Monthly Archives: January 2014

Wednesday’s Word: Confidence

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…Be determined and confident, and don’t let anything make you afraid. 1 Chronicles 22: 13b

 

David’s words to Solomon don’t sound all that easy to live up to. They imply that there are plenty of things that will try to make us afraid. How can we not be afraid when we feel fear? David makes it sound like we have a choice. Do we? Maybe. David suggests that the antidotes to fear are determination and confidence.

 

We can’t control our feelings, but we do have choices about what we do with our feelings. Rapid heartbeat, quick, shallow breathing, those are ways our bodies protect us, preparing us for fight or flight. If we aren’t in actual, physical danger, we don’t have to feed the fear. If, for example, we have to give a speech in front of a group and we’re feeling nervous, we can choose not to dwell on our bodies’ natural responses. We can consciously slow our breathing. We can determine to continue in spite of our fear. We can redirect our thoughts to that which makes us confident.

 

What might that be? The God who has all power. When we think of our own abilities and human limitations, we might feel insecure. But outcomes don’t rest on our shoulders alone. When we are doing what we believe God would have us do, we can be determined and confident. Once we’ve done all the footwork that we can, we can trust that God is with us and will provide all that we need.

 

Lots of problems are bigger than we are. No problem is bigger than God.

 

Prayer:  Lord, let me trust in you and not in my own strength.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How can confidence in God help you face your challenges today?

 

 

Saturday Spotlight: Lydia

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallLydia was a businesswoman from Thyatira, a city in Asia Minor. Her business took her to Philippi, in another country on another continent. St. Paul had been in Asia Minor and had wanted to preach there, in Lydia’s home territory. Instead, he was led to Macedonia.  Why did they have to travel hundreds of miles from where they both were in order to meet?

 

Maybe Lydia’s obligations made it crucial for her to be in Philippi. Whether never married, widowed, or abandoned by a husband, she apparently needed to support herself. Her entire household depended on her for their livlihood. Lydia did what she needed to do. In God’s perfect timing, she did not miss the opportunity of encountering Paul.  Perhaps Lydia needed to be out of her home element to be open to Paul’s message. Time away from friends, family, and familiar comforts can increase open-mindedness. When Paul arrived in Phillipi, he found no Jewish men gathered for prayer, only women, of which Lydia was one. Maybe the absense of men to preach to made Paul more willing to share the Good News with women.

 

The same acumen and decisiveness that made Lydia a successful businesswomn moved her to act on the truth when she heard it. After hearing Paul speak, Lydia and her whole household were baptized, and she immediately persuaded Paul and his companions to stay in her home. As a businesswoman in a culture where few women took leading roles, Lydia’s courage and assertiveness enabled her to stand her ground in the face of possible repercussions of her faith.

 

Lydia’s experience is rich with insight for us today. Without success, Lydia could not have extended hospitality to believers. Worldly success does not prevent faithful devotion and Christian service. Lydia did not take her career as the sole driving force of her life. She put God first, and used her business skills and resources to spread the good news. Successful career professionals have a place in God’s plan today. Like Lydia, we can balance our efforts to achieve in the workplace with our efforts to grow closer to God and serve him.  Those of us not in the business world can still model Lydia’s hospitality. It doesn’t take money to create a wlcoming atmosphere. We can share with generosity and kindness, even if all we have to offer is a smile.

 

When obligations required Lydia to be away form home she still received the opportunity meant for her. We don’t have to be afraid of missing out when our responsibilities necessitate a change in our plans. God knows all about our obligations and detours. He’s got it covered.

 

When have you feared missing out on an opportunity? What happened? How can Lydia’s experience encourage you?

 

Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”

Wednesday’s Word: Envy

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The chief priests and the teachers of the Law became angry when they saw the wonderful things he was doing and the children shouting in the Temple, “Praise to David’s Son!” Luke 21: 15

 

Have you ever resented it when someone else was praised? Chances are, most of us have felt that way at one time or another. Even if the praise was well-deserved, it might bother us—if want that applause for ourselves. It’s as if someone else’s achievement shows us up as lacking somehow. Now, if an Olympic swimmer wins a gold medal, we probably don’t feel ashamed of our feeble dog paddle. But what about when the acclaim hits closer to home?

 

I remember years before I began writing professionally, I longed to be an author. Now the world is full of great authors, and I didn’t begrudge any of them their Pulitzer prizes or best sellers. But then, someone I knew, a woman from my neighborhood, with a family and a day job, just like me, got her first book published.  I couldn’t stand myself and how envious I was. I felt threatened and shown up for a failure…not that I had submitted anything to a publisher at that point, but still.

 

The general population didn’t have a problem with Jesus. They saw his miraculous healing power and praised the “wonderful things” he did. It was the religious authorities who got upset. Granted, their disputes may have focused on what they saw as disregard for Jewish laws, but I can’t help wondering how much envy was wrapped up in their anger.

 

Envy can color our attitudes all the more when we don’t acknowledge it or its source. When we free ourselves from comparison, we free ourselves from envy on the one hand and self-righteousness on the other. Maybe that’s why we’re told not to judge others. How much more peace we have when we focus on being the best that we can be without comparing ourselves to others.

 

Prayer:  Lord, protect me from envy. Help me know that who I am, who you intended me to be, is good enough.

 

Reflection: When are you most vulnerable to envy? How can feeling good about yourself be an antidote to envy?

Saturday Spotlight: Mary, Mother of John Mark

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Mary kept the homefires burning for her son, her servants, and her fellow believers. Sometimes wealth can be an obstacle to faith, but Mary, the mother of John Mark, appreciated her wealth as a gift from God and used that gift for the good of others.Mary must have been well-to-do. She had at least once servant and owned a house big enough to hold a number of people. She opened her home as a meeting place for early Christian believers. This took courage at a time when it wasn’t safe for Christians to practice their faith openly.

 

When the time came, Mary accepted the equally challenging task of letting her son, John Mark, go. By living out her faith, Mary raised her son to know and serve God. Although parents cannot control their grown children’s decisions, undoubtedly Mary’s example played a significant role in John Mark’s development. When he was called to go on his first mission trip, I wonder how Mary felt. Knowing her son was accompanying his cousin Barnabas as well as Paul, might have eased her feelings, but a mother’s loving concern and protective instincts are strongly rooted. It is hard to let go and allow our children to begin making their own way in the world. It is even harder to let older children take responsibility for their own conduct. What if they make a wrong choice?

 

John Mark abandoned his first missionary trip, although we aren’t told why.   I wonder how Mary felt when her son returned home after abandoning his first venture. Was she tempted to protect him form further failure? I might have been. On the other hand, I can’t help but believe it was his mother’s encouragment that sustained him and helped him develop his own inner resources. Scripture tells us that John Mark accompanied Barnabas on a subsequent trip, albeit over Paul’s objection. Ulitmately we hear Paul referring to John Mark as a coworker. In spite of what appears to be a failed first attempt to harvest in God’s vineyard, John Mark ultimately became a valuable part of early Christian ministry.

 

Like Mary,  we can provide a welcoming haven for those God puts in our lives. Whether or not we have a house to share with others, we can make a home for them in our hearts.

 

In what ways does faith make letting go of our loved ones easier? In what ways might it make letting go harder?

 

Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”

Wednesday’s Word: Honor

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You know me well, and yet you honor me, your servant. 1 Chronicles 17: 18b

 

David was amazed by the love and honor God showered on him, even though God “knew” David so well. David was a man after God’s own heart, but that didn’t mean that David was perfect. God knew it and David knew it, too. Maybe that’s exactly why David was a man after God’s own heart.

 

I read a socia media post the other day that said something like, “I can’t brag about my love for God because I let Him down every day…but I can brag about God’s love for me, because His love is never failing.” We let God down every day and He knows it. We don’t have to cover it up. Who would we be fooling? God made us human, which by definition means imperfect. He wants us to follow His instructions, not for His benefit, not so we’ll be worthy of His love and honor, but because it is best for us. He wants us to follow His instructions, not so that He will love us, but because He loves us.

 

It’s safe to be honest with God and with ourselves. We don’t have to cover up our imperfections so we’ll feel praise-worthy—or even acceptable. Confession is good for the soul. When we tell the truth about our limitations, we come to know ourselves better, we gain empathy for one another in our human frailty, and we gain a greater appreciation of God’s love for us. There’s a line from an old hymn that speaks about God’s love: “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.” God loves us with our weaknesses. He honors our sincerity. We don’t have to grasp at honor for ourselves. We’ve got God’s love. What greater honor is there?

 

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for loving me unconditionally.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How does it feel to realize that God knows you exactly as you are and couldn’t love you any less…or any more than he already does?

Saturday Spotlight: Joseph of Arimathea-Perfect Timing

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Joseph of Arimathea initially followed Jesus in secret, because he was afraid of the Jewish authorities. But Joseph was a Jewish authority, a member of the Sanhedrin. He knew firsthand their power to manipulate, use pressure, and carry out threats. These Jewish leaders were the keepers of the covenant handed down from Moses. Until Christ, there was no other way to the one true God but through the law and traditions as administered by the Jewish leadership. Being expelled from the Temple meant being cut off from all channels of worshipping God.

 

Joseph, although steeped in Jewish law and tradition, saw and believed that Jesus’ words and life embodied the heart of the law while cutting trhough the minutiae. Still, overcoming a mind-set instilled over a lifetime is no small task. Joseph witnessed the concil members, filled with fear, jealousy, and close-mindedness, conspire to hand Jesus over to the Roman governor. Joseph stood at the turning point. He went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body so he could give it a decent burial. It was a daring move.

 

Perhaps if Joseph had more courage, he could have acted on his conversion sooner. But I believe God took his delay in going public into consideration. The timing was perfect for Joseph to accomplish the crucial task of claiming Jesus’ body.  If he had taken a stand sooner, Joseph might have been expelled from the council and would not have had the clout to approach Pilate. Had he not acted at all, who knows what would have happened to Jesus’ body? If it were placed in an unknown or unmarked grave, what obstacles would there have been to confirming that Jesus rose again? We know there was an empty tomb thanks to Joseph of Arimathea’s bold action.

 

There comes a time when we need to act. Faith without works is dead. But aligning our actions with our beliefs is easier said than done. A number of factors can delay our acting on our convictions. We don’t have to second-guess if, like Joseph, we haven’t always acted promptly. We all have regrets. God can work through followers like Joseph and like us, even if we hesitate sometimes. The parable of the workers in the vineyard is finally starting to make sense to me. Those who started working late in the day got paid just as much as those who started in the morning. It’s never too late to let go of past failures. We can always make a choice to do the right thing in the present moment. When we do, God can bring it to good purpose.

 

Reflection:  After following Jesus in secret for some time, what do you suppose finally enabled Joseph to boldly approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body? What makes the difference at those important turning points?

 

Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”

Wednesday’s Word: Answers

You answered me when I called to you…Psalm 138:3a

 

God always answers prayers. We don’t always notice the answers. C.S. Lewis said that God answers prayers in four ways. I’ve had my prayers answered in all of them.

 

1)      “No, I love you too much.” When I was in college I dated a guy I was crazy about. How I prayed he’d want to marry me. A rookie mistake—praying for God to do my will. When my sweetheart broke up with me, I felt devastated. Of course, eventually, I got over it. Looking back, I can see that the relationship would not have been healthy for either one of us.

 

2)      “No, not yet.” I’ve loved writing since childhood. A career as an author was the prayer of my heart. So why did it take over forty years for my writing career to begin? I believe God knew that I didn’t have all that much to say in my early years. I needed to get on with the business of living. The experience I gained in that intervening time has contributed tremendously to my writing today.

 

3)      “Yes, and here’s more.” While struggling through a dark time both physically and emotionally, I prayed for direction and relief from the pain. God led me through to the other side of that experience. Not only have I been granted the relief and guidance I prayed for, but my experience has enabled me to grow and to help others who find themselves facing similar challenges. It is a joy to see that my anguish was not wasted but is now useful to others.

 

4)      “I thought you’d never ask.” My prayers have changed over the years. Sometimes I still pray for outcomes that I hope for. I reason that God knows I really want X anyway, so I might as well be honest. But now I’m better able to leave the final decision in His hands. I also find myself asking God for qualities like patience and humility. I genuinely long for these qualities as I see what happens when they’re lacking in my life. I believe God is granting this prayer because of all the opportunities to practice patience and humility I’m given every day.

 

 

 

Prayer: Lord, please grant ______________________. (Fill in the blank.)

 

Reflection for sharing: How is God answering your prayers today?

Saturday Spotlight: Philip (Deacon): Following the Holy Spirit

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Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went…Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” Acts 8: 26-27a; 29

 

Because Philip responded to the Holy Spirit’s prompting–even though it led him to an unlikely ‘wilderness’ road, he encountered an Ethiopian official who was seeking to know God better. Scripture doesn’t tell us that Philip knew initially why he had to go there, but as he obeyed, more was revealed. Maybe he thought his goal was to get to Gaza, only to learn, after he followed instructions, that his purpose was to bring the Ethiopian seeker, who was reading about the prophet Isaiah, to Christ.

 

The Philip in this account was not an apostle, but the deacon mentioned several times in Acts. He was among the first to preach Christ beyond the Jewish community. He was not put off by the Ethiopian’s nationality, the fact that he was an official or the fact that he was a eunuch.

 

We aren’t told much about Philip’s background. His name suggests he was Greek-speaking, and therefore more open to a wider circle of ministry than the Jews in Jerusalem. Although as a deacon he was in charge of finances, Philip was gifted with the ability to preach and work miracles. The beauty of his preaching can be seen in his willingness to meet his audience where he was and lead him further into the truth.

 

When sharing our faith, it is tempting to start with what we know and funnel it out to others. This obscures any common ground we share with our audience. It might also invite them to tune us out. The good news is a message of love. Demonstrating love for our listeners begins with respecting them by approaching them as equally beloved children of God. Philip did this by starting with the Ethiopian’s point of view. The generosity and tolerance it takes to be centered on others is part of the wisdom received from the Holy Spirit. Philip definitely was not running the show. He did not take charge, but remained sensitive to both internal and external cues.

 

Philip was empathetic yet forthright. His reliance on the Holy Spirit gave him the courage to act on his convictions, albeit with sensitivity. There are times that require flexibility. This can be challenging for some of us, but letting go of control doesn’t mean surrendering to chaos. Flying by the seat of our pants isn’t haphazard if we’re relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance.

 

What do you supposed enabled Philip to hear the Holy Spirit’s instruction? What qualities are involved in being open to the Holy Spirit?

 

How challenging is it for you to go with the flow when your plans are interrupted? What are some ways to adjust to unexpected changes?

 

Adapted from Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes

 

 

New Year’s Day 2014

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…Lord, your love is eternal. Complete the work that you have begun. Psalm 138: 8b

 

The New Year—a time we think of new beginnings. We start fresh, with a clean slate and make resolutions to leave behind the habits that have worked against us.

 

It might seem strange to talk about completing work on this first day of the New Year, but think about it. Whether we want to quit smoking, to eat less and exercise more, or to stop being impatient and critical, there is a reason we are making those resolutions. Maybe those behaviors have been harmful to our health, our pocketbooks, or our relationships with others. Whatever the reason, we want to leave these behaviors behind because they haven’t served us well in the past.

 

Is it possible that every cough, every sigh from a loved one, every time we couldn’t move off the couch or join our family on a walk or bike ride, were actually the beginnings of the resolutions we make today?

 

God can bring good from anything. We’re told that all things work together for good for those who love him. Even our vices—and their unpleasant consequences—can be used by God. They sew the seeds of discontent that motivate us to want something better.

 

So make those resolutions, even if you doubt your ability to follow through on them. You aren’t on your own. God, whose love is eternal, is just waiting to complete the work He has begun in you. Your part is to cooperate and to accept the help He provides, in the form of inspiration and the support of other people, whether professionals or your own personal buddy system and cheering squad. Need willingness to begin or to keep going? Pray for willingness. God knows how to give good gifts to his children. Ask and you will receive. Who knows? Maybe that’s all He’s been waiting for.

 

Prayer:  Lord, make me willing to treat myself with the loving care You have for me.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What work in you has God already begun?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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