Monday, February 23, 2015

Grace Makes Its Way to the Stage

MONDAY // READ
Genesis 9:8-17
Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: “I’m setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you—birds, farm animals, wild animals—that came out of the ship with you. I’m setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the Earth.”

God continued, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud,

I’ll remember my covenant between me and you
and everything living,

that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I’ve set up between me and everything living on the Earth.”

TUESDAY // Grace Makes Its Way to the Stage
The story of Noah’s Ark is one that we’re so familiar with we can easily dismiss it. For most of us, it was a story that was told over and over again in Sunday school using felt board and cut outs in class rooms covered in wallpaper of animals coming out of the ark two by two with a rainbow in the background. I guess we figured since it had animals in the story it should be a staple in the children’s church curriculum :).

Really it’s a pretty violent story of a consequence from sin so severe that it nearly wiped humanity out! As much as we want to block out the people knocking on the doors of the ark begging to be let in, all the while drowning from exhaustion, that’s what happened according to the story. Sorry if I’m being grotesque but that’s what happened and it makes you wonder how bad things got for God to do such a thing. Now think about all the stories that have led up to this point of God’s covenant: We have Adam and Eve that disobeyed and were punished, we have Cain killing Abel and was punished, and now we have the human race that was so depraved that God was remorseful for creating them and so, punished them by nearly wiping them out…

SAVE ONE!

One family that is. Noah and his family were exempt from this total destruction by the means of an ark. This story seems to follow the pattern of disobedience played out (it won’t be the last either) BUT this seems to be the first story that we see setting the tone of grace finding its way into humanity. It seems to be the first story of providing a way to avoid this punishment. The ark was Noah and his family’s salvation for that point in time and when we get to where God makes His covenant with Noah using a rainbow to demonstrate it; it becomes a promise not only to Noah and his family but to everyone to come.

In a way, we can compare both the ark and this rainbow to Jesus. Now hear me out before you say, “How in the world is Jesus like a rainbow and a boat?” Its more of how is Jesus like this particular rainbow which is tied into a covenant and this particular boat that saved their lives? God promised not to destroy the earth by flooding it again and he gives us a rainbow to remind us of this. This is grace and it comes to us from God down to us, it’s the only way it can. Jesus also came down to us letting us live and move in grace instead of in fire & destruction (not with water this time). We can live in Him. He is like our ark that saves us from the consequences of our actions (sin). 

This story sets the course for God using very creative means for humanity to escape punishment. You see this throughout the whole of the Bible coming to his ultimate scapegoat: Jesus Christ. Where we fail God always finds a way to forgive and for grace to find its way to us.


WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
We see how God is just and fair with punishing us and yet he always has room for grace; something we can lean on that can do what we can not. Now, do we do that with people who have wronged us? Do we leave room for grace or are we unwilling to do so? My challenge to you is to show grace in situations where it’s hard.
Also, what are some things you need to let go of? What are the areas in your life that you need to stop flooding, where you need to forgive? This week if there’s anything in your life that you need to let go of, do so.

Start setting up your rainbows :)
and let go of some things that are dragging you down!

THURSDAY // REFLECT




FRIDAY // PRAY

O Lord, how absolutely necessary Your grace is for me,

both to begin a good work and to persevere until I accomplish it.

Without grace I can do nothing (Jn 15:5),

but I can do all things in You,

when Your grace strengthens me (Ph 4:13).

Grant therefore, O Lord,

that Your grace will always go before me and follow me,

keeping me ever intent upon good works,

through Jesus Christ Your Son.

Amen.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Wrestling Engagement

MONDAY // READ
2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman was general of the army under the king of Aram. He was important to his master, who held him in the highest esteem because it was by him that God had given victory to Aram: a truly great man, but afflicted with a grievous skin disease. It so happened that Aram, on one of its raiding expeditions against Israel, captured a young girl who became a maid to Naaman’s wife. One day she said to her mistress, “Oh, if only my master could meet the prophet of Samaria, he would be healed of his skin disease.”

Naaman went straight to his master and reported what the girl from Israel had said.

“Well then, go,” said the king of Aram. “And I’ll send a letter of introduction to the king of Israel.”

So he went off, taking with him about 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothes.

Naaman delivered the letter to the king of Israel. The letter read, “When you get this letter, you’ll know that I’ve personally sent my servant Naaman to you; heal him of his skin disease.”

When the king of Israel read the letter, he was terribly upset, ripping his robe to pieces. He said, “Am I a god with the power to bring death or life that I get orders to heal this man from his disease? What’s going on here? That king’s trying to pick a fight, that’s what!”

Elisha the man of God heard what had happened, that the king of Israel was so distressed that he’d ripped his robe to shreds. He sent word to the king, “Why are you so upset, ripping your robe like this? Send him to me so he’ll learn that there’s a prophet in Israel.”
So Naaman with his horses and chariots arrived in style and stopped at Elisha’s door.

Elisha sent out a servant to meet him with this message: “Go to the River Jordan and immerse yourself seven times. Your skin will be healed and you’ll be as good as new.”

Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, “I thought he’d personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease. The Damascus rivers, Abana and Pharpar, are cleaner by far than any of the rivers in Israel. Why not bathe in them? I’d at least get clean.” He stomped off, mad as a hornet.

But his servants caught up with him and said, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?”

So he did it. He went down and immersed himself in the Jordan seven times, following the orders of the Holy Man. His skin was healed; it was like the skin of a little baby. He was as good as new.

TUESDAY // Wrestling Engagement
At first glance the story of Naaman is always about miraculous healing.  However, as with all stories that come to us from Word, we find many other interesting, thought provoking, down right confusing things in this story.  I think they feel confusing and frustrating because when we come across theses situations in our lives there is often great emotion attached to the situation and we bring that with us when we read the story.  We wrestle with things such as disease, slavery, healing, war, God’s justice, pride, selfishness, favoritism, and many more.  These are all elements of this story. 

It becomes clear to us, if we read this story probingly, that this story leaves us wrestling with some difficult questions:

· Why would God allow His people to be defeated in battle with Syria?
· Why would he allow a small girl to be taken into slavery?
· Why does Naaman’s fame win him an audience with the King in search of healing for his disease, while others afflicted aren’t offered the same opportunity?
· Why would Naaman let his pride/arrogance stand in the way of his healing?
· Why would the King of Israel be so clueless as to his resources in fulfilling the request of the Aram King?
· These questions become personal as we long to understand more about who our God is.  The questions become:
· Why would God allow me to be defeated by my enemy?
· Why am I trapped in this situation that is so difficult?
· Why can’t I get the same breaks all the successful people get?
· Why does my pride and arrogance cause me to miss opportunities?
· Why can’t I see all the blessings God has placed in my life?

These questions make the story very personal and engage us in the journey of knowing our God more fully. 

Can we look to the story for answers to these probing questions? Does God have a direction for our lives from this story?  I believe the answer is yes as long as we are motivated by the desire to know Him better.  God allowed hardship to come to the people of Israel on a regular basis.  It seems it was always when they were straying from Him.  He was drawing them back to him in that moment.  Perhaps our defeats and trials are a reminder that there is only one thing that matters in all this mess we call life, which is our relationship with God.  Do we love God fully?  Are we committed to Him and His ways?  Do we look for ways to share God with others even in our times of “slavery”?  Are we convinced that our God can help others out of their problems?  Do we share that with them? Do we let pride get in the way of seeking God in our times of need?  Do we let fear dictate our actions instead of seeing God in all our situations?  These are the kinds of questions that cause God’s word to be alive and moving in our lives today.  So don’t shy away from the difficult questions.  Use them to explore more fully who your God is and how He changes who you are.

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
Sometimes the last thing I want is one more challenge.  I am not good at going to the gym; partly because I don’t like to sweat, but mostly because I am not good at pushing myself through a challenge.  I get it…who needs one more challenge.  But let’s tie up our sneakers tight, put on the weight belt and go for the heavy lift today.

Your challenge is to approach today with God in the forefront of your mind.  Each situation you come upon today intentionally think, “Where do I see God in this?”

Now I don’t mean you have to pray about which car route to take home, or which grocery store to shop at.  Instead wherever you find yourself, doing whatever it is you are doing, look for God there.  He is there ahead of you.  He is at work in this world.  Look for His hand in every situation today.

THURSDAY // REFLECT



FRIDAY // PRAY
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You

I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And Step by step You'll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days


Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You

Hallelujah!
For you alone are worthy
And forever we will sing
Hallelujah!


Amen

Monday, February 9, 2015

So Small

MONDAY // READ
Isaiah 40:21-31
Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
    and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
    no sooner are they sown,
    no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
“To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.
Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but 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.

TUESDAY // So Small
Have you ever stopped to consider how small you and I truly are? With over seven billion people on this planet, you are 1 in 7,000,000,000. Mathematically, you account for .000000000143 of the population of this world. And our years are short. At the young age of fifty, you would have experienced roughly .0083 years of history, relative to known history. We can neither fathom the breadth beyond the stars, nor the depths beneath the sea. We are weak and frail, yet gifted and talented. We are a minute fraction of space and time, yet contained within us is a complex chaos of emotions, ideologies, virtues, opinions and passions. And despite the little influence our individuality possesses in the seas of faces all around us—we are loved.

We are both nothing and everything. We are frail, but we are strong. We are foolish and wise, empty and full, broken and complete. No matter where our lives fall on the continuum of fractured and whole, we are embraced by a creator who knows our names. Every person has faith in one thing or another, whether science, or philosophy, ones’ self or a god, we all place our confidence—our committed trust—in something or someone. To follow Jesus is to place that committed trust in a creator whom calls both the stars and us by name. Then, ultimately, it is to place that trust in the idea that we are, in fact, loved. We are worth something. We matter. We are small, but we are big.

We serve a God who holds the heavens in place while holding us up. A lover who gives us strength, who causes us to soar. A master who has the power to crush us, yet patiently and continuously teaches us to thrive. He is available to us, with us, in us.

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
Consider a time when you felt alone, empty, invisible, ignored or abandoned. Perhaps a situation or a season in which your opinion was not valued, your talents not appreciated. An environment in which your most basic needs were not met. Recall the emotions, the feelings, and the thoughts that accompanied such an experience. Remember what it did to you, how you coped, how it changed you.

Now recall your own opinion of your self-worth in that situation. Did that experience create value, strength or meaning within your life? Did you feel like you belonged, or were you alien to your life? What caused you to feel the way you did?

Often, we build our value and self-worth from within our environment. Our life situation determines the blueprints for the construction of our heart, and we shape our perspective of ourselves according to our environment. Only when are emboldened to step out of those confines and examine our lives and situations from a new perspective do we see our experience for what it is. Most likely, we know something is wrong. We know we should not feel this way or do that thing. We know, but we cannot explain why or how or even what we know, and to challenge it from within the environment is preposterous, as everyone else is just as confused and blinded as we are.

This is significantly more obvious when we look at selfishness. Nowhere are the confines of these errant perspectives more obvious to an outsider than selfishness. It is in those situations, those environments, that we think we are more important than another. It is the lie of indifference which causes us to place higher value on our own opinions and beliefs than another’s. That moment in which we simply do not value another person or the creativity flowing from them. To agree or not, to like that person or not, to respect that person or not, has no bearing on the way in which we can choose to see value. God doesn’t name the stars, only to call some less important.

Our .000000000143 portion of life is as meaningless and important as every other person’s share. And the reason for that is simple: because God chooses to fill it entirely, finds it worthy of strengthening, and sees us as the beautiful individuals we are. All of us.

THURSDAY // REFLECT



FRIDAY // THINK & PRAY
God has to destroy our determined confidence in our own convictions. We say, “I know that this is what I should do” — and suddenly the voice of God speaks in a way that overwhelms us by revealing the depths of our ignorance. We show our ignorance of Him in the very way we decide to serve Him. We serve Jesus in a spirit that is not His, and hurt Him by our defense of Him. We push His claims in the spirit of the devil; our words sound all right, but the spirit is that of an enemy. “He…rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of’ ” (Luke 9:55). The spirit of our Lord in His followers is described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Have I been persecuting Jesus by an eager determination to serve Him in my own way? If I feel I have done my duty, yet have hurt Him in the process, I can be sure that this was not my duty. My way will not be to foster a meek and quiet spirit, only the spirit of self-satisfaction. We presume that whatever is unpleasant is our duty! Is that anything like the spirit of our Lord— “I delight to do Your will, O my God…” (Psalm 40:8). 

–Oswald Chambers


Lord, teach us to look at our world as you do, to see ourselves and our neighbors as you do. Grant us your grace to find value and goodness in everything. Amen. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

What to Wear

Monday // READ
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
The question keeps coming up regarding meat that has been offered up to an idol: Should you attend meals where such meat is served, or not? We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions--but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.

Some people say, quite rightly, that idols have no actual existence, that there’s nothing to them, that there is no God other than our one God, that no matter how many of these so-called gods are named and worshipped they still don’t add up to anything but a tall story. They say--again, quite rightly--that there is only one God the Father, that everything comes from him, and that he wants us to live for him. Also, they say that there is only one Master--Jesus the Messiah--and that everything is for his sake, including us. Yes. It’s true.

In strict logic, then, nothing happened to the meat when it was offered up to an idol. It’s just like any other meat. I know that, and you know that. But knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings. Real knowledge isn’t that insensitive.

We need to be sensitive to the fact that we’re not all the same level of understanding in this. Some of you have spent your entire lives eating “idol meat,” and are sure that there’s something bad in the meat that then becomes something bad inside of you. An imagination and conscience shaped under those conditions isn’t going to change overnight.

But fortunately God doesn’t grade us on our diet. We’re neither commended when we clean our plate nor reprimanded when we just can’t stomach it. But God does care when you use your freedom carelessly in a way that leads a Christian still vulnerable to those old associations to be thrown off track.

For instance, say you flaunt your freedom by going to a banquet thrown in honor of idols, where the main course is meat sacrificed to idols. Isn’t there great danger if someone still struggling over this issue, someone who looks up to you as knowledgeable and mature, sees you go into that banquet? The danger is that he will become terribly confused--maybe even to the point of getting mixed up himself in what his conscience tells him is wrong.

Christ gave up his life for that person. Wouldn’t you at least be willing to give up going to dinner for him--because, as you say, it doesn’t really make any difference? But it does make a difference if you hurt your friend terribly, risking his eternal ruin! When you hurt your friend, you hurt Christ. A free meal here and there isn’t worth it at the cost of even one of these “weak ones.” So, never go to these idol-tainted meals if there’s any chance it will trip up one of your brothers or sisters.

Tuesday // What to Wear
A few years ago, I overheard a couple of girls at Starbucks planning a trip to the beach. Their conversation turned, as conversations often do, to their wardrobes. One girl said that she had recently purchased a really cute bikini, but was planning on wearing a dark t-shirt over it, because some of their male friends would be there. She explained, “I don’t want to be responsible for leading any of their minds to stray from Christ.”
My initial reaction was: it’s their minds, they should be responsible for the directions their thoughts take.

Now, I still think that people should take responsibility for their thoughts and actions, but I think I understand where that girl in Starbucks was coming from a little bit better. Paul tells the Corinthians that they aren’t just responsible for themselves: they are responsible for supporting their brothers and sisters in Christ, as well.

It’s easy to get caught up in little details regarding right and wrong: What language can I use? Does it matter what TV shows I watch? God doesn’t really care what I wear, does he? Can I smoke? Drink? Wear clothes made of mixed fabrics?

I’m just kidding about that last one, but you see where I’m going with this, right? When we get nit-picky about what is right, we can start to cause divisive friction within the community. That’s what was happening to the people of Corinth. Some of them were opposed to eating meats sacrificed to idols; others didn’t see a problem with it. When they asked Paul about it, his answer was pretty simple: It doesn’t matter.

Okay, it matters a little. But the part that matters wasn’t the part that the people of Corinth were focused on. Paul writes, “it does make a difference if you hurt your friend terribly, risking his eternal ruin! When you hurt your friend, you hurt Christ.”

When I’m trying to decide whether or not I’m going to do something, I usually just think about what’s right for myself. But what Paul tells the Corinthians is that you have to think about what’s right for those around you as well. See, because we are Christians, we are responsible for aiding one another on our walks with Christ.

That might mean changing the radio station when you’re hanging out with one of your friends. That might mean skipping a movie, cleaning up your language, or wearing a t-shirt over your new, super cute bikini from time to time. Ultimately, do these things matter to you? And, if they do, do they matter enough to risk hurting a friend?

Wednesday // CHALLENGE
We live in an autonomous age. When we struggle to make a decision, the questions we ask ourselves tend to focus on us. What would make me happy? What do I think is right? How does this affect my time, my money, or my relationships? What do I want? This doesn’t necessarily stem from selfishness. I think we’re taught a sort of short sighted egocentrism. When we pick out a college, a major, or a job, we’re often guided by these same questions. And if you can pick out where you want to spend four years and $20,000 on education based on what would make you happy, why shouldn’t you get to choose a movie for the same reason?

While there isn’t anything wrong with considering what’s “best for you” when making your decisions, we are instructed to do more than that.

Jesus commands us to love one another, but he doesn’t just stop there. He commands us to love one another as he loved us. Of course, Jesus’s love is perfect, so how are we supposed to live up to that? Well, the bible shows us how to love one another. Love is Ruth leaving behind her friends and family, and traveling with Naomi to a new nation. Love is Jonathan protecting David from Saul’s wrath. Love is Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath, taking more people with him than he was prepared to feed, and sacrificing his life in order to obtain our freedom from sin.

What are you willing to sacrifice for your love of one another?

What are our obligations to one another?

How can you help someone on their walk with Christ?

Thursday // REFLECT




Friday // THINK & PRAY

Lord,
Sometimes I get tunnel vision. I forget the impact my actions can have on observers.
Sometimes I let my friends down. I forgot how to support them as they pursue you.
So, Lord, help me to be a better friend.

I want to be thoughtful. I make too many decisions without even thinking of them as decisions. So, whenever I get wrapped up in myself, please come and pull me out. Help me to consider those around me and any potential ramifications for my actions.

Sometimes I am arrogant and judgmental. I believe that I know what is right and what is wrong; I believe that I know better than others. But, Lord, I know that you are the truest judge of right and wrong. Lord, please strip away my alienating conceit.

Help me to be considerate with the struggles of my peers. I never want to be responsible for causing a friend to stumble.

As I walk with you, Lord, help me to remember the obligations that I have to fellow followers.
Guide me and teach me how to love as you love.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Simply Go


Monday // Read
Jonah 3:1-5,10 (MSG)
Maybe God Will Change His Mind

1-2 Next, God spoke to Jonah a second time: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”
This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter.
Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it.
Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”
The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.
10 God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. He did change his mind about them. What he said he would do to them he didn’t do.


Tuesday//Simply Go

The thing about this passage that strikes me is how the people of Nineveh just changed. They listened and they trusted God; that was it. It didn’t matter who lived there, everyone repented and gave their lives over to God. We look at that and wonder: that’s it? Jonah went (eventually) and all he did was tell them of who God is? No light show, no mega million dollar building, no programs, no temperamental sound boardsJ just listening to where to go and who to go to. It can’t be that easy, can it? To that I think God says, “Why can’t it be?”

Now we can focus on the mind of God and how He changes it from time to time but whew, let’s save that for another time. For now, let’s focus on how simple this was for Jonah to do once he went and obeyed what God had asked of him.  We can be like Jonah at times and disobey God or conveniently not listen to Him. The task usually seems huge but in the end turns out easier than the way we would have done it and in the end the people listen and transformation happens. Only God’s plan can do that. Sure, what God calls us to is terrifying at times; it pushes us outside of our comfort zone but once we go through with it (often begrudgingly) we find that God did most of the work.

God had a specific place, with a specific group of people, to send His message to. He also had a specific person to deliver that message. I mean God could have easily said, “Well, there goes Jonah in the opposite direction, guess I’ll have to find someone else to send to Nineveh.” No He chased him down. He had it all mapped out- a certain people and place with a specific person to go to them and tell them.

So, the question is not what should we do next but how can we go to God, who has the next thing ready to go, trying to get our attention so we can step on board!


Wednesday // Challenge

Are there plans or things that you need to let go of?
How do you practice putting your trust in God?


Thursday // Reflect



Friday//Prayer
Dear God,
In this moment, I let go of all thoughts and concerns.
When I let go, I am able to receive.
When my hands are formed into tight fists, I cannot open my hands to receive anything.
When I hang onto tight control,
When I close off my heart and my spirit,
I cannot receive your blessings for me.
I let go to receive your blessings. 
Letting go in this moment, I receive your loving presence around me and within me.
Help me to let go when I am feeling overwhelmed, so that I may receive your peace.
Help me to let go when I feel fear so that in fear’s place I may receive love and courage.
I let go of problems and challenges in order to receive your guidance and clarity.
I let go and trust you.
I will not fall.
You will catch me.
I let go and trust in the still, small voice inside of me.
Help me not to struggle but to surrender my struggle to you.
I gladly receive this gift of letting go and letting you lead me and guide me.
Amen