Faith Over Fear
Daily Devotion by Rev. Dr. David Smazik
Tuesday, March 31
The seeded infection of the Spirit: Gentleness
What is being covertly seeded in our lives that will be outwardly expressed now or in the future? To be diagnosed of reliance on God’s spirit will exhibit itself through symptoms, i.e. fruits as identified in the book of Galatians (chapter 5). The fruit of Gentleness is eighth on the list.
As we begin to survey April 2020, overwhelming uncertainty seems to be the prevailing certainty. The ways we have developed coping skills on the fly vary widely, even changing from one day to the next. And we do it all within our new context of physical distancing.
Hopefully, we have found ways to be more intentional in our social connections with family, friends, neighbors and strangers. Each of their coping skills may vary, and so can the range of emotions and behaviors that we might encounter: fear, denial, resignation, anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, withdrawal, grief, frustration, panic, helplessness, depression, hopelessness.
More than ever, this is a time to show up as followers of Christ. It is during periods of uncertainty in which the DNA of the fruit of love can show itself in vivid ways. The most vivid may be exhibited in the gentleness with which we respond. Remember the following as you connect with others: Listen hard, lightly respond…be gentle. We may be frustrated by the paths others choose through this pandemic, or feel helpless to understand the emotions that overwhelm them. Setting our own feelings aside and intentionally choosing to respond “with kids gloves”, in the spirit of gentleness, i.e. lightness, will be evidence of the Spirit within us.
The apostle Paul’s definition of love could also apply to gentleness: “[Gentleness] is…not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
May we listen hard and lightly respond to all with whom we connect today.
Monday, March 30
The seeded infection of the Spirit: Faithfulness
What is being covertly seeded in our lives that will be outwardly expressed now or in the future? To be diagnosed of reliance on God’s spirit will exhibit itself through symptoms, i.e. fruits as identified in the book of Galatians (chapter 5). The fruit of faithfulness is seventh on the list.
We have become believers in the ease of transmission of COVID-19. We cannot see it, but we do not question its existence. Those of us reading this in Morris County have faith that the virus is present and have changed behaviors that exhibit that faith.
“Now faith is…the convictions of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1b) We understand faith in the same way as the writer of the Hebrews epistle: Faith exists when we believe in things we cannot see. And faith in the coronavirus extends far beyond us to the corners of the world.
And yet the existence of God, the presence of God-in-the-world – Jesus, and God’s empowering spirit can be questioned routinely, and sometimes even by those of us in the Church! Evidence of the virus exists in its symptoms. How can we – the Church – continue to bear evidence of that which we believe? It is exhibited in how we stand – in times of ease and in times of dis-ease, in times of stability and in this time of pandemic.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for…” (Hebrews 11:1a) Those of us who have changed behaviors because of our faith in COVID-19 might need to examine whether a change in behavior is necessary for us to continue to show evidence of our faith in the Trinity. This is our time. This is our opportunity to demonstrate the visible vitality of our faith – the message of hope – to a hurting world desperately seeking their own foundation on which to stand.
Sunday, March 29
Saturday, March 28
The seeded infection of the Spirit: Generosity
What is being covertly seeded in our lives that will be outwardly expressed now or in the future? To be diagnosed of reliance on God’s spirit will exhibit itself through symptoms, i.e. fruits as identified in the book of Galatians (chapter 5). The fruit of generosity is sixth on the list.
We are daily reminded in vivid and painful images that we are part of a world community, part of God’s household, bound together as God’s children. We share in common concerns and hopes, needs and prayers. We have become more sensitized to those in our neighborhoods. But it is against this backdrop that Jesus asks us who our neighbor truly is and guides us to the answer with a lesson on generosity.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is the story of an individual who was not willing to rationalize why a situation need not concern him. On a journey, he passed by an injured person who was of a despised ethnic group. Whether it be the Samaritan or us, pausing to identify that difference, or any difference, with others in the Beloved Community could give undue pause in a decision to assist. The Samaritan was headed somewhere but willing to take a detour. The Samaritan provided finances with no expectations. The Samaritan reached no limit on his time or energy in the moment nor as he sought ways to fulfill longer term needs.
Generosity is exhibited in sacrifice. This is our experience with Jesus. “Jesus said…, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6a) May we give in a way that frees us to live.
Friday, March 27
The seeded infection of the Spirit: Kindness
What is being covertly seeded in our lives that will be outwardly expressed now or in the future? To be diagnosed of reliance on God’s spirit will exhibit itself through symptoms, i.e. fruits as identified in the book of Galatians (chapter 5). The fruit of kindness is fifth on the list.
“…encourage one another and build up each other…” (I Thessalonians 5:11a)
In popular culture of late, the word kindness has often been preceded by random acts or simple acts…of kindness. Kindness, in its purity, is included as a “fruit” because it can only genuinely occur when the presence of God’s spirit inspires us to intentionally set aside our self-absorption and pride. When our focus on self is interrupted, we are then opened to reach out in genuine, not random, ways that allow others to be encouraged and built up.
Jesus had a continual willingness to be interrupted: when his garment was touched in a crowd; by a military officer whose daughter was seriously ill; by the presence of children; as a guest at a wedding…the list goes on. Think of those on the front-lines of this pandemic battle, the individuals who are becoming and feeling more isolated, those with a growing hopelessness. How can you, relying on Jesus’ presence, be interrupted today to reach out to one of these?
Other, larger scale expressions of kindness are suggested in the soon-to-be-available Tower Tidings newsletter. Information on the One Great Hour of Sharing offering is included to provide ways to support broader efforts of Disaster Relief, Hunger, and the Self Development of people. Find ways today, as evidence of God’s Spirit residing within you, to spread the seed of kindness.
Thursday, March 26
The seeded infection of the Spirit: Patience
What is being covertly seeded in our lives that will be outwardly expressed now or in the future? To be diagnosed of reliance on God’s spirit will exhibit itself through symptoms, i.e. fruits as identified in the book of Galatians (chapter 5). The fruit of patience is fourth on the list.
Our new communal experience of sheltering in place and obeying curfews is taking the temperature of our patience. The heat rises for each of us when we are bound by restrictions that others place upon us, especially when we do not know how long the limitations will last. We rationally understand the necessity. But our patience wears thin when the expectation continues day after day after day.
If you are like me, our lack of patience can also be personally “clocked” by how little time we actually sit to quiet and slow ourselves to hear the still, small voice of God. “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7a) This doesn’t happen “on the run”. There’s always something else that appears to be more urgent in the moment.
If we are true to our faith, we must respond to the call to wait, to look, to listen, and to pace our lives to the rhythms of God’s love and grace. The evidence that we have done so will be exhibited in how we react to and interact with others in the Beloved Community, starting with the very ones with whom we may be sheltering in place.
These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures. As we learn to live under the restrictions placed upon us, let us live into the necessity of hearing the still, small voice which can “seed” the fruit of patience into our souls when we may need it the most.
Wednesday, March 25
The seeded infection of the Spirit: Peace
What is being covertly seeded in our lives that will be outwardly expressed now or in the future? Evidence of our reliance on God’s spirit exhibits itself through symptoms, i.e. fruits as identified in the book of Galatians (chapter 5). The fruit of Peace is third on the list.
Peace. We seek it. We hope for it. We long for it. If peace is something that could be manufactured right now in the world, we would quickly turn to the brightest and best to produce it.
We typically understand peace to be cessation of conflict, or a lack of anxiety and general unsettledness. Or as the Merriman Webster dictionary states: freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions. If there was an instant cessation today of the overload of statistics, news reports, heart-wrenching stories, would we have peace?
In our rational thoughts, we understand peace requires absence of something. As people of faith, we need to flip that and understand peace as the presence of something. Peace is “produced” when we dwell on the presence of the spirit of the living Christ with us. “You will keep in perfect peace…all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Christ walked this earth, lived among people like ourselves, and knows the vicissitudes of the times we are in. Awareness of and reliance on Christ’s knowing presence will be exhibited in our calm, in our lack of anxiety, in our quiet…in our peace.
“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” John 16:33
Tuesday, March 24
What is being covertly seeded in our lives that will be outwardly expressed now or in the future? Evidence of our reliance on God’s spirit exhibits itself through symptoms, i.e. fruits as identified in the book of Galatians (chapter 5). The fruit of joy is second on the list.
We are trying to comprehend a new way of life, for an uncertain period of time, in which the parameters are continually changing. We have heard of many things that have been in short supply as the extent of COVID-19 rolls across the world. Joy is definitely one.
In this moment, consider the source of your joy. Joy comes from a place that has been seeded within. It is not subject to whether our wants have been satisfied or our needs met, what we have accumulated or what we may have lost.
Aligning our hearts and minds with Christ, reflecting God’s image in which we are created, releases joy from deep within our souls. We experience life as it was intended if we allow ourselves to be continually formed in the image of Christ for others. As we lean into this reality, we experience joy and are able to express joy. Jesus’ words in John 15:11 speak to us today: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” The symptomatic evidence of joy reflects a source far beyond our physical, material lives. Today our joy can begin to replenish a supply desperately needed in our hurting world.
Monday, March 23
One word associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is seeding, explained as the spread of the virus particularly when symptoms are covert. The seeding of the coronavirus becomes evident, apart from test results, when a person exhibits outward symptoms. Symptoms can lead to diagnosis.
What is being covertly seeded in our lives that will be outwardly expressed now or in the future? Evidence of our reliance on God’s spirit exhibits itself through symptoms, i.e. fruits as identified in the book of Galatians (chapter 5), that can lead to a diagnosis as well.
The listing of the fruits of the Spirit begins with love, most clearly expressed in the life and message of Jesus. In one of his early teachings, Jesus tells us to love…of all people, our enemies. What a stark diagnostic measure! Whom do we essentially treat as enemies? For whom are we not willing to sacrifice our own wants and needs? In what ways are we covertly retaining our power so we can secure our lives? If properly seeded, we become very different people within the Beloved Community – willing to go the extra mile, to seek not to be served, but to serve others.
In our collective lives, Lent is often a time to focus on what we can give up for ourselves. How are we seeding our hearts during this period of Lent so that we can give up for others?
Saturday, March 21
Warnings. Restrictions. Numbers. Especially the numbers. They are all increasing in volume. Like a song in our minds that we cannot shake, this new refrain repeats and repeats, leading us deeper into uncertainty. Uncertainty that is shaking the very foundations of our lives. Rarely has a refrain, in its cacophony, played so loudly and affected so many in the Beloved World Community.
Music has the ability to penetrate to the core of one’s being. The melodies, harmonies, dynamics, and rhythms can deeply touch one’s emotions and spirit. Although devoid of musical elements, the words of the Psalms, the songs of the Hebrew Bible, can infiltrate our whole being. The shortest of the 150 psalms can become a new refrain that keeps playing in our heads and hearts: “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:2)
This brief refrain captures the key themes of the entire Old Testament: God’s love is unwavering and unending in its manifestation. May we let these lines imbed and persist in our lives. May they give us certainty at the core of our beings. Turn up the volume on this truth.
“For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”
“For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”
Friday, March 20
Out of necessity, we have become increasingly aware of our bodies over the past few weeks. We are separating our bodies from others. We have become more cognizant of physiological changes in our bodies. We sanitize our bodies more. It is of utmost importance to be vigilant for the maintenance of our health. But it is also important that this self-absorbed vigilance doesn’t consume all our thoughts.
As people of faith, we are familiar with the illustration of the body representing the community of faith. We are to be the physical representation on earth of the resurrected Christ. We are each an essential part of that body. Apart from our active participation, the transformational power of the body of Christ is diminished. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” I Corinthians 12:12
In this radically changing time, we must maintain our vigilance as the body of Christ. As much as we have increased our efforts to be sanitized, we need to increase our efforts to be sensitized to what is needed to keep the body of Christ strong, healthy, and vital. You have unique gifts to contribute as a part of this body. Let this become your focus today. Through whatever means you have, you can be the representation of Christ today for someone in the Beloved Community. A phone call, an email, an encouraging note, a prayer. Even as we isolate and separate ourselves from others, this can be done. What will consume your thoughts today?
Thursday, March 19
How do we begin to grasp the reality of our current situation? I believe we are, and may continue to be, in collective shock. In the moments that we think we get a bit of a ‘handle’ on what this pandemic means for each of us, we find out more. And the effect of the ripples continues to spread.
Christianity was birthed in an environment where there was a ripple effect that created an unsettled life for followers of “the way”, as Christianity was first known. Traditional religious authorities were unrelenting in their persecution of early followers, the Roman empire required adoration and worship of Caesar, and this new “way” created economic crises in communities dependent on the sale of idols for deity worship. Yet the ripple effect of the love and hope expressed by these believers resulted in Christian communities that flourished.
The New Testament contains many letters written to encourage those early followers. Those same letters are relevant for us in 2020. Be encouraged today from the letter of Paul to the Romans: “Endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4-5) May the ripple effect of our hope, in spite of the unknown, create a place for all of the Beloved Community to be encouraged.
Wednesday, March 18
On a recent walk, I witnessed many flowers beginning to bloom and trees well along in the budding process. There was an abundance of new life in every direction. Given the relatively early date on the calendar, I was caught off guard by the onset of creation vividly returning to life.
Doesn’t it feel as if our lives are going in the opposite direction? More and more of our routines are being suspended. Life as we know it is coming to a stop. Yet, the cycle of seasons and the beauty of nature continue to unfold in lavish ways. And the life that God desires for each of us can do the same: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)
The change of routines and disruption of our normal pace are giving us unprecedented time during Lent to become more aware of what is and has been present the whole time. God’s creation as it surrounds us with its beauty. And Christ’s unconditional love and grace, waiting to be unveiled, in full bloom, in abundance…for us, for our neighbors, for the Beloved Community. As we witness it, may we share it.
Tuesday, March 17
Most of us share the common tendency to worry, to allow anxiety to well up within our minds and hearts. This was a reality when we were traveling through life-as-we-knew-it a week ago. Now we might feel as if our worry could go ‘off the charts’. The fodder that fuels our anxiety comes from the unknown and all we seem to know today is that we do not know!
Jesus addressed this very topic to those who were concerned about daily needs: “Therefore do not worry, saying ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’…But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:31, 33-34
I hope we can begin to capture our thoughts every time worry seeps into our consciousness. As we practice shifting our focus to the kingdom of God, may our hearts burn within us as we become attuned to the presence of God-with-us.
Monday, March 16
During these uncertain times, we would like to stay in contact with you on a daily basis. The sign that hangs on the wall as you walk in my office door will prevail as the theme for these daily mailings:
“Faith over Fear”.
Our faith is what allows us to realize God’s presence among us. During this season of Lent, especially during this unprecedented season of Lent, may we more deeply acknowledge God’s spirit at work in our lives. May this season give us pause so that we can intentionally look for ways that Christ is present in our individual worlds and the world community. May our understanding of that community deepen, moving us toward being active participants and advocates of the Beloved Community.
We know that many of you already have a copy of the Lenten daily devotional. You will also receive a copy of the day’s scripture and reading in our daily mailing.
May you know the peace that comes from the resurrection – a peace from which nothing can separate us.
Monday, March 16, 2020