Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 15:10-21
Psalms: Psalms 6, 12
New Testament: Philippians 3:15-21
Gospel: John 12:20-26
Evening Psalms: Psalms 94

DEVOTIONAL

I am saddened by a “tiff” I had earlier this evening with one of my nearest and dearest friends – we share the same suffering. She said, “I can’t fake it and don’t have the ability to keep it together and smile all the time like you! My life isn’t perfect like yours!” I said, “You can yell at me all you want, but let’s get one thing straight, my life is far from perfect!”

In my 35 years of life, I have endured way more pain and suffering than one should have to deal with, at least that’s what I try and tell Him, and then He just seems to gets a good laugh out of it. The last five years alone have brought into my life a broken family (both mine and my parents, and both due to infidelity), death, violence, depression, a broken body (mind, body, and spirt), lost friendships, and countless arguments with God. Honestly, I can’t believe He and I are still on speaking terms.

“I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed
with weeping and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.”
(Psalm 6:6-7).

“Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose…”
( Jer. 15:1).

Really? When?

Then I stop and realize I have become a broken record. As soon as I realized that “when” is on a need-to-know basis (translation, God will reveal it to me when I need to know), life got a little bit easier. I stopped resisting. God is sovereign, and He is in control.

To my friend, I may appear to have it all together, but it’s not really me holding the pieces together. I have chosen to “let go and let God.” Just as Jesus had to trust in the Father and accept His suffering, I need to believe that my seemingly constant suffering is not in vain. But then add in spiritual warfare -- the closer I get to God and letting go, the more intense it becomes. There are days my faith wavers, by the hour, even by the minute. But I continue to trust in God’s plan.

So I cry and weep, but that’s ok. Because while “there may be pain in the night, joy comes in the morning.” I pray that you and I find peace and the strength that comes from trusting in God. Amen.
AMJ


Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 12:1-16
Psalms: Psalms 51
New Testament: Philippians 3:1-14
Gospel: John 12:9-19
Evening Psalms: Psalms 69:1-23

DEVOTIONAL

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin….Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”
(Psalm 51:1,2,9)

Guilt is a feeling that I am very familiar with. I can easily relate to David’s words in Psalm 51 showing that he is filled with remorse and shame over things he has done. I know that I feel guilty when I am responsible for an action I regret. Like most, I have a moral code, or an idea of what I think is right and wrong. Whenever I consider doing something in contrast with that moral code, my guilt often kicks in and prevents me from doing so before I even act. Because I don’t want to feel guilty, my human nature leads me to treat people in accordance with my moral code. It is an emotion that can be crippling, and it is something that I know all too well.

In Psalm 51, which is one of the 7 Penitential Psalms, David is asking for God’s forgiveness. That is something that can be very easy for some and very difficult for others.

Forgiveness was not easy for me. I struggled with the ability to forgive for a good portion of my early life. I wasted too much time being angry and resentful. Then I met my husband. He has an incredible capacity to forgive and to move forward. Throughout our marriage he has shared this gift with me. I watched and I listened and I learned that, by not forgiving, the only person I was hurting was myself. I learned that when I readily forgive others, I am much more at peace than when I hold on to grudges against others and develop feelings of ill will. I also learned that, when I do forgive others, that is when I can truly seek forgiveness for myself and my mistakes.

My husband gave me an incredible gift when he taught me to forgive. It is a gift that we share with our children every day.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
 Mahatma Gandhi
JB


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Zechariah 9:9-12, 12:9-11, 13:1 7-9
Psalms: Psalms 24, 29
New Testament: 1 Timothy 6:12-16
Gospel: Matthew 21:12-17
Evening Psalms: Psalms 103

DEVOTIONAL

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  In the sight of God…, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords… To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”
(1 Tim. 6:12-16)

Though some people have an idyllic view of gardening, seeing it as sweet communion with the earth, I have always found gardening to be quite a battle. There are always forces that conspire against gardens producing the desired fruit or flowers. It may be too much or too little rain. It may be insect pests or disease. It may be rabbits, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, or groundhogs. As cute as they are, oh how I hate a big fat groundhog in the garden. There have been many years I’ve been tempted to give up.

But then I think of how much Linda enjoys a juicy tomato. If you’ve ever had one, you know there is simply nothing like a homegrown tomato fresh off the vine. And so I persevere, weeding, watering, fertilizing, staking, pinching off diseased leaves, fencing the plants in. With patience and a little good fortune, all that effort will pay off, and there will be tomatoes galore.

In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul tells us to “fight the good fight of faith.” Some folks don’t like that analogy. They think it glorifies violence, and that is something our world cannot afford. Interestingly, Eugene Peterson in his translation (The Message) chooses to render the verse, “Run hard.”

I understand that. But still…it seems to me there is something honest to acknowledging the fact that often life is a struggle and that, to achieve almost anything worth achieving, we are going to have to fight for it. There are forces that work against us. And so whether it is having faith in an often faith-less (and faithless) world or tending a garden, there is a battle that must be fought if we are going to triumph in making our dreams—or better yet, God’s dream for us—a reality.

It will not be easy. But just like eating a delicious red tomato — it will be worth it.
RM


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalms: Psalms 137, 144
New Testament: Romans 11:25-36
Gospel: John 11:28-44, 12:37-50
Evening Psalms: Psalms 42, 43

DEVOTIONAL

“From your point of view as you hear and embrace the good news
of the Message, it looks like the Jews are God’s enemies.
But looked at from the long-range perspective of God’s over all purpose,
they remain God’s oldest friends.
God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.”
(Romans 11:29, The Message)

Jake and I had been close friends and coworkers for many years. We were roommates, traveled together, I babysat her children, and we had lots of fun. Then I moved to Virginia, and we lost touch. We exchanged a few Christmas cards, but we missed out on important events and life’s ups and downs. After about 10 years, I went back to visit family and friends, and one evening we were able to spend time together. I was a little anxious that our relationship wouldn’t be the same; that we might not be able to get past the lives lived apart over so many years. What would we talk about?

When we saw each other, arms opened wide for a long overdue hug, and the time apart was not a problem. We reminisced, laughed, showed pictures (the little kids she had when I left were all grown up now), and caught up on our lives. Our relationship and connection were still there after all those years. It’s not the same as it was (neither are we), but we’re still close, and we still understand each other.

This verse from Romans tells us me that God never gives up on us. I always intended to be a better friend to Jake. Similarly, I always intend to spend more time listening to God, reading my Bible, and working to build a better relationship with God. Although other things always seem to take up my time, God doesn’t give up on me; His gifts and love are always there. And that knowledge keeps calling me back to try again to make that relationship closer and stronger.
SKR

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 26:1-16
Psalms: Psalms 131, 132, 133
New Testament: Romans 11:1-12
Gospel: John 10:19-42
Evening Psalms: Psalms 140, 142

DEVOTIONAL

“I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids,
till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
(Psalm 132: 4-5)

It’s been a trying holiday – “best laid plans…,” as they say. The Saturday before Christmas, we celebrated with our children and grandson and had a really great day of it. It was the kind of day you know you’ll remember for a long time.

Thankfully, I had this to draw on, since my mother took ill a few days later. Naturally (for me), this brought all kinds of worry, fear, stress, and frustration. Before her illness, my mother was pretty independent in her daily living, but now she needs 24-hour care.

With this latest event, we also had the added responsibility of planning for the care of my disabled sister.

Sleep became elusive -- until I finally came to my senses (almost like a V-8 slap to the forehead). I realized that I just needed to pray. I needed to make that place in my heart for the Lord - a dwelling place --a dwelling place for the Lord. Doesn’t that sound so comforting? When I remember the Lord is dwelling within me, my fears practically melt away and I find courage and strength (and sleep!) that wasn’t there before. I know this experience has brought me closer to God, which is a beautiful thing. All I need to do now is work on keeping that dwelling place alive and constant.

May you also find within your heart your own dwelling place for the Lord and be brought closer to God.
LML


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 25:8-27
Psalms: Psalms 120,121, 122, 123
New Testament: Romans 10:1-13
Gospel: John 9:18-41
Evening Psalms: Psalms 124, 125, 126, 127

DEVOTIONAL

”If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
(Romans 10:9-10,13)

What you believe—and what you do. How close are they?

Reading about how God warned His people, in today’s Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 25:8-27), about their behavior and the consequences they’d suffer for not following His words made me recall growing up in my own family household. Rules were stated by my Dad. I either followed them — or not. My Mother generally enforced the punishment, offered the praise, or presented the reward.

I loved my parents, and I recognized their authority in my life, but my strong will to be independent and in control sometimes led me to do what I wanted to instead of following the rules, despite the consequences. So, consequently, I sometimes got grounded, lost car privileges, or even got spanked. Sound familiar? We all mess up, repent, and fall back in line, and after a while the cycle seems to repeat itself – at least it did for me.

I am, and have been, a stubborn person who wants to be and do good, but I also strive to be in charge. When I fail, I look for guidance. I make mistakes, I admit them, and I have been forgiven by loving parents and by a loving God. The question is — do I improve? Do I come closer to combining what I’ve been told to do, what I believe I should do, and what I actually do? Do I? In Romans, I learned that all people are subject to God. If I believe in my heart that Jesus is Lord and then say or show the same with my actions, I believe that I will be saved.

Praise God for being patient and forgiving — over and over and over again. Amen.
VCT


Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 24:1-10
Psalms: Psalms 31
New Testament: Romans 9:19-33
Gospel: John 9:1-17
Evening Psalms: Psalms 35

DEVOTIONAL

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.
  His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or
his parents, that he was born blind?’”
(John 9:1-2)

Today’s reading from the Gospel of John speaks to me. In the reading, Jesus' disciples assume that there is a connection between present circumstances and previous sin. The only question then is, whose sin was it? When faced with a man blind from birth, they deduce that someone must have done something wrong for which this is a punishment.

I feel thinking like this is a way of trying to hold on to a belief in God's justice when something doesn’t seem fair. One way of getting around that problem when you believe in a God who is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-fair, is to say that it only ‘seems unfair', but actually isn't. There was, after all, some secret sin being punished. I think this is a comfortable sort of thing to believe if you happen to be well-off, well-fed, and healthy in body and mind --in other words, if nobody can accuse you of some secret sin.

I believe Jesus firmly resists any such notion of how the world is ordered, that being born blind doesn't mean you must have sinned. Nor does it mean that your parents must have sinned. No, I see something more mysterious and more hopeful going on: The chaos and misery of this present world is the raw material out of which a loving, wise, and just God is making his new creation.

When Jesus heals the man, I believe John clearly intends us to see the action as one of the moments when God's truth and our world come rushing together into one. I see what it means that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness didn't overcome it.” For me, John's Gospel tries to push us forward in heart and mind toward God's new creation, the time when God will make all things new.

Lent and Holy Week allow me to reflect on the present world (with its violence and horrible diseases) and the world to come (with harmony and a peace beyond our understanding). Today’s reading gives me comfort and assurance, even though I know this life can seem unfair and cruel. I hope it does the same for you.
RPL


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday, March 22, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:16-32
Psalms: Psalms 118
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 9:19-27
Gospel: Mark 8:31-9:1
Evening Psalms: Psalms 145

DEVOTIONAL

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize...I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
(1 Cor. 9:24-27)

I consider myself an avid runner, by which I mean I ran a marathon in 2009 and still like to kid myself that I’m in pretty good shape. (Round is a shape.) But Paul and I could never go running together. He runs in such a way as to get the prize; I run in such a way as to avoid collapsing in a wheezing heap. He does not run as someone running aimlessly; I do run as someone running aimlessly (“Ooh look, a coffee shop!”). He makes his body a slave; I make my body a hot chocolate and let it binge watch the Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Paul would need the patience of a saint to go jogging with the likes of me.

Of course, what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Corinthians is self-discipline. To me, it’s about not reaching for that fourth chocolate chip cookie, or third martini, or hurling an un-Episcopalian word at the driver who cut me off on the Beltway. He’s urging me to identify my goals—with Christ at the center—and to pursue them with all the energy, passion, and resources available to me. He’s reminding me that Christ gives me the freedom to think differently and to challenge myself to make those goals happen.

Paul’s letter also reminds me that loving God and others is the primary law that should govern my life. God gives us a writ to love other people without first demanding that they conform to a certain lifestyle or hold certain political opinions. He challenges us (me) to love as He loves. Boy, does that require self-discipline (Beltway bandits, Cowboys fans, Congress, you get the idea)! But that’s what God expects.

I pray that 2015 will bring me into a closer relationship with Christ, a clearer sense of His goals for me, and an ability and inclination to love others as He loves us! Amen.
MKJ

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 22:13-23
Psalms: Psalms 69
New Testament: Romans 8:12-27
Gospel: John 6:41-51
Evening Psalms: Psalms 73

DEVOTIONAL

“How you will groan when pangs come upon you...”
(Jeremiah 22:23)

“The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”
(Romans 8:22)

It was Lent, a little more than two weeks ‘til Easter, a Friday night easing into Saturday morning, twenty years ago. I had fallen asleep in a chair in a room in “old” Loudoun Hospital, unable to keep watch through the night on a labor that had not progressed. At about one o’clock the quiet space was rent by a series of swelling grunts and shrieks. I stumbled through a waking fog. Sheri’s water had broken and left a treacherous puddle on the floor, as she struggled to free herself from bedclothes and a tangle of tubes and monitor probes. The attending physician arrived on the scene and with wide-eyed wonderment uttered, “Oh my.” But it was altogether normal, natural, if a bit messy and frenzied. There was no return to slumber. Simply, the Time (and within the hour, my daughter Michaela) had arrived.

No man writes from true knowledge, not Jeremiah nor Paul nor I, of such events. I was there, but only to observe. I was deeply invested in a joyful outcome, but I wasn’t doing the painful, excruciating, bloody what’s-happening-to-me-now-and-next work. Metaphors are imperfect, but the pangs of labor do impress on us the scope and gravity of fate for those who (in Jeremiah’s day, and in ours) disdain the prophet’s warnings against violence and oppression: when the appointed day arrives, there will be no escape, no returning to comfortable life for those who cheated others to gain fleeting pleasures.

The thought that all of God’s creation is groaning in labor is a bit more difficult to wrap my thoughts around. What will happen to this natural world through which, in mortal life, we briefly pass? Paul seems to say that the Earth, beautifully and wonderfully formed, resilient yet fragile, subject to damage and chaos, will ultimately be redeemed by the same Spirit that is in Christ.

Are we awake yet to Nature’s groaning, or do we slumber? We are made stewards of this planet, but will not escape the consequences of willful destruction or callous neglect. Can we let the groans that are within us join in prayer and obey that Spirit that will attend the birth of New Heavens and New Earth?
MLB


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalms: Psalms 101, 109
New Testament: Romans 8:1-11
Gospel: John 6:27-40
Evening Psalms: Psalms 119:121-144

DEVOTIONAL

“I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.”
 (Psalm 119:125)

As I've gotten older and more mature in my walk with the Lord, I have come to appreciate the Psalms of David more. Praying the Psalms has become my way of speaking to God, especially when I don't know what to say to Him in certain situations.

Lately I've been doing more volunteer work to serve Him, especially with the Backpack Buddies program through which St Matthew’s helps feed children in some of our local schools. The Psalm above made me realize the importance of asking God how he wants me to serve, not just serving according to my human nature -- my human nature wants attention and recognition. What I heard was God telling me to step back and observe, to enjoy serving, and to pay attention to those around me. So I did.

There are a few older ladies as well as ladies my age who help out in the area in which I volunteer. As we work together, we often gab about our lives, particularly our kids. It must have been God’s whisper, because I felt an urge, a need, to stop and observe. I soon noticed that the older ladies in our group were often silent while we younger gals engaged in continuous chit chat.  Since that realization, I've tried to pull the older ladies into the conversation, asking about their grown children, grandchildren, hobbies, etc.  For me, it was eye opening to see how much they opened up and seemed more a part of the group. It made me realize that serving God is not just doing the work. It is also about fellowship, it’s about getting to know each other while sharing God's love in the midst of it all.

Dear Lord, please open my eyes to those around me as I seek to serve You. Let your love and light shine through me to include others as I try to do your will. Amen.
KB


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 17:19-27
Psalms: Psalms 97, 99, 100
New Testament: Romans 7:13-25
Gospel: John 6:16-27
Evening Psalms: Psalms 94, 95

DEVOTIONAL

“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way,
but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.”
(Romans 7:15, MSG)

Every day I am faced with choices. Each choice has potential consequences -- results that would cause me, given the advantage of hindsight, to act differently, but after the fact.

I believe this is a natural part of the human condition, but it doesn't diminish the emotional toll it has taken on my life. Do I go straight to work, or attend "Donuts with Dad" at my son's elementary school? Do I help my wife with an activity at church, or do I go to the gym? Do I spend time with a dear friend who just needs someone to talk to, or do I make my son's track meet? Do I stay late at work to impress my boss and show my commitment to my team, or do I make it home in time to be present for soccer practice?

In the case of my job, is this “sin” creeping in and tempting me to enjoy the self-actualization I achieve through work success and everything associated with it – the attention, increased authority, and potential promotions? If so, at what cost? I don’t need hindsight to answer that one: More time at work means less time for my family, friends, and community.

I do enjoy the attention at work, but I’ve come to realize that some of the choices I've made to further my career came at a price and didn't bring me the happiness I expected. In fact, the areas of my life I had neglected were much more important, and I regret all choices that caused any degree of neglect.

“So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it,
it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.”
(Romans 7:16 MSG )

I now recognize and appreciate the importance of keeping my life in balance, including my mental and physical health, my personal relationship with God, and my relationships with my family, my friends, my community, my church, and my work. Looking back at my life, when any one of these areas became a priority over the others, then it didn’t take long for me to feel overwhelmed with the stress and regret caused by my inattention to the other areas, thereby affecting my whole being and needing God’s command even more.
DL


Monday, March 16, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 16:10-21
Psalms: Psalms 89:1-18
New Testament: Romans 7:1-12
Gospel: John 6:1-15
Evening Psalms: Psalms 89:19-52

DEVOTIONAL

Sometimes less is more -- all the way up to the point where five thousand people are fed with two fish and five barley loaves, as they were in today’s Gospel reading. And then it’s a miracle.

A lot of times less feels like less. When my daughter Katrina turned ten years old, I took her to Yosemite National Park. “Dad, I’ve always wanted to catch a fish,” she said, and so we decided to go fishing on one of the days we were there. I am a software engineer. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an avid outdoorsman or a fisherman. But I gave it the old college try, even consulting one of the locals about fishing spots and asking him to take us to the best spot he knew. For nearly five hours we sat on the edge of the lake catching nothing but worms, or else having the worms fall off of our hooks. Katrina was ten. She got bored. One of the people next to us caught a fish; she posed with it so I could take her picture. Then we called it day and headed back to the lodge.

However, more always feels like more. The following year, St. Matthews had a Family Fishing Day. They chartered a boat at Solomon’s island and invited parish members and friends. Father Rob is an experienced fisherman and knew the boat captain personally from previous excursions. On that day, from our boat, we caught nearly five thousand fish -- and Katrina herself caught about a thousand fish (okay – so I’m doing my best angler imitation by exaggerating a bit, but not that much).

Math cannot explain everything. A year or two later, when she was in junior high, Katrina had an assignment where she had to give an oral presentation about one of her most memorable life experiences. Parents were invited, and we were there. She sang a song about our trip to Yosemite that ended with this chorus line: “That was the best trip ever!” – and then my eyes started to water.
PES

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday, March 15, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 14:1-9, 17-22
Psalms: Psalms 66, 67
New Testament: Galatians 4:21-5:1
Gospel: Mark 8:11-21
Evening Psalms: Psalms 19, 46

DEVOTIONAL

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
…The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
(Psalm 46:1;7)

I have recently spent time with one of my adult sons. He is going through very difficult personal trials. He is making some very difficult decisions and, in doing so, he is learning some very hard things about himself – both good things and not so good things. My heart just aches for him. I can’t solve his problems. I can listen. I can encourage him, and I can love him. But the heavy lifting is on his shoulders. After almost 30 years of being his parent, it has never been harder than this.

As I sat down to write my devotional and read Psalm 46, it hit me -- what a hard time God must have being a parent to me. This passage is all about God being our refuge, an ever present fortress. All the things I hope I can be to my son. So it makes me think, does God sit in the car, next to me, and provide me with encouragement, knowing what I go through and not able to solve the problem for me? Does He listen during the countless times that I deride myself for yet another fall, and does He say, “Yes, but, look at all the good”? Does He say, “Okay, so you screwed up. Let’s break this mess down into sizeable bites that you can fix and move on”?

Do I listen? I can remember times when I would be talking with my kids and they would have a glazed look in their eyes. I knew they weren’t listening. Is that what God feels like when he tries to talk to me?

I think my son is listening, and it’s a huge consolation to me that maybe some of my advice will help him move into the next phase of his life. But I’m not sure I give God that same kind of opportunity to affect my life. Yet, who better to allow to lead the way? Maybe it’s time for me to give God the same chance to love me that I hope my son is giving to me.

Heavenly Father, Please help me to remember Your constant presence with me and to let You be the perfect parent to me. Amen.
VAN


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday, March 14, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 13:1-11
Psalms: Psalms 87, 90
New Testament: Romans 6:12-23
Gospel: John 8:47-59
Evening Psalms: Psalms 136

DEVOTIONAL

“…Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time - remember, you’ve been raised from the dead! - into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live.” (Romans 6:13 MSG)

I was off to the gym wearing my Weird Al Yankovic t-shirt that I got during his Poodle Hat Tour at Kings Dominion remembering one of the greatest days I’ve had. What made it so memorable wasn’t that I got to see Weird Al, or that I got to spend the day at Kings Dominion acting like a kid. What really made the day stick with me was that it was one of the first events I’d had as a youth leader at St. Matt’s that was organized and executed by one of the youth. I just provided the leadership, and we ended up with an incredible group of teens who created lasting bonds with each other.

Then I began remembering our trip to New York to see Phantom of the Opera and visiting St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at Ground Zero. This was only a few years after 9/11, and the towers were holes in the ground with a flag flying from a crane in the middle of the devastation. This was another activity a youth recommended and organized. We had such a great group of teens and parents bonding. I’ll never forget walking through seedy streets at night, getting to our hotel (where they didn’t have our reservation), or having the perfect glass of orange juice at a diner. We came away from that weekend feeling so close.

Before becoming involved with youth ministry, I’d attended church, followed Christ, and loved God. But I did it as a teen and young adult, having little idea what it all meant and still looking out for number one… no, it wasn’t God. Since leading the teens, I’ve been forever changed. Every day I grow closer to God, and I understand a little better what a community can do when we listen to every idea, and take risks for and with each other.

My journey with God has been evolutionary, without a single point where I can say I was Born Again. Each time He trusts me with a life, I feel closer to the community and to Him. I’ve gotten to see teens pursue their passions and follow God’s plan for their lives. Today, I think of them, and I thank God He’s allowed me to help them develop a life-long devotion to Him.
TL

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 11:1-8, 14-20
Psalms: Psalms 88
New Testament: Romans 6:1-11
Gospel: John 8:33-47
Evening Psalms: Psalms 91, 92

DEVOTIONAL

Readings like the ones assigned for today can be challenging. When sin and its consequences are presented in such a straightforward way, and when common frustrations with prayer as our main means of communication are described so eloquently, it can leave me, living in our complicated world, feeling quite inadequate to the task of being a committed Christian.

Like the other brother in the Prodigal Son story, I’ve always been a “good girl,” and I’ve often found myself a little envious of people who seemed to be having so much fun being bad. It’s a little frustrating to be told that I’m supposed to be as penitent for envy as someone who has broken every rule in the book with a song in their heart.

I have things for which I have fervently prayed (sometimes for years) that don’t seem to get any response. Is it meant to be a test of my faith?

Especially when I pray for things that seem to have come easily to others, it is easy to relate to the lament we read today. Watching (and being very glad for) friends who have children, jobs they love, great health, and much more when my own prayers for the same go seemingly unanswered can be incredibly painful.

My prayer is that I meet these challenges by finding the strength of character to trust in God’s love. Father Rob has preached that many of us waste time working to prop up an image of who we think we should be versus being brave enough to embrace who we are, trusting that God’s love for us proves that we have something to offer the world. I believe that the gift God gives us out of this love is forgiveness from sin for all those who believe and truly repent; that trusting God’s love for us ensures forgiveness is possible for sins -- heinous and petty alike. For me, working toward that trust makes me strive to be more committed to my faith in our complicated world.

Lord Jesus, as I walk your journey of sacrifice, may I be brave enough to trust in the power of your Father’s love in my own life. Thank you for the forgiveness you made possible, giving me the chance to make mistakes, take risks and still have the security and joy of knowing I am a part of your family. Amen.
AMM

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 8:18-9:6
Psalms: Psalms 119:97-120
New Testament: Romans 5:1-11
Gospel: John 8:12-20
Evening Psalms: Psalms 81, 82

DEVOTIONAL

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

We had just moved into a new home in Belgium, far away from family and friends. I had arrived first. My wife and son soon followed. My wife was pregnant, but we thought we would have more than enough time to get ready for our second child.

That did not happen. Our second son was born very prematurely and needed the care and skills of doctors who spoke a language we didn’t understand in a hospital over an hour away from our new home. We felt helpless. I still remember the despair we felt on learning that our son needed a complicated surgery to give him a chance to even leave the intensive care unit. It seemed like the only thing we could do was to hope for the best and pray.

As the situation unfolded, our hope and prayers were answered in so many ways. A new set of friends rose to help us and rallied around our situation. When our son was moved to the Neonatal ICU, one of the nurses helped translate key details for us, especially during meetings with the surgeons.

Our son is now strong and healthy. As I read Romans, I reflected back to that time when hope and prayers pulled us through. It was God’s love and grace that gave the surgeons the skills to correct a very dangerous condition – and in a location and language foreign to us. We’d relied exclusively on trusting God. In doing so, our prayers were answered…and we were, we are, blessed by God.

Dear God, many times we find ourselves struggling to overcome the challenges we face: some that test our strength, some that test our will, and some that test our faith. Please share your grace and allow us to place our trust and hopes in you. For through you, all things are possible, and we will find the path that truly leads to you. Amen.
SB


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 7:21-34
Psalms: Psalms 78:1-39
New Testament: Romans 4:13-25
Gospel: John 7:37-52
Evening Psalms: Psalms 78:40-72

DEVOTIONAL

Whoever believes in me…Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” 
 (John 7:38)

Throughout my journey in faith – or perhaps more aptly put – to faith – I have seen myself as an outsider looking in. Watching others I suspected had a stronger grasp of their faith, or a more religious or devout outlook on life, I wondered how I could get there – how do I get inside there with them. I have trouble seeing myself as someone who can have a conversation with God. Sure, I pray. I pray for friends and family, for those who are sick, hurting or in need. I pray for our leaders, our country, and our world. I know I can pray and that God will listen, but for me it always seemed to be a one-sided conversation -- me to God. What was I missing that I couldn’t hear or feel God talking back to me? What was preventing me from having a deeper relationship with God, a deeper faith? Today’s reading from Paul, when he writes about Abraham, helps me find the answer.

“But it was not for him alone that it was written that ‘it was credited to him,’ it was also for us. Us who also believe in the risen Lord.”(Romans 4:22-24)

The answer is: Me. I am preventing it – a deeper relationship with God. I have only to reach to the Lord to have that relationship. The impersonal distance I have felt in the past can be wiped away simply by my stepping forward and turning to God, sitting still, and being quiet.

It does take work. I am not very good at sitting still and being quiet. My mind races with so many distractions that often I find it hard to concentrate when shifting my focus to God. But when I’m able to sit quietly and actively search for the presence of God, I can more easily find that “inside” place, where I’m not outside looking in, but “inside there,” where I, too, can feel the presence of God.

In today’s verse from John, Jesus tells us that the living waters flow from within us. Within…not through. God is also telling me that to believe in Him is to make that connection to Him. I already know I believe. I also know that I have the capacity to make that personal, intimate connection with my Lord and Savior. I just have to get out of my own way.
JAH


Monday, March 09, 2015

Monday, March 09, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 7:1-15
Psalms: Psalms 80
New Testament: Romans 4:1-12
Gospel: John 7:14-36
Evening Psalms: Psalms 77, 79

DEVOTIONAL

”Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, ‘Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.’”
(John 7:28-29)

Time flies and the means by which we receive good news changes quickly. I remember going to the post office to buy stamps. I remember when I had to go into the closet to talk to my best friend because the phone was attached to the WALL! I have a file of old papers, and I kept a telegram containing the good news of the birth of my brother. I want my children to see what a telegram looks like. I remember living in Africa (and other assorted foreign countries) for over a year, without a computer to contact mom because they HADN’T BEEN INVENTED YET! (Computers, not moms.) I remember walking through my college campus in the ‘70s and reading a handwritten letter from a dear friend, imparting the news that she had had her first child…weeks after the baby was born! No one had texted me from the delivery room because no one had a cell phone. I mean really, no one.

Jesus Himself was the way that God imparted good news to us. He worked miracles and healed, was kind to the shunned and eased suffering in sometimes spectacular ways. Jesus attracted a lot of attention. I believe we humans usually like to attract attention to ourselves or at least to be noticed. (Unless it’s for doing something really embarrassing like slipping and falling spectacularly in front of everyone in your high school who was waiting for the busses after school -- that happened to me.) Jesus, however, attracted attention for the good things that He did. Yet, He consistently deflected attention from Himself to God.

He made it clear that His purpose was to work for God’s honor:

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”
(John 7:18)

May our Lent disciplines, though a sacrifice, help us to see the ways in which we can bring honor to our God, who sends us into the world with good news.

LM


Friday, March 06, 2015

Friday, March 06, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 5:1-9
Psalms: Psalms 69
New Testament: Romans 2:25-3:18
Gospel: John 5:30-47
Evening Psalms: Psalms 73

DEVOTIONAL

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
(Psalm 73:2-3)

I grew up in the 50’s; it was a simpler time. Winters were cold in the Midwest, so outdoor activities were how we spent our playtime. There was a flat vacant lot next to my house that the town flooded as an ‘ice rink’. My dad would keep it shoveled for all the neighborhood kids. I learned to ice skate at the age of 4.

Our house was small and heated with coal. Mom made most of my clothes and, every once in a while, I would get a dress from Kresge’s (anyone remember those stores?). My summer toys included a used tricycle and a used wagon. A galvanized wash tub was my pool. I have nothing but fond early childhood memories of that simpler time.

Then came 6th grade and a new reality that would nag me for years to come. Until that point, I didn’t know my family was poor. My ‘friend’ Cindy was the pivotal person to drive that realization home. Cindy went to private ice skating lessons, had a big house, a tandem bike, and shopped at exclusive stores in Birmingham… you get the picture. Life’s material inequities would haunt me for years.

Psalm 73 should be read by everyone. It describes the disparities of life and how less-than-nice people sometimes prosper while other people struggle as they work hard and try to be good. There were times in my life when bitterness over such disparities weighed me down. I did attain a little material wealth, but would never have what many others had.

One day, God spoke firmly to me, “You have more than most.” The realization was made quite clear. Material assets are irrelevant. God walking with us and holding our hand, even when we’ve fallen, is what is important.

“...The Lord is my Shelter and He is mine forever…” (Psalm 73:26)
Amen.

CKC


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Thursday, March 05, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 4:9-10, 19-28
Psalms: Psalms 70, 71
New Testament: Romans 2:12-24
Gospel: John 5:19-29
Evening Psalms: Psalms 74

DEVOTIONAL

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law….Indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, their thoughts now accusing, even defending them. “
(Rom 2:12-15)

I am a person who shows up on time, meets deadlines at work, and generally does what needs to be done without a lot of fuss. So it might surprise some people to know that I really dislike having a lot of rules. This might be a result of my baby boomer upbringing with lots of rules at home (no drinking soda, and a glass of milk at each meal. My bones thank you, Mom and Dad!), at church (females had to wear a hat or scarf, even a crumpled Kleenex, but never a bare head), and school (No talking in the lunchroom, “Chatty Mary”). I figured out quite early that it was best to just follow the rules, as it was a whole lot easier to stay out of trouble than to get into trouble and then have to face the consequences.

I spent about 10 years in early adulthood as an “unchurched” person. On the few occasions when I got myself to a church service, I found myself chafing at the “rules” and not wanting to return. But during those years I did continue to believe, and I regularly prayed. When I found myself joining an Episcopal church, part of the appeal was the lack of emphasis on rules. Not that there are no expectations, but it felt to me as if the rules came from the heart and conscience. After all, wasn’t Jesus quite the rule breaker himself? The man who touched the lepers, counted women among his friends, and put those with the least before those who had the most?

Lord help me to follow the basic rules given us by your son, to love You with all my heart and soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself. If I follow these two basic rules, I believe I will live the life You want me to live. Amen.
 

MRL


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 3:6-18
Psalms: Psalms 72
New Testament: Romans 1:28-2:11
Gospel: John 5:1-18
Evening Psalms: Psalms 119:73-96

DEVOTIONAL

“Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word.” (Psalm 119:73-74)

The past two years have been the most challenging and difficult of my life-- unemployment, health issues, and personal troubles. They have also been among the most enlightening. Today’s reading from Psalm 119 reflects many of my thoughts and feelings throughout that time. As with other rough times, and I’ve certainly had my share, I could cope with them relatively well -- individually; but combined, they were chipping away at my self-worth, well-being, and faith in God. You may have heard the saying, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I believe that it should say, “That which does not kill us helps God make us stronger.” That was my experience. 

I struggled during that time. I struggled to be a faithful servant to God, family, and friends. But putting my trust in God gave me the hope I needed to continue on the path He prepared for me. God led me through this maze of negatives with His faithfulness, His compassion, and His love. I saw God’s faithfulness through the encouragement and optimism of my friends in Christ. 

They gave me the strength to endure countless days of rejection and disappointment when job searching. The compassion of the Lord was shown to me through my Saint Matthew’s family. They did all they could, and then some, by providing me opportunities to use my gifts to work and serve as the Lord would have me do. (No idle hands for the devil’s workshop.) And it was through my family that I heard His comforting words and felt His unfailing love. Staying on that path, trusting in God, and letting Him lead me through that maze, I was blessed beyond what I deserved. I was able to see the nature of God in and through those around me. 

I cannot imagine going through the trials of the past two years alone. Today’s reading in Psalm 119 is a reminder to me that God’s Word, faith, family, and friends are heavenly blessings to be cherished each and every day. Thanks Be to God. All honor and glory belongs “To Him.” Amen.

PFH


Monday, March 02, 2015

Monday, March 02, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 1:11-19
Psalms: Psalms 56, 57, 58
New Testament: Romans 1:1-15
Gospel: John 4:27-42
Evening Psalms: Psalms 64, 65 


DEVOTIONAL

I’ve often struggled with dichotomies within faith. Some of them are general - like whether I should read the Bible as the unalterable word of God or as a human work open for interpretation. Some, though, are very specific contrasts on a single topic. Rightly or wrongly, the dichotomy that I’ve struggled with the most is in terms of “Old Testament God” and “New Testament God.”

I read the passage in Jeremiah, and I see unerringly the “vengeful” God with which I’ve struggled so much. Growing up in the church, I couldn’t get my head around this God that I was supposed to fear. This God, that shows how entire peoples will be terrorized and threatens to humiliate His own prophet, is a good thing? I loved reading Greek mythology with their all-too-human gods but, for my own God, I was hoping for something more than that.

But the other part of the story was completely different. Here, people are overflowing with joy because of the kindness of God that is poured out to everybody. We’re told to go out and show the whole world God’s love. And rather than focusing on God’s help to “smite thy enemies,” followers are implored to make “earth as it is in heaven.” Yeah, that’s something I can understand. That is a message and a faith that makes much more sense to me and is spiritually filling. 

But how do I match that up with the uber-Zeus of the earlier readings?

I eventually connected the dots through the person and message of Jesus. Jesus re-introduced me to a God who is not just “out there” displaying cosmic might, but who nourishes from within and wants to work through me, through us. Yes, Jesus is still speaking of the same “terrible and mighty” God from before. God is All and that can be terrible and mighty if that’s what I’m focused on. But Jesus changed my relationship with God. He says to me, “Look deeper.” That might and splendor is not just destructive force. It’s beautiful. It’s life.

I imagine listening in while Jesus tells his followers, “So, you’re interested in connecting with God. Why? To prosper or have your enemies smitten, perhaps? You wouldn’t be the first or the last to see a relationship with God that way. But it can be so much more than that. Let me tell you how.”

Through Jesus, God reached out and connected.

TO


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sunday, March 01, 2015

READING

Old Testament: Jeremiah 1:1-10
Psalms: Psalms 24, 29
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 3:11-23
Gospel: Mark 3:31-4:9
Evening Psalms: Psalms 8, 84

DEVOTIONAL

“Give unto the Lord, O ye Mighty, give unto the Lord Glory and Strength. Give unto the Lord the Glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness.” (Psalms 29: 1-2) 
As a young child, my favorite time of year was not Christmas but Lent and Easter. Unlike today, we didn’t have “Spring Break.” We had “Holy Week.” I attended Catholic School, and we were out of school the entire week. I was so excited! This meant I got to spend the whole week with my “Nana and Pap Pap.” I have four brothers and sisters, so this was my special time to be spoiled like an only child! Now this wasn’t my favorite time of year just because I got spoiled (well maybe a little), this was my favorite time of year because I actively learned about our family traditions. 

Part of those traditions included going to Mass on Holy Thursday, to wash the feet of Jesus, and going to church on Good Friday, to thank God for giving us his only Son and to thank Jesus for dying for us so that we could be saved. On Holy Saturday, we went to church to ask for forgiveness for all our sins, to have our Easter baskets blessed, and to ask for a blessing on our family. Then, of course, on Easter Sunday we went to Mass to praise God, to sing to His glory, and to celebrate the Resurrection. After church, our whole family would gather and celebrate and eat the best Polish food ever!!!

As a child, I learned how to love God and worship our Lord from my “Nana,” all the while thinking I was there to have fun. What a wise woman.

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for this wonderful and glorious day. We thank you for all of the people in our lives that have made us into the people we are today. We ask that you bless our loved ones who are still with us and ask that you shine your light perpetual on those who are not. We thank you for all of our family traditions that we have to share with the people in our lives. Father, guide us through these days as we look forward to celebrate the Resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ.

Amen!
 
MAA