Category Archives: Devotions

Meditations on a specific Scripture passage accompanied by a prayer.

Visions will Actualize

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“The word of the LORD came to me: Mortal, what is this proverb of yours about the land of Israel, which says, ‘The days are prolonged, and every vision comes to nothing’?  Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall use it no more as a proverb in Israel.’  But say to them, The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision” (Ezekiel 12:21-23 NRV).


(Image courtesy of cs.brown.edu)

(Image courtesy of cs.brown.edu)

Being in relationship with God means opening ourselves up to the visions God places in our minds, and upon our hearts.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means focusing our eyes upon the shared vision we are all called to actualize in his name.  Bringing about a vision in community is far more difficult than doing so in an individual life, but Christ is insistent that we work together, serve together, and bring the Kingdom closer together.  When Jesus called those first twelve disciples to his side, and walked with them for three years, he showed them what it means to devote ourselves to something vastly different from what we would ever have dreamed for ourselves.  He helped them live lives that were about devotion to a vision where people found a whole new way of being, which revolved around being together in this journey.  As the Church, we are not just hanging out together for worship; we are drawing closer and knitting ourselves together so that the vision God places in one can not only be shared with the many, but achieved through the pooling of the gifts and graces of all.

God does not just give visions of a future where justice rolls down the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream to paint pretty mental pictures.  God has expectations that this will be accomplished and we will all do our part individually so the collective may succeed.  What that success looks like for each community of faith is different, because they are not all cookie cutter versions of one another, but they are all called to the same degree of commitment and willingness to go out into deep, uncharted waters and let down their nets.  So why do we cling to the shore line?  Why do we reject the visions of others as being anything but the will of God?  We have a responsibility to God and one another to prayerfully discern each vision placed before us, and honor the truth spoken from every person.  It is possible for a Christian to see a vision that is vital to the growth of their church, and when someone revealed a vision to my church almost two years ago, we all wanted to write it off.  It seemed crazy, but we were faithful to the process of discernment.  Over time, we came to realize that this idea that seemed insane at first, might actually be a great success because of who we are and what we have to offer.  But envisioning is a painful process that is filled with the possibility of change and great risk financially, personally, and spiritually.  Yet every risk Christ asked his disciples to take was worth it.  It furthered the emergence of the Kingdom of God and brought the lost closer to discovering their rightful place in the Body of Christ.  That is the mantle modern Christians have laid upon their shoulders.  We must take our place in the envisioning and actualizing process, so that our faith will have crucial change in our churches, our communities, and around the world.  The name of Christ not only relies on it, but rests upon it.  Not for our glory, but his.

Prayer:

Christ, our sovereign Lord and gracious God,

Help us to trust in you and your mysterious ways.

When we feel the urge to run away from your visions for us,

Still our feet, and bring us to our knees in prayer.

Teach us to submit ourselves to you;

To subvert our will for the good of the Kingdom.

May we discover what you would have us do,

And simultaneously fulfill who we are called to be.

Let no obstacle prevent us from achieving your will,

Until all people gather at your feet to praise your name,

And accept your grace.

For your honor and glory,

Always and everywhere.

Amen.

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“Say My Name!”

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“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11 NRS).


(Image courtesy of cove-bibletalk.blogspot.com)

(Image courtesy of cove-bibletalk.blogspot.com)

I was just starting my day in the office, looking forward to the start of an exciting, new Bible Study, and I wanted to get pumped up for all I was going to be doing.  So I turned on a Modern Christian music station, and set about grooving to the music while I worked.  Song after song came on referencing “the name,” but rarely, if ever, did the artist say any name.  I started to grow a little frustrated.  Why aren’t we saying the name of Jesus Christ?  At least use some of the biblical titles: King of kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of peace, Emmanuel, etc.  It was like, in an effort to move away from Traditional hymns which heavily emphasize the name of Christ, modern Christian song writers started to allude to the name rather than explicitly say it.  The problem is that we need to say Christ’s name.

Saying Christ’s name is to give glory to God.  It is to invoke the name that brought salvation to all, embodying God’s love for humanity.  Therefore, it is also to testify to the truth of the Gospel, and our love of our Lord.  Christ calls us by name to take up our cross and follow him, leaving sin and death behind as we move towards eternity with God.  We cannot be afraid to say Christ’s name, because to stay silent in that case leads to silence in others.  Jesus Christ is our Lord, and we who claim his name as our central identity of Christ must never waver from proclaiming that truth.  “Why are you so happy?”  Christ, my Lord, is good to me.  “What are you doing this weekend?”  First, I’m doing some missions so others will know Christ loves them, and then I’m going to worship on Sunday to give thanks to God for my many blessings.  Want to join me?  Christ is not something we utter silently in the recesses of our hearts.  It is the breath and animation of the disciple, and just saying the name of Christ has power and authority to overcome all trials and tribulations.  With Christ’s name on our lips, we are armed with the ability to resist temptation and spread hope to the desperate.  To keep his name silent is to give the wrong impression that we are embarrassed, not fully committed, or ungrateful.  How can we be any of those things considering who we were before we were saved by the grace born of the blood of the cross thanks to Jesus Christ?

Prayer:

Christ, my God and Lord of all,

Forgive me when I have not proclaimed you.

When my lips have been sealed against uttering your name,

I failed to fulfill the Scriptures and give glory to you.

All that I have,

All that I am,

And all the good that I could ever do,

Is because of you.

You know it, and I know it.

Now may others come to know,

Because I say your name with honor and conviction.

Do not allow me to be silent any longer.

Christ, hear my prayer.

World, hear the name that alone can save:

Jesus Christ who died, rose, and lives forever is Lord.

We are his beloved;

He bore our sin, so we speak his name.

Amen.

No Temple, No Sun, No Moon, and No Night

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“I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  Its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there.  People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:22-27 NRS).


(Image courtesy of halalyahuah.wordpress.com)

(Image courtesy of halalyahuah.wordpress.com)

My weekly Bible Study just finished our journey through the Book of Revelation together.  It is not an easy read, and comes with all kinds of preconceived notions, but it was worth it.  Besides the bonding that occurs when you read the Bible in community, most people fail to discover the rich promise at the conclusion of Revelation.  There is this beautiful passage in Chapter 21 that gives us a glimpse into the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem come down from heaven where God reigns eternally.  It is powerful and fulled to the brim with hope for the faithful.  The description includes the above passage telling that there will not be a Temple (or church) to worship the Lord, for God will be with us and among us, so we will not need to go someone to be in God’s presence.  There will be no sun or moon to illuminate the day and the night, because the presence of God will shine forth and radiate the light of Christ so that the city of God will burst with it.  Imagine a place where God’s presence is so full, so tangible that there is no need for light.  A time and place where the presence of God drowns out the night itself.

Now imagine that there are those alive right at this very moment who do not understand what a treasure, a blessing that would be.  They do not know the Lord.  It is not that they are evil people, but they sin without understanding the consequences.  They have no relationship with God, and so they cannot understand what they are missing.  We who do know, we who yearn to be in this depiction of heaven God promises, have a responsibility to make the connections that will allow them to receive the open invitation for the grace that makes both the relationship and the heavenly reward possible.  Evangelism is not just a pretty concept.  It is vital, or there will be those who cannot enter in.  If you do not love God, then you are not going to want to spend eternity in the presence of that same God, being inundated with God’s light.  Yet I trust that those who open themselves to even the possibility of that love cannot deny it.  God’s love for us is overpowering, and our deepest, natural response is to embrace it, allow ourselves to become enveloped in it.  Take a moment to pause and consider who it is that you love that might not find themselves in that sacred promised place.  What can you do right now to change the course of that trajectory?  How can you make space for them to discover the richness and abundance of God’s love, accept God’s grace, and start the spiritual journey that culminates in the Kingdom of God?  We all have someone about whom we can and should be concerned.  Are we willing to do something about it?  Even if they might get angry at us?  Even if it might strain our relationship for a time being?  Are they not worth it?  I think we know what Christ would say.  Now we just have to live that out.

Prayer:

Merciful God,

Your grace has changed my life by changing me.

Help me to bring those whom I love to this state of grace.

I want us all to be together when your Kingdom comes.

I do not want anyone to be shut out,

Much less because of my lack of witness.

Do not let my lips be silent.

Do not allow my hands to be still.

Motivate me when I freeze up.

Let your words become mine,

And your love enter the world through me.

I entrust myself to you.

May I speak that truth until I have no voice.

May I live it out until I have no breath.

And may your lost lambs hear and return to you.

Amen.

Out of My Abundance

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“O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.  I know, my God, that you search the heart, and take pleasure in uprightness; in the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.  O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our ancestors, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you” (1 Chronicles 29:16-18 NRS).


(Image courtesy of philosophyforchange.wordpress.com)

(Image courtesy of philosophyforchange.wordpress.com)

Yesterday I was wearing a particularly snappy looking pair of sunglasses that I adore.  They were gilded, metallic lace, and quite unusual.  They caught the attention of a server at a restaurant I frequent upon occasion.  She complimented them, and I removed them to let her try them on.  They looked very fetching on her, others around started complimenting her wearing them, and I told her to keep them.  She immediately took them off to hand them back, saying that she couldn’t possibly take them from me.  But she wasn’t taking them.  I was giving them to her, because, as much as I like those sunglasses, I had many others back home.  She lit up when she wore them, and I lit up at her joy.  I gave her the sunglasses, and left her with a tangible reminder that without reason or notice, we are blessed.  Now the act of blessing might have ended right there, but I doubt that.  I have faith that when we bless another in any way, whether in word or deed, that the Spirit carries that onward and the glory to God rises upward.

That server knows who I am and what I do.  She knows that I am a Christian and a pastor.  What I do is always framed by my faith, and what I gave to her, that moment of joy and surprise disguised as sunglasses, is just a token of what I have been given by God.  I have an abundance of blessing in my life.  I may not have a lot of things, or a bank account bursting with money, but I have more than enough.  No matter how many times I wore those sunglasses, no matter how many times people stopped me to tell me they liked them, they never brought me more joy than when I gave them away.  I could not think of a better way to say thanks be to God for all that I do have than to share it, and let others see how good God is.  Are we no different than when we give of our meal to another?  When we give our clothes, shoes, and coats to someone who goes without?  When we visit those who would otherwise be alone, giving them our time and attention?

God blesses us out of God’s abundance, and those blessing become our abundance.  Christ calls us to share this, to bless others as we have been blessed.  Like the Scriptures record, I was able to offer something to another freely and joyously (1 Chronicles 29:17).  Now it will not end all her problems, or solve a world-wide issue, but it conveyed that she is appreciated, even loved.  For a short interlude, I was able to be a vessel of blessing, and her reaction fed my spirit more than she will ever know.  Maybe next time I will be able to do more, I hope so.  Can we ever do enough?  Will it ever properly convey all that God has given for us and to us?  No, but each act, each gift is a movement in the right direction.  Carry me forward, Holy Spirit.

Prayer:

Thank you, Almighty God,

For all that I have, and all that you do.

I cannot say it enough,

But perhaps I can magnify my words with my actions.

I pray that the gifts I give to others,

Will in some small way, help them discover your love.

May I honor what I have been given,

By giving to others, and letting the gratitude grow.

It is all thanks to you.

May all this be for your honor and glory; this I pray.

Amen.

When the Stewards Get Selfish

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“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.  Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them.  Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.  But you say, ‘How shall we return?’  Will anyone rob God?  Yet you are robbing me!  But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’  In your tithes and offerings!” (Malachi 3:6-8 NRS).


(Image courtesy of knightdaleumc.org)

(Image courtesy of knightdaleumc.org)

Stealing from God?  Who would dare!?  We are repulsed when we hear accounts of thieves stealing the brass from altars, and those who enter into the House of God to steal property and money from the offering plate, but are we doing the very same thing in a different mode?  No one wants to be labeled a thief, and yet Scripture recounts the prophecy of God through God’s servant, Malachi, condemning the practice among the people of God.  God extols God’s faithfulness in the face of abject disobedience by the people.  The people have been robbing God of what belongs rightfully and first to God: the blessings God has given over to them.  Out of faithfulness to us, the Lord has provided the means, the gifts, and the graces for us to earn a living, and, instead of gratitude, far too many of us squander that income on ourselves.  We are commanded to give back a portion of our earnings, the fruit of our labor, as a sign of God’s providence, God’s unfailing care for us.  It is not only acknowledgement, but gratitude.  Yet the vast majority of most churches reports that the congregants do not tithe.  We keep that money for ourselves and for all kinds of reasons.

The cost of living continues to rise.  It is not cheap to live in this society, and that is without the luxuries we so often crave.  Gas prices and fuel costs steadily climb.  Medical bills can mount up.  We invest in retirement, college education, vacations to preserve our sanity, etc.  When do we reinvest ourselves by virtue of our tithes in God, the Church, and the work of the Body of Christ?  Ten percent of our income, our gross income before taxes if we follow the command to give the first fruits (Exodus 23:19), should be promised, set aside, and offered upon the altar of God for the glory of God.  That is not chump change for a great many of us, present company included!  My stress level would plummet if I had the money I tithe to the Church back at my disposal.  My financial acrobatics would not be so extreme, and I would feel less pressure to constantly downsize, eliminate, trim the fat, and sacrifice things.  But then again, maybe that is precisely the point.  There is always something to which we cling that we can replace with the promises of God and the cross.  This I know: when my life seemed to be turned upside down and crumbling to dust, cable television did not keep my head above the waters.  When I repented and turned away from my sin to embrace God’s grace, that was not because of an awesome manicure/pedicure.  When I prayed to God for direction and guidance in serving the Kingdom, God never told me to upgrade my car to a luxury edition.  When I am besieged by my sinfulness, God alone carries me through.  When I am overwhelmed by the sin of another, God walks with me through the darkness.  When I feel broken and battered by the ways of this world, it is God that lifts me up and loves me despite my unworthiness and contribution to my desperate state.

Do I want to give away ten percent of my wages?  No, but I do, I tithe because above all else I want to honor and glory God, because when everything else has fallen and failed me, God never has.  Tithing is how I say, “Thank you, God.  I know I am here because of you, and what I have, no matter how great or small, I owe to you.  So here I am giving back to you, because you first gave to me.  Use these gifts as you will, and may you be further glorified by what they can do for the Kingdom of God.”  If the thought ever creeps into my head to stop tithing, I think of what would have happened to me so many times in the course of my life if God had not remained faithful to me.  God has given everything, and I am only being asked for ten percent in return.  Have it, Lord.  Let it be multiplied for another, as your love and grace are being multiplied for me.

Prayer:

Great God of all blessings,

You shower me with so much.

I have more than enough in reality,

Even as I yearn for things I do not need.

You are enough.

You are more than sufficient for me.

Help me find contentment in my many riches,

So that I can cling less to money and materials things.

Draw me closer to you,

That I might bask in your holiness.

May I give back a portion of what should all be yours,

Yet you have given it to me.

I am thankful and I know words cannot express it fully.

So I make an offering and I lay it on your altar.

A tenth, a tithe of gratitude for your honor and glory.

Count me not among the thieves, but the servants of Christ.

Amen.