Monthly Archives: May 2014

Saturday Spotlight: Timothy

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If Timothy comes your way, be sure to make him feel welcome among you, because he is working for the Lord, just as I am.  1 Corinthians 16:10

 

Timothy was a young believer born of a Christian mother and a Greek father. Devoted to God, Timothy carried the Good News to countless others. He was a close companion and assistant to Paul and accompanied Paul on many of his mission trips. This companionship also served as an apprenticeship. Eventually, Paul began sending Timothy out on his own to share the faith with others. Deep trust and affection developed between the two, as Paul referred to Timothy as his dear son in the faith.

 

Timothy was faithful to God and served Paul and those to whom Paul sent him with love. Paul apparently did what he could to support Timothy in his ministry. Paul guided him by sending letters of instruction and encouragement. Paul also reached out and invited others to make sure Timothy would find a warm welcome when his travels took him to parts unknown.

 

Who are the Timothys in your life? Who carries the message of love and hope to you? How are you a Timothy to others? Who looks up to you as a model for living the life of faith? Who offers you help in your service to others? Who have you grown close to while working toward a mutual goal? Think about these people today. If they come your way, offer them a warm welcome and sign of affection. If not, seek them out and express your affection or offer an encouraging word. You don’t have to write them an epistle…an email, tweet, or phone call works, too.

 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for those who encourage and help me in my spiritual journey. Help me model faith in you for those who look to me.

 

Reflection: Who has mentored and encouraged you on your spiritual journey? Who have you encouraged or mentored? Who might need a warm welcome today?

Wednesday’s Word: Fickle

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Then [God’s] people believed his promises and sang praises to him. But they quickly forgot what he had done and acted without waiting for his advice.  Psalm 106: 12-13

 

At times we can be short on memory and even shorter on gratitude when it comes to remembering the good things we’ve received and those who gave them to us—especially when those good things come from God.

 

When I first read the story of Exodus as a child, I remember thinking, “Why don’t those Hebrews get it? God protected them from the plagues and got the Egyptians to set them free but they complained when they came to the Red Sea. He parted the Red Sea and destroyed their enemies, but they complained that they didn’t have water. God sent them water from a rock; then they complained they didn’t have food. He sent them quails and manna. Still, while Moses went up the mountain to get the Ten Commandments, they make a gold idol to worship. God is taking care of them. Why are they so dense? Those were my childhood thoughts.

 

When I was a young adult, struggling to find a spiritual path through some chaotic times in my life, my perspective changed. Then I understood why the Hebrews were so fickle, because I was just like them. After I came face to face with a challenge I had no hope of dealing with on my own, I abandoned myself and my problem to God. Somehow that crisis resolved itself. I was grateful, yes, but when the next challenge threatened me, did I remember that God had been my shelter and strength in the past? No. I panicked all over again. Why is this happening? What am I going to do? How will I manage? With nowhere else to turn, I prayed to God again. Again, I survived the crisis and found ways of coping.

 

With two saving experiences under my belt, you’d think I would have absolute faith in God when trouble hit again, right? Wrong. The same fears, questions, and doubts clouded over my faith. Again and again, I frantically grabbed at solutions I thought would do the trick, without waiting for God’s advice. Only after my attempted cures resulted in nothing, did I remember to pray. No matter what my head knew about God’s wisdom, love and power, the rest of me wasn’t so sure. Still, over time, I began seeking God’s help more quickly and putting matters in His hands without having to wait so long.

 

I have a quick forgetter, just like the Hebrews in the desert. When confronted with a problem, I tend to want answers and solutions right away. I’ve learned that although I may have those feelings, I don’t have to let them dominate my choices. I can practice surrendering to God’s plan and waiting for His guidance before jumping into any action just to feel like I’m doing something–anything–to solve the problem. My feelings may still be fickle, but they aren’t the whole story. I can choose to call to mind the ways God has cared for me in the past and remind myself of all the troubles God has already brought me through. That helps me trust that He is with me in whatever is facing me at the moment, too.

 

Prayer: Saving Lord, me mindful of Your blessings.

 

Reflection: What dangers or problems has God brought you through in your life? How can thanking Him increase your trust that He will be with you as you face new challenges?

Saturday Spotlight: Ahab

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When Ahab saw [Elijah], he said, “So there you are—the worst troublemaker in Israel!” 1 Kings 18: 16b

 

Why do we find it so easy to look for the cause of our troubles outside ourselves? Playing the blame game is a common tendency. Even though King Ahab “sinned against the Lord more than any of his predecessors,” (1 Kings 16:30) he blamed the prophet Elijah for his problems. It’s true that sometimes the actions of others cause us harm, but it is also true that when we’re feeling guilty or our own self-esteem is on shaky ground, our egos—seeking self-preservation—point the finger elsewhere. We think, “Well, I may have done X, but look at what they’re doing. I’m not that bad.”

 

We look at the wrongs of others—real or imagined—to feel better by comparison, but comparing ourselves to others can also work against us. When people quietly go about their own lives with integrity we can feel criticized by implication. It’s as if their virtue shows us up and makes us feel shabby about ourselves.

 

Many years ago I worked with a gentle woman who was consistently sweet and kind. I was young and bitter and found the woman irksome. I confess that I went out of my way to provoke her, just to see her lose her cool. It was as if I needed to prove she was not better than me. She rarely stooped to my level and that just made me feel worse about myself.

 

When we blame others for our problems, we get to feel better about ourselves temporarily without having to take responsibility or clean up our own messes. We fail to grow when we do that. Even if nobody else finds out, we know the truth. In those moments of solitude when we have no one else to look down on, we know that our poor choices and character flaws have contributed—at least in part—to our own troubles. Once we become willing to acknowledge our own mistakes and shortcomings, we have genuine hope for improvement.

 

Do we want to continue to point the finger at others for the sake of appearances or do we want to honestly look within, lovingly accept what we find, and become willing to do something about our biggest enemy—ourselves, so that we can grow? Do we want to look better or do we want to actually be better?

 

Prayer: Lord, may I trust your love enough to acknowledge my faults and seek help in overcoming them.

 

Reflection: How am I contributing to the problems facing me today?

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Opinions

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Many people have been misled by their own opinions; their wrong ideas have warped their judgment. Sirach 3:24

 

“Don’t believe everything you think.” That’s what the sign says in my dentist’s office. It’s pretty good advice. We need to be able to trust ourselves, of course, but it’s important to keep an open mind while we check our opinions against reality.

 

For example, while I was growing up my parents did their best to pass on their work ethic and to teach me to help others. These are good values, but somewhere along the line my interpretation of these values got warped. I developed the opinion that all work and no play was not only noble, but anything less made me a slacker and that the right thing to do was to consistently put my needs on the back burner so I could be helpful. My misconception led me to think that unless I was constantly productive, I was wasting time; if I wasn’t doing something for other people I was being selfish and useless.

 

I ended up exhausted, burnt out, and resentful, until a health challenge rendered me barely capable of getting out of bed for several months as I recuperated. My physical ability to function was severely limited. My self-esteem took a nose dive. What was I worth if I couldn’t work hard or help others? Why would anyone want to bother with me if I wasn’t useful? What was my purpose in life? It was a turning point in my attitude—a much needed turning point. I had to admit that perhaps I had felt somewhat superior to others who couldn’t–or simply weren’t inclined–to work their fingers to the bone.

 

As family and friends continued to love me in spite of my less-productive state, I began to feel reassured. Our value as human beings goes so much deeper than our talents and abilities. We are worthy of love and of our place on this planet because our Creator loved us into existence. I began to learn humility. Being able to genuinely help others with no strings attached only happens when I am taking care of myself. Putting others’ needs ahead of my own is just as wrong as putting my needs ahead of theirs. When we put God’s plan for us first, there is a balance. We need to give but we also need to receive.

 

I need to remember that I can be misled by my own opinions, no matter how strong they are. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but it’s in our best interest to make sure those opinions aren’t distorted.

 

Prayer: God, grant me the clarity of a healthy perspective.

 

Reflection for sharing: When have you been misled by your own opinions? What might you be mistaken about today?

Saturday Spotlight: Apollos

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[Apollos] was an eloquent speaker and had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he proclaimed and taught correctly the facts about Jesus. However, he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home with them and explained to him more correctly the Way of God. Acts 18: 24b – 26

 

Apollos had his facts straight. He had knowledge, eloquence, and enthusiasm. Those are good things. He used the talents God gave him to spread the good news as far as he had it. But Apollos knew only about the baptism of John; he was unaware of the reception of the Holy Spirit experienced by believers at Pentecost. Priscilla and Aquila, who had worked closely with St. Paul, shared their deeper understanding and experience with Apollos.

 

He have been unaware of the workings of the Holy Spirit, but Apollos certainly demonstrated at least one of the fruits: humility. Although knowledgeable and eloquent, he was open-minded enough to learn from Priscilla and Aquila. Knowledge can make us full of ourselves and inflate our egos. Apparently, this was not a problem for Apollos. He didn’t let what he knew keep him from learning even more, which, in turn, made him even more effective. He is mentioned frequently in Paul’s letters as a fellow worker in the vineyard.

 

Someone said that some people come to drink at the fountain of knowledge and some come to gargle. We’ve all met people who know plenty of facts but are clueless when it comes to living with wisdom. Luckily for the early church, Apollos had both. May we be like him.

 

Prayer:  Lord, keep me teachable.

 

Reflection: Carl Jung said that we always think we are at the end of our discoveries; we never are.  How is what you already know—or think you know—holding you back from learning even more?

Saturday Spotlight: Jahaziel

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Jahaziel said, “…the Lord says that you must not be discouraged or be afraid to face this large army. The battle depends on God, not on you…You will not have to fight this battle. Just take up your positions and wait; you will see the Lord give you victory.” 2 Chronicles 20: 15-17a

 

It’s hard not to be afraid when everyone around you is panicking. Jahaziel was able to encourage his fellows because the spirit of the Lord had come upon him. He was able to share God’s message of encouragement because he was focused on God, not on Jerusalem’s enemies or on the feelings of those around him. He reminded his companions that the battle wasn’t dependent on their own strength. They didn’t have to do more than they were able to do—but they did have to do what they could. Although the outcome of the battle depended on God, the Judean army couldn’t just stay home and do nothing.

 

“Suit up and show up,” were Jahaziel’s instructions. That’s just what the army did. 2 Chronicles tells us that musicians were sent ahead of the army, singing praise to God. Their enemies were thrown into a panic and began attacking each other. The Judaen troops triumphed without having to shoot a single arrow or lift a sword. They did not, however, have a passport to inertia. They followed God’s instructions and showed up trusting the outcome to God.

 

“Suit up and show up” is good advice for us, too. On those days we don’t want to get out of bed because we know the day’s going to be a hard one, when we have to have that tough conversation with our spouse, aging parent or teenage child, when a problem at work has to be dealt with as best we can, or when any other challenge feels overwhelming, we can take a lesson from Jahaziel. We can direct our attention to what we think God would have us do and say. We can keep the focus off the enemy or problem. We can stop worrying about forcing the solution to come out the way we think it should. We can play our part, say and do what we think God would have us say or do, and leave the results in his very capable hands. Our battles depend on God, not on us.

 

Prayer:  Lord, this problem is bigger than I am, but no problem is bigger than you. Show me what you want me to do and remind me that you are with me.

 

Reflection for sharing:  When has God been there for you once you suited up and showed up?

Wednesday’s Word: Idol-worship

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They made a gold bull-calf at Sinai and worshiped that idol; they exchanged the glory of God for the image of an animal that eats grass. Psalm 106:19-20

 

 

God led the Hebrew slaves out of bondage in Egypt. When they were trapped and their enemies were closing in on them, God parted the Red Sea, led them to safety, and destroyed their enemies. Moses left them on their own to climb Mount Sinai and receive the Ten Commandments from God. While he was gone, the people created a god for themselves…and what a gyp of a god they came up with: creature lower than themselves, a baby cow. What a chintzy god to settle for.

 

 

 

But isn’t that always the case? How could anything we come up with on our own compare to the perfect, all-powerful, all-wise God of love who created us? We sell ourselves short when we settle for less. Maybe you think we don’t worship idols like a gold bull-calf in this day and age. Think again. Madison Avenue, Wall Street and Hollywood bombard us with images of gold bull-calves all the time.

 

 

 

Gold: How many of us are tempted to sacrifice our time, our relationships, and our integrity for money and the luxuries it can buy? Investing our happiness in possessions is disappointing. When the thrill is gone we’re left wanting to go out and buy more, creating a spiral of trying to fill the emptiness that can’t be filled with things.

 

 

 

Bulls: The modern version of this image of power isn’t restricted to a bullish stock market. Bullying in the form of road rage, gang wars, school yard or social media intimidation are blatant, but what about the more subtle forms? The power we give to the opinions of others, economics and social policies that fail to address the needs of the vulnerable ones in society may be less obvious but are still damaging.

 

 

 

Calf: A calf is a young bull. Our culture seems obsessed with youth. Anti-wrinkle creams, cosmetics, and supplements promise to turn back the hands of time. What is that about? Could it be a form of denial of the inevitable end of our physical lives? For those of us that have only the gods of our own creation, what else is there to hang on to but what we can see and touch in the present? Who wouldn’t want to put off the end of life as we conceive it to be?

 

 

 

Let’s turn instead to the one God who is so beyond what we can imagine that it’s safe to trust him with our well-being, both here and in the hereafter. Twelve Step programs use the term Higher Power for God. If God truly is God, He must be a Higher Power, higher than anything we could come up with on our own. It is worth our time and effort to ask, seek, and find the glory of the true God. But as someone said, “It’s hard to find something that’s above you when you’re looking down.

 

 

 

Prayer: My Creator, help me look to you rather than to the idols I come up with on my own.

 

 

 

Reflection: Who or what am I relying on today?

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Manna

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Moses said to them, “This is the food that the Lord has given you to eat. The Lord has commanded that each of you is to gather as much of it as he needs…” “…No one is to keep any of it for tomorrow.” But some of them did not listen to Moses and saved part of it. The next morning it was full of worms and smelled rotten… Exodus 16: 15-16; 19-20

 

During their time in the desert, the Hebrew exiles were incapable of taking care of themselves. They were completely dependent on God’s providence. But once He provided for them, they couldn’t resist taking matters into their own hands, trying to save a little extra, as insurance. Their leftovers turned putrid. Isn’t that what happens to us when we try to stock up or take matters into our own hands to make sure we have enough?

 

We love to feel secure. It’s part of the human condition. But so often, grasping at security leads to problems. We trust ourselves, or money, or talent, or who we know or what we know. With so many tangible supports around us, it’s so easy to trust what we can see to give us the sense of security we all crave, but the eternal God is the only constant that will not let us down. Circumstances beyond our control can take away our health, careers, the people we lean on, or anything we rely on for security. Just ask those who trusted their bankroll to Wall Street, or those whose homes were swept away by hurricanes, fires, mudslides. Yet life goes on.

 

God sustains us, but we can’t stock up on His grace. We need to receive it on a daily basis. If we try to get ahead of God’s grace we lose touch with the constant flow of His sustaining love. Then it is not God we are relying on, but our own ability to squirrel away spiritual blessings. Hoarding spiritual blessings or being stingy with how we share those gifts with others is not what God had in mind. The same God that got us through yesterday and the day before is with us now and will be with us when tomorrow becomes our now.

 

Let’s not rely on leftovers. Let’s rely on God to give us the strength we need to sustain us today.

 

Prayer:  Father, give us today our daily bread.

 

Reflection for sharing: What makes you feel secure? Can you trace that back to God’s providence?

Saturday Spotlight: The Promised Land

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Then they rejected the pleasant land, because they did not believe God’s promise. Psalm 106:24

 

Who would reject a chance to live in a pleasant land? According to Exodus, the Hebrew nation did. God promised Abraham that He would give the land of Canaan, a rich and fertile land, to Abraham’s descendants.  God renewed this promise with the patriarchs of Israel generation after generation. Moses finally led the Hebrew nation out of slavery in Egypt, after a lengthy trek through the desert, to the promised land of Canaan. When they arrived, they sent spies to investigate the land and found that it was indeed, rich, lush with produce and other crops. But some of the spies told the Hebrews that they were not strong enough to contend with the people already living in Canaan. So they “rejected the pleasant land” because they were afraid. And why were the afraid? Because they did not believe God’s promise.

 

Who would reject a chance to live in a pleasant land? How about us? Have you ever held back from opportunities God had in mind for you because you were afraid? I have. Coincidentally, the one that comes to mind right now also involves a move. When I met my husband, he was living in another state. When we got engaged, I told him flat out that relocating was not an option for me. Too many unknowns and disruptions made me uncomfortable. He answered, “I thought you asked God for guidance before making decisions.” He had me there. So I began praying and sure enough, God opened my heart and I became willing to move out of my comfort zone. We began our married life together in the promised land of Pennsylvania. We actually only lived there for a year or so, but I have no doubt that was part of God’s plan for me. A “chance” encounter with a stranger I met in Pennsylvania marked a turning point in my writing career. Inspired by her courage to pursue her own artistic endeavors, I made a commitment to pursue my writing by joining a writers group. That encounter had a direct bearing on the course of my writing career. Had I not trusted God enough to follow where He led me, I might not be writing this—or anything else—today.

 

Prayer: Praise to God, who keeps his promises.

 

Reflection:  How can trusting God to keep his promises lead you to a “pleasant land” today?

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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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