Daily Devotion

Hope for the Journey

Daily Devotion by Reverend Dr. David Smazik

Thursday, July 30

Dave’s Last Devotion

Hope for the Journey – Benediction

Today we conclude our look at the non-Pauline letters in the New Testament with Jude’s benediction. This message will also conclude the devotional journey we have taken over the past four and a half months. I am sure most who are reading this have received a letter which announced my resignation from the Presbyterian Church in Morristown. (A link to the letter follows this devotion.) Shortly, I will begin work as an interim pastor in Indianapolis, IN, a step I initiated as I discerned God’s will for my next chapter in ministry. A particular blessing of the IN church’s location is that it brings us closer to extended family.

I have been personally encouraged by our discipline of glimpsing into scripture as we have experienced renewed calls for racial justice while navigating the unknown path of a pandemic. My initial prayer was that we would recognize avenues of hope for our journeys in the passages we read together. My ongoing prayer is that we, and the whole of the PCM community, will continue to be renewed through daily spiritual disciplines that keep us faithfully seeking God-with-us for the days ahead. I join with Jude to share this benediction:

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Monday, July 27

“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” (Jude 20-21)

Over the past few weeks, we have moved through the non-Pauline letters in the New Testament. This scriptural journey will conclude with two passages from the book of Jude, which is only one chapter in its entirety. Jude, the brother of James the disciple, writes that we are to pray in the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, we – as Presbyterians – struggle with an understanding of the work of the Spirit within our lives. Recently a ministry colleague shared that he had a conversation with a Jewish friend who expressed confusion as to whether Christianity placed priority on God or Jesus. My colleague confessed that he added to the confusion by responding there were actually three we worship!

As we allow ourselves to pray in the Spirit, the deep groanings from the recesses of our lives are expressed. These prayers are beyond mere petitions for the week; they originate in the place from which we seek meaning and purpose. As we open ourselves to the indwelling Christ, we commune with the one in whose image we are created and live and move and have our being in the space of God’s love and Christ’s mercy as it is present for us today into eternity.

Thursday, July 23

“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1: 15-16)

What comes to mind when we consider holiness? Often, it’s that which is separate, set apart, pure, solitary in focus. Images of a monastic way of life.

The call to be holy in I Peter is the same call from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. To answer the call, we must engage in the act of separation: from that which pollutes our hearts, our minds, our souls, and that which diverts our focus. But the end result is not one of being set apart. Just the opposite. It is at the point of separation that we become present for others. There will be a purity of motive in our presence. There will be a singularity of focus in our spirit. We become those who can purely share the love of Christ and be focused on being bearers of light in places of hopelessness and despair. Seek ways to be holy today.

Monday, July 20

“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (I Peter 3:8)

Unity of spirit, knit together with sympathy, love, tenderness and humility. Each of these threads, when woven into place, create a sensitivity that engages us in the lives of others.

The antithesis of this characteristic, which typically ties us off from others, is apathy. We get knotted up in each of our own worlds in a variety of indifferent expressions that are often subtle, maybe even subconscious: we claim concern, even solidarity, but exert no effort; we claim “I don’t know” when we do; we keep our schedules full but mostly for self-preservation. Our daily challenge is to release ourselves so we can joyfully seek ways to weave our lives into the tapestry of all God’s children.

What knots are we willing to untie today?

Thursday, July 16

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Dynamism and growth continue to be implied in I Peter as “living” stones are used to describe those who come to Jesus. The use of stones references an important theme we claim in reformed theology: we are built upon and have direct access to the cornerstone. We do not need intermediaries, priests, to intercede on our behalf. We, who are in relationship with Christ, are the holy priesthood, part of the living structure of Christ’s body, the Church. As a part of this ‘house’, our dynamism and growth will be evident in our spiritual response of sacrificial service.

Monday, July 13

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3)

We claim a hope, one into which we have been born, that is neither stagnant nor static. Rather it is dynamic. It adapts to the realities we each confront in our unique circumstances. It is living and vibrant. Its source is in the mercy of an eternal God, born into unlikely surroundings, strengthened in sacrifice, set free by resurrection, and empowered for unlimited possibilities. The ways of the world cause us to believe hope is diminishing and in short supply. I Peter assures us of the opposite, even as we are worn down by that which surrounds us. Hope is alive and available, ever-present and ever-changing as we confront any challenge that lies ahead.

Thursday, July 9

“Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11)

In our world of lightning fast microprocessors and expectation of instant personal gratification, the thought of enduring anything for the ‘long haul’ seems outdated. Yet we have been thrust into a reality check of what it means to endure: for some it has been the endurance of days, weeks and months of illness; others have had to endure days of showing up for long shifts of work; for many it has become the endurance of daily uncertainty with no to little income or provision for basic needs.

We, who claim to be called by Christ, are to endure in our pursuit of justice…God’s love made visible. What does that look like as we hear of those who endure injustice daily? Do we see God’s purpose for us in the midst of it, no matter the cost? As we discover new dimensions of God’s compassion and mercy, we will endure in seeking justice for all.

Monday, July 6

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you….Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4: 8a,10)

In James 4:8, ‘draw near’ can also be interpreted from the Greek as ‘approach.’ To draw near to, or approach, can embody a sense of moving in stages, measuring steps. At the start of a new week, we consider where our steps may take us. In what ways will we approach God this week? What intentional steps, disciplines, can place us in communion with the Holy One? As we move our hearts and minds towards God, the proximity of God’s presence and power is exalted. The choice to humbly and consistently approach the divine empowers us to see, live, and understand life in ways deemed impossible by humankind.

Thursday, July 2

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom… For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.“ (James 3:13,17-18)

In this space, we have been reminded of what we exhibit as evidence of the spirit in our lives (Galatians 5) and how the peace of God, that guards our minds, leads to intentionality in the focus of our thoughts (Philippians 4). James provides a list of character qualities that demonstrate wisdom. Each word or phrase on these lists is like a brush stroke of an impressionistic painting. Standing alone it is only one color. Added to a canvas, it becomes part of a whole.

The brush strokes of the spirit in our lives, the evidence of our reliance on God’s presence, are expressions of light and dimension that are brought into that which is dark and lifeless. The challenge is our intentionality to place and keep ourselves in the presence of the master artist or, in the words of Paul, to pray without ceasing. What strokes from the color pallet do we need added to our lives to make us whole? As we live into Christ’s presence, what impression will be left on the grand mural of others’ lives?

Monday, June 29

You see that his [Abraham’s] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (James 2:22-24)

Debates have raged throughout the centuries whether strength of faith produces works or works strengthen faith. James addresses this delicate balance. Our reliance on the presence and power of God will be evident in the ways we live and move. The ways we live and move will indicate the faith we have in that presence and power. May the robust intertwining of both in our lives be a witness to others that can be considered righteous.

Thursday, June 25

“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)

The last few months have removed and/or rearranged the normal orientation points we use to navigate our lives. We desperately want to reacquire what we had known to bring predictability and comfort back to our daily worlds.

I am reminded of a portion of a statement by Stephen Covey, former educator and businessman, to always know ‘your true north.’ As proclaimed disciples, our true north – yesterday, today, and tomorrow – lies in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ presence implies an orientation. These orientation points provide understanding. Our mistaken sense has been that we were cast into the unknown in this time of pandemic and civil unrest. Just the opposite. We have been given an opportunity to recalibrate our true north.

Monday, June 22

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)

There is a very busy two-way street in our lives between fear and anger. Those who ‘cross’ us or attempt to divert our attention can be run over by our anger, blatantly or in our minds. We are unaware that that anger is linked to the fear of losing some privilege, some comfort, or some control in life.

John often repeats the commandment to love as we have been loved. A new street must be paved that runs between seeking the presence of God-with-us and responding with a willingness to give up what we have come to expect. People that cross this street will encounter Christ-in-us and, God willing, be encouraged by the encounter.

Saturday, June 20

“Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
(1 John 4:11-12)

Tomorrow is known, in some parts of the world, as Father’s Day. The origins and deeper impacts of this day provide reason for serious debate. But this emphasis can serve as a lead-in to a thought that is more psychological than theological in nature. Throughout my many years of ministry, I have had multiple conversations in which individuals transfer understanding of their relationships with their fathers to their understanding of God. Some qualities caught up in this transference are positive. Others have been negative: demanding, judgmental, absent, harsh, indifferent.

John writes in very common language that God loves us much and unmistakably pairs our understanding of this truth with our love for others. Many of us may struggle with the implications of the observance of Father’s Day and how that impacts other perceptions. There can be no misperception when it comes to the depth of love demonstrated by God. Our understanding of this will be evidenced as it is perfected in us and seen by others.

Friday, June 19

And this is [God’s] commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. (1 John 3:2 –24)

Our attempts to live lives of sacrificial love fueled by the strength of our own wills result in frustration and bitterness. We exhaust our energy, let other endeavors crowd our time, do not receive the response we expect, or simply lose focus or interest. John reminds us that our strength comes from the place in which we abide. That place has often become a personal belief structure, built on a hybrid of philosophies, theology, and influences that pass through the filters of our personal experiences. John’s reminder is simple: abide in Christ. The challenge becomes the discipline it takes to commit our time, energy and focus to do so. But “by this we know”, in Christ’s presence, God’s spirit can free and fuel us to love as we are commanded.

It has been a joy over these past few months to share daily words of encouragement from scripture. I pray we all continue a daily discipline of reading God’s word, praying over the words, and most importantly, living the words. The schedule for these mailings will return to Monday and Thursday, beginning June 22nd. A devotional thought will be included with each of the mailings.

Thursday, June 18

We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses [to] help? (1 John 3:16-17)

The book of 1 John is about God’s love for each of us and our responsibility to love in the same sacrificial manner. This is what clearly distinguishes Christianity from a life built on societal values or human-created ethical standards. The presence and empowering of the living Christ, abiding in us, frees us to love with the depth of mercy and grace that we experience. John encourages us to recall the love we claim and challenges us to evaluate its transformative presence in our lives by how we share that which we have.

It has been a joy over these past few months to share daily words of encouragement from scripture. I pray we all continue a daily discipline of reading God’s word, praying over the words, and most importantly, living the words. The schedule for these mailings will return to Monday and Thursday, beginning June 22nd. A devotional thought will be included with each of the mailings.

Wednesday, June 17

Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is not cause for stumbling. (I John 2:8-10)

John’s authority in his writing may have come from being in Jesus’ inner circle or from subsequent years of reflecting on Jesus’ message. He is very direct in his application of a new commandment.

We read this and automatically check the “Does Not Apply” box before we examine how hate manifests itself in our lives. The forms of hate that exist for us are typically not overtly manifested, things like dismissal of justice, ignoring implications of privilege, failing to identify another’s reality. I recently heard the following: “We are all captives of the picture in our head – our belief that the world we have experienced is the world that really exists.” How have we slipped into darkness? How have we so adjusted in the darkness that stumbling in this reality has become our norm? Loving, as defined by Jesus’ love, will steady our steps. Living, as defined by Jesus’ life, will bring us into the light.

Tuesday, June 16

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (I John 1:1,5a)

The book of I John, a letter believed to have been written by the disciple John, begins with a declaration that the writer had been a witness to Jesus’ life and ministry. This is what John knew from personal experience: that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all.

We feel as though we have been groping through the darkness as of late. We may even have been wandering in darkness for longer than we are willing to admit. We can’t see in the dark. But, as people of faith, we proclaim to hope even when we cannot see! In that claim, we become willing to position ourselves differently. Today we may only see a glimmer of the light of God to which John was witness, but in faith we take another step, believing that God will continue to break into the darkness to light our way.

Monday, June 15

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

Paul ends this verse exhorting us to give praise if there is any hint of what has been previously delineated. Our challenge is to give God, the object of our praise, priority in our thoughts, persistently keeping what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and excellent in the forefront of our minds.

We prioritize, plan, make checklists for, and arrange our thoughts and lives around many things. And can be quick to be reactionary to what we perceive as a slight against us, impacts what we claim is ours, or conflicts with our opinions, schedules or lifestyles. Being quick to praise God when we witness an expression of Christ-likeness gets delegated to the sidelines. It takes discipline. First, to see it. Second, to think about it. Third, to acknowledge it. May we begin a practice today to focus, in as many moments as we can, on God-with-us. Look for it. Think about it. Praise God for it. Our thinking will be changed. So will we.

Saturday, June 13

“Finally, beloved…if there is any excellence…think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

The second half of this verse, in line with the call to think on the more practical expressions of deeper truths, also seems to provide guidance for a progression, or ascending, of our thoughts: pleasing, commendable and, now, excellent. The form of presentation also changes, almost to imply that excellence is more uncommon: “if there is any excellence.”

In the midst of the noise of our media-driven, word-saturated world, this phrase resonates. Excellence is not easily recognizable using the earlier standard of truth, justice, honor, and purity. Yet our desire and search for excellence in the truths of life are worship to the one who views us as having utmost value and worth. This standard is the one by which we are to see others, literally see all of God’s creation, as that of having the utmost quality. In our human limitation, the standard by which we often assign excellence is fleeting. Continuing our journey to be transformed into the image of Christ, we begin to see others and ourselves as God created us and excellence comes into view. Something to think about.

Friday, June 12

Philippians 4:8 continues to challenge our thinking with deeper, more abstract attributes of faith that compel us to apply their practical truth in our everyday lives. Today we are challenged to think about that which is commendable: “Finally, beloved…whatever is commendable…think about these things.”

What causes us to take notice, is above the ordinary, and garners respect that we commend? At a time in life that demands from us to think on a deeper level, we must find ways to applaud that which is worthy. It is easy to gauge something as commendable according to a personal scale of worthiness. But what is causing us to take notice that is Christ-like in nature? What can we commend that is an extraordinary expression of God at work? What exists in each of our lives that is worthy of the standard of Christ? May we align our thoughts with Christ’s on this day and find ways to commend that which is true, honorable, just, pure and agreeable.

Thursday, June 11

“Finally beloved, whatever is…pleasing…think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Another translation for pleasing from the Greek word, προσφιλῆ (prosphile), is agreeable. Both translations speak to compromise. How do we think about opportunities to bring about an agreeable, pleasing atmosphere for all involved – in our relationships and with those we don’t know? It requires much: a willingness to give up something, lack of insistence on our way of doing things, sacrificing the need to be right, listening to and seeking understanding of another’s perspective, choosing not to be the one with all the answers. Becoming agreeable, pleasing, opens lines of communication and moves us toward thinking of others more highly than ourselves, the crux of Jesus’ life and teaching. Who do we not listen to, who do we not understand? Which of our perspectives do we insist to be right? What choices do we make based on our status? How quickly do we seek to provide an answer? We need to think. And then pray about these things.

Wednesday, June 10

Much of what we can consume on a daily basis has been altered. The continual advance of technology and science has created a context in which there is an increasing need to ‘read the label’, ‘confirm the source’, ‘check the facts’, and so on. What in life has not been tainted, modified, touched-up? The pure, unaltered, steadfast love that God has for each of us, known to us in the context of Christ.

We are repeatedly reminded in scripture’s poetry, prophets and parables, narratives, and letters that God’s love cannot be changed; it is immutable. As we think and meditate on this love, we are enfolded into eternal communion with God. As we think and meditate on this love, we are altered. In the context of Christ’s presence, the confirmed source of this pure love, our unaltered purpose in life becomes the expression of this love in all our actions to all God’s children.

“Finally beloved…what is pure…think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Tuesday, June 9

Philippians 4:8 exhorts us, the beloved, that, “whatever is just…think about these things.” As Clarence Curry, Jr. presented to us on Sunday, justice is central to our beliefs. To meditate, study, and think on justice throughout the whole of scripture and apply that message to the whole of our lives is not easy work. Our default mode is to consider our choices, attitudes, and perspectives in light of chapters and verses of scripture that seemingly support them. Our human tendency, and an effect of privilege, is to avoid that which calls our lifestyle into question, making our interest for in-depth biblical study wane when it requires an alignment of our lives with biblical standards and the living Word, Jesus Christ. I am reminded of 2 Timothy 2:15 as a call to what is required of us: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”

Monday, June 8

The devotional this morning is written by Vern Verhoef on behalf of PCM’s Undoing Racism group.

Masks Not Required! These are strange words in today’s environment of Covid-19; however, important words in being and becoming the Beloved Community. In this broken world of polarizing messages and devastating violence, the work of “undoing racism” is critically important. As a participant in this initiative with the Rendall Memorial Presbyterian Church in Harlem, I have learned to listen with humility and have begun to strip off my masks of indifference, of comfort, of white privilege, of control, and of perfectionism. Often a painful process! Join us on this journey as we move toward addressing critical community issues in our own Morristown neighborhood. Grounded in the Spirit of Christ, the work continues. For additional information, please contact Sarah Galo.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Saturday, June 6

Philippians 4:8 continues: “Finally beloved…whatever is honorable…think about these things.” How do we consider and how do we treat what we honor, that which we regard as honorable? We recognize, we protect, and we value.

One of the most jarring behaviors to the religious authorities of Jesus’ day was that he not only sought out but dwelt with individuals considered not to have value by the culture’s norms. Individuals for whom it was thought, by the religious leaders and others, that there was no reason for recognition or protection. If the Son of God, the creator, was drawn to those considered unworthy of honor in a culture or society, what does that say about how should we be directing our thoughts and actions? I believe we must acknowledge those who are not considered worthy of honor in our society, historically and currently. Overtly and covertly. Individually and systemically. Unlike the religious authorities, we must be willing to seek out and dwell with those we need to recognize, protect and value.

Friday, June 5

We live at a point in history in which a torrent of facts, opinions, and commentaries rush by us on a daily basis. The volume of the flow makes it next to impossible to decipher what is true, what is a partial interpretation, or what is a reaction in the moment.

Philippians 4:8 begins and ends with, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true…think about these things.” Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” We begin our work as disciples by meditating on the person and work of Christ. Jesus lived his life and gave his life so that we might live in the power of the resurrection. Being grounded in that truth will lead us to a point of action. It will be a different point for each of us. But the experience is the same: when we focus on the living Christ, internalize the truth of God present with us in the Holy Spirit, we will be led and empowered by the triune God to live in the world as disciples.

Thursday, June 4

The unknowns of the coronavirus and the un-acknowledged components of systemic racism in our country require people of faith, particularly those of us who are white people of privilege, to respond as the people we proclaim to be. We have been charged, as apostles, to go into the world, but are often hesitant when we are not sure what to say or what actions to take.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) In order to faithfully move into our world in ways that reflect God’s will, we need to discipline our minds. Over the next few days, Paul will help us do that as we meditate on what he wrote to the Philippians: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Wednesday, June 3

It’s not too often that one verse of scripture can provide all the material necessary for a traditional ‘three-point sermon’! This verse from Psalm 55 does as we seek guidance on how to move forward in our search for justice after the quarantine of our physical lives and of our hearts. Our first priority is to bring what burdens us into God’s presence. The second is to recognize that reliance on ourselves – our own devices – is not what can or will sustain us. The third is to believe that God’s willingness to be present with us is what allows us to stand firm in seeking righteousness. The promise that God will never allow those seeking what is right and just to be moved strengthens us for the journey in front of us.
Psalm 55:22
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.

Tuesday, June 2

God’s love endures forever. We have become accustomed to a society in which immediate gratification has become the norm. The last few months have reintroduced us to the need for endurance. The last few days have implored us to respond to the need to act justly and seek righteousness for others, not ourselves. In all times, in all circumstances, God’s love endures. God’s love empowers us to live. God’s love dwells in us to live as the body of Christ. May we endure to live in the ways of Christ, in ways we may have never lived before, in ways we may have never loved before.

Psalm 106:1-3
1 Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise? 3 Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

Monday, June 1

The last few months, and now the last few days, have required us to reflect on how we live as people of faith. During our work in the Undoing Racism project, a foundational learning has been the depth of hurt, pain, frustration and anger experienced by our African American brothers and sisters and the depth of the seeds of racism that reside in our lives, expressed through white privilege and systems imbedded in our communities and country.

Psalm 106 pairs the proclamation of God’s acts with those who act justly and always do what is right. We are challenged to look deeply into our souls and into the communities in which we live. This work activates our own defenses and often results in our inactivity. Now, more than ever, we need to move beyond that. In the spirit of Pentecost, we need to respond in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is at work in us so that God can do mighty acts through us.

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD or fully declare his praise? Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right. Psalm 106:2-3

Saturday, May 30

Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost. We celebrate the presence and power of the Holy Spirit as it filled the disciples. On this day, we are also reminded of God’s willingness to live among us and Christ’s willingness to endure the cross for resurrection to occur. We witness to the reality of the triune God’s love and activity. In uncertain times, the psalmist’s brief words guide our focus and response to God’s transformational work seen in history and unfolding today.

Psalm 126:3
The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoiced.

Friday, May 29

The Book of Psalms has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.

It is not uncommon to perceive God as reigning in heaven, detached from the details of our day-to-day lives. Reflections on Psalm 145 this week have provided understanding that God is engaged with us now. As we open ourselves today to receive God’s just and kind engagement, we are tasked with living in that same spirit. It is common for us to perceive injustice as detached from the details of our day-to-day lives. We allow systems and attitudes to exist that do not allow justice for all. We are tasked, however, to be different.

God is near. God hears our cries. Lord, we want to be free from our present confinement. May you also free us from attitudes that keep us from the work of seeking justice for all. Lord, use us to make a difference.

Psalm 145:17-19

17 The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. 18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.

Thursday, May 28

The Book of Psalms has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.

In spite of our reflection on God’s activity, our human natures suspect that a situation or circumstance can outmatch God. The constraints of our logic and material world overwhelm our ability to comprehend and we are tempted to misplace our trust.

During this world crisis, we have been brought to our spiritual, physical and emotional knees, but we can be kept from a free fall. The psalmist states that God is faithful to God’s word. If we allow grace, God’s gracious deeds, to overwhelm us, we are lifted from the place in which we are outmatched by all that swirls around us.

Psalm 145:13a–14
The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.

Wednesday, May 27

The Book of Psalms has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps

We were prompted yesterday to focus on the activity of God in our lives and today are prompted to share what we know of that activity, from history and for us. We reflected last week on the inadequacy of words and today are encouraged to use a volume of words to commend, tell, proclaim, and celebrate. During this day, what mighty, wonderful, and awesome deeds of God do we recognize? In contrast to the agonizing disparity of justice present in our country, I pray we are willing to proclaim God’s deeds, God’s righteousness, in order for God’s works to provide righteousness for all.

Psalm 145:4-9

4 One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. 5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty – and I will meditate on your wonderful works. 6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds. 7 They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

Tuesday, May 26

The Book of Psalms has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.

There are many messages, voices, and a variety of images depicting the ways people are finding their paths forward and how we determine next steps. Throughout the pandemic, it has been difficult knowing which voice our lives should be attuned. This current atmosphere can be a reminder to us as people of faith. We “tune” our lives to a frequency that is beyond what we see or hear. At this level, we are shown a path of fullness that spills into all our steps.

Psalm 16:11
You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Saturday, May 23

Although the pundits try to prove us wrong, we have run out of words to describe the unprecedented place we are in. There are, however, never enough adequate words to describe the unprecedented glory of God.

Psalm 19 shares a perspective on the theme of tomorrow’s worship service: the glory of God cannot be contained. The psalmist reassures us that words are not necessary to describe God’s glory. It is displayed throughout creation, “to the ends of the world”, to the place we are in.

Psalm 19: 1 – 4

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Friday, May 22

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.   

The psalmist brings Psalm 103 to conclusion with a call to bless the One whose kingdom is present over all. Our altered schedules and disrupted personal plans can cause us to question God’s presence, get angry with God, or even dismiss God.

As people of faith, it is prudent for us to acknowledge how God’s kingdom is ruled. We may discover that our personal wants and needs, plans and priorities are not aligned with God’s intent for our lives. Verse one called us to “bless the Lord…[with] all that is within me.” Doing so will realign our souls with God’s kingdom as it is present on earth.

Psalm 103:19-22

19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules over all. 20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word. 21 Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will.22 Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul.

Thursday, May 21

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.   

Psalm 103 continues in its declaration of foundational statements: life is fragile.  This reality has been dramatically reinforced these past few months.  We attempt to live lives to deny this truth, but there is no escape from our mortality.  This ultimate fear feeds our uncertainty as we live into the unknown.  Fearing God, living humbly before God, feeds us with compassion and love to face what confronts us in our days and throughout our years. 

Psalm 103:13-18

13  As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. 14  For he knows how we were made, he remembers that we are dust. 15  As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; 16  for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17  But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18  to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. 

Wednesday, May 20

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.

We have been restricted from our former activities, gained a long list of new ones, or a possible combination of both. It is different for each of us. We can find similarity in some of our responses, however: weariness, resentment, irritability, guilt, worry, frustration, anger…and the list goes on. Our confinement of the last few months may have exposed some attitudes and behaviors that have revealed our deeper character. The Psalmist reminds us that God does not respond to us as we deserve. May we receive, respond and reset to God’s mercy today.

Psalm 103: 9-12
He will not always accuse, he will not keep his anger forever. 10 He has not treated us as our sins deserve or paid us back for our offenses, 11 because his mercy toward those who fear him is as far above earth as heaven. 12 He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.

Tuesday, May 19

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.

The reality is that there is more we do not know than know about the days and months ahead. As this uncertainty tightens its grip, it can become a breeding ground for fear and anger. If we open ourselves to receive it, mercy and grace can also become a reality on this journey. Our experience of knowing God’s ways allows us to become channels of mercy, grace, and justice for others as they seek their way in this unsettled environment.

Psalm 103:6-8

6 The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Monday, May 18

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.

Our focus this week will be on Psalm 103. As our future begins to take shape in unfamiliar ways, we repeatedly hear that we cannot expect life to be what we once knew; life will be different. The psalmist begins by encouraging us to not forget what we have known. With “all that is within” us, whatever that might be in the moment, this act of remembering all God’s benefits will ground us for our unknown future.

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s

Strength for the Journey

Saturday, May 16

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.

The theme of thankfulness is woven throughout the Book of Psalms. Psalm 100 captures this theme from start to finish. While our thoughts and feelings have been fluctuating wildly, God’s embrace of us remains steady, moment to moment, day to day, week to week. If we choose to enter our days with thanksgiving, to acknowledge God’s embrace, we enter a space in which we are moved beyond a narrow view of momentary cares to one with an eternal perspective.

Psalm 100: 4-5

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

and his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him, bless his name.

For the Lord is good;

his steadfast love endures forever,

and his faithfulness to all generations.

Friday, May 15

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps. 

We have all had an instance (or two) of being desperately in need of an ‘attitude adjustment,’ a time when our prevailing thoughts have needed to be refocused in a more positive and hopeful direction.  The attitude we need to recover, uncover, or rediscover is one of gratitude. The act of giving thanks to God will readjust our attitude.  Starting our days grateful for God’s activity in our lives changes our focus beyond ourselves and frees us to share God’s goodness with others.   

Psalm 9:1-2 

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; 
    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. 
 I will be glad and rejoice in you; 
    I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. 

Thursday, May 14

Strength for the Journey

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps. 

I am sure we all share a common thought after two months of sheltering in place: let’s restore our pre-COVID-19 lives today!  But it’s possible for our pent-up energy to move ahead of sound scientific advice.    

It’s easy to want to move ahead.  We do that on a spiritual level, too.  We rely on our own insights and end up moving ahead of the grace and presence of God in our lives.  Psalm 33 presents multiple benefits of waiting for the Lord, seeking God first, that describe the anatomy of the hope we can claim. 

Psalm 33:20-22 

Our soul waits for the Lord; 
he is our help and shield. 
Our heart is glad in him,  
because we trust in his holy name. 
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, 
be upon us, even as we hope in you. 

Wednesday, May 13

Strength for the Journey

We face an unknown journey ahead. The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for our next steps.

There is a completeness in the Lord’s response when we seek, look, and cry out to God. A life turned toward God will be different than one turned toward fueling our fears and troubles. We will see our paths differently. Positioning ourselves to face God is portrayed as being radiant, a reflection of the light of Christ’s spirit within us who guides our every step.

Psalm 34:4-6

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,

and delivered me from all my fears.

Look to him, and be radiant;

so your faces shall never be ashamed.

This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,

and was saved from every trouble.

Tuesday, May 12

Strength for the Journey

We are entering a new phase in our pandemic experience. What we know is that we face an unknown journey for the next few months. The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, has many passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for each step that lies ahead.

Life as we knew it has changed. What has not, is God’s presence with us. These are more than mere platitudes. When we choose to meditate on God’s present help as opposed to the changes that surround us, we are freed from fear.

Psalm 46:1-2a
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…

Monday, May 11

Strength for the Journey

We are entering a new phase in our pandemic experience described as transitioning, reopening, restarting, and the list goes on. What we know for certain is that the we face an unknown journey for the next few months. The steps may be slow, even precarious. However, we also know promises and truths that outfit us for whatever will confront us.

The Book of Psalms, reflections in poetry and song written in response to life’s experiences, have never been more relevant. Over the next weeks, we will consider passages that can build our inner strength and provide encouragement for each step that lies ahead.

Psalm 65:5-6
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

Saturday, May 9

“You are the Light of the World.”

Our exploration of the beatitudes has given us an outline for how our hearts, minds and souls can be formed in the image of Christ and impact the lives of others. The Sermon on the Mount continues with the imagery of salt and light to add to the description of how we live life ‘with God’.

Today we consider light. This image works in contrast to salt. Jesus first urged listeners to work into all the ‘nooks and crannies’ of life, the earth, with the preserving qualities of salt. He next urged those who would follow this way to shine brightly in the world. In an arid climate, the sun can, at times, seem ever-present and unrelenting. As bringers of mercy and wholeness, our efforts to make the image of Christ visible in our lives need to be persistent.

We are the visible body of Christ. Jesus’ ministry that followed this sermon was brief in the scope of human history. Those who choose to continue Christ’s ministry keep the presence of sacrificial love lit in a world that often appears to be overcome with darkness. In a pandemic, darkness can appear to rule the day. Unrelenting light, of any intensity, is needed.

We are, also, the present body of Christ. As we continue to be tucked away in our residences, we cannot allow the light of Christ’s presence to be tucked away with us. Formed in Christ’s image, we will be drawn to find ways to be present with others, to reflect his image of mercy and wholeness, to let our lights shine.

Friday, May 8

“You are the Salt of the Earth” 

Our exploration of the beatitudes has given us an outline for how our hearts, minds, and souls can be formed in the image of Christ and impact the lives of others.  The Sermon on the Mount continues with the imagery of salt and light to add to the description of how we live life “with God.”

Today we consider salt.  In the ancient world, the primary use of salt was as a preservative.  Salt was critical to preserving sustenance for daily life.  Jesus named his listeners “salt,” a substance that sustained life.  A substance that, while not overtly seen, was present, doing the work of preservation.  The work of grace and mercy in lives.  Work that does make the image of Christ visible but invisibly penetrates into the very fabric and fiber of lives to help fend off decay.  

Jesus initially spoke these words to a gathering who understood relationship with God as a litany of countless visible observances.  Salt’s work is not visible but requires a perseverance of presence over the long-term to be effective.  Its impact is unfolded over days, weeks, months, and even years.  Understanding that our work may not be visible and will require us to persevere, where are those places in which we need to begin today to bring the preserving qualities of mercy and grace?    

Thursday, May 7

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – Forgiveness 

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11-12a) 

This final “blessed are” statement continues the previous theme with more specificity on others’ responses to Christ-like living.  There are extreme contrasts for the listener to consider: insults and false accusations in juxtaposition to rejoicing and gladness.  The powerful act of forgiveness becomes a central attribute as we recall Jesus’ later words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

How do we forgive when we encounter others’ anger and hate?  Psychologist Robert Enright shares a four-step process that can move us in the direction of joy and gladness:  Uncovering Phase – identify the personal impact of the offense and our reaction;  Decision Phase – exercise the power of free choice to not retaliate;  Work Phase – re-imagine the offender in a new light;  Deepening Phase – realize that release can occur from the “emotional prison” of unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment and anger. 

Jesus began his ministry by summarizing what it would take to follow him.  As we ponder his words, may they bring us to the point of transformation not only in our hearts and minds but for the sake of others who need to know comfort, mercy, peace, and forgiveness.

Wednesday, May 6

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – Persecution

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10) The opening section of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, draws to a conclusion with an acknowledgement of how a Christ-formed life will be received. The tenor of the message shifts to include the actions of others.

Four weeks ago we were in the midst of Holy Week, recalling and reflecting on the betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion of Jesus. It is a story of how power, structured on premises antithetical to the beatitudes, responds to attitudes of purity and meekness, and acts of mercy, peacemaking, and righteousness. It is a story that has continued to reshape itself throughout the centuries in a multitude of ways.

As those seeking to be formed in Christ’s image, we need to fully recognize that our lives will elicit similar responses from all kinds of power structures. But we must also fully acknowledge that the structure of a life lived for others is grounded on an eternal perspective: we live as residents of God’s eternal kingdom. This citizenship requires much from us in terms of attitude and action, but will be unlimited in the abundance of what we receive in return.

Tuesday, May 5

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – Being Peacemakers “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Once again, we encounter a beatitude that implies activity.

The Hebraic origin of peace is understood as wholeness of life. At this early stage of his ministry, Jesus inspires those who are willing to listen to bring wholeness into all situations. It is easy to be overwhelmed when we contemplate all circumstances in which wholeness is needed. But if we consider the need for peacemaking in the corner of the world we inhabit, the call becomes personal.

In the practice of making peace in our lives, we are known as children of God. We do not merely follow the example of Christ as peacemaker; it is part of our DNA as members of God’s family. It is to be a natural extension of who we are in the situations in which we find ourselves on a daily basis. Christ lived and died to bring forgiveness and reconciliation. It is our responsibility to ensure the family tradition.

Monday, May 4

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – Purity of Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) The start of this week looks a lot like last week, and the week before that, and… . Our commitment to physical distancing is central to arresting the spread of COVID-19 in the broader community. But we are stunted by its restrictions. We are living under an imposed discipline.

Throughout the centuries, Jesus’ followers have discovered disciplines that create experiences to be formed in the image of Christ, which then impact the broader community. At the heart of Christian disciplines is centering our minds and hearts, our thoughts and feelings, on Christ. The Message describes the routine of it as, “fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

We may be straining to find positives during this unprecedented period in our collective lives. At the point of being swept up by shattered routines and expectations, our time has unfolded in new patterns. To daily renew our focus on God will, over time, imbed a new pattern. And, over time, reframe our perspective on the context in which we find ourselves: God has been present through it all. A daily discipline of training our hearts to seek God increases our capacity to see God.

Saturday, May 2

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) In the transition of the last beatitude, we are tasked to be more proactive in our expression of discipleship if we choose to follow Jesus. However, there needs to be caution so as not to attempt to apply a strict formula or system to being formed in the image of Christ. But, oh, do we like order! Our lives are saturated with a scientific worldview; we like to form hypotheses and test them by controlling as many variables as possible.

To be merciful cannot fit into a system. We are often tempted to control variables before we decide on the extent of our mercy towards others. It is at this point that we must set aside the validation of our reasoning and allow the spirit of the living God to validate mercy through us. Mercy is available as we are re-created by the willingness of the Creator to be among us.

Showing mercy cuts across systems of position, power, status, and validation. Being merciful is willfully giving up what we have, in unexpected times and places. Human formulas cannot be applied to this divine action. What opportunities await us today to show mercy to others?

Friday, May 1

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – Righteousness 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)  

The fourth beatitude shifts in tone from the first three.  Jesus initially appealed to the gathered crowd to examine their hearts and identify what needed to be released to encounter God’s intent for their lives.  In these next words, listeners are encouraged to go after something: to bring righteousness into their lives.  A moral life characterized by the highest of values can fill us, sustain us.  Righteousness provides nourishment without which our souls will dry up and starve.  

This beatitude introduced a theme of Jesus’ earthly ministry that would contrast with that of the religious leaders.   The outward observance of the religious law was based on crushing requirements, without a connection to the state of one’s heart or strength of moral fiber.  We understand the draw of an outward display of faith but, without a transformation of our hearts, mere observance of religion will leave us empty and depleted.  When our daily nourishment comes from seeking right-living, being formed by Jesus’ presence among us, our lives will be filled to overflow with righteousness into the lives of others. 

Thursday, April 30

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – The Meek 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) 

A large crowd had gathered, in an occupied country, to listen to a newcomer share a novel, even radical, philosophy of life.  Had he suggested that an attitude of meekness was a way to take back the land from the ruling army?  It was not what the listeners had expected to hear.  At the end of his ministry, Jesus’ disciples were still struggling to understand meekness when he entered Jerusalem.  Meekness is a constant challenge in spiritual formation. 

Robert Mulholland wrote that signs of deep spiritual maturity are expressed in one who is quiet, gentle, and unobtrusive – attributes of meekness.  Christianity, at its core, exhorts us to be in relationship with others.  In these relationships, meekness is manifested in intentional listening, restraint from a need to “tell our story,” and extensions of grace. This point of transformation in us can create a movement that is, literally, world-changing. 

We need to guard against the rationalization that quickly dismisses why meekness does not apply to us.  The current pandemic has thrown people into a place of anxiety, frustration, and hopelessness.  It is in this place, that our time, energy and presence must reflect the presence of Christ.  If there was ever a time for those formed in the image of Christ to be salt and light where we find ourselves, it is now.   

Wednesday, April 29

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – In Mourning

“Blessed are those who mourn, they will be comforted.” These words are particularly poignant as we mourn the deaths of family and friends, the trauma of admitting loved ones alone to health facilities, and the intense isolation of others in continuing care facilities. In the Greek language, mourning is a response to heart-wrenching loss. We must sincerely pray for the comfort of those who mourn such loss.

Jesus began his ministry by calling the poor blessed, those who were able to not trust in the external, material world to captivate their lives. He then followed with blessing those who mourn, as mentioned above but, in a broader sense, those willing to be remorseful about their interior world, the condition of their hearts. There is a stunning reversal of understanding when we participate in this sort of soulful mourning: we will be comforted.

To be formed in the image of Christ, our hearts are molded by sacrificial love and unconditional grace. This depth of being is only possible by admitting our obsession with what we want, when we want it and why it’s right for us to have it. We have much to mourn when we lay bare the intentions of our interior worlds. May this mourning free us to be formed in Christ’s image and bless us in its comfort.

Tuesday, April 28

Being Formed in the Image of Christ for Others – Poor in Spirit

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak…: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1-3)

We cannot, in this space, delve into detailed language studies of the word, poor. William Barclay’s commentary concludes his word study with the following: “Let us now take the two sides, the Greek and Aramaic, and put them together… Blessed is the person who has realized his or her utter helplessness, and who has put his or her whole trust in God.”

The Beatitudes begin with the point at which spiritual transformation begins. Without a willingness to become “poor” – to let go of the pull of possessions, the power of pride, and the patterns of panic or fear – it is not possible to embrace all that God intends for us, the whole of the “kingdom of heaven.”

In what do we currently trust? What forms our thoughts? Shapes our hearts? Holds our attention? If we are to be formed in the image of Christ, transformation begins with honest answers to what defines us. As we admit our feeble attempts to live life as God intended and release our focus on self-preservation, we can be formed into those who love God with heart, mind, and soul and our neighbors as ourselves. It is at that point at which we are truly blessed.

Monday, April 27

Formed in the Image of Christ for Others

Plans, stages, and benchmarks for life beyond our present restrictions are increasingly common conversation topics. And the volume of these conversations will grow as we enter the month of May and beyond. We know life will not go back to the way it was. We are changed as individuals and as a culture.

What have we learned as people of faith? The process of moving forward for us will hopefully involve a renewed call to what it means to be a follower of Christ. I appreciate how Dr. M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. framed growth in disciples as “an ongoing process of being formed in the image of Christ for others.”

Jesus shared that “image” at the beginning of his ministry in words that introduced himself and his work. These words would have astounded those gathered to hear him: he was not preaching worship of God based on what they knew as a strict religious code of laws and requirements – the outward appearance – but on transformation of the heart. We know these words as the Beatitudes, from the Latin word, blessed. Over the next several days, we will look at them as the benchmarks of the ongoing process of disciple formation.

I pray that our transitions in the coming weeks and months will not find us returning to our previous faith journeys. May life as we knew it be changed as we continue to be formed in the image of Christ.

Saturday, April 25

Hope Breaks Through

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

This verse serves as a fitting benediction to our weeklong exploration of the hope we can express as disciples of Christ. We have been created for eternal communion with God, the source of all joy and peace regardless of circumstances, which enables us to live and express abundant hope in relationship with others.

It is the final phrase of this verse that we need to fully embrace for our hope to overflow – by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s Spirit that gathers us as a community of disciples and provides the wellspring of our hope. Straining to develop personal reservoirs of hope and then trying to convince ourselves that it is possible through our own strength and initiative will leave us more drained and depleted than before we started. The work of the Holy Spirit is sometimes an undervalued subject in the cerebral way we approach faith in our tradition. But it is the act of relinquishing ourselves to the living presence of Christ’s spirit, and believing our hearts, minds, and souls can be filled by that Spirit, that allows hope to take root and flourish.

May you daily abound in hope through the resurrection-infused peace of Christ, the eternal love of God, and the endless power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, April 24

Hope Breaks Through 

Today we move our exploration of hope to the New Testament and the early church.  Jesus’ followers experienced persecution on various fronts; they knew uncertainty and unpredictability.  The apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians in Ephesus of hope as a calling:  “…with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints…” (Ephesians 1:18) 

The eyes of our hearts were enlightened by the dimensions of hope we uncovered in the Old Testament this week:  our spirits are rejuvenated by waiting on God;  we discover the plans God has for us by moving beyond self-focused frames of reference; and hope can thrive if we shelter-in-place in God’s unfailing love.   

In our enlightenment, we are positioned to comprehend the extent of our inheritance through Christ’s resurrection. The stipulation for claiming the inheritance is that we allow the eyes of our hearts to “see” how the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and power of the resurrection can pervade our thinking and being.  Receiving the inheritance frees us to respond to our calling to be people of hope in this time, in this place, and for eternity.     

Thursday, April 23

Hope Breaks Through 

A dimension of the hope we claim as people of faith is revealed when we look at another literary form of the Hebrew Bible.  The Psalms are sacred songs or sacred poems meant to be sung.   We only have the words of the Book of Psalms to inspire us, but understanding them in the context of music provides depth.  The last line of the song contained in Psalm 33, verse 22, says: “May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” Imagine this as the “earworm” we cannot dismiss for the remainder of today, this week, and beyond. 

The foundation of our hope lies in God’s unfailing love.  This love does not waver.  This love does not change. This love has no conditions.  This love rises to defeat what comes against it, including illness, even death.  This love forms us into new creations.  This love allows us to rest in its shelter.  Hope begins to move from an abstract concept to a trans formative reality when we know and are grounded in this love. 

We have become quite familiar with shelter-in-place orders.  If we leave our residences, it is necessary to have a plan for a quick and efficient trip.   Upon our returns we can let out a sigh of relief.   Experiencing hope requires the same course, and it has the potential to transform us.  We are to shelter-in-place in the unfailing love of God.  May any time spent apart from that understanding be uncomfortable and make us anxiously long to return to its shelter, the place of hope.

Wednesday, April 22

Hope Breaks Through

We are stretched as we try to live in a place of hope, to look beyond the immediate. It’s easy to become near-sighted. We want to believe there is something beyond our field of vision, but we restrict our belief in the possibilities. Our hope is often built on our personal experience and knowledge base, and our own assumptions about the future or, as the lyrics of one old hymn states, “…on sinking sand.”

The prophet Isaiah exhorted us to hope in, wait on, the Lord. As we allow ourselves space to do so, we can move beyond our own frames of reference and begin to understand that which is beyond ourselves. The prophet Jeremiah urges us, as we broaden our scope, to focus on the activity of the Creator in our lives. God who was willing to be among humanity, God of the cross and empty tomb, is the same God who unfolds a future for us beyond our current understanding. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

In our present situation, our simple thoughts focus on what we have lost, what we are missing, what may never happen…making us more self-focused than ever. But the eyes of our faith help us see the divine plans that can focus us on what we will we gain, what we will find, and the limitless possibilities.

Tuesday, April 21

Hope Breaks Through

Biblical prophets spoke words in times of peril, regarding threats present from outside the people of God as well as from within. The prophecies, woven through the Old Testament, call God’s people to turn to God and the promises of the covenant. The prophet Isaiah spoke to such promise: “…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Hope, waiting on the Lord, creates an environment in which our strength can be renewed. This brings dimension to the hope we experience and can share as people of faith. Becoming passionate, seeking, waiting on the presence of the living Christ rejuvenates our spirit. This hope builds heart ‘muscle’, providing strength to soar over and move through what is earthbound with renewed vitality.

On a street near the church’s manse, there is normally a steady string of cars. It now has a steady stream of walkers, runners and bikers. I know many others who are using this time to exercise in other ways while inside. It is my prayer that we also use this time to exercise our passion to wait on God, relying on the promise that we will build strength for what lies ahead.

Monday, April 20

Hope Breaks Through

It has become important during these days of sheltering-in-place, quarantine, and isolation to find a way to get sunlight into our spaces or, if possible, to step outside into the sun. The impact of overcast, grey skies like those in NJ this morning bring a more ominous feel to lives already put on hold. What a welcomed experience when the sun breaks through!

Hope – like the sun – can penetrate through the cloud cover that seems to have settled over us. Hope can be present in ways we have not yet seen, thoughts we have not yet had, or feelings we have not yet sensed. This is the point of the resurrection, a way of life we can claim as followers of the risen Christ. Our hope does not manifest itself in trite responses nor pithy phrases on plaques. Its presence brings a richly textured quality into our lives that defines our very character.

This pandemic has become an endurance event not a sprint. But “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope… .” (Romans 5:4) This week we will explore various dimensions of hope that can be nurtured in unique ways during these uncertain times. If we position ourselves to allow hope to break into our lives, it can flood us with light that allows us to live from the inside out.

Saturday, April 18

Resurrection Encounters 

In this space, we have recalled resurrection encounters of recognition, reformation and restoration. It’s possible that we need an experience of the impact of each of these encounters. Possibly one encounter in particular speaks to how we have historically related or, at this particular time in our lives, are relating to the good news of resurrection.

The last earthly post-resurrection encounter of Jesus was with the eleven remaining disciples and is known as the charge, or commission, that Jesus gave to them. To paraphrase: spread out beyond your comfort zones and share the good news of the resurrection. The disciples, a very unlikely group entrusted with a fledging movement at a time of intense personal peril, had each been resurrected with Christ as a new creation. Now Jesus had entrusted them with the work of sharing the availability of re-creation with others.

We have received the same charge. While we believe we fall in that least-likely category to spread a life-changing movement, the re-creation that we have been granted through resurrection is intended for sharing. Our paths for face-to-face sharing with others have been paved with new challenges. But the thickening fog of isolation and need for hope is real. Prime territory for an encounter with the power of resurrection. This may just be our time.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Friday, April 17

Resurrection Encounters 

It is easy to feel separation from the message, events, and history of the Gospels as they portray the life and ministry of Jesus.  The thought that we could be disciple-material seems far from the reality of our lives.  Then we encounter Peter.  He meant well, often allowed his words to get ahead of his actions, and struggled with being over-reactive, often out-distancing the presence of God’s grace in his life.  Maybe there is hope for us. 

Just a few days after following Jesus into Jerusalem, Peter pledged his undying loyalty to him and, within a matter of hours, denied knowing him when pressed on his association as a follower.  One of the most powerful post-resurrection encounters occurred between Peter and Jesus.  Three times Peter had denied Jesus.  Three times Jesus entrusted Peter with the task to “feed my sheep.”  (John 21:15-17)  It is a story of restoration.  It can easily be our story.  The resurrection releases a power to restore us to a place we may believe we do not belong nor deserve.   But, like Peter, we are the ones Jesus calls to build relationships, share grace, allow forgiveness, show love and reflect light.  Impulsive Peter would become the rock upon which the Church was built.  Shocking.  We are to be rocks where we find ourselves.  Also, shocking.  This is the power of restoration fueled by the resurrection.  

Thursday, April 16

Resurrection Encounters 

Do you have a gnawing urge to do something routine in your life? There is a growing desire to return to normal activities.  In some regions of the country, protests are beginning with the hopes that we can break from our shelter-in-place order sooner than later.   

Christ found a group of his inner core disciples demonstrating the urge to return to normalcy after the resurrection. They went fishing.  But Jesus’ ministry was all about calling individuals to break from the gravitational pull of well-worn routines.  The disciples found that, following Christ’s lead, throwing their nets a new way provided unexpected and abundant results.  In this resurrection encounter, we witness a call to reformation, to being reformed by Christ’s lead in and through our lives. 

In our faith tradition, we are familiar with a Latin phrase, “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,” with the understanding that the church is reformed and always reforming.  The following is from the PCUSA: “The Latin verb is passive, and it is much better translated as “always being reformed” or “always to be reformed.” Theologian Harold Nebelsick put it well: “We are the recipients of the activity of the Holy Spirit which reforms the church in accordance with the Word of God.”   

As the church of the risen Christ, we are continually challenged to consider how we are aligning and opening ourselves to the activity of God’s Spirit through the Word.  When we allow our hearts, minds and souls “always to be reformed,” it is difficult to remain static; we will continue to be formed into the image of Christ for others.   

Wednesday, April 15

Resurrection Encounters
Frustration. Disappointment. Uncertainty. What just happened? What’s next? I believe we all have experienced these emotions and thoughts to some degree over the last two months.

Jesus’ followers had similar responses after their experience of the crucifixion and empty tomb. As two of them walked and talked “with each other about all these things that had happened” (Luke 24:14), a stranger joined them, with whom they recounted the events again. Their recognition of the stranger did not come quickly, but they sensed something was different. Once they recognized their companion as the resurrected Christ, their encounter literally changed their path. They immediately returned to Jerusalem to share what and who had become known to them.

Recognition is literally at the heart of this encounter. “They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us…’”. (Luke 24:32) At this particular time in our lives, we can quickly return to the same paths of frustration and uncertainty we were walking pre-Holy Week and Easter. Have we missed the one traveling with us? Do our hearts burn with a recognition that literally has the power to change our paths? Does the presence of Christ change the direction of focus from our own emotions and thoughts to a sense that there is something beyond us which we must rush to share with others?

Tuesday, April 14

Songs of the Season
Our Easter celebration was unlike any other. There were no typical trumpets or timpani leading us in song. But worship did occur on the first day of the week to commemorate the day of resurrection, the day uncontained hope was released for the world. As we begin our weeks, we can do so with the knowledge that an experience of unrestricted hope is available for each of us and will manifest itself in our lives through our actions and words.

The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad; the passover of gladness, the passover of God. From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky, our Christ hath brought us over, with hymns of victory. (Words from the hymn, “The Day of Resurrection.”)

Being “brought over” to the hope of the resurrection is not an annual celebration, or even a weekly one. It is one that we can claim daily as we arise as followers of the risen Christ.

Monday, April 13

Songs of the Season
The rich hymnology of Easter inspired us in novel ways this year. It’s possible that the hymns that hold special memories or have the deepest meaning for us were not on the ‘playlist’ for Sunday’s service, leaving us a bit disappointed. There are many from which to choose; some speak to the unprecedented moment in human history of the resurrection and some with messages that collide with the unprecedented time we are in.

The hymn, “The Strife Is O’er”, strikes a particular chord in 2020. We have prayed for the physical impacts of COVID-19 to be over, for the ‘curve’ to not only flatten but to quickly dive to its lowest point. In our present reality, words of this hymn can easily be contextualized:

The strife is o’er, the battle done; the victory of life is won. The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

Our physical, material, temporal world remains tentative as we move through this pandemic. Even though “now we see through a glass darkly…and know only in part” (1 Cor. 13:12), our faith is founded on the eternal truth of resurrection, victory. It frees us to begin today living a life of joy, of satisfaction, of triumph. In short, a life of hope as we witness the empty tomb.

Easter Sunday, April 12

Saturday, April 11

Songs of the Season

The power of music to soothe and inspire us is undeniable. It reaches deep within our souls. The story of our faith has been told through music. Our community is bound together by its reach. Music, ancient to recent, tends our souls.

We are all living the reality of being in-between. As mentioned before in this space, it can seem as if our lives have been paused. This day, after Good Friday and prior to the new day dawning on Easter, is an in-between day. One that is exemplified by the darkness of the tomb and the darkness that has crept into our lives contrasted with the possibilities that lie ahead.

There is a powerful old hymn that captures the tensions of today. “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” begins with these words: “O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down.” It may be hard for us to capture in words what we are presently experiencing as a world community and the hope that we yearn for collectively and as individuals. Stanza 3 of this hymn can guide our meditation today as we embrace the in-between, in anticipation of the light of a new day.

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend, For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end? O make me thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.

Good Friday, April 10

Maundy Thursday, April 9

Wednesday, April 8

Songs of the Season

The power of music to soothe and inspire us is undeniable. It reaches deep within our souls. The story of our faith has been told through music. Our community is bound together by its reach. Music, ancient to recent, tends our souls.

We are moving through Holy Week toward Good Friday. The words of the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, direct our attention to the experience of the cross, the outward demonstration of God’s intention in our lives. The cross is the central symbol of our faith. Although it has become a cultural relic in our society, its brutality jars us to the validity of God’s infinite and unconditional love.

The hymn’s last stanza expresses the necessary intention of our response: Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Jesus said to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) The cross remains not merely the symbol of our faith, but the model for our very lives.

Tuesday, April 7

Songs of the Season

The power of music to soothe and inspire us is undeniable. It reaches deep within our souls. The story of our faith has been told through music. Our community is bound together by its reach. Music, ancient to recent, tends our souls.

The melody of the hymn, “What Wondrous Love Is This”, is easy to recall. What may not be as easy, without the hymnbook in our hands, is to recall the phrases which are repeated in each stanza. In Stanza 2, the first phrase is “When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down…”. This morning there have been brief reports of some encouraging worldwide signs of hope in the fight against the coronavirus. But an overwhelming sense in our national and world communities has been that we are sinking into a place that feels much like quick sand.

This stanza implies our sinking as we distance from the holy God, but it repetitively reminds us of the hope represented in Christ’s intentional act to be present with us: “Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul”. Christ meets us where we are, in our moments of encouraging news and in those which bring us to our lowest point. This is truly Wondrous love.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down, sinking down; when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul!

Monday, April 6

Songs of the Season

The power of music to soothe and inspire us is undeniable. It reaches deep within our souls. The story of our faith has been told through music. Our community is bound together by its reach. Music, ancient to recent, tends our souls.

This Holy Week will be unlike any other that we have experienced. Our thoughts and emotions have been pulled in various directions throughout the pandemic. Holy Week brings its own range of thoughts and emotions but will provide familiar steps for us to walk as we travel this unfamiliar road in 2020.

The lyrics of the hymn, “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love”, by Tim Colvin, center around the act of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. In the present moment, we may cringe with the mention of touching another person. But the intensity of this expression of Jesu’s love is needed now like never before. In 2020, we are challenged to reframe how we creatively “kneel” before others within our current restraints.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.

Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washes their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them.

Neighbors are wealthy and poor, varied in color and race, neighbors are near us and far away.
These are the ones we should serve; these are the ones we should love,
all these are neighbors to us and you.

Loving puts us on our knees, silently washing their feet;
this is the way we should live with you.

Palm Sunday, April 5

Saturday, April 4

Songs of the Season

The power of music to soothe and inspire us is undeniable. It reaches deep within our souls. The story of our faith has been told through music. Our community is bound together by its reach. Music, ancient to recent, tends our souls.

The melodies of familiar hymns can run through our minds even if we don’t recall the words. One of those tunes is associated with Palm Sunday: “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna”. To jog our memories, the words in the first stanza begin: “Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang…”. The words that end the last stanza help lead us into tomorrow’s worship: “…and in his blissful presence eternally rejoice.”

Jesus’ entrance into the celebration in Jerusalem began a rapid chain of events that would forever change the stories of people who were in the crowd. We are in the midst of a very fluid world crisis that will forever change us. Our experience of time and the ways we mark it have changed. Yet in the midst of this change is Jesus, eternal in his presence with us. As Jesus enters our stories, we are enfolded into that presence to rejoice today, tomorrow, and for eternity.

Stanza 3: “Hosanna in the highest!” that ancient song we sing, for Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven our King. O may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice, and in his blissful presence eternally rejoice!”

Friday, April 3

The Power of Music 

Many creative individuals, groups, and organizations have provided access to music over the past few weeks throughout many media platforms.  The power of music to soothe and inspire us is undeniable.  It reaches deep within our souls.  There are stories of newly created songs viewed by millions; neighbors singing together in the streets and from apartment building windows; families creating dance videos – whether they can dance or not; and vocalists rewriting lyrics of past hits to be relevant for the times. 

We know well the power of music in the faith community.  The story of our faith has been told through music.  Our community is bound together by its reach.  Music, ancient to recent, tends our souls. 

There is a hymn tucked within the current PCUSA hymnal that was written during a time of great tragedy.  A Presbyterian pastor, Cleland McAfee, had two nieces die as a result of diphtheria.  The tune and lyrics for “Near to the Heart of God” that rose out of his grief were sung by the church choir as they stood outside the quarantined family’s home. 

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God; 
A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.  

There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God; 
A place where we our Savior meet, near to the heart of God. 

There is a place of full release, near to the heart of God; 
A place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God. 

Refrain: O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God; 
Hold us, who wait before Thee, near to the heart of God. 

Thursday, April 2

The Pause Button

In recent conversations, I’m sure many of us have heard or have spoken of curtailed daily routines, cancelled activities, and postponed trips or events. It feels as if a collective pause button has been pushed. As it should, if we seriously take our responsibility to help stop the spread of COVID-19. There is much talk about what we are missing and what we anxiously await to have restarted. The activities we had thoughtfully planned, as well as the activities we do with little thought, have all been paused.

Each day is granted to us as a gift. It is within the realm of possibility to have a renewed appreciation for every sunrise we experience. The psalmist declares: “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) This proclamation has no restrictions. It does not suggest that we rejoice only in the days that allow us participation in our routine or specifically planned activities. It is written to help us acknowledge that each given day is bursting with possibilities for joy and gladness.

A basic tenet of our faith resides in the fact that the foundation of our rejoicing stems from living life for others. It is what allows us to be glad. So let’s release the pause button! Carpe Diem. Seize this day we have been given and unwrap it in new and creative ways of reaching out to others, seen and unseen, who cross our mental and physical paths. And may we know joy and gladness in doing so

Wednesday, April 1

The seeded infection of the Spirit: Self-Control

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 Self-control is ninth, and last, on the list.

During these unprecedented times, it is natural for our reactions to be ‘all over the map’. The reports of patient numbers grow exponentially in the course of a day. We miss gatherings in our usual spaces. We worry about exposure to the virus. We face extended isolation and have had plans turned upside down. We grieve with those unable to be with friends and family who are sick or have lost their lives to this virus. It is understandable that our collective reactivity may be at an all-time high.

The fruit of self-control is critical to the healthy maturation of all the other fruits of the Spirit. Without self-control, our reactivity begins to control us and the image of Christ is inhibited from expression in our lives. Jesus summarized the Hebrew law and prophets with the statement that we must love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul. The passionate reactivity of our hearts is balanced with the rational capacities of our minds as we seek the abiding presence of God’s spirit to reside in our souls.

If we strive to embody the commandments of Jesus, we are also exhorted to love neighbors as much as we love ourselves, needed now more than ever. The practice of self-control keeps our reactivity in check, allowing us to be sacrificially attuned to the needs of the Beloved Community. That which has been covertly seeded into our lives becomes fertile ground for the Spirit of God to be exhibited through our lives in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness.

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.”

“For great….

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.

Lenten daily devotional March 16

Monday, March 16, 2020

daily devotion, easter, faith over fear, lenten study