Monthly Archives: August 2014

Saturday Spotlight: Josiah

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Josiah did what was pleasing to the Lord; he followed the example of his ancestor King David, strictly obeying all the laws of God. There had never been a king like [Josiah] before, who served the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength, obeying all the Law of Moses… 2 Kings 22:2; 23:25

 

Josiah, who became king when he was eight years old, served the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength. It is interesting to note that Josiah is credited for obeying all the Law of Moses even though the book of the law wasn’t discovered until 18 years after Josiah began his reign. On the other hand, the book of the law was only discovered because Josiah had ordered repairs to be made on the Temple. During the repair work, the book of the Law was found. When it was read, it became obvious that the Law had not been kept by preceding generations up through Josiah’s own time. Josiah immediately initiated reforms. He did away with all idol-worship practices that had found their way into Jerusalem and the Temple itself. The reform wasn’t only about destroying what was unlawful. Josiah also re-instated celebration of the Passover festival again, providing great joy for the people.

 

Although technically, Josiah didn’t follow the book of the law for his entire reign, he did, from day one, follow King David’s example. David was a man “after God’s own heart.” Apparently Josiah was, too. He loved God with his heart, determined to worship Him, and used his power to repair the temple. Once he had knowledge of the law, he informed and led his people in following it.

 

We may not have the authority to bring about reform on a national level, but we all have a sphere of influence, even if it is simply under our own roof. God calls us to love him with all our mind, heart, and strength. Each of us will live out that love in different ways, since God created us all as individuals, with varying temperaments and  abilities. We don’t all have great knowledge of scripture, a gift for offering words of comfort, or the physical stamina to work in soup kitchens. Josiah did what he could. He started repairing the temple and was led to the next step. We don’t have to do everything, or be all things to all people, but when we do what we can with what we have, we’re serving God with all our heart, mind, and strength. The next step is in God’s hands.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach me to love and serve using the abilities you’ve given me.

 

Reflection for sharing: How are you being called to serve God with all your heart, mind, and strength today?

Wednesday’s Word: Power

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Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king by force; so he went off again to the hills by himself. John 6:15

 

The King of Kings, was going to be declared king by the people but he retreated to the hills alone. Why? Because they wanted to make him king by force. God doesn’t force anyone to follow him or to love him. He allows us to freely accept or reject His loving invitation.

 

Almighty God, who holds all the power in the universe, doesn’t use force. Since Jesus is the Son of God, it’s easy to see why he could afford to let people make their own choices. When you have true power, you don’t need to lord it over others. It’s when we feel vulnerable that we’re likely to dig in our heels and grab on to whatever power we can wield to protect our fragile self-image. It takes maturity and confidence to think of others instead of our own egos.

 

Being human, we’re bound to feel inadequate at times. If we feel compelled to throw our weight around to command respect, obedience, or admiration from others it might help us to remember that our Lord didn’t model that behavior. He didn’t have to. When we’re trying to do His will, neither do we.

 

Prayer: Almighty God, grant me the security that comes from knowing all power is in your hands.

 

Reflection:  Think of a time when you tried to force people to see or do things your way. What feelings were going on beneath the surface? How might trusting God have helped?

 

Saturday Spotlight: Onesimus

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With him goes Onesimus, that dear and faithful friend, who belongs to your group. They will tell you everything that is happening here. Colossians 4: 9

 

St. Paul called Onesimus his “dear and faithful friend.”  Others might have felt differently about him. Onesimus was a runaway slave, who may well have used his master Philemon’s cash to fund his escape. Although the name Onesimus means useful, Philemon probably had other words to describe him.

 

Somehow the runaway met St. Paul became a Christian, and had a change of heart. Onesimus was not only useful to Paul, but faithful, too, according to Paul’s account. In his letter to Philemon, Paul sent Onesimus back to his master, imploring Philemon to welcome him just as he would welcome Paul, himself. Philemon was expected to welcome back the slave who stole from him with open arms. Paul was asking a lot of both master and runaway. There was no guarantee that Philemon would forego whatever punishment was due Onesimus. He went back anyway, or we would not have the letter today. Why couldn’t Onesimus have stayed with Paul where he was apparently of great service? Returning to make amends for his wrongs and creating an opportunity for reconciliation was a greater service.

 

We may run away from situations not to our liking for any number of reasons. It’s appropriate to remove ourselves from abusive situations. The idea of a fresh start is appealing for good reason. But sometimes there is no fresh start until we have cleaned up the messes our past mistakes have created. We are under no obligation to put ourselves in danger of victimization, but when we’re risking our pride or vanity, we owe it to ourselves to make amends to those we may have hurt by our self-centered choices–unless doing so might cause them or third parties harm. When we approach those we have wronged in a sincere attempt to set things right, they may or may not welcome us. If they do, we have mended a relationship–but even if they don’t, we can put the past to rest. Knowing we have done what we could to set the matter straight, we are free to live usefully in the present instead of being haunted by lingering regret.

 

Prayer:  Lord, teach my heart the freedom of facing my mistakes.

 

Reflection:  How can making amends free you today?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Bearing Fruit

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They are like trees planted in the house of the Lord, that flourish in the Temple of our God, that still bear fruit in old age and are always green and strong. Psalm 92:13-14

 

I’ve qualified for the senior discount for a few years now and I don’t feel all that green and strong. I remember what it felt like, though. In my younger days I was a pretty sturdy physical specimen. I had energy, stamina, and worked very hard. Even though I got a lot accomplished, I didn’t bear much fruit in those days. Not that I didn’t need to earn a living or get the chores done…but I invested too much time in energy in things that made me feel productive but didn’t matter in the long run. Getting things checked of my “to do” list is not the same as bearing fruit.

 

The time I spent investing in relationships with loved ones, in exploring who I really am, in attempting to follow a spiritual path, those are the things I see bearing fruit now that I’ve reached “a certain age.” Those are the things that keep me green and strong on the inside. Something within me flourishes every time I connect heart to heart with someone else; every time I accept the truth about myself and my limitations; every time I’m open to receive God’s love and share it.

 

Prayer: Lord, keep me rooted in your love.

 

Reflection: What are you investing your energy in today? Will it still bear fruit in old age? What keeps you green and strong?

Saturday Spotlight: Solomon

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…The Lord appeared to [Solomon] in a dream and asked him, “What would you like me to give you?”

“…Give me the wisdom I need to rule your people with justice and to know the difference between good and evil. Otherwise, how would I ever be able to rule this great people of yours?”  Kings 3: 5; 9

 

Young King Solomon asked for what he needed to do the work given him to do: rule God’s people. God gave Solomon the wisdom he asked for and also blessed him with the wealth and honor he didn’t ask for.

 

I used to feel intimidated by James’ instruction on prayer: “But when you pray, you must believe and not doubt at all. Whoever doubts is like a wave in the sea that is driven and blown about by the wind. If you are like that, unable to make up your mind and undecided in all you do, you must not think that you will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1: 6) When I pray for what I want or think my loved ones or I need, I’m not usually 100% confident. If I pray for specific outcomes like physical healing, a job, or a particular solution to a problem, I can’t help but doubt. Solomon’s prayer shows me another way.

 

When I pray for God’s will, then I am confident that that prayer will be answered—because I’m asking for what God intends to be done. Often I admit to God that although I’m praying for his will, I really want things to turn out a certain way, as he already knows. As I learn to yield my will bit by bit, I’m learning there’s a difference between wanting something and praying for it. Whether I’m praying for myself or others, when I ask for the grace, strength, wisdom, or other the spiritual gifts to handle the situation, I am confident. It is easy to trust that God will give me and those I care about the things we need to do his will.

 

I think Solomon was wise to ask for wisdom, so maybe he had a head start. When we ask for the power to do what God would have us do, we can be assured we will be granted what we ask for. Why would God withhold what we need to do what his will? He knows how to give good gifts to his children. (Matthew 7:11)

 

Prayer: Lord, grant us what we need to do your will today.

 

Reflection: Imagine God asking you, “What would you like me to give you?” What is your answer?

Wednesday’s Words: Acting As If

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Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24

 

Putting off the old nature and putting on a new one isn’t just putting on an outward show of piety. It’s more than just scratching the surface. Paul is telling his audience to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. He tells them to begin by distancing themselves from old, self-defeating habits. So if those “deceitful” longings are there, we don’t have to pretend they’re not, but we can stop acting on them—with God’s grace and the support he will provide if we are willing and receptive.

 

Temptations call to us, promising satisfaction if we give in. Sometimes it takes repeated painful consequences to convince us those desires really are deceitful. They don’t deliver what they promise—at least without a price: damaged relationships, loss of self-respect, ruined reputations, and more. Those more we linger around those habits, the louder they call. Putting off that old nature by avoiding the old haunts or behaviors that used to get us into trouble, gives our minds and hearts a chance to hear a different message than the same old, same old.

 

But what about putting on a new nature? Acting holy when we still have lingering thoughts and desires that are less than noble—isn’t that hypocritical? That depends. If we’re trying to impress others without the least interest in changing, we are being insincere. But if our minds and hearts are seeking a better way, practicing new behavior a great way to cooperate with God’s renewing grace. We may feel like a fraud the first or second time we try a new way of handling a situation. We might even be accused of it the first time we don’t respond in kind to a nasty comment; the first time we walk away instead of joining the gossip fest—especially if part of us is dying to hear the latest juicy tidbit; the first time we say no thanks to a drink, a cookie, a flirtation, or a pointless argument. Exercising freedom of choice instead of surrendering to the old habits is not being hypocritical.

 

St. Paul doesn’t say “wait until your lusts have disappeared.”  He challenges us to do what we can: make the choice, take the action, move the muscles. That gives our minds to be renewed with healthier thoughts and interests. We exercise our free will by choosing to take actions that are in our best interest instead of being pushed around by our feelings or desires. We act as if.

 

Prayer:  Lord, renew my mind and heart.

 

Reflection: What can you “put off” that pulls you in a negative direction? What actions can you replace it with?

Saturday Spotlight: Cornelius

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Cornelius said, “It was about this time three days ago that I was praying in my house at three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly a man dressed in shining clothes stood in front of me and said: ‘Cornelius! God has heard your prayer and has taken notice of your works of charity. Send someone to Joppa for a man whose full name is Simon Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner of leather, who lives by the sea.’ And so I sent for you at once, and you have been good enough to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God, waiting to hear anything that the Lord has instructed you to say.”  Acts 10: 30-33

 

Not only was Cornelius a Gentile, he was a captain in the Roman occupying army. In spite of his powerful position and his lack of Jewish religion, he was devout believer of God and lived out his faith through acts of charity. In a vision, Cornelius was invited to send for Simon Peter, the rock upon whom Christ said he would build his church. God also sent a vision to Peter, guiding him to accept the invitation.

 

God’s grace empowered Peter, seeped in Jewish tradition, to cross the religious boundary that prohibited Jews from associating with non-Jews. That same grace inspired Cornelius’ devotion and enabled him to be open to God’s presence—even though transmitted through the people Cornelius and his fellow Romans had conquered. Humility, faith, and willingness paved the way for this significant milestone in the development of the Body of Christ. God poured out his Holy Spirit on Cornelius, his family and friends, all who had gathered to hear Peter’s message. That same Holy Spirit allowed Peter—contrary to centuries of Jewish tradition—to recognize that “God treats everyone on the same basis. Those who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to.” God’s love has the power to melt divisions between people.

 

The boundary between Jew and Gentile was an enormous hurdle to overcome. From the birth of the Church as the Body of Christ, God demonstrated that the differences that divide those who love and serve Him are no match for the power of His love . As Christ said, the time is coming when all who worship God will worship in Spirit and in truth. As Cornelius worshiped God in truth through his actions and received the Holy Spirit, let us who receive the Spirit allow our actions to be guided by the truth of God’s love for all—even those who disagree with us.

 

Prayer: Holy Spirit, melt our divisions with the flame of your love.

 

Reflection: What divisions keep you separated from others? How might God be calling you to act in love today?

Wednesday’s Word: Reassurance

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Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all who are left of my people. I have cared for you from the time you were born. I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you. Isaiah 46: 3-4

 

Who couldn’t use a little reassurance now and then? We’d like to know that the bills will be paid, or that our loved ones will be okay, or that whatever challenge we’re facing at the moment will be resolved. To be alive is to be subject to problems. If we’re waiting to be problem-free, we’re going to be waiting a long time. God doesn’t promise to instantly solve our problems the way we want them solved. Taking care of us means being with us, seeing us through to the other side of our problems, no matter what the outcome is, and still being there…through the next problem, and the next problem, and the one after that, all our days.

 

We can be reassured that God will be with us in each and every situation we find ourselves walking through. We will be given what we need, whether outside assistance or inner strength, to deal with life on life’s terms, rather than being protected from all pain. But how does that offer comfort when we’re facing scary situations like serious illness, unemployment, or powerlessness to prevent our loved ones from making self-destructive choices? How can we be confident that we’ll be all right when we face these challenges in the here and now?

 

When I’m afraid and don’t feel God’s presence, it helps me to call to mind all the ways God has taken care of me since I was born—starting with the fact that I was born. My mom was 43 when she became pregnant with me—uncommon at the time. The first doctor she saw thought I was a tumor and suggested removal. Something told her to go to another doctor who confirmed she was pregnant. God was taking care of me when I wasn’t even aware of existing. I think of the crazy risks I took in adolescence, that I somehow lived to tell about. I think of the physical and emotional traumas I didn’t think I could bear, and how I not only survived, but grew in the process. Calling these to mind, helps me trust the God who brought me this far will not abandon me—or my loved ones—no matter what today or tomorrow looks like.

 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I entrust myself to your care.

 

Reflection:  Think back. What situations beyond your power has God brought you through? How can that reassure you that He is with you today and will continue to be with you until “you are old and your hair is gray? ”

Saturday Spotlight: Felix

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After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he talked about faith in Christ Jesus. But as Paul went on discussing about goodness, self-control, and the coming Day of Judgment, Felix was afraid and said, “You may leave now. I will call you again when I get the chance.” Acts 24:24-25

 

Governor Felix was in charge of deciding the case against Paul, who had been imprisoned as the result of charges made against him by the Jewish religious leaders. Felix seems to have wanted to listen to Paul, since he sent for him. As long as Paul talked about faith in Jesus, all was well. As soon as Paul spoke about acting with self-control and God’s judgment, Felix got afraid and didn’t have time to listen.

 

A very human response. We feel comforted and reassured thinking about God’s mercy and unconditional love, and rightly so. But faith in God’s love isn’t a passport to doing whatever we feel like. We don’t have to earn our own salvation—we can’t; scripture makes that abundantly clear. But it is also true that by our choices, we demonstrate where our hearts are. Faith that is no more than lip service isn’t faith at all. Faith isn’t simply intellectual agreement about the nature of God’s love.

 

If we truly believe in and have a relationship with God, it will be reflected in our actions. If we truly experience God’s love, we will be changed. We will choose to act with self-control when we find ourselves in situations that might harm ourselves or others. That doesn’t mean we will become perfect. We will mess up again and again, and trust ourselves to God’s love as we get back up, again and again. But presumption, feeling like we have it made in the shade with no responsibility in responding to God’s love, is a mistake.

 

The point is that God loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. The spiritual journey is not do it yourself project, but it is not a do nothing project either. We do what we can and let God do the rest. One of the first things we can do is listen to the entire message of the Good News, not just the warm, fuzzy parts. When we find ourselves like Felix, snapping shut the door of God’s word, let’s pray for courage, willingness, and an open mind.

 

Prayer: Lord, make me receptive to your whole truth.

 

Reflection: What parts of scripture do you find challenging? How can meditating on God’s love empower you to face those challenges?

 

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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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