Scripture: Romans 11:34-36
Who has known the Lord’s mind? Or who has been his mentor? Or who has given him a gift and has been paid back by him? All things are from him and through him and for him. May the glory be to him forever. Amen.
Thought for the Day: This is good theology and good poetry. Paul asked what sounded like a set of rhetorical questions, and they leave us smiling in the knowledge that we join everyone else in not knowing the full mind of God and definitely not being God’s mentor. This reinforces yesterday’s devotional on grace, as no one has the capacity to arrogantly claim special status or insight or distinction. It is God who is the first actor, and God’s loving activity was and continues to be given as a true gift – no strings attached. And the response of those who have seen and accepted this gift is to join Paul in saying, “All glory and gratitude belong to God forever. Amen!”
Prayer: On this day, I express my gratitude for your grace, O Marvelous God. I may try to own it in ways that I should not, so provide me those reminders that convict my heart to truly appreciate the generosity of your Spirit. Amen.
Consider bringing a Side Dish
to Share at the Picnic
Scripture: Romans 11:6
But if it is by grace, it isn’t by what’s done anymore. If it were, God’s grace wouldn’t be grace.
Thought for the Day: Grace is a funny thing. It has nothing to do with our beliefs, actions, reactions or anything else. If it did, according to Paul, it wouldn’t be grace. Perhaps, though others might argue differently, the greatest challenge that has faced Christianity through its history has been its inability to accept grace as grace. The moment we begin to accept grace and its immeasurable inclusion, we find a lot of folks showing up; all those folks who make us uncomfortable; all those who get in the way of us achieving our personal goals; all those people who are not like us. We start by embracing grace, we see its beautiful repercussions, and then we get anxious. In our heightened state of anxiety, we begin limiting the scope and power of grace…which has often ended with some of the ugliest moments in Christian history. Grace is tough stuff, and it requires trust in God, self-confidence, and a true appreciation of its power to redeem and transform the worst among us… which, like Paul, might be us.
Prayer: As you are gracious, Holy God, encourage my understanding of grace so that I can allow grace to be grace. Too often my sinfulness begins to chip away at grace, and the moment it does, the new thing created is not a slightly reduced grace. It is no longer your grace. Forgive me, and then reteach me by means of Jesus and his life. Amen.UIKeyInputDownArrow
Scripture: Romans 10:4
Christ is the goal of the Law, which leads to righteousness for all who have faith in God.
Thought for the Day: The Greek word we translate as goal is telos. It can be translated as goal or end or consummation. Jesus is the finish line, the one who continues to beckon and guide our journey. There is an old hymn entitled, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. The chorus says:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
I read this as a call to continually strive to increase the intensity of our concentration when it comes to the Jesus-life. From birth to death to resurrection, his life stands as both a goal and a guide for our lives. If Jesus, specifically the key stories of his compassion and sacrificial love, is kept before us, we are better able to maneuver the many distractions and be faithful witnesses to his love.
Prayer: We turn our eyes to Jesus and his life, but we know the many challenges of maintaining our focus. Help us, Lord; encourage us; keep our eyes fixed upon the life of Jesus so that his ways become our ways. Amen.
Scripture: Romans 5:5
This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Thought for the Day: Hope is based in faith, and faith is rooted in an experience that helps confirm what cannot be confirmed by usual methods. The experience that gives rise to faith and helps create hope is the experience of love. Not some romantic gushy lust that we have confused as love, but the genuine and unconditional nature made real in Jesus. So many people live without hope, and yet they are told by many to have hope as if it is something easily picked up while at the grocery store. The problem for many is that they have not experienced love, the necessary component of hope. If all someone has experienced is a so-called love that cannot be trusted, comes and goes on a whim, then why should we expect such a person to be hopeful. They may have some wishful thinking, but wishful thinking has no foundation on which to stand. Let the church give witness to love from which hope can come.
Prayer: Continue to encourage my life of faith, O Giver of Abundant love. Allow me to grow in my trust of this love, and from it, to live a life of hope even when the darkness appears to have extinguished the light. Amen.
ONE SERVICE SUNDAY
Scripture: Matthew 22:17-22
So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked. “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.
Thought for the Day: Though this question was asked in an attempt to trap Jesus by those who did not like him, his answer is fascinating. Does it really answer the question? Wouldn’t you expect a simple YES or NO? The answer, in some people’s thinking, is an indirect reference to the divine image that rests upon each person. When Jesus says we are to give to God what belongs to God, it sounds as if he is pointing to every human being, for each carries the divine image. There have been many, usually politicians, who have used this passage to say the Bible tells us that we must pay our taxes. I’m not suggesting the opposite, but for us to make it the moral of the story is to miss its power. And to give ourselves to God, there might be a moment when we are required to oppose a tax, if such a tax does not align with the Gospel. Of course, that’s the tough question to ask, and I am definitely not going to give any suggestions in this devotional on when such an opposition should occur.
Prayer: Let me always be about the work of asking good questions, but let me be mindful of your answers, O Lord, that might just raise more questions for me to explore. Keep me searching! Amen.
One Service Sunday
Worship at 10:30am
Picnic to Follow
Prayer for the Week: We will soon notice the sounds and smells of fireworks as a way of celebrating our independence, though we wish to be mindful of our place and responsibility within our communities, our state, our nation and the world. O God of Grace and Glory, so often you become nothing more than a pretty accessory that people use to promote an agenda that does not resemble your Kingdom. We like to feel as if what we are saying or doing has your blessing, and so we borrow your name and insert it into our argument. Lead us to repentance, for you are not our marketing firm, but the One who calls us to a life that resembles the life of Jesus. May your love so generously offered to us be the model for how we speak and act. Teach us to serve others with true humility; make us respectful of those with whom we might disagree; show us ways of being faithful without being arrogant; encourage us to present Jesus, not so much in our words, but through our actions. O Lord of Life, help us to be open to your agenda and not the agenda of the world. We make these requests in the realization that the Spirit will work within us if we make room for the Spirit to work within us. Thank you for your patience as we are not always as willing to change as we say we are. Amen.
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:3
God said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Lord God, only you know that.”
Thought for the Day: That is the perfect response! Most folks would be adamant that bones could not live again, but for Ezekiel, the impossible becomes possible when God enters the equation. This is a verse from the well known vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (see a link below to the old song, Dry Bones), a vision offered to a people who had felt the arid air of despondency which left them with cracked soil in their souls. This vision is a miracle of sorts, and it reminds me of Michael Slaughter’s book, Made for A Miracle. In it, he continually reminded us that miracles have two components: Divine action and human responsibility. God is the first actor in the renewal of these dry bones, but Ezekiel is invited to speak. There are so many of us who feel as if they are in their own valley of dry bones, but Ezekiel’s vision reminds us of how God is acting and inviting us to help share in a time of renewal.
Prayer: Allow the breath of my body to move with your divine breath, O Renewer of Life. May I follow your lead, and share in the miracle of new beginnings. Amen.
SONG: Dry Bones