Scripture: Psalm 46:1-3
God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.
Thought for the Day: Can I be perfectly honest? If the mountains are crumbling and shaking, and the world appears to be falling apart, I am probably going to be a little afraid. I’d like to pretend that my relationship with God, a relationship that creates space where I find rest and peace, pushes out all concern and anxiety. Truthfully, those emotions creep into my daily experiences. When things seem out of control, my desire to be in control raises the level of whatever that chemical is within my system that says, “It’s time to panic!” Now does biology have to rule all the time? I think not! This is where Spiritual Disciplines and faithful practices can shape our reaction. That’s not to suggest a nice continuous heart rate of 65 no matter how crazy things are, but it can provide space for us to gain a slightly different perspective. But here’s the key — you can’t wait until a traumatic event occurs to begin those practices. God is ever close, seeking to be our refuge and strength. But if you have not been regularly accessing God, then why would you think in a moment of crisis that such a thing would come easy. Biology will probably win out if you are unprepared.
Prayer: Let me take this moment to breathe in your Spirit… (pause). Let me take a moment to reflect upon your graciousness revealed in Jesus… (pause). Let me take some time to simply be with you and to listen for your voice that whispers, “I am with you always.” This is my prayer offered unto you, O Merciful God. Amen.
Scripture: 1st John 4:11
Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other.
Thought for the Day: My in-laws live in NW Arkansas, but centuries before Arkansas became a state, there was a nation of native people called the Tula. We know of them only through the records of the Spanish conquistador named De Soto. De Soto and his army defeated and basically annihilated the Tula people in the name of Christianity. I share this story because it was on this day in 1541 that the Spanish army began its attack upon these people. Though an important topic, I don’t wish in this devotional to talk specifically to the idea that conquers from Europe believed they were divinely ordained to kill or enslave entire native nations. What I am trying to wrap my head around is the eradication of a people and its culture. I know it has happened many times in human history, but what was lost that might have enriched and inspired us today. What is the impact upon the moral fiber of humanity? Right now in the nation of Burma (Myanmar), the Buddhist majority is perpetrating a genocide against the Rohingya people. There is currently outrage at the UN and in a few international organizations, but sadly the outrage is getting lost in the regular news cycle. I fear that in a few years we will look back and ask, “Why didn’t we do more?” The question will probably be asked, but right now I want to know how can religions that claim to be centered in love and peace (Christianity and Buddhism and others) justify and encourage the senseless destruction of human life? In Burma (and other moments in history), it is all about taking disillusioned people and suggesting that all their problems can be attributed to one group or another…usually a powerless minority. Of course, looking at the life of Jesus, he seemed to take a special interest in the powerless minority. Never blaming them. Only uplifting them.
Prayer: Holy Creator, when my heart is disillusioned and my ego wounded, I pray that I will never assign blame to anyone. Allow your Spirit to heal my brokenness so that I do not injure the innocent and weak among us. Amen.
Scripture: Philippians 2:4
Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.
Thought for the Day: Sydney J. Harris was a journalist from Chicago, and he wrote: “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” I totally agree, though I would add that the turning of mirrors into windows should be the work of the church as well. The world spends a lot of time enjoying an attitude of self-absorption. Even when we think we’re looking beyond ourselves, we are in fact looking in the mirror of egoism that seeks the needs and wants of self over everyone else. The narcissist never gets tired of looking at him/herself in the mirror, but most folks will find themselves a little bored. In fact, most human beings have a deep longing to see and experience others with a spirit of vulnerability and inquisitiveness. May this day provide you an opportunity to look past the mirror of self-interest and enjoy the beauty and richness of the world around you. It’s there to be found!
Prayer: I was gifted with a mind and a heart, and I only hope that these amazing gifts are used this day to bless others as you have blessed me, O Gracious God. Amen.
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Scripture: Romans 8:28
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Thought for the Day: Rev. Dr. Mark Whitten served at the communion table on Sunday (9am), and he referenced these words from Romans. In rereading the verse later in the day, I was intrigued by the word purpose. Too often we believe everything is going to work for our good if only we love God. It is viewed as nothing more than an exchange – I give God love and God gives me good things. To view it in those terms is to entirely miss the point. To love God is to align oneself with God’s purpose, and when we (plural – community – church) align ourselves with God’s purpose, things begin to work together for God’s good. In today’s world, from Facebook posts to TV religion to a politicalization of Christianity, I see a very skewed and dangerous understanding of God’s purpose. As Christians, we would claim the divine purpose as being revealed in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. Not to oversimplify, but Jesus – from birth to resurrection – made real the radical and transformative love of God. So when you love God, it isn’t in the hopes that God will then bless you with that really nifty thing you’ve been wanting. When you love God, you are aligning yourself with that radical and transformative love…which of course got Jesus killed.
Prayer: By the power of your Spirit, O God, I seek to more fully align my life with the one who embodied your true life, Jesus Christ. Amen.
New Worship Series
Prayer for the Week: A year has come and gone, and so much has changed. O Giver of Life and Hope, our church community and our Houston community continue to feel the impact of Harvey. Normalcy appears to have returned to the lives of many, but others are watching mold grow, living in gutted homes and struggling to find the resources to replace what was lost. Many of those we meet every day are feeling the consequences of the storm as they live in a heightened state of anxiety and insecurity. So many children still experience the upheaval of daily routines and the fear brought on by instability. May those of us who live outside these experiences and emotions in our day to day lives be awakened to the real and lasting needs of those who feel overwhelmed by hopelessness. As this church claims to put love first in all things, we ask for your everlasting Spirit to guide our gifts to those who have a corresponding need. Where it is easy to become overwhelmed and feel powerless in the face of the immense challenges ahead, we call upon you to thwart the paralyzing bewilderment. Let the hope we claim be the hope we live and share with others. We make these prayerful requests in the name of the one who embodied true love, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 69:3
I am tired of crying. My throat is hoarse. My eyes are exhausted with waiting for my God.
Thought for the Day: These words communicate the emotions of so many people over the last year. For some, the impact was immediate. For others, it was cumulative, with increasing intensity. And still others find that it comes in waves, unexpectedly and fiercely. The scriptures are so often characterized as monolithic in their faithful optimism. There is nothing further from the truth. If you read more than a few select verses, you come to see and feel the tension found in the full human experience. Though the cause may be shaped by the historic context, the response of people is not restricted to the historic context. And like all of us, our emotional response (or reaction) may not always be calculated or rational. Amidst it all there is faith and despair; there is hope and despondency; there is light and there is darkness. God is found, not when we pull it together and are able to focus on what is often described as the positive side. God is found in the tension and overlap. God is God, and the presence of God is not dependent upon us finding some mythical idealism where sorrow and darkness never appear.
Prayer: Let me put aside any attempt to deny or hide the diverse emotional reverberation within me. O God who knows me and everything within me, I reach out as one who believes you care for me even when life is confusing and contradictory. May the love revealed in Jesus be the gift I rely upon as a journey the complexity of life. Amen.
Today at 9am & 11am
Scripture: Matthew 5:19
Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Thought for the Day: Last night, I got together with about a dozen Cypress Creek folks to watch a documentary and enter into a conversation. One of the questions raised in our time together was simply, “Would Jesus even recognize what we call Christianity?” I find it to be both an interesting and challenging question. Just a few days ago, I was listening to someone on TV who suggested that the real problem in our country today is that we do not allow the 10 Commandments to be put in a prominent place to teach the morality of God. I believe the 10 Commandments are a central part of the Jewish story, and for that reason, they are central to our foundation. But in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus presents what he describes as the fulfillment of the law. In the above verse, he doesn’t give much wiggle room to those who are unwilling to follow the commands he sets forth in the sermon…commandments that include not only loving our neighbor, but also our enemy; praying for those who persecute us; turning the other cheek; never feeling anger toward another; never feeling lust… People are so quick to hold up the 10 Commandments because they don’t want anyone to hold them accountable to the Sermon on the Mount. Most of us can handle the 10 Commandments, but we do not wish to be confronted with the fact that Jesus might see us as “the lowest in the Kingdom of heaven” because we ignore some of the most challenging commands. I try to follow the 10 Commandments, but they are not the vision of life and community set forth by Jesus in his greatest sermon. I hate to say this, but I believe there are plenty of people today who are living a Christianity that Jesus would not recognize. They may know all the insider language, but their lives do not resemble the Sermon on the Mount. And if you are taking the name of Jesus, I would think it would be good to take seriously his most comprehensive teachings on life and communal living. Just my thoughts…
Prayer: Hello, God! I come to you this day asking for help in following the life and teachings of Jesus. It won’t be easy or comfortable or very pleasing to the culture around me. I ask for your help because I know without it there is no hope. Amen.
On the Anniversary of Harvey