Scripture: Acts 1:6
So when the disciples had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Thought for the Day: These words come from the story associated with Ascension Day, a day in the Christian Year that is celebrated the week before Pentecost. Ascension Day is this coming Sunday, and we will be remembering and celebrating the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Right before he leaves this world, the disciples ask the resurrected Christ if he is about ready to restore the kingdom of Israel. This is the thing many (if not all) of the disciples had been expecting. In different ways, they had viewed Jesus as a political leader who was going to push the Roman occupying force from Jerusalem and the surrounding lands. Of course, this is not what happened. Jesus danced around the question by suggesting that it was not for us to know, but then he immediately turned to the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon the followers of Jesus. It’s as if Jesus was saying, “Don’t worry about what isn’t your task. Instead, worry about the work that is set before you.” I like a good theological discussion, but often there is no way of determining who is right. Oh sure, I feel pretty certain that I was right but so does the person I was debating. Often these are the questions that need to be set aside for the good work of those who choose to follow Jesus through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. I lift this up specifically for those who are certain about their calculations for the end of the world. To them, stop jabbering about things of which you know nothing. Instead, get to the good work Jesus has put before you.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and animate my life for the good work presented in the life of Jesus. Let me never see an intense debate on some irrelevant topic as a way of following Jesus. Amen.
JOIN TOGETHER FOR WORSHIP
THIS SUNDAY – ASCENSION SUNDAY
Scripture: Psalm 107:41-43
But God raises the needy from their suffering; he makes their families as numerous as sheep! Those who do right see it and celebrate, but every wicked person shuts their mouth. Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things, carefully considering the LORD’s faithful love.
Thought for the Day: This ends Psalm 107, and I pray that our nine days spent on this Psalm have provided you a little something to chew on each day. Just the other day, I heard a preacher ask a question about the work of God and the work of the church. When we read a passage like God raises the needy from their suffering, is the assumption that we are nothing more than observers in the amazing act? Or are we to understand that faith is the Spirit’s tool by which the needy are raised up from their suffering; the outcasts are welcomed to the community; the lost are found; the hungry are fed; the orphaned find family? I do not wish to dismiss the power of God to do something amazing beyond the gifts of the faith community, but the world seems to become rather spiritually empty when people of faith see themselves on the front row of some great divine show. Faith does more than simply open our eyes to God’s dream for the world. It also invites us to pay attention to how we can share in the work of the dream fulfilled.
Prayer: Today is a new day – a gift and opportunity. O Lord of Mercy, let it not slip away. Draw me from the sideline to the frontline where your Spirit can use my hands and feet, my voice and witness, my compassion and love. This is my prayer offered in the name of the one who showed us what it means to be an incarnation of your love. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 107:35-40
But God can also turn the desert into watery pools, thirsty ground into watery springs, where he settles the hungry. They even build a city and live there! They plant fields and vineyards and obtain a fruitful harvest. God blesses them, and they become many. God won’t even let their cattle diminish. But when they do diminish— when they’re brought down by oppression, trouble, and grief— God pours contempt on their leaders, making them wander aimlessly in the wastelands.
Thought for the Day: There is a scene in the movie Kingdom of Heaven where the character Balian helps bring water to a dry and barren land. It is a magnificent scene where what was once hopeless becomes joyful and alive. Though the movie is about the ugliness of the crusades, the title of the movie is fitting for this scene and a number of others. The Kingdom of Heaven does not simply exist beyond this life, but continues to break open and reveal itself in the here and now. God is always searching for lives that are open and available to the movement of the Spirit. In such moments, the Kingdom of Heaven appears like a pool of water in a desert land; like a watery spring to thirsty ground.
Prayer: Where I am not currently available to you, Generous God, continue to work with me that my hardened heart is cracked open. I want to be a part of your good work, and in doing so, to be an instrument by which your Kingdom is revealed. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 107:30-34
So they rejoiced because the waves had calmed down; then God led them to the harbor they were hoping for. Let them thank the LORD for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people. Let them exalt God in the congregation of the people and praise God in the assembly of the elders. God turns rivers into desert, watery springs into thirsty ground, fruitful land into unproductive dirt, when its inhabitants are wicked.
Thought for the Day: Ok – we are once again challenged with a theolgical question. Does the God who extends faithful love and wondrous works to all people also punish people by turning the essentials of life into nothingness? This is where I look to Jesus, and what I find in his life is a God whose love does not punish, but redeems; a love that does not sentence us to a barren land, but continues to call us to the life-giving waters. In light of what I know of Jesus, I look again at these words from the Psalm and I find myself in need of taking responsibility. God does not turn rivers into deserts or faithful land into unproductive dirt. It is our wickedness, and our wickedness alone, that sucks the beauty and nourishing gifts from our existence. We may want to claim it as God’s punishment, but in fact, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Prayer: You are gracious beyond measure, O Lord, and I pray that my life is able to both celebrate your life-giving gifts and invite others to fully share in their wonderful sustenance. Amen.
OUR SUMMER YOUTH INTERN
Scripture: Psalm 107:23-29
Some of the redeemed had gone out on the ocean in ships, making their living on the high seas. They saw what the LORD had made; they saw his wondrous works in the depths of the sea. God spoke and stirred up a storm that brought the waves up high. The waves went as high as the sky; they crashed down to the depths. The sailors’ courage melted at this terrible situation. They staggered and stumbled around like they were drunk. None of their skill was of any help. So they cried out to the LORD in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed.
Thought for the Day: What do we have here? Is this an accounting of an event that happened, or is this poetry? As you may guess, I see this as poetry and thus not to be taken literally. The moment you take poetry out of its intended genre, it dissolves into a mess of nothingness. What I see are the challenges that confront the faithful, and how even the best can tremble and stumble in such moments. Yet those who humbly call upon the Lord amidst the storms of distress are those who find that God has not and will not abandon them. Today, as we may wake to some new challenge or concern that shakes our lives, let us call upon the Lord who listens and responds. Let us not hesitate in seeking the One whose eternal presence was there all the time.
Today (it might have been yesterday or the day before) was my 1,700th devotional since arriving at Cypress Creek Christian Church. I hope a few them have provided a word a grace, encouragement or challenge in your faith journey…especially in those moments when it feels as if a storm has struck.
Prayer: I cry out to you, O Lord, in the belief that I will be heard. There is nothing that escapes your ears and nothing that goes unnoticed. Your compassion and concern are eternal. Thank you! Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 107:21-22
Let them thank the LORD for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people. Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and declare what God has done in songs of joy!
Thought for the Day: In Ancient Israel, there were rituals by which people brought sacrifices to the temple. Included among these sacrificial offerings, we find the sacrifice of animals. Now I have pointed out before that though we often think of these killing of animals as a means by which God was placated or appeased, that is a rather strange way of thinking about God. The sacrifice had little to do with God and everything to do with the person making the sacrifice. It was a sacrifice to give up a prized and valuable animal, but it also allowed people to better understand the sacrifice God has and continues to make on behalf of humanity. It also taught the people to not prize their stuff above God. A sacrificial offering demonstrated tangible gratitude that pushed the individual beyond empty words, and allowed this person to recognize how the “faithful love” and “wondrous works” of God are not just empty words. They are continually demonstrated through the power of the Spirit, and ultimately in the life and death of Jesus.
Prayer: May my words of gratitude to you, Most Gracious God, be matched with a life that demonstrates true sacrificial gratitude. Amen.
Today Is The Lord’s Day
Let us give thanks…
Scripture: Psalm 107:15-20
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron. Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.
Thought for the Day: The Lord sent out his word according to the passage. The word in Hebrew is dabar, and when scriptures uses it as a tool of the Lord, it comes with the power to save. This word, according to the author, brought healing and deliverance. I like how the poet places the word of the Lord next to the cry of the people. It is a cry that comes from behind bars where the gates of death draw near. The cry spoken of in this passage is a cry of hopelessness, but the word of the Lord is a word of hope. The cries of the powerless are met with a word of power; the cries of those ensnared are met with a word of freedom; the cries of the broken are met with a word of restoration.
Prayer: For your life-giving word, Lord, I give thanks this day. May I listen for this word, and in my listening, may it reshape my attitude. Amen.
JOIN YOUR FAITH COMMUNITY
FOR WORSHIP TOMORROW
Scripture: Psalm 107:10-14
Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder.
Thought for the Day: As we continue to look at Psalm 107, I have to wonder if the author was referring to the Babylonians Exile or Egyptian slavery with these words. Whatever the case, the author appears to be suggesting that our choices have consequences. This shouldn’t be earth shattering to anyone, yet so often I see people asking God to save them from the consequences of bad choices. God is gracious, but I believe the universe has some basic order to it. It was Newton who theorized that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I don’t believe God usurps this law, but is there as we struggle through the aftermath. Even when the full consequences of our actions leave us feeling as if we are in utter darkness, we are not beyond the love of God (remember the opening part of this Psalm). When we cry from the darkness, it may feel as if we are yelling into an abyss, but there is no darkness beyond God.
Prayer: Before I cried out to you, Mighty God, you were there in my darkest hour. It is often my cry – my feeling of utter powerlessness – that awakens me to that everlasting presence. Thank you! Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 107:4-9
Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
Thought for the Day: Is the author of the Psalm speaking of a literal group looking for “an inhabited town,” or is this poetry/metaphor. I can’t say for sure, but I can relate to it because the image connects well beyond a literal reading. I have never been lost in a desert searching for a place where food, water and shelter would be found. At the same time, I have known periods in my life when my spirit was parched and my faith a bit dry. Like many of you, I wandered as if lost, and though I may not have been able to articulate it, I was hoping to find a community (an inhabited town) where others would offer me the sustenance for which I had been searching. I like how the passage describes the Lord leading us “by a straight way.” When you are in the midst of the wandering, it may not feel like a straight way, but my experience has often been that it was as straight as God could get me to walk.
Prayer: Continue to guide me, O Merciful Lord, to the places where my spirit will be nourished by the sustenance of your grace and presence. Amen.
PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR
Scripture: Psalm 107:1-3
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
Thought for the Day: For the next few days, I will be looking at this Psalm. Like many of you, I appreciate and celebrate the idea of the Lord’s steadfast love enduring forever. On a visit to Rome eight years ago, I visited a number of the catacombs around the city. These burial places from the first few centuries of Christianity sparked my imagination in regard to what it must have been like as an early follower of Jesus. That was a long time ago, but this Psalm would be centuries older. Ancient places and texts provide strength to the foundation of our convictions, but they are bound in time and geography.
The word forever in this passage does not simply speak of a love that has no ending, but a love that had no beginning. It is eternal, and thus is not contained or defined by time. Those ancient places or texts are wonderful in giving context to our faith, yet the love of the Lord is not bound by anything…including time. Thus, the distance between east and west, north and south is insignificant when it comes to the far-reaching capacity of love.
Prayer: The Alpha and Omega – The Beginning and End, I honor and praise you as the One whose gifts are not limited by time and space. Our minds may try to restrict or circumvent these gifts, but you are not held back by our limitations. Thank you for sharing your steadfast love in those places and among those people that others had written off. Amen.