February 28, 2018

Scripture: Luke 6:12-13 CEB

“During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long.”

Some people grew up going to church camp or retreats. These folks have probably experienced an encounter with God that was formational for them. It seems like the times we spend at camp or on a retreat can become some of the most powerful moments in our faith journey. The first retreat I ever attended was when I made my Walk to Emmaus back in 1989. The Walk to Emmaus is a 72-hour retreat experience where the participants hear talks and are led through many different experiences all designed to demonstrate God’s love for them. The Walk to Emmaus experience was definitely a spiritual high for me and a true spiritual marker in my faith journey. This is the type of experience retreats are designed to create.

There is something about taking time to experience a more focused time with God. When we take time to retreat and spend time in prayer we can experience what some have called a mountain top experience. When I hear that term I think of the time Moses spent on top of Mount Horeb receiving the Ten Commandments. We read in Deuteronomy that when Moses came down from the mountain his face was glowing. It was glowing so much that Moses had to cover his face with a veil. When we encounter God in a new or different way on a retreat we may feel a little like Moses. We may come down from that mountain top experience feeling closer to God and maybe even feel like we are glowing with God’s love. Have you ever experienced this? If not, I would encourage you to consider attending a Walk to Emmaus retreat. There is one coming up in March.

The reality is, however, we can experience this type of mountain top experience every day. We simply have to make the decision to seek and be aware of God’s presence in the ordinary. Jesus went out to the mountain to pray because it was a place he could concentrate on his prayer to God for an extended period of time. It was one of the ways he practiced solitude in his prayer life. We should do the same. We can also take that practice into our everyday life. If we are willing to seek God’s presence in every part of our day we can be on retreat every day. In order for this to happen we need to be intentional about creating the environments where the Holy Spirit will move. When we open our heart and mind to the possibilities that God has for us, amazing things can happen. Just as Jesus went up the mountain physically we can go to the mountain spiritually by simply turning to Jesus and seeking his presence.

So will you head out to the mountain today? Seek God’s presence in every part of your day and pray through every moment of your day. If you will do this you will experience the mountain top today. You don’t have to go on a special retreat to experience the power of prayer. However, I highly recommend going on retreat regularly. The key is taking that mountain top experience back down into the valley with you. The God of the mountain top is also the God of the valley. God’s presence is the same in our highest highs and our lowest lows. I pray that you experience the fullness of all that God has in store for you today, throughout Lent, and always.

Prayer: God, thank you for all of the experiences in my life. Help me to appreciate your presence in the valleys of my life as well as on the mountain top. I long to experience your presence in every moment. Empower me through your Holy Spirit to see you everywhere. When I see your presence I will be sure to give you all honor, glory, and praise. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

February 27, 2018

Scripture: Luke 5:15-16 CEB
“News of him spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses.  But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.”

Did you ever build a fort? As a kid we probably all have built some form of fort. It usually involved blankets draped over furniture to build a temporary fort. If you were fortunate you may have even had a tree fort in your backyard. Where I grew up kids would go down to the woods and dig out underground forts. It was a place you could go where no one else was allowed, unless you allowed them in. I had two places I called forts growing up. One was in my room. I had bunk beds growing up and I would drape blankets over the rails of the upper bunk to make a fort of the lower bunk. The other was in our basement. I had taken a corner of one of the rooms in the basement and would set up a fort down there. Both of my fort locations were designed to get away from everything and everyone. I would read or play or whatever I wanted without anyone else interrupting.

I don’t believe that Jesus was in the practice of making forts. However, I do believe that he was in the practice of making space where there would be no interruptions. Rather than play or read, Jesus used this space in his life to pray. It was a part of the rhythm of Jesus’ life. He would be in ministry with a lot of people, with his disciples, with crowds of people, and in many different places. Then, as Luke records, “ … Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.” The ebb and flow of ministry and solitude was essential to Jesus. He would empty himself all day in ministry healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching, and proclaiming the good news. This all served to deplete Jesus of both physical and spiritual energy. This is why Jesus would go to deserted places and pray. It was to fill his spiritual tank again. The time Jesus spent in prayer helped him to get physical rest and to recharge spiritually as he talked with God, the Father.

Maybe it’s time we start building forts again! There is something very essential about withdrawing to deserted places for prayer. In my own life I have several places that work for me. At church I withdraw regularly to our prayer room off the sanctuary. It is a place specifically designed to be quiet and prayerful. At times I will withdraw to a place like Starbucks, which I know is never deserted, and find a corner to pray and just lose myself in the atmosphere of community. Sometimes my deserted place is my car as I am traveling to and from work, the hospital, or wherever I am heading. There are many ways we can find our deserted places in this world with very few actual deserted places. Have you ever thought about this? Where are your deserted places?

Today the challenge is to take stock of where we pray. Do you have a deserted place or two? If not, plan out where your new deserted place will be. Make time to withdraw to this place at least once a day. Schedule in your time in your deserted place. Perhaps on your calendar you schedule an appointment to withdraw and be in prayer. You will be surprised what a few minutes in your deserted place will do for you physically and spiritually. The busyness and chaos that can come from the alternative is undesirable. It would be an awesome thing if people could say of our daily routine that, “(Insert your name) would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.” May you create time in your deserted places today to spend time in prayer.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for all of the amazing people, places, and activities in my life. I know that I can allow all of these to crowd out my time with you. I want to make time for you today in my deserted place. Give me the discipline to plan this time and to listen to your Holy Spirit to know when I need to get away. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

February 26, 2018

Scripture: Isaiah 30:15 CEB
“Therefore, the Lord God, the holy one of Israel, says: In return and rest you will be saved; quietness and trust will be your strength— but you refused.”

The practice of solitude and rest is a practice that is foreign to most. We live in a society that rewards grit and drive. It seems that the more you do and the harder you work the greater the reward. This attitude and value can even bleed over into the way we look at our off time. It shows up in statements like work hard and play harder or go hard or go home. This outlook creates a cultural phenomenon where people work long hours to try and get ahead and then play hard in their off time and never really spend any time resting. Sure, everybody gets some sleep every day. But sleep isn’t the only part of resting. We are a people who may very well have lost the art of rest and solitude.

In the scripture above Israel had been running fast and hard away from God. They were doing what they wanted to do and not what God wanted for them. In fact, they were doing even worse than what they wanted … in most cases they were doing what the culture deemed good. The problem with that is God told them exactly the opposite. When the people of God were given the Promised Land, God told the people of Israel to avoid the cultures they would overtake. The reason being that they were to be set apart as God’s chosen people. In essence, the people disregarded what God had told them and did what they wanted. This caused them to be shut off from God. Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells the people of Israel to return and rest in God – instead of their own way. Being quiet in the Lord and trusting God would give them strength, but they refused God’s advice.

Today, we must ask ourselves the same question. Have we refused God’s call to return to God and rest in God? Do we spend enough time in quiet and trusting God? My guess for all of us is that we do not spend enough time resting in God. Even the marketplace is rediscovering the importance of rest. There is a company named White Space that is teaching businesses the importance of giving their employees time to regroup, to think, and to rest. What they have found is that this leads to greater productivity, effectiveness, and creativity in the workforce. What is interesting to me is that this is God’s idea. God desires for us to rest. So much so that God set the example in the creation story. God created for six days and on the seventh day God rested. It is so important for us that God modeled it for us. We could even say that on the seventh day God created Sabbath. It is just as important as the other six days. We really need to heed God’s call to return to God and rest.

How are you doing? Do you rest in the way that God calls us to? What is your plan for solitude today? Each day we should plan to schedule ample time for solitude where we can rest in God’s presence. If we will do this we will find that we are actually more effective the rest of the day. Our mind will be clearer. We will be more aware of our purpose. We will feel God’s presence with us in the other moments of the day. Isaiah tells people that solitude, rest, trust and quiet will be their strength. If we want to be strong we must make time in our day for solitude and rest in God. What is your plan today?

Prayer: Creator God, thank you for your example of rest. Thank you for your Son, Jesus, and his life and ministry and how he demonstrated the importance of solitude and rest in you. Empower us today to find moments of rest and solitude. We long to be in your presence today where we can listen to you in the quiet. Inspire us today to seek you in the quiet places. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

February 24, 2018

Scripture: James 5:16b CEB
“The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.”

Over the years there have been some really great movies made about comic book characters. The resurgence of Marvel Comics and DC Comics characters in movies over the past ten years. The most recent movie to come out is Black Panther. The common thread I have noticed throughout these movies is that of powers. Every character in these movies has some unique power that makes them special, unique and different. Some are strong, some can fly, some turn into a different character when they get really angry, and the list goes on. This makes for some really fun movies. The other common thread is that they all choose to use these powers for good. There are always other characters with powers who have chosen to use their powers for harm, these are the villains. The heroes choose to use their powers for good. If they had not made this choice the movies would be very, very different.

Did you know that you can be a superhero also? Alright, you will not be in a movie and you may not save the world in the Hollywood sense. But God, through James, says you too can be a superhero in the faith. This is what James writes in chapter five verse 15. James writes, “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” Let’s dig a little deeper into this thought. First, prayer is communication between God and believer. The righteous person is anyone who has accepted the gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. This implies that every prayer we pray, as those who are in a right relationship with Jesus Christ, has power. So our divinely given superhero power is prayer. Have you ever thought of prayer this way? According to James your prayers are powerful.

I should probably take a second here to be clear. We are not superheroes! We do not have capes, we cannot fly, and we do not have superhuman strength or x-ray vision. But I also want to be clear that every faithful follower of Jesus Christ has the ability to pray powerful prayers. We do not need to enter into the prayer moment timidly. The prayers we pray have power and when we pray we must acknowledge that there is power being transmitted. God is offering us a literal conduit between Creator and created. We are talking to God directly and our prayers are not just one way. God hears our prayers AND answers our prayers. There is divine power being transmitted between parties in the moments we pray. So our prayers should not be timid and wimpy. We come to the throne room of God in prayer boldly. We come to God in prayer and praise God’s holy name, we confess our sins and seek forgiveness, we share with God the desires of our heart, and we intercede in prayer for those we love. All of these prayers have power.

The challenge for all of us is to pray bold prayers that embody the power that is present. This week pray bold prayers. This week approach your prayer time with confidence. Enter into your prayer closet with the confidence of a child of God and a joint heir with Christ. The promise in James is that “the prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” So what will your prayers achieve this week? I pray that the powerful prayers of the righteous people of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church achieve much. Go and be a prayer superhero!

Prayer: Holy God, thank you for desiring a relationship with us. We are overwhelmed that the One who created everything would be faithful to hear the prayers of the righteous. There are so many things we want to pray for today. Guide and direct us to pray bold prayers today in the confidence that there is power being transmitted. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

February 23, 2018

Therefore, the Lord God, the holy one of Israel, says: In return and rest you will be saved; quietness and trust will be your strength— but you refused.  Isaiah 30:15 (CEB)

When I was a new driver, aged 16, I hadn’t yet developed a comprehensive mental map of Montgomery County, Maryland, where we lived. If I started at home, I knew how to get to school, to my piano teacher’s house, to church, to my two best friends’ houses, and to the pool. But, I couldn’t travel from one of these places to another easily. And new places? Those were even trickier. Trips to new places or from one non-home place to another required pulling out the big ol’ 3-pound, spiral-bound ADC map of Washington, D.C. and the surrounding counties. Oh, yeah – no GPS, no cell phone. My trusty map travelled along with me in the station wagon at all times. Getting from location A-5 on one page of the map to location F-10 on another page was a process. When I didn’t follow all the steps, I could easily get lost and find it really challenging to get where I was trying to go.

If I started at home to a new place, my parents often would review my navigation efforts and add in helpful pointers of landmarks that I’d see along the way: “Oh, you’ll know you’re on track when you go by Blair High School,” or “It’s right by the pool where Divisional Relays were – do you remember that big sign they have?” They would also help me make judgement calls based upon their extensive experience driving in the region: “Well, the most direct route IS down 355 but there are SO many lights that this other road would be an easier drive,” or “You do NOT want to be on that part of the Beltway at five o’clock!” My mom and dad encouraged me as I got better at navigating and gave me helpful information to prepare me for my journey.

But, when I was navigating out and about I was on my own, and it was harder than starting from home with my parents’ guidance and encouragement. My worst episode of getting lost was when I was trying to meet up with friends to go swing dancing at our favorite spot just outside DC. I started out on the regular route; but, I must have gotten distracted while talking with the friend riding with me. I turned the wrong way on the Beltway and tried to correct course without pulling over and consulting the map. We ended up on a one-hour detour through Maryland and a part of DC where I had to speak through bars AND plexiglass to the gas station attendant before we finally found our way to the dance hall. Our friends were waiting for us and sent us straight to the pay phone to check in with my parents, who were quite worried when my friends called and informed them we hadn’t arrived as expected. It was such a relief to be back among friends at our planned destination! It was extra comfort to get a pointer from my parents on how to make it home after dancing without another lengthy detour. The next day, my parents and I had a map session where we worked out what had gone wrong to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. And it didn’t!

While it is now MUCH easier with smartphones to get where we want to go in our cars and avoid getting lost on the road, we can still definitely get lost – just in different ways. We can get lost from our purpose, become distracted, and get off course due to busyness. We can lose connection with our biological or church family due to conflict and turmoil. We can lose our way in our daily living choices and find ourselves in habits and lifestyles that run contrary to Jesus’ teachings. We can lose our faith – some life events shake us to the core and our early and often simplistic understanding of who God is collapses under the weight of tragedy. We can feel like we’ve lost contact with Jesus and God altogether. We’re never really lost to God, of course, who can always find us—and wants us to come home!—but sometimes we have no idea what route to take to get back.

My morning quiet time in prayer and solitude is when I daily walk and memorize the route home to God. In solitude, I can give my full attention to delving into scripture, allow God to speak those words into my heart, unburden my heart by sharing my struggles with God, and listen attentively to the direction and guidance God provides to prepare me for what I’m going to encounter.

In solitude, I root down into the love, mercy and wisdom that will carry me through my day. Later in the day, when I encounter a tricky situation or an upsetting scenario I can mentally and emotionally dip back into the comfort and strength I received in my time with God at the start of the day. When a confluence of events prevents me from having my morning prayer time my temper runs shorter, I have less to give, and I’m more easily thrown off course. Just like when I was a new driver, I get lost less frequently when I start my journeys with guidance and encouragement from One who is far wiser and more experienced than I am.

As I look back on my life, I notice that the seasons of my life without regular, intentional prayer in solitude are also those seasons when I was furthest from walking in Jesus’ footsteps. It seems that the longer I went without connecting to God in prayer, the more I fell into patterns of allowing the din of the world around me to crowd out God’s voice. Indeed, the longer I went without prayer and the further off course I veered, the harder I found it to even recognize God’s still small voice. Long absences were particularly damaging and coincided with the times of the greatest unnecessary suffering in my life. When I start from “home”—my daily time of solitude—it is much easier to navigate my days and my life because I am being led rather than wandering aimlessly.

As chaotic and challenging as my days sometimes are, they are a piece of cake compared to Jesus’ days! Notably, across multiple Gospel accounts, Jesus regularly walks away from the crush and never ending needs of the crowds to be restored and equipped for his ministry by his Heavenly Father. These prayer times sustain him throughout his ministry, even during the events of Holy Week. This Sunday we’ll look at what Jesus’ prayer time in solitude teaches us about how to pray and grow – this Lent and beyond. I look forward to seeing you in church!

February 23, 2018

Scripture: Hebrews 5:7 CEB

“During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion.”

It seems the older we get the more predictable our routines can get. Wake up, go to work, work and interact with coworkers, go home, interact with family, watch television or read, do a few tasks around the house, go to bed, repeat. The various items on the agenda will change slightly depending on the person. However, there will be a routine of sorts for all of our lives. The question concerns what those items on our daily agenda will be. Largely, we have control over our own agendas and that to which we give our time, talents, and energy. We only have so many days on this earth and it is important how we spend those days. What influence will we have? What kind of impact will we make on this world? How we spend our days is very important!

This is what stands out to me from today’s reading. Luke records that Jesus “during his days on earth” spent much of his time praying. Luke writes that Jesus “offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death.” Jesus did many things while on earth, but one of the most important things he did was pray. Jesus didn’t just say morning and evening prayers as some sort of routine. Luke says Jesus offered his prayers with “loud cries” and through “tears.” He also records that Jesus offered these prayers as “sacrifices” to God, the Father. As I read this verse it seems pretty clear that Jesus prayed throughout his day. As I read through the Gospels I see Jesus stopping periodically to pray, moving apart from others to pray, praying in large crowds, praying on mountains, praying in gardens, praying alone, praying together, praying on a cross, praying on the beach, and praying in heaven. Jesus prayed during his days on earth.

It is my conviction that we are to lead similar lives during our days on earth. We are to pray everywhere and anywhere. We are to pray without anyone and with anybody. We are to pray in private and we are to pray in public. Our prayers should display the emotion we feel. Our prayers should relate the conviction of our faith. What better thing could we do during our days on earth? I know that some will think, “What about action?” I believe that a deeper more continuous life of prayer will move us to action. When we pray for those who are hungry we are moved to feed them. When we pray for those who are naked we are moved to clothe them. When we pray for those who are sick or in prison we are moved to visit them. When we pray for those who are widows or orphans we are moved to love them. Jesus didn’t just pray. It was his time spent in prayer that moved him to feed the five thousand, heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, raise Lazarus from the dead, and suffer on the cross. During his time on earth Jesus did more than we can imagine because he prayed.

Make today count! Start with prayer and pray throughout the day. Pay close attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit and do everything the Holy Spirit prompts you to do. This is the start of a life lived in prayer. Surrender every moment you can to Jesus through prayer. At work, at home, at the grocery store, and wherever you go. A little practice I use is to ask God the following question whenever you enter a new place during the day. If you leave your office to go to another part of your workplace, or if you are going to the grocery store, this question is great to ask. Simply ask, “God, reveal to me what you want for me to do and who you want me to talk to in this place.” Make the most of your time here on earth.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, come and fill my heart today and make your love an all-consuming fire in  the depth of my being. Father God, through the power of your Holy Spirit you have taught your faithful followers all they have ever needed to know. Empower me to make wise decisions in all that I do today so that I will always enjoy the power of your presence in my life. Send your Spirit into my family, my church, my community, and the entire world that all would be made a new creation in you. Only you renew and restore your amazing creation. I pray this today through the powerful name of Jesus Christ my Lord and my Savior. Amen.

February 22, 2018

Scripture: Acts 6:4 CEB
“As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.”

One of the more interesting stories in the Bible has to do with a gate. Nehemiah asked to go back to his homeland, Jerusalem, and rebuild the wall of the city. The basic premise is that the broken down wall of Jerusalem was a disgrace to the Jewish people. They had been soundly defeated and given into the hands of the enemy. After years of being split up and indoctrinated into the enemy culture Nehemiah was still upset about the condition of Jerusalem and her wall. He was so upset that he risked his life to ask the enemy king to allow him to go and rebuild the wall. Of course, we know that the king allowed for this work to be done. Nehemiah brought the people together and they began to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The fact that it remained in ruins was a huge source of disgrace for the people of God. Nehemiah would be the one called to change that.

However, this is not the more interesting story to which I refer. Nehemiah gets all of the attention in the story. I mean the book is named after him. But there is one unsung hero that catches my attention in the Nehemiah story. His name is Malchiah. Malchiah was responsible for a section of the wall called “the Dung Gate.” Yes, it is what it sounds like it is. This was the gate through which all of the city’s refuse, more clearly the cities dung, was taken out of the city and burned. The Book of Nehemiah mentions 10 gates by name including the Dung Gate. All of the gates had a purpose. All of them more glamorous than the Dung Gate. But Malchiah was put in charge of rebuilding the Dung Gate. We have no record of him complaining or asking to be assigned to another gate. Malchiah simply went about the business of rebuilding the Dung Gate. Every day he would get up and head out to work on his gate. When the wall was complete and Nehemiah and the people of Israel celebrated … they couldn’t have done that without Malchiah and his Dung Gate.

So why share that story? Because sometimes in life it seems like we are assigned to the Dung Gate. The nasty smelly Dung Gate! We want to be assigned to a better part of rebuilding the wall. The truth is wherever God places us is important. The Dung Gate was just as important as any other part of the wall. Without the Dung Gate the wall would not have been complete. In Acts chapter six the Apostles are in need of caring for those in need. They realize that they have been given the role of leadership. They also realize that if they stop to provide mercy ministry to the people they will be unable to perform the work to which God had called them. So they assign seven other people to do the work of mercy ministry. They then proclaim, “As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.” That was their role.

Everyone has a role in the kingdom work of the church. Some are given gifts to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some shepherds, and some teachers. What is your role? It may just be a Dung Gate kind of role. It may also be rebuilding some other part of the wall. It may be to help others in their time of greatest need. It is possible you are called to devote yourself to prayer and sharing the gospel. Spend some time today praying about your role in God’s kingdom work. You will find it incredibly freeing to understand where God is calling you to serve. All of the work of the kingdom is important, but when you know that to which you are called there is great clarity. When someone asks you to serve in an area where you are not called, you can affirm their work and reply, “As for me, I will … ”

What is your Dung Gate?

Prayer: Holy God, you created everything we see and even what we cannot see. You call us to be a part of your redemptive work in creation. You give us roles in your kingdom work and gift us to carry out those roles. Help to make my role clear today. Empower me to do your work and to share your good news through my work today. Whether you call me to the Dung Gate or to prayer, I will be sure to give you all of the honor, glory and praise in all. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

February 21, 2018

Scripture: Acts 2:42 CEB
“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.”

I admittedly love the stories recorded of the early church. Over the years I have come to understand what the early church was like through one phrase … on fire! Through the descriptions of what went on in the early church this seems to be the most accurate description. So what does it mean? To be on fire for something denotes passion, urgency, and an all-consuming attitude. As I read the New Testament it seems like the gospel of Jesus Christ was the only thing on their mind. It was what consumed their thoughts and actions. They acted out of courage and strength given directly from the Holy Spirit and gave themselves to the work of the good news. This is the type of passion to which we should aspire. We should seek to be on fire for Jesus and in the name of Jesus act out that passion.

In the second chapter of The Book of Acts there is a description of exactly what that means. The Common English Bible translates it this way, “The believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.” Other than the word believer there is one other very important word, devoted. Merriam-Webster defines devoted as having a strong love or loyalty to something or someone. This definition seems to undersell what the Acts believers had for Jesus and his gospel. The good news they had been taught by the apostles was everything to them. They gave every part of their life to this new way of believing and living. It was their one Holy passion and it literally consumed them. It was the one thing to which they were devoted.

What would it look like to be that on fire for Jesus today? What would happen if we were to devote ourselves to the apostle’s teaching, to the community, to shared meals together, and to praying for each other? Some would say this is what the church does even today. When we get it right this is absolutely true. The one thing we must have in order for this to be absolutely true is the passion, the total devotion. When that is missing our time together becomes more social than spiritual. We need to have passion for what we do. A word of caution: passion is not the same as activity and volume. The most passionate person for God may not be the loudest or even the most outwardly active. This may be the difference between passion and devotion. Being on fire for God is less about passion and more about devotion. When we are passionately devoted to God our love and loyalty belong to God alone. This is what it truly means to be on fire for God. To be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ means that every part of our life is devoted to Jesus.

Is my life fully devoted? Are there any parts of my life that I resist devoting to Jesus? Is my marriage devoted to Jesus? Is my family devoted to Jesus? Have I devoted my work to Jesus? Have I devoted my weekends to Jesus? Are my finances devoted to Jesus? Today make the decision to devote every part of your day to Jesus. Make the decision now. Don’t wait until something goes wrong or you feel like you need to … make the decision now. One of my spiritual mentors, Dr. Steve Harper, says “We are not called to a devotional time, we are called to a devotional life.” We must make the decision every morning to devote all of our day, and life, to Jesus. Perhaps today we may even be on fire for Jesus and be consumed with devoting every moment to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Holy God, Scripture tells us that you are an all-consuming fire. Consume me today that I may be on fire for you. Empower me to live a life devoted to you today in every aspect of my life. I love you Lord and my loyalty is to you alone. Fill me with the fire of your Holy Spirit and kindle in me the fire of your love. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

February 20, 2018

Scripture: Isaiah 5:7b-8 CEB
“My house will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples, says the Lord God, who gathers Israel’s outcasts. I will gather still others to those I have already gathered.”

Over the years our home has been many things. It is the place we gather as a family for meals, games, laughter, and some tears. Our home has been a place of safety and a refuge from the events of the world. Our home has also been a place where friends were welcomed and relationships were built. Even today our home is a place where friends are welcome and where our kids know they can invite people over whenever they would like. It is our hope that one day our house will be remembered as the place people liked to gather, felt welcomed warmly, and where friendships were built for a lifetime. I believe that is, in part, what a home should be for everyone.

In The Book of Isaiah, there are some pretty bad things happening to God’s people. Much of it because the people of God had decided to wander far from God. God had made it pretty clear as to what the people should do, and even not do. However, the people of God did what they thought was best and were not following God. Of course, there are consequences to their actions. In the midst of the descriptions of all of the consequences of their actions there is a promise of refuge. There is a promise that God will still be there for them. God’s promise has to do with God’s house. God promises, through Isaiah, to rescue his people, but God also makes a very specific promise about God’s house. Isaiah tells the people of God’s promise in chapter 56 verses 7b and 8 where he says, “My house will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples, says the Lord God, who gathers Israel’s outcasts. I will gather still others to those I have already gathered.”

There are two pretty major components to God’s promise about God’s house. First, it will be a house of prayer. This is the passage of Scripture Jesus referred to when he overturned the money changers' tables in the temple courts. The money changers had helped to make God’s house known as something other than what had been promised. It wasn’t just about the money changing hands. It was also about the disrespect toward God of making God’s house into something they thought it should be. Second, God’s house will be a house of prayer for all people. God promises through Isaiah to welcome all people to God’s house for prayer. This would indicate that all who would turn away from sin and turn to God would be welcome. This is a statement of God’s radical divine grace. This is the kind of hospitality that God alone is able to offer to a sinful people. This radical hospitality meant that God’s house would be a place of refuge where all could go and pray for repentance. This is to be how God’s house will be known.

Reading this passage of Scripture brings me back to my home. For what will my house be known? For what will your house be known? Will our homes be places of refuge and hospitality, love and grace? Take inventory of your home today. Not a physical inventory, but a spiritual and relational inventory. Ask how open your home has been to those in need, those who are in your family and those who are not. As you take inventory of your home ask yourself what part prayer has played in your home becoming what it is. As followers of Jesus, I believe above all our house should be a house of prayer. This is foundational to all of the rest. Of course, the sanctuary [church] should be a house of prayer as we gather collectively for worship. I also believe that this practice starts at home. For what will our house be known?

Prayer: Most gracious God, thank you for making your house a house of prayer for all people. Thank you for your house being a place of refuge for all people who seek to follow you. I long for my home to be a place where you are praised and honored. A place where people feel welcomed and loved. May this be so for all of my life today. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

February 19, 2018

Scripture: Mark 1:14-15 CEB
“After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

This coming summer will mark 19 years since I accepted my first appointment as a pastor. It’s difficult sometimes to wrap our mind around how quickly time passes. Have you had times where you circled a date on the calendar and thought it would never come? Maybe it was your graduation or wedding date or some other major event. It seems when we first write something on our calendar the date just seems so far off. Inevitably, the date we thought was so far away arrives much faster than we ever thought it would. Time has a way of doing that to us. The last 7 months have been a time of disbelief for me as I come to grips with the reality that our oldest daughter is in her first year of college. You see she was only three months old when I started my first appointment as a pastor. The day she would start college seemed so far away and yet it has arrived.

As I read the words of John the Baptist recorded in The Gospel of Mark, I cannot help but think that this may have been the way people felt. The promise of the coming Messiah has been talked about and conjectured for hundreds of years. Some were wondering if it would ever come. Then there comes a prophet after 400 hundred years of no prophecy. There is one who is crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” (Matthew 3:3). John the Baptist is calling people to repent and be baptized in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. John tells people, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John prepares the way for the Messiah and eventually is arrested for stirring up the crowds because the religious leaders did not know what to do with his prophecy.

Then enters Jesus! Jesus came into Galilee “announcing God’s good news, saying, ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!’” The people must have literally freaked out. None of them had really heard prophecy before John the Baptist. John’s ministry was to point to Jesus, the One who would come after him. Now is the time! Jesus is here! Can you imagine what they must have thought? All this time we have been waiting and this could be it! The time has come. Could this be the Messiah? The New Testament records how many people heard Jesus, saw the miracles, and believed that he was the Messiah. It also records that many rejected Jesus and some sought to kill him. Regardless of the response, the reality is that the Messiah had come. Now is the time! Their long wait was over and God’s kingdom was coming.

Now is the time for you and me. Jesus is alive. Jesus is still Messiah, our Savior. The challenge for us is to make this a reality in our heart and life. We cannot think, behave, or live like the rest of the world when we know Jesus. Jesus calls us to change our heart and life. Jesus calls us to abide in Him and to love him. Jesus calls us to love each other so deeply that the people around us will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are Jesus’ disciples. Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your heart and life, and trust this good news!

Prayer: Holy God who transforms the hearts and lives of those you love. Grant that I may realize that now is the time. Empower me to live for you. May I hold every thought captive to your will and live in a way that points people to you. I don’t want to leave any doubt about being your disciple. May I love like Jesus today. Amen.

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