Scripture: Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
Thought for the Day: I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember if I had referenced these words from Richard Rohr or not, but even if I have, they are good enough to repeat. Rohr writes:
God’s freely given grace is a humiliation to the ego because free gifts say nothing about being strong, superior, or moral. Thus only the soul can understand grace, never the mind or the ego. The ego does not know how to receive things freely or without logic.
I still remember my struggle with grace. I grew-up in a sports world, and with a strong competitive nature, I knew that anything worth anything required work. I spoke of God’s grace, but for the longest time, I did not understand it or welcome it. True grace was a humiliation to my ego. If I couldn’t demonstrate my worthiness of such a gift then I wasn’t interested in the gift. Of course, life happens and as you get older you begin to see that you are not always the gift to humanity that your ego attempted to portray. Your failures become more noticeable and your frailties more pronounced. One day you wake up and look in the mirror and realize that though you might be a good human being 82% of the time, you also have moments of shallowness, self-centeredness and downright meanness. And despite all of this, there are those who still love you. And then you realize that even if those people ditched you, God hasn’t and God won’t. Once your ego has been utterly humiliated by grace, then you can move to that place where, with tears in your eyes, you are humbled by grace – humbled by God’s immeasurable love that puts up with your less than good stuff and works to improve this less than good stuff. That’s grace – that’s the gift that is freely given to us by God.
Prayer: I am humbled by the beauty and generosity of your love, O God. May this gift wash over me, spill into me, and change me. I ask this in the name of the one who revealed this gift, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Consider Inviting A Friend
There are persons for companionship, but then there are friends who are more loyal than family.
Thought for the Day: Today, I am thankful for friends. I know part of this spirit of thankfulness comes from spending some time with my good friend Kelly at the Preaching Conference I attended a week ago. In light of friendship, I am reminded of a couple of quotes:
Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.
My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.
In the life of our faith community, friendship and being spiritual family is so very important. A lot of those who find their way into our congregation are seeking friendship and a spiritual family. My question for all of us is how best can we be that to those seeking, searching, yearning?
Prayer: Merciful God, allow your Spirit to move through me so that I may serve those around me; befriend those who feel disconnected; help to build community that resembles your kingdom. Amen.
PLAN TO ATTEND
Scripture: Mark 16:15
Jesus said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature.”
Thought for the Day: Rob Bell wrote:
If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display.
How often has the church claimed to be about the work of sharing good news, when in fact, many found it to be bad news. As we begin a new week, let us put our lives on display with acts of service and compassion that clearly announce good news to all.
Prayer: Let me go where you lead me, O Lord Jesus, and share the good news to those who need to hear and experience it firsthand. Amen.
Scripture: Acts 1:10-11
While Jesus was going away and as the disciples were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”
Thought for the Day: A lot of people look to the words of the “two men in white robes” as a reference to the second coming of Jesus. Christians have for centuries been wondering whether that day is about to arrive, but I have always understood those words as a reference to the Holy Spirit or what might be described as the Spirit of Christ that arrived just a few days later on Pentecost. There are so many who are in a waiting mode, yet Jesus has returned fully in the power of the Holy Spirit. In true Trinitarian thinking, there is no difference in purpose between Father – Son – Holy Spirit. This is not a time to be waiting, but a time to be acting with the guidance and infused strength of Christ’s Spirit that has come to dwell among us.
Prayer: Let me see and feel and embrace your Spirit, O Lord. Let it move me for your good work in the world. Amen.
Sunday of Memorial Weekend
Scripture: Acts 1:8
[Jesus said,] “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Thought for the Day: Imagine with me that we are a few weeks after the ascension of Jesus, and we are reflecting on his final words to us (the above verse). Imagine some of the people debating whether we are to go to Jerusalem, then Judea and then Samaria without stopping at the towns in between these stops. “He was clear,” someone declares. “Jesus only wanted us to visit Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. And the ends of the earth is not an actual place, so we don’t need to worry about it.” It sounds like a ridiculous argument to make, but let’s be honest – the church has fully participated in equally if not more absurd type arguments over the years. Each one of these places represented a challenge to the early readers of Acts because their very thought caused discomfort or even fear, yet Jesus wanted his disciples to act beyond their discomfort and fear. And to say the ends of the earth was only a poetic way of saying, “If you think I left some place out, think again!”
Prayer: Allow for your Spirit, Good and Gracious God, to call me to wherever you need me to be. Call me and then lead me so that my work is your work, my words are your words. Amen.
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.