12
John 8:46-59

When my son first started playing baseball, being a coach was the last thing on my mind. My own baseball career ended abruptly with a misplaced throw from third to first, which made it as far as the pitcher’s mound where I was standing. I have been afraid of a speeding baseball ever since. As I grew up, I would catch the occasional game on Saturday afternoons, but baseball just wasn’t my sport. It was slow and seemed to take forever for a game to end.

When Zack showed an interest in playing, the only coaching I thought I would do would be from the stands, as the encouraging proud father. However, after watching a few practices, I noticed that the coach was beginning to struggle with a group of feisty 8-year-old boys running amok on the field. As there seemed to be no other parents offering up assistance, I decided to volunteer. Suddenly I was a “coach.” I thought to myself, I know a few of the fundamentals, but what can I teach these kids about baseball?

I found that in-depth knowledge of baseball was not a requirement to coach, at least at that level. Romans 12:6 says “since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” God may not have given me great knowledge of baseball, but he blessed me with a great enthusiasm for working with kids. I realized that a rousing “Well Done!” for a base hit by a struggling batter, or a word of encouragement for the shortstop who missed a ground ball is just as important as teaching a 2-seam fastball. By stepping out of my comfort zone and into a world I knew very little about, I was able to learn a great deal about myself, help others, and use a gift that was given to me by the grace of God.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Exodus 2:23-3:15
Psalms 33, 102, 108
1 Corinthians 12:1-13
Mark 9:14-29

As some of you may know I was arrested this past year for participating in a nonviolent direct action. In order to prepare for this protest, I chose to take part in nonviolence trainings. Initially, I did not think that I would get a lot out of these trainings because I chose to be a pacifist when I was a sophomore in high school. So, I thought I knew what it meant to be nonviolent and why people should embrace those principles. At that time, God impressed upon me that if I was to embrace the Biblical principle of love, then I had to recognize that I could not harm those I loved. But, even though I had participated in protests before, I had never truly faced a situation where I saw that violence (getting arrested) could, maybe, achieve something.

As we prepared for the possibility of arrest in these trainings, several things were said that impressed upon me how impossible it is to separate love from what we are doing. The thing that most impressed me in these trainings, though, was the assertion that, no matter what we do, it must be done in love. Our trainer said that, unless those who took action did so with love, any gains they made would ultimately be destroyed, washed out by the memory of how those gains were achieved.

In the same way, I find this sentiment in the final verse of today’s reading in 1 Corinthians. Paul tells us that, in the end, faith, hope, and love are all that will remain; but, he asserts, the greatest of those is love. I am still learning why I hold to nonviolence, but in that training I felt the theory of it connect deeply with my own Christian beliefs. I think that part of what allowed this to happen was the stress that I was under, a similar stress to what many of us may feel during Lent. So, it is my hope that during this Lent we may have the opportunity to connect our everyday lives to our spiritual lives.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Exodus 2:1-22
Psalms 107:1-43
1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3
Mark 9:2-13

Psalms 107:1-43 talks about many different situations in which people are in trouble, and God delivers them from their trouble, and then they give thanks. The verses that interested me the most were the ones where the people God helped were prisoners who had sinned. I think that this reflects the Easter message very well.

I’ve been in trouble before. Lots of people have. I remember I was doing a history report, and I needed a book for it. I accidentally lost the book I needed, and I prayed to God to help me find the book. I eventually found the book. I prayed, and God helped me; but I forgot to do the “give thanks” part. It’s funny because it’s so easy. All I have to do is pray to God and say thanks. Yet, I always forget. God does so many wonderful things for me. I mean, it’s not like I always do what I’m supposed to do.

What did I ever do that was so wonderful that God decided to give up his only son to save me? I didn’t do anything to deserve God’s love. I’m no better than the prisoners in the jail cell that had sinned. Yet he still loved me enough to sacrifice his son. I think that’s a pretty big thing to say thank you for.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Exodus 1:6-22
Psalms 69, 73
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Mark 8:27-9:1

“For just as the body is one and has …, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

When we moved to Sterling four years ago, we did most of the things necessary to fit into our new community. The one thing we didn’t do was to find a church. I dreaded the whole process; the last time we moved, we attended three or four before we found a church we liked. We became very involved, but going to church ended up being more of a chore than a joy. The biggest problem was the congregation did not move as if they were part of the same body or spirit.

It took me about a year to begin our search this time. Our first visit was to St. Matthew’s because it was closest to our home. It was the only church we visited.

One of the lovely things about St. Matthew’s is that it is so diverse – in thoughts, ages, genders and backgrounds. Yet, I think, because of our differences, we do make up one body. Where would we be without all these individual parts? More than the many places of worship I have attended, St. Matthew’s feels like a family – a second home.

I believe the most striking (and telling) characteristic of our church is how many people volunteer. Our diverse talents show in our many acts of service. But it is in the way we do this service that is most amazing, and I think it was best summarized by my son’s words: “The greatest service we do is not with our hands, but our hearts.”

I’m sure each and every one of you has seen people working at the bigger events. However, I think the true beauty of it can only be observed when watching the individuals -- the way we each contribute with our own abilities, the way we each reach and touch the hearts and souls of many -- which in turn, blesses each of us. This trait is not commonplace, and it is something I am proud of and thankful for.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Genesis 50:15-26
Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Mark 8:11-26

If a person is serious about being a Christian, I’d have to say that one of the most important things they need to do is learn about spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are the key to serving God well, and they are one of the fundamental building blocks of a strong church powerfully accomplishing its mission.

It’s a simply concept, really. God has given us all gifts that we are to use in his service. And the way that we serve God is by using those same gifts to serve one another. For some of us, that means being a leader. For others, it means encouraging a friend. For still others, it might mean teaching or leading worship. Or perhaps it might mean helping out behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. These are just a few of the many spiritual gifts found in the Bible.

How do you know your spiritual gift? Well, we consider this topic so important that we regularly teach classes devoted to helping people discover their spiritual gifts. If you’ve not done so in the past, I‘d strongly suggest attending one.

Beyond that, when you are serving others with your spiritual gift, you’ll feel like you are “in the zone.” You will sense God’s power flowing through you in a way that is rewarding for you and genuinely helpful for those you are serving. You will have the sense that you really are making an important difference, and that God is delighting in what you are doing.

So…do you know your spiritual gifts? If not, that is the place to start.

And if you do know them…are you using them? If not, there is no better time to start than now. We really do need your help.

And if you are using them…could you develop them further still? How can you do what you are doing even better than you are doing it today?

If you are asking any of the above questions, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are on the right track, boldly proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” not just in your words, but in your life as well. And that, dear friends, is what it really means to be a Christian.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Genesis 49:29-50:14
Psalms 94, 95, 97, 99, 100
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Mark 8:1-10

Last fall, I attended the St. Matthew’s retreat at Shrine Mont. This was my first time at Shrine Mont, and I wasn’t sure what to expect -- of the retreat or Shrine Mont.

It had been raining and chilly (it was November!) most of the week prior to the retreat and, as we drove there Friday evening, it was dark and a bit dreary. But, on Saturday morning, although it was frosty cold, the sun was out in all its glory. We were blessed with two days of sunny, crisp, and beautiful weather -- the mountains of Virginia at their best.

Our retreat planners wisely scheduled a generous amount of time for us to wander around the grounds. There were hiking trails, friends new and old to spend time with, and plenty of space to just sit and enjoy the electronics-free time. A couple of us decided not to attempt one of the longer hikes but to walk around the little lake, enjoy some of the closer paths, and to walk the labyrinth. I’m not sure how much time we spent soaking in the quiet and the sights and sounds that become so vivid in that kind of setting…. the whisper of the leaves falling…the calls of the birds overhead…the breezes gently moving through the trees, watching the birds spread their wings and glide on the breeze above us, following a single leaf as it gently made its way from the very top of the tree to the ground, immersed in a powerful peace as we walked around the labyrinth. And, in all of this peace and beauty, being acutely aware of the awesome presence of God.

“The Lord reigns; Let the earth rejoice; Let the multitudes of isles be glad.” (Psalm 97:1)


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Genesis 47:27-48:7
Psalms 87, 90, 136
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Mark 7:1-23

I wonder, how strong are family ties? Although many of us tend to move around to various parts of the state, country, or world, when we return to where we grew up, we say we are going home. It is the promise of family and friends and familiar surroundings at the end of that road that draws us there. Just as Jacob, who had lived so many years in Egypt, wanted to be returned to his homeland to where his ancestors were buried, we, too, feel the draw of our birthplace and our beginnings.

But where were those beginnings? Yes, we had a mother and father and maybe a brother or sister or two, people who took care of us and loved us, people who made us feel like they could make the sun and stars shine. Our real beginning, however, was with God, who not only makes the sun and stars shine, but made them period!

Our goal is to live our lives wherever we are born, wherever we move, for as long as we are allowed, and then one day return to our beginnings, return to our Heavenly Father. He has promised us a room in His massive mansion, a place where we will be reunited with our loved ones once and for all time. And with God a promise made is a promise kept. He will never turn us away.

Praise be to God for His love and devotion to us….His Family. Amen.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Genesis 47:1-26
Psalms 88, 91, 92
1 Corinthians 9:16-27
Mark 6:47-56

I read the Psalms assigned for today, and each seemed to be contrary to my mood of the moment. I put them away to read again later. The next time I read them, they hit my temperament again as very dark. They left me somewhat depressed even with the typical ‘happy ending’ of this type of Psalm.

It was WatCH night, and it was after time to leave. It was, as Snoopy would say, a dark and stormy night. This fit my mood. I thought I had to hurry. A pragmatic word about this: I live less than two miles from church. No matter how fast I go, I can only make up so much time in route. Rushing does little, but I was in a supposed hurry, so anything in my way raised my dander.

E. Frederick St. is a street that gets me too often. The speed limit is 35mph, but a lot of folks go 25. It makes sense, as it is residential and there is a school, but the limit is 35 and that night (as at other times) anyone in my way was a source of irritation. Why does such a brief ride on this street get to me? I did not know and thought to ask for a little help with a brief prayer.

Church appeared and I went inside in a dark mood. Food and fellowship began to lift my mood.

I was soon asked to contemplate and comment on a verse from, you guessed it, the very Psalm I thought was dark. I asked for another verse and quickly did the assignment. Then I had to wait for the others, but something caused me to reflect on my earlier behavior. I had let too many little things cloud my soul. My other assignment was for Psalm 13:5-6. We had been asked to comment on a word to which we could relate. The word for me had been ‘salvation.’ It had jumped at me. I thought it was the whole point. Perhaps, through that one word, He was giving me the answer to my little prayer.

God is the light to bring one out of the darkness and show us the way to ‘salvation‘ with Him. It is the message in a lot of the Psalms. Sometimes it just takes a while for it to get through to your soul … at 25 or 35 … as long as you get there.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Genesis 46:1-7, 28-34
Psalms 42, 43, 85, 86
1 Corinthians 9:1-15
Mark 6:30-46

As I read today’s readings, it was Psalm 86 that caught my attention. I haven’t read much of the Old Testament , but one of the stories that I vaguely remember is of David hiding in a cave to avoid being murdered by King Saul’s men. I’m not sure if this Psalm is chronologically in the same time frame, but reading it brought that story to the surface in my mind.

Now, those of you that know me know I’m not an outdoorsy adventurous person. I haven’t been in many caves, but I have a vivid imagination. When I think of a cave, I immediately think pitch black darkness, cold, wet, and covered in slimy, crunchy million-legged creatures. It gives me chills just thinking about it! So, picture yourself hiding out in a place like that. You can’t light a fire, as that will draw attention to your hiding spot. And as you sit there, the fact that caves are often used as tombs comes to mind. Why is it that being in the dark makes the imagination turn every little noise into something 100 times louder than it really is? Okay, so if I was in that cave, this is the point where I’d be crying and doing the “why me” mantra. But David’s not doing that. He’s praying and turning over his fears and concerns to God. David knows that “you will answer me” and that God has “delivered him from the depths of the grave” before and that he’ll do it again.

I’m a control freak. I joke about it, but it often hinders my relationships with those around me. And it has really hampered my relationship with God. Sure, I’ll pray to Him and ask Him to help me solve my current troubles; however, I never truly give my problems over to Him. My dilemma is I don’t trust Him enough to take care of them to my satisfaction, which is utterly ridiculous as I know He will handle them “the right way.” I struggle with this constantly. I don’t know if any of you are grappling with this concern as well. My hope is that I, and you, will be able to learn to surrender our worries and concerns to God with the faith and trust that David did while hiding in that cave.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Genesis 45:16-28
Psalms 81, 82, 119:97-120
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 6:13-29

Usually, I tend not to highlight or make markings in my Bible for some reason. However, as I was reading the Psalms for today, I came across a verse that I had marked at some point in time. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.” I never realized it, but this verse comes to my mind all the time. When I am struggling with making a decision, I think of this verse and remember that God is always with me. To me, it is comforting to know that I can always turn to the Bible to find guidance on questions I have.

Another time when this verse pops into my head is when it is dark outside, and I am walking somewhere. It does not matter whether I am walking across campus or simply leaving Wal-Mart to find my car in the never-ending parking lot; it does not matter if I am alone or with other people. I think of this verse and imagine that suddenly the night path I am walking along is well lit, with the light coming from Jesus.

I remember when I was little that someone taught me how to remember this verse by thinking about a flashlight. If I thought of the Bible and the words in it as a flashlight that I could turn on whenever I wanted, then I would always have God and His word with me. The best part about this flashlight is that it does not need batteries, so it can never die. This analogy has stayed with me, and it is probably the main reason I always think about this verse when walking at night or “in the dark.”


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalms 78:1-39, 40-72
1 Corinthians 7:32-40
Mark 6:1-13

“Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds -his name is the Lord… when you marched through the wasteland, the earth shook… God our Savior who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves…” (Psalm 68: 4, 7-8, 19-20)

You know those commercials, “Verb. It’s what you do.”? Well, Sing, it’s what I do…every day, all the time, no matter where I am. I’ve been in countless choirs (some of extremely high honor), taken voice lessons for 4 years, been in musicals and, as many of you know, have sung in the 9:15 band for two and a half years. You’d think all this would go to my head, and to be honest, it sometimes does. But it doesn’t take control over my life. When it comes to using my talents to glorify God, yeah, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

This verse sticks out to me. Why? “Sing to your Lord and Savior who is absolutely amazing! What a great way to praise Him!” That’s what I get from it. I get to sing for a God that shakes the earth and daily bears my sin and who I know can save me despite how undeserving I am. I get to sing for a God that is gracious and compassionate and merciful. What… An…. Opportunity!

Do I always do this? No. Sometimes when I stand in front of

that audience for a voice recital or when I get behind that microphone stand at the altar, all I think about is myself. Oh, that sounded good. Everyone’s going to tell me how much they loved it. I’m amazing! But God didn’t give me this talent so I can bathe in self-righteousness. He gave it to me so I could give it right back to Him, so I could praise Him. This verse is a great reminder that it’s a much greater reward to do what you’re good at for a God who saves. He’s the best audience a singer could ask for.

Father God, from you come these talents and for you should I use them. Help me to remember that it’s all worth nothing if it’s not done in Your Name. Much love. Amen.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Genesis 44:1-17
Psalm 34, 93, 96
Romans 8:1-10
John 5:25-29

Today’s reading from Genesis continues with the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph has seen Egypt through 7 years of abundance and 7 years of famine. In today’s account, Joseph’s brothers have traveled to Egypt for the second time seeking supplies. Joseph grants them their provisions but, as they are preparing to leave, he has his silver cup placed into Benjamin’s pack.

The brothers left never realizing the valuable treasure they possessed.

In 2007, after being out of the public school system for 20 years, I returned to the classroom to teach second grade. To say that I had a learning curve to master is an understatement.

I was not completely unprepared, having taught at a private pre-school for the previous nine years. However, curriculum and teaching techniques had changed, and I felt overwhelmed.

During this time a song by Casting Crowns, The Voice of Truth, was out, and I can remember hearing it often on the radio. I drew strength from the words reminding me that there were those who came before me who seemed to face insurmountable tasks, yet they listened to the voice of truth and were not afraid.

I believed that God truly had a hand in my returning to full-time teaching, but I allowed my doubts and fears to take over. Like the brothers, not realizing the valuable treasure they possessed, I had forgotten that God had already equipped me to be a teacher. I just needed to take the focus off my doubts and to appreciate (and use) the gifts He had given me.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Genesis 43:16-34
Psalms 23, 27, 75, 76
1 Corinthians 7:10-24
Mark 5:1-20

I worked at the Pentagon on 9/11/2001 when the terrorist crashed American Airlines flight #77 into the Pentagon, and 184 lives were instantly lost. The Lord blessed me that day by having a meeting that had been scheduled for the site of the crash relocated to Crystal City, so I was spared and can share this story.

The location of the crash was a part of my office, two of my coworkers were instantly killed and our executive officer, LTC Brian Birdwell, was severely burned over 70% of his body. LTC Birdwell endured numerous skin grafts and operations to heal his badly burned body. He practiced his faith as he and his wife turned to God everyday, and they held no bitterness in their hearts.

About a year later, when Brian finished healing, he went back to work in the Pentagon for a year and then retired. He didn’t have to return to work but didn’t want the terrorists to have forced him into retirement. Now that he is retired, he spends his time sharing his inspirational story of how God brought him through these difficult ordeals. In addition, he shares his many challenges from 9-11 in a book he wrote, “Refined By Fire,” sharing his faith in God and how he used this experience to bring others closer to God. He has been a real inspiration to me, and I admire how he lives his life demonstrating his Christian faith. As you reflect on Psalm 27, notice the similarities in how Brian lets Jesus hold his head above his enemies and how he sings joyously the melodies of the Lord.

“Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make music to the Lord.” (Psalm 27:6)


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Genesis 42:29-38
Psalms 70, 71, 74
1 Corinthians 6:12-30
Mark 4:21-34

This fall I helped coach a boy’s volleyball team. Every practice we worked on overhand serves. We coaches tried many different strategies and approaches to help the boys learn to execute an overhand serve correctly.

For some boys, all we did was show them once, and they got it. For others, we related the serve to throwing a baseball. The light went on for some of the boys when we talked about power and strength. One boy really started serving great when I asked him if he ever got mad at his older sister! It was very interesting that the context of the message was such a critical factor for the boys to understand the content of the message.

I thought about this as I read the different parables in today's Gospel reading. All of the images would have been very common to the hearers of the parables: a lamp on a stand, a growing seed, a mustard seed. But I wonder if the hearers were like my volleyball boys, and some of the stories just went right over their heads. That may be one reason that Jesus used so many different parables -- he was trying to find something to reach everyone.

What I loved from today's reading was the final sentence:

"But when he was alone with his own disciple, he explained everything." (Mark 4:34)

That is one of the truths that I am going to take away this Lenten season. Jesus wants me to understand his message and ministry. When I am alone with him, he will explain things to me.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Genesis 42:18-28
Psalms 72, 119:73-96
1 Corinthians 5:6-6:8
Mark 4:1-20

Today’s devotional reading includes the very familiar parable of the sower. Although I know very little about gardening, the message here is pretty clear even before Jesus explains the relationship to faith. Nature is very inefficient and redundant, but still tolerant of hostile conditions. It takes hundreds and hundreds of acorns to produce one oak tree, and it all depends upon where they happen to land after they fall.

When I look at my children I can see many aspects of my character instilled in them – some good, and some bad. Their compassion for others, their sense of humor, their sense of responsibility, and their intellectual curiosity are all probably good things. Their temperament, social graces, and patience when situations get out of control are obstacles that might prevent them from realizing their full potential.

After looking into this mirror God provided for me, I can see that during life’s journey I sometimes find my faith in rocky places, off to the side of the path, or even in the thorns; and so it becomes more complicated because the seeds of my actions are scattered all over the place with varying consequences. I just hope that the majority of my energy is spent planting seeds in the good soil so that the everlasting life promised by our Savior, Jesus Christ, is realized. However, it is God’s forgiveness for when this doesn’t happen that gives me the most comfort.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Genesis 42:1-17
Psalms 61, 62, 68
1 Corinthians 5:1-8
Mark 3:19b-35

“For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” (Psalm 61:3-4)

The symbolism in today’s readings speaks to me of God’s dwelling, his house, a sanctuary, our refuge. The Psalms are especially poignant in pointing out that God’s house provides any and all of us a refuge in which we can be a part of his family. From his sanctuary, we praise God and know his love. The New Testament and Gospel readings go on to say that if we live our lives with sincerity and truth, and if our house is united and strong, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

For many years, I’ve been so very blessed to be a part of the family here at St. Matthew’s. From the “ah-hah” moments during services on Sunday mornings, to the friendships formed in the parish hall, to being a part of our vestry and building committee, I am humbled by the outpouring of love that I feel at St. Matthew’s. A few years ago, my future bride was welcomed with open arms, and I watched her grow in her faith in this house of God. One of my most profound experiences occurred just over a year ago when she and I were married at St. Matthew’s.

These readings also speak to me of our building program, of “making space to share.” While we plan to renovate and expand our church building, everyone in our parish does such a great job of making the most of the space we have in welcoming people, conducting our worship services, teaching Sunday School, and leading and participating in our many other programs. Of course, we aren’t constrained by our physical space to reach out and help our neighbors in their communities — whether here in Sterling or elsewhere in this world. At St. Matthew’s, it’s wonderful to see so many people know God’s love and share it with so many others.

“You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God”

(Psalm 68:35)

We are, indeed, blessed. Amen.


Monday, March 01, 2010

Genesis 41:46-57
Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65
1 Corinthians 4:8-21
Mark 3:7-19a

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4)

The day I found out that Mom had breast cancer, I was terrified.

I’m a detail-oriented, need-to-know type of person. That’s short for “controlling.” So, I’ll never forget the out-of-control, chaotic, terrifying roller-coaster ride I experienced that day. I had so many questions, and no immediate answers. In what stage was it? Had it spread? What was her prognosis? What treatment would she undergo? Surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? How would all this affect her quality of life? How much time did she have left? Had I done enough to let her know how much I loved her? It didn’t help matters that I lived 1,500 miles away. I couldn’t even accompany her to her doctor’s appointments. Just thinking about it made me crazy. Yet, I couldn’t think about anything else.

So I prayed, and my friends prayed, and total strangers prayed. And it was during that time that I finally understood what it meant to trust God. I finally understood that it wasn’t enough to just take my problems to the foot of the cross. I actually had to leave them there. I had to stop trying to control the outcome myself. In this case, there was absolutely nothing I could do about Mom’s cancer. In this case, I had no choice but to pray and to totally trust God.

That was 14 years ago, and Mom is alive and doing well. She did have surgery and radiation and chemotherapy, but she remains a strong and courageous survivor.

A few days ago, I found out that Dad has lung cancer and, yes, I am afraid. In what stage is it? Has it spread? What is his prognosis? Will he undergo surgery or chemotherapy? Yes, I still have many questions. But I continue to pray. And now that I know how to trust God, I can fully focus on the only question that really matters. Have I done enough to let him know how very much I love him?

Heavenly Father, I place my fears at the foot of Your Son’s Cross. Amen.