Thursday, December 31, 2020
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to follow you up the mountain today, so that I can see you as you really are and encounter you in a way that changes everything about me. Help me to never settle for less than that. Amen.
Scripture: Mark 9:1-8
Journal: What is God say to you through the Scriptures today? What is his invitation to you? How is he longing to envelop you?
Reflection: It is a scene we have all probably tried to imagine a time or two. But even as great as our imaginations are, it is also a scene to which we could probably never fully do justice. I’m not exactly sure what Mark meant when he wrote that Jesus was transfigured before them, but I’m pretty sure that it was pretty glorious. In fact, I’m sure his description was completely inadequate to describe the wonder of the actual event. Sometimes words just aren’t enough.
But it’s what comes next that really captures my attention. For, right after Peter unveiled his plan to construct three tabernacles in honor of the three distinguished guests, a cloud appeared. It came down and enveloped them. It surrounded and encompassed and engulfed them. And from the midst of the cloud, a voice spoke: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
That’s the part I would really love to have seen with my own eyes. They were enveloped. Can you imagine? It is the same word the angel Gabriel used when he described how the Spirit would come upon Mary at the conception of Jesus and overshadow her. Thus, it was surely an encounter of unspeakably intimacy. Being enveloped by God always is.
You see, God doesn’t just want to communicate with us from afar, he wants to get up close and personal; closer than we could ever ask for or imagine. We were made out of the overflowing intimacy of the Holy Trinity. Thus, God longs for intimate encounter with us, his creation. He made us for union with himself. And somehow we have to come to believe that this enveloping was a foretaste of that.
“The Lord’s unfailing love,” say the words of the ancient prayer, “surrounds the man who trusts in him.” (Psalm 32:10) Can you believe that we have a God who longs to envelop us? A God whose deepest desire is to be intimately connected with us. A God who surrounds us and comes upon us and overshadows us. A God who will not settle for a distant, nodding acquaintance, but one whose greatest desire is to “quiet us with his love and rejoice over us with singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, come and envelop me today with your unfailing love. Seize me with the power of your great affection. Capture my heart completely and change my life. Amen.
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Opening Prayer: Blessed is the man, O Lord, who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers. Blessed is the man who is continually moving toward you. Give us the grace and the strength and the courage to do so. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 1:1-6
Journal: What is the current movement of your spiritual life? In what ways have you stopped moving? What is the effect of that? In what ways are you continuing to move towards God? How has that produce fruit within and around you? What is your next step in you life with God?
Reflection: At the very beginning of the book of Psalms, this wonderful collection of timeless prayers, we are given a bit of a roadmap for the entire spiritual journey. And one of the main things this ancient guide tells us is that when we stop moving forward in our life with God, we are in big trouble.
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers,” says the ancient prayer. (Psalm 1:1) Thus, the life that is blessed—happy, prosperous, and all it was intended to be—is a life in which we are constantly moving towards God. One in which we do not allow anything to stop, impede, or distract us. For the world, the flesh, and the devil would love to try to make us give up on this sacred journey. They would love for us to stop moving altogether—to go from walking to standing to sitting—because stagnation in the spiritual life always comes from a lack of movement. When we stop moving forward, we actually end up going backwards. There is no neutral in life with God; you are either growing or you are dying. We can only tread water for so long before we start to sink.
The life that God blesses involves a constant movement in his direction. It involves constantly delighting in and meditating on the words and character of God. It involves a continual awareness of his presence and an ongoing engagement with his Spirit. In order for our souls to prosper, we must be continually moving in his direction, taking that next step. Thus, it is no accident that the word prosper in the Hebrew literally means to move forward.
What is the current movement of your life with God? How are you intentionally moving towards him each day? What is your next step in your life with him? Will you take it?
Closing Prayer: Show us, O Lord, where and how we have stopped moving in your direction. Show us those places in our lives where we have allowed ourselves to become complacent, stagnant, and lifeless. Get us up on our feet, O Lord, and help us to start moving in your direction. For only then will we be able to experience the life that you call blessed. Amen.
Saturday, October 10, 2020
Opening Prayer: O Lord, help us to trust you, even when we are filled with fear. Amen.
Scripture: Deuteronomy 27:1-8
Journal: What does crossing the Jordan look like in your life these days? How is God asking you to trust him in the face of fear? What does that look like? Will you?
Reflection: In order to enter the Promised Land, and to receive the blessings and abundance thereof, the people of God first had to cross the Jordan River near Jericho. Which, if you look at Joshua 3-4, was no small feat, since they were having to cross the river at flood stage. The terrain was such that the river would be a raging torrent, but everything was dependent upon that crossing. They must cross the Jordan in order to enter the land that God had promised them. And only then could they set up the stones to remember how God had lead them, protected them, and provided for them. So, in spite of their deepest fears, they did it. They trusted God and, once again, he showed up.
I think, at times, we assume that the presence of fear indicates a lack of faith. But nothing could be further from the truth. Trusting God in the face of fear is what true faith is all about. Trusting him in spite of our fears. The key is not to eliminate fear, but to not let fear control and dominate us. As a matter of fact, if fear was completely absent, would there really be any need to totally depend on God? It’s just a part of the equation.
I was watching a movie once where the main character, a middle-aged woman, was facing a major decision in her life. She was filled with fear and uncertainty. What if she made the wrong choice? What if she did the wrong thing? What if she put her heart out there and it was broken? So she sought out her father for counsel, a wise and wonderful man who she loved dearly and trusted fully. And his advice was so wise: “You know, whatever you do, the fear might not go away. You might just have to do it scared.” Which gave her the strength and courage to set off in the direction her heart was truly leading her, in spite of the fear of how things could turn out.
Faith is the realization that we “might just have to do it scared,” whatever it may be. We might just have to trust in God’s goodness and his love and step out into the unknown, trusting that he will meet us deeply and wonderfully in the midst of our fear. We cannot let our fears stop us. Oh sure, it might not look like we’d pictured it. I’m sure the Israelites didn’t imagine that crossing a raging river was in their future, but it was. It was their opportunity to trust, and then their opportunity to celebrate God’s deliverance by setting up stones to remind them of his goodness. And we are called to do the same.
You’d think we would have learned by now. You would think that after a lifetime of following God’s leading we would have learned that he is trustworthy. I mean, how high does the stack of stones have to get before I realize that God really is good and really can be trusted?
Closing Prayer: Remind us of your goodness, O Lord, that we might trust your heart and your love even when things look chaotic and out of control. When we are afraid, O God, help us to trust in you. Amen.
Friday, October 9, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, it is so easy to get lost in this life. And it is so easy to lose track of you. We are so easily distracted. Forgive us, and help us to be attentive to you in all of the demands and details and busyness of our lives. Amen.
Scripture: Luke 2:41-49
Journal: Have you lost track of Jesus? How, why, and when? How will you make him primary instead of secondary? How will you keep him as the focal point of your life?
Reflection: It is so easy to lose track of Jesus. And it’s not just us, even his parents did it. You know what I’m talking about. We get so preoccupied with our own activities and concerns and agendas that somehow they become primary and Jesus becomes secondary. Then, before we know it, we’ve travelled a couple of days without him and haven’t even realized it. We have gotten so wrapped up in own business that we have forgotten about him completely.
The problem is that we tend to let other things—seemingly urgent things—take up the foreground of our lives, while we, knowingly or unknowingly, move Jesus (the most important thing) to the background. Other things become focal and Jesus becomes peripheral. And once we lose sight of Jesus, it is hard to even notice that he’s not there. Out of sight, out of mind.
Therefore, we must pay careful attention. We must not allow our schedules and our hurry and our busyness to lull us to sleep. We must stay awake and alert. We must have eyes to see Jesus and ears to hear Jesus even in the tiniest little details of our lives. For Jesus is not imperious or domineering. He is not overbearing or oppressive. He will stand and knock, but he will not bust down the door. He waits to be noticed and invited in. He will not compete for the time and attention that is rightfully his. It is up to us to figure out how to keep him in the foreground of our lives. He is always to be primary, not secondary. And, in order for us to live the lives he created us to live, he must remain focal rather than peripheral.
Closing Prayer: Stay with me, Lord Jesus, and help me to stay with you. This day and every day. Amen.
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, tell your story to my heart and soul today, and help me to find you, as well as myself, right in the middle of it. Help me to never forget that this life is about your kingdom, not my own. Amen.
Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30
Journal: Who can you relate to most in this parable? Why? What do you do with the talents you have been given? Is it more about you or more about the kingdom? What is the master saying to you today through this parable?
Reflection: The story of the talents has always intrigued me. Jesus was nearing the end of his earthly life and had just been asked by his disciples what it would look like when the end came. Specifically, they asked him when would it happen and what would be the sign of his coming again and of the end of the age. His answer to those questions prompted a rather lengthy response, probably because of their importance, as well as the timing involved. He wasn’t going to be around much longer and wanted the disciples to know what they were to be about in his absence. The story of the talents was one of three different stories he told highlighting the importance of their role in the process.
The parable involved three different servants, who were each given a certain amount of talents by their master, according to his ability. The key being, not how many each was given, but what each chose to do with them. Two of the servants put their talents to work and earned their master, both doubling what they were originally given. But the servant who was given just one talent was afraid. He decided to bury his talent in the ground so that it wouldn’t be lost, and, thus, he gained nothing for his master. His fear had paralyzed him. Probably because he was more focused on himself that he was on the kingdom. Fear does that; it tends to turn us in on ourselves.
The intriguing part of the parable to me are the options that are not given. I mean, aren’t we all just a messy combination of both the faithful and fearful servants? I don’t know that I’ve ever felt like I fit neatly into any one of those three categories. I know that the bottom line of the story is to be faithful with what you have been given, but why not have a character who chose to put the master’s talents to work, only to lose them all? Probably to remind us that all that is given for the kingdom is never lost, regardless of what it might look like. On the surface our efforts might look like a miserable failure, but because the effort was given to and for the master, and his kingdom, there is no way to lose.
Or why not have a servant who was given a number of talents and made some in return, but chose to keep some for himself rather than give them all to the master. Maybe he was given five and made five more, but kept one or two for his trouble. This is a possibility that really challenges me. Not in terms of financial gain, but in terms of affirmation and adoration and applause. That is the kind of currency I tend to keep for myself. Do I use my talents for God and his kingdom? Absolutely. But I also use those very same talents to gain the praise and admiration of others. Which makes me wonder, what would the master have to say to me today?
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you call us to be faithful, not to be impressive. Help us to give ourselves for your kingdom each and every day, knowing that all that is given is not lost. For at the end of our days, we all long to hear you say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” regardless of what everyone else has to say.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Opening Prayer: O Lord, by your grace and your power, help me to stop hiding from you, and start hiding in you. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 32:1-11
Journal: Where, or how, are you hiding in your life? What, or who, are you hiding from? How are you hiding from God? How are you hiding in God?
Reflection: Hiding is an interesting phenomenon. It is the art of concealing or covering oneself. It comes about as a result of fear—a fear of danger, a fear of harm, or a fear of being exposed.
There was no hiding before the fall. The man and the woman were with God in the garden and they were naked and unashamed. (Genesis 2:25) But only ten short verses later (Genesis 3:10), that very same man and woman find themselves hiding from the Lord their God. “I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” And, thus, hiding and covering has been a way of life ever since.
Which brings us to Psalm 32, a close companion of Psalm 51. It is an ancient prayer of David describing what happens when we hide and cover up, and what happens when we stop hiding and turn to God. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer,” David says. (Psalm 32:3-4) But then he came out of hiding and “acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” (Psalm 32:5) That’s when the life and the breath and the peace reentered his soul once again. So much so that he then states, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7) Thus, in two short verses, David is able to go from hiding from God, to hiding in God. And if that wasn't enough, the psalm even goes on to say that "the Lord surrounds the man who trusts in him." (Psalm 32:10) Absolutely remarkable!
And that is our invitation as well. We all hide. We hide from God, we hide from each other, and we even hide from ourselves. Like Adam and Eve, we spend most of our lives sewing together fig leaves in order to hide our nakedness and our shame. And it is exhausting! We long to live lives of authenticity. We long to live lives that are genuine and true. We long to get back to the Garden where we can stand before God, and each other, naked and unashamed, the way we were created to be.
God offers the same invitation to us that he offered to King David: “Come on. Come to me. Stop hiding from me and start hiding in me. Let me be your hiding place. Let me be the one who loves you, provides for you, and protects you. Let me be the one who delivers you. Let me surround you with my unfailing love and care. Let me be your safe place. True safety is only possible in me.”
Closing Prayer: O Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee. Today and every day. Amen.