Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Today is Thursday, the ninth of June, 2022, in the tenth week of Ordinary Time.

May the peace of Christ find you today.

Day 23,464

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Lord our Savior, you are our Lord and our Helper. Show yourself again and again in our hearts as the Savior who is strong to help us even in difficult times. Remember the many people who sigh to you. Guide them into the protection of the almighty God. Even if they suffer pain and distress and have to go through fear and anxiety, even if they die, Lord Jesus, you are comfort and help. In everything life brings us you will show yourself as the One who does the will of God and who carries it out for us on earth. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
(Zephaniah 3:17 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. that the Lord takes delight in us with gladness
2. that the Lord calms all our fears with love
3. that real transformation is possible, changing the way I think, renewing my mind, by dwelling in and meditating on the Word of God
4. that by doing the things in number 3, I can live a life of love, joy, and laughter
5. that regularly gathering with other saints enhances this even more
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. . . . Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval. . . . So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other.
(Romans 14:1, 4, 10-13a NLT)
O God, you know how foolish I am; 
my sins cannot be hidden from you. 
Don’t let those who trust in you be ashamed because of me, 
O Sovereign LORD of Heaven’s Armies. 
Don’t let me cause them to be humiliated, O God of Israel.
(Psalms 69:5-6 NLT)

It seems to me that a large number of us needs to spend some time in Romans 14.

The prayer word of the day is “mind.” This is not the verb sense of the word, but, rather, that which is somewhat synonymous with “brain.”

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Romans 12:2 NIV)

I prefer the way some other translations word this, though.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
(Romans 12:2 NLT)

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
(Romans 12:2 MSG)

In this day and age, it is not unusual for one’s mind to feel scattered. Society has pushed the myth of multi-tasking on us. Susanna asks, “How can I figure out God’s will when I can’t even navigate my day?”

The presence of God and His Word can “rewire how I see things, changing priorities, bringing peace in the midst of chaos, resetting my moods with His grace.” This is the “transforming” or “renewing” of the mind that Romans 12 speaks of.

If we abide in Him and His Word abides in us, it will certainly change the way we think.

All too often, though, and this is what causes the attitudes that Paul is speaking against in Romans 14, we allow the way we think to “transform” what God’s Word says.

Just sit on that for a minute.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
(Proverbs 31:25 NIV)

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalms 73:26 NIV)

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
(Matthew 5:8 NIV)

Most people are probably familiar with Proverbs 31, and that it speaks of a “wife of noble character,” beginning in verse 10.

But that’s not what we’re talking about, here, today. I want to focus on that bit about laughing at “the days to come.”

I’m pretty sure that no one would deny that we have been living “hell on earth” for the last two years or so, maybe closer to three. First there was a pandemic (honestly, there still is . . . as much as some folks want to believe it’s over, we are still having close to 100,000 new cases a day in the U.S.). Weather has been unpredictable (February in Texas, 2021, the entire state was frozen for three to five days). Russia invaded Ukraine. Prices are skyrocketing.

Here’s the thing. Because of my faith in Christ, because of my walk with Him and in God’s Kingdom, because of abiding in His Word and His Word in me, I can do what Proverbs 31:25 says. I can laugh at the days to come.

Not because I think it’s going to be funny. I don’t think that at all. I have opinions about the way things are going. They aren’t relevant to pretty much anything, though, so I keep them to myself, for the most part. I do believe, however, that Dallas Willard nailed it when he said that, in Christ, “this world is a perfectly safe place for us to be.” And this is the attitude portrayed in Proverbs 31:25.

The psalmist alluded to that in Psalm 73:26. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The verse immediately preceding that has long been a favorite of mine. Verse 25 says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

Because of these things, I can “live a life filled with love, joy, and laughter.” I can, as “they” say,

(From Daily Guideposts 2022)

What makes this state of mind even better is when we can enjoy it with other believers. “Honesty in worship is maintained by keeping in touch with other Christians in company before God. There are no instances that we know of when Christians have successfully severed themselves from a regular gathering in community.”

Worship is not an option, something you add on whenever you feel like it. “Community worship keeps our relationships with God from depending on our feelings (our feelings are notorious deceivers) and restrains us from indulging. It keeps us connected to the whole revelation in the whole company of all God’s people.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, I praise You for joy. I praise You that I can look at the days ahead and laugh, not because things are funny, but because I have You, and because I desire You more than I desire anything on earth. I pray that You keep this mindset alive in me. Continue to transform and renew my mind, my way of thinking, as I continue to read, pray, and meditate on Your Word.

I also pray for continued gathering with other saints to keep this alive and enhance the mindset. As we gather, Father, help us to have joy in our lives, regardless of outward circumstances and appearances. May Your will be done on earth as in heaven; bring heaven to earth, Father. And please do it “soon.”

Even so, come soon, Lord Jesus!

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalms 16:11 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.

Humble Confidence

Today is Monday, the sixth of June, 2022, in the tenth week of Ordinary Time.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,461

I’ll confess that I have been slightly confused about when Ordinary Time occurs, partially because of a devotional book I used last year. The primary Church calendar, however, shows Ordinary Time to occur between Epiphany Sunday (usually the first Sunday in January) until Ash Wednesday, and then from Pentecost Sunday (which was yesterday) up until Advent. Hence today beginning the tenth week of Ordinary Time.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

LUTHER'S MORNING PRAYER
In the name of the Father and of the Son 
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I thank you, my heavenly Father, 
through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, 
that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; 
and I pray that You 
would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, 
that all my doings and life may please You. 
For into Your hands I commend myself, 
my body and soul, and all things. 
Let Your holy angel be with me, 
that the evil foe may have no power over me. 
Amen.
Lord our God, gather us together in one flock to praise you with one heart and one voice. Let this praise ring out on earth in the midst of all the evils that still confront us. We thank you for your protection, for all the help and deliverance you give us. We thank you for the hope you put into our hearts. We thank you for the hope that we may yet see great things done through the working of your Spirit, for us your children and for all peoples and nations. For your love will not rest until life on earth has come into your hands and all may rejoice. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)
I will sing of the LORD’s unfailing love forever! 
Young and old will hear of your faithfulness. 
Your unfailing love will last forever. 
Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.
(Psalms 89:1-2 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the understanding that the purpose of my life is to love; to love my family, to love Jesus, to love the Church, and to love my neighbor as myself
2. that I don't have any "agenda" for my life, other than the above declaration;
3. that I am a child of God, but also that He has led me down a path of humility in that relationship, because, not only is He my Father, He is also Almighty God, the Creator of the universe!
4. that I will be praising God for "ten thousand years and then forevermore" (Matt Redman)
5. that my joy is not dependent upon my happiness; I may not always smile, but there is always hope and celebration in my soul
Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth! 
Sing about the glory of his name! 
Tell the world how glorious he is. 
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! 
Your enemies cringe before your mighty power.
 Everything on earth will worship you; 
they will sing your praises, 
shouting your name in glorious songs.” 
Come and see what our God has done, 
what awesome miracles he performs for people!
(Psalms 66:1-5 NLT)
Come and listen, all you who fear God, 
and I will tell you what he did for me. 
For I cried out to him for help, praising him as I spoke. 
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, 
the Lord would not have listened. 
But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. 
Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer 
or withdraw his unfailing love from me.
(Psalms 66:16-20 NLT)

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
(Romans 11:33-36 NLT)

Today’s prayer word is “confident.” The quote used comes from Maya Angelou.

“Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances. You are a child of God. Stand up straight.”

Let me say, right off the bat, that I have no problem with the thought of confidence before God. I believe that Scripture teaches this.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
(Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

But there is a stark difference between confidence and arrogance. And we must not cross that line when we come before the Lord, in my opinion. I really don’t have a problem with Ms. Angelou’s quote, either, in the context of Hebrews 4:16.

I do, however, have a problem with where today’s reading takes the idea. The writer, Jeanette, applies this to a mindset of prayer, and relates a time when friends at a Bible study told her, “Hold up your head when you talk to God. You are His child. You have every right to come to Him and ask for what you need and want.” (I added the italics.)

This, in my opinion, crosses that line. Especially that bit about asking for what we want. I started to write that I don’t have a problem asking God for things that I want. But that’s not quite accurate. I’ll admit that I do struggle some with asking God for things that I want, but don’t necessarily need. I even struggle with praying for other peoples’ prayer requests when they ask me to pray for something that they want, but don’t necessarily need. It’s not my place to judge, for sure. And I will pray for what they ask me to pray for (unless it’s political . . . I won’t go there), but I will also let God know how I feel about that.

Haha. That last sentence is kind of ridiculous, you know? “I will also let God know how I feel about that.” As if He already doesn’t know that, right??

We say, sometimes, the most foolish things about God and our relationships with Him. He knows everything! He already knows how I feel about that prayer request.

So, do we have a “right” to ask God for anything we want?

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!
(John 15:7 NLT)

Here’s the thing. I think there’s a catch there. It’s not a “blank check” as some folks want to believe. Yes, we may ask for anything we want. But I firmly believe that, if I am remaining (abiding) in Christ and His words are abiding in me, that will have a drastic effect on whatever I want! I won’t want the same things.

I can speak from experience on this. Not that I have perfectly nailed down this concept of abiding. Far from it. However, as I work toward that, and when I do abide in Christ and His words abide in me, I find that I cannot, in good conscience, ask for the same things that I would have asked for, earlier in my life.

I find myself praying that God would bless my “enemies” rather than curse them. I find myself praying more for things like unity in the Body of Christ, because that’s one of the more important things that I want when I am abiding in Him.

“Jeanette” naively compares us asking God for something to her own children asking her for stuff. She doesn’t want them to hang her head, but to ask confidently. I would like to see how faithful she is to that belief when her kids come to her in arrogance, asking for something that they want, that might harm them in some way.

Her prayer at the end says, “Dear Lord, help me remember that although You are God, You are also my Father.” I would turn that around. It’s true. He is both. But, lest we get too comfortable, we must also remember that our Father is also Almighty God, the Creator of the universe. A little humility is in order, I do believe.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Praise the LORD, who is my rock. 
He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle. 
He is my loving ally and my fortress, 
my tower of safety, my rescuer. 
He is my shield, and I take refuge in him. 
He makes the nations submit to me. 
O LORD, what are human beings that you should notice them, 
mere mortals that you should think about them?
 For they are like a breath of air; 
their days are like a passing shadow.
(Psalms 144:1-4 NLT)

“You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.”
(Job 42:3 NLT)

“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. 
Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. 
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. 
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; 
at best, each of us is but a breath.”
(Psalms 39:4-5 NLT)

And look! What more reason for humility do we need than what we find in these Scriptures?? We are but a breath, in comparison with our eternal, infinite, majestic God! “My entire lifetime is just a moment to you!” How could I come before this God with any thought of arrogance, with any though of demanding something that I seem to think I have a right to???

This life is so very short. But eternity is long. And, as the following song says, we will have 10,000 years and then forevermore to sing His praises! Hallelujah.

To me, this is a very stirring moment, as I watch and listen to Matt unable to contain his emotions while singing this praise song.

The same mindset that would have us come before our Father in arrogance also brings us the idea that we should always be smiling. And I think the bottom line in all of this is that we must remember that there is nothing “fake” about being a Christian.

The idea of “fake it until you make it” has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. This life is real. There is nothing, in my opinion, more real than walking in Jesus Christ. He is Reality.

“It is a myth that the Christian always wears a smile. There is a stream of joy that runs through the Christian life and keeps surfacing in praise and glad service. There is a powerful note of celebration in the church’s life and the Christian’s witness. But that is not the kind of smile that maintains itself by ignoring or denying everything that is troubling or difficult.”

I used to work with someone who displayed what I call “toxic positivity.” She could not bear any negative thought whatsoever, about anything.

We do, as followers of Christ, face difficulties in this world. “We must wrestle with unanswerable questions. If we take seriously the commands of God and give ourselves seriously to the task of loving our neighbors and our enemies, we are going to find ourselves in conflict with others, even find ourselves looking silly and naive – a laughingstock, in short.”

We will feel, at times, that God is unfair. I can’t tell you the number of times I have felt that. And, even worse, there is the danger of beginning to think, “If only I were a better Christian, I wouldn’t feel this way. If I just had more faith, these blasphemous thoughts would never cross my mind. If only I could be well balanced and peaceful and accepting of God’s will in my life, like the really good Christians!”

But here’s the thing. As Christians, we are not people who never have doubts or feelings of despair. Anyone who tells you different is lying to you (and probably lying to themselves, as well). As Christians, we are people who believe in spite of those things! We obey God’s commands when we don’t feel like it, and we hope, even when it looks like there is no hope.

I certainly struggle with these things. I look around me, right now, and see very little hope for this nation. It is more divided than I have ever seen it, in my 64 years, and it is, quite frankly, so foolish that I can hardly stand it. The political division in the country right now is asinine. It makes no sense. But guess what? My hope is not in this country. My hope is not in a political party (either one, or any of the alternatives). My hope is not in a president, past, present, or future.

My hope is in Jesus. And when I look around and see no hope, I still have hope because of Him. It is because of Him that I can sing “10,000 Reasons.” It is because of Him that I can go before the God of the universe with humble confidence, and ask for whatever I want, knowing, or at least hoping, that “whatever I want” is also what He wants.

And what does He want? If you’ve read this blog at all, you already know what I’m going to say. He wants us to love Him with all our being, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to love the saints in the same way that Jesus loves us.

“The picture we have of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shows him agonizing over the decision of the Cross. He struggled with his own feelings. He wrestled with the will of God and finally chose the will of God. And out of this struggle came something we call good news.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, there may be too much stuff here, today. There is certainly a lot to pray about. I pray, Father, that people would not be subjected to false teachings. I know that Your Word says they will come. And come, they have, in droves. I won’t name names, but there are certain people that I truly believe are teaching serious error in Your kingdom. I pray for truth to be known. I also pray that we, Your children, would have the confidence to come before You boldly, but also have the sense to come before You in humility. Yes, You are our Father, and You love us. But You are also Almighty God, and have all the power.

I come before You as one who has surrendered any “rights” to anything that I might want. Therefore, when I read Jesus’s words about asking for whatever I want, I take that in context of abiding in Your Word and Your Word abiding in me. I do not have a right to anything I want, because I have surrendered those rights.

I thank You for whatever life I have on this earth. I am grateful for the number of years that I have had, so far, and will graciously accept whatever number of years You grant me, going forward. I pray that, through the rest of those years, I will heed Your Word and do what You have commanded us to do. I pray that I will always shove my opinions into the “back seat,” and simply do my job, which is to love You and love people. And I pray that this example will speak more loudly than ten thousand words.

I thank You for the hope of “ten thousand years and then forevermore.” That hope is what keeps me going, some days. And I look forward with great anticipation to that day when that multitude from every tribe, nation, language, and people will stand before You, arms lifted high, shouting and worshiping Your holiness and Your Name! You are worthy, O Lord, to receive power and glory and honor and blessing! Worthy Is the Lamb! Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!

All glory to You, Lord, through the Son, and by the Spirit!

Grace and peace, friends.

Joy Still Comes In the Morning

Today is Saturday, the fourth of June, 2022, in the seventh week of Easter.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,459

This is the last day of the season of Easter, as tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday, and the beginning of Ordinary Time.

This has already gotten quite long, and I don’t want to make it longer with trivial matters.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Dear Father in heaven, we thank you for guiding us, your children, here on earth. We thank you that whatever happens to us, we can again and again find joy because you give us what is good even when times are evil and when we go through sorrow. We thank you that your goodness and your faithfulness penetrate everything, and that at last, at long last, they penetrate our hearts. Then we can know and be glad that your Spirit guides us. We can know we are never alone but can receive strength to help us in the struggle and toil of our life. Through your help everything becomes fruitful – good and evil, life and death, health and suffering. Everything must serve you through the working of your Spirit. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! 
His mercies never cease. 
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. 
I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; 
therefore, I will hope in him!”
(Lamentations 3:22-24 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. for God's great faithfulness and mercy, in that He gives us what is good, even during sorrowful and evil times
2. that I'm still alive and breathing; praise the LORD!
3. that a joyful or cheerful heart, the center of my being, is good medicine for my body and my soul
4. for the joy and praise that can be found in a church that is truly walking in Christ
5. for times that force me into humility, because we could all use more humility

Today’s prayer word is “expect.”

Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.
(Psalms 5:3 NLT)

This verse has long been a favorite of mine, and it is something by which I try to live each day. But frequently, I forget to do that bit about waiting expectantly. Too often, I “bring my requests” and walk away in total oblivion.

I need to remember these words of David, each day. I need to remember to wait expectantly to see what God will do. Maybe there won’t be anything immediate. But let me tell you this. I would rather wait and see nothing than miss something by rushing away.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
(Proverbs 17:22 NLT)

I know full well the truth of this.

So confession time: yesterday evening, I didn’t do so well in remembering everything that I blogged about yesterday morning. After taking my mother to the bank to deposit her oil royalty checks (would you believe there was another one waiting in the mail when we got home?), I decided to get the bank’s app on my phone. Mama doesn’t have a smart phone, so I figured, if we get it on my phone, then we can do mobile deposit for those checks. Then we don’t have to visit the bank so often.

I got the app downloaded, no problem. The first time I tried to log in, it said that either the username or password was incorrect. I used the combination that I had logged into my “bitwarden” (an excellent password keeper app for the phone, by the way), so I tried again. Same result.

I started spiraling. My wife will tell you, right away, that I don’t do well when technology doesn’t work right.

So I got on my laptop and opened the browser to the bank’s website, where I saw right away that I had the user name wrong, by a number. So that was my fault. I fixed the user name in the bitwarden app, and logged in on the bank app. Naturally, the first thing that happens is that it wants a verification code in order to register and recognize this new device. I was expecting that.

So I had it send the code to Mama’s phone. She got it, I entered it in the app, and it immediately said that either the code was invalid or expired, or that the account had been disabled. We tried again, different code, same result.

I was livid. Seriously, I was freaking out. But there was phone number to call, in the text message, so I called it. I spoke with a very friendly lady who had me send another code to Mama’s phone, but she said she would give it to me on the phone, rather than getting it from the text. For some reason, it worked just fine, that time. We got the app open, and also enabled mobile deposit, so it’s ready the next time we want to deposit a check.

There was something else that happened, I think, a few minutes later. But the bottom line is that I completely reacted wrongly about all of this. I totally forgot my whole thing, from yesterday morning, about “first world problems.”

So, you see, it isn’t as easy as it sounds, sometimes. This journey, as long as we remain in Jesus’s “easy yoke,” is not terribly difficult. But as soon as we step out of that yoke and forget who we are and whose we are, things get really tricky. And, like yesterday evening, we wind up looking somewhat foolish.

But enough about the broken spirit. What about the joyful heart? Or, as the NLT says, “cheerful heart.” I just realized something. There’s a gift shop in Glen Rose that C and I used to frequent, called Cheerful Heart Gifts. And if you click on that link, you will see that they quote Proverbs 17:22 right on the front page.

The KJV translates the word as “merry.” The Hebrew word is śâmêach, which can also mean “blithe” or “gleeful.” And the word translated “heart” is lêb which can also mean the “center” of something. So, when we allow ourselves to maintain joy or cheerfulness at the center of our being, it brings healing to our bodies. It’s “good medicine.”

Reader’s Digest (is that even still a thing?) used to have a monthly column called “Laughter: The Best Medicine.” As a child, I eagerly awaited that feature every month. Most of the time, in fact, I would devour all of the jokes in the magazine, and, for the most part, ignore all of the “serious” stuff.

I have always loved to laugh. And I do believe in the truth of that statement that laughter is good, if not the best, medicine. And who doesn’t feel better by just smiling?

Solomon was probably the author of this proverb. And, for most of his life, he knew the joy of the Lord. But, later in life, Scriptures says that his heart turned away from God.

The LORD was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.
(1 Kings 11:9 NLT)

The writer of today’s Daily Guideposts 2022 reading, Carol Knapp, says this:

“For me, the biggest joy-stealer is this very thing – turning away from God or allowing something to interfere with my closeness to Him. Communion with God . . . is the source of gladness in my life. It yields the ‘good medicine’ of a joyful heart.”

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalms 16:11 ESV)

So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.
(John 16:22 NLT)

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
(Philippians 4:8-9 NLT)

“Indeed, “joy still comes in the morning.”

It is very cool when there is a convergence of ideas from unrelated sources. The readings in Eugene Peterson’s On Living Well are not dated. The one I came to today is called “On Joy at Church.”

I wonder what God is trying to tell me, today?

“More praising goes on in church, more joy is expressed in the context of the Christian congregation, than anywhere else on the face of the earth.”

Where else do we spend our time, during the week? Grocery stores, department stores? These days, those are pretty grim places . . . not much joy there, as shelves continue to be sparse (at least for some products) and prices continue to rise. “People pushing their food baskets, anxiously comparing prices, complaints etched into their faces as they pay the clerks.” (This book, while published in 2021, is comprised of meditations that were written long before that year, as the author passed away in 2018, long before the pandemic hit us.)

We also spend a great deal of time on roads. Also not a very “happy” place. “Worried, compulsive people are behind the wheels of most of those cars.” Heaven forbid you should not react immediately when that light changes!

Even athletic events, places where we used to be more celebratory (at least if our team won) have become places of “complaining, arguing, and criticizing.”

As a place that contains a context for joy and praise, the church should be unequaled. It’s not perfect, for sure, and there are probably some local churches that resemble the grocery store or highway or athletic event more than they do a worship service. I’ve attended a few, in my life, that, sadly, had more arguing, complaining, and criticizing than they did worship.

But, in general, I would agree with Peterson, when he says, “I don’t find any other place in the world where there is such a consistent friendliness, such a steady joy, such a relaxed rejoicing in God’s love. There is more generosity when it comes to money in church than anywhere I know. Where else in this community can you find people giving their money away each week, then standing up and singing, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’?”

When is the last time you walked up to someone at the grocery store and said, “Say, you’re new here. I’d like to get to know you better!”?

As previously mentioned, there is no perfect church. We acknowledge this. Some are far less perfect than others. Taking all of this into consideration, though, there is no place on earth where such joy can be found. And that is one reason that I keep “going to church.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, I praise Your name, this morning, because You have, while giving me a good dose of reality, increased my joy, still. What a joy it is to worship You, to praise You, to sit and meditate on Your Word, to know You more. I thank You for the ability to do this, for the time that I have to do these things.

I confess my shortcomings as I failed, miserably, yesterday evening, and I am grateful for the knowledge of it, and grateful that I am able to acknowledge it, as well. I pray that You keep working on me, in this regard, that I might always know Your joy, and that I would not allow “first world problems” to steal or diminish that joy. Things like that always have a fairly easy solution. And even when they don’t, they tend to eventually work out fine.

Help me to remember the truth that You work out all things for our good, and are constantly at work to make things better in Your Kingdom. And, we would do well to remember that, in Your Kingdom, things are already far better than we could ever imagine.

I thank You for joy, for a cheerful or merry heart. I thank You for the idea that my heart is the center of my being, and that, when my center is joyful, everything is better, and the “bad” things don’t seem to matter as much. I thank You for laughter, that brings healing to our weary bones and tired bodies. Help us all to smile more, complain less, argue less. And I thank You that, no matter how “bad” things might seem, “Joy still comes in the morning.” Your mercies are new, every morning. Great is Your faithfulness!

Keep our hearts focused on You; let not our hearts turn away from You, as Solomon’s. Help us to always look toward You and love You with all our being.

And I thank You for the Church, where we can and should be able to experience the most joy possible. While there is certainly joy to be had in the observance of a beautiful sunrise, there is still more joy to be found in the celebration of You, together with all the saints. All praise to You, Father, through the Son and by the Spirit. May we be able to gather with Your saints, somewhere, on each Lord’s Day.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

Speak. Listen. Understand.

Today is Wednesday, the first of June, 2022, in the seventh week of Easter.

May the peace of Christ be with you, today.

Day 23,456. Hah! I don’t imagine I will live long enough for that to happen again!! And, believe it or not, I did not see that coming.

C comes home today!! C comes home today!!! And we will do the dance of joy!

She is currently en route to the Chicago airport, to turn in her rental car and catch her flight home, which is due in at DFW at 3:28 PM. S and I will be there to joyfully pick her up.

I had a busy but good evening at the library, last night. There was plenty of work to do (and still was when I left). I shelved a full cart of DVDs and audio books, a few magazines, and some CDs, as well. And I had time to sort a full cart for the new book display, and then re-shelve a number of books that had been looked at, but not checked out.

The Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays again, behind another stellar outing from pitcher Martin Perez. All of the runs in the game were scored in the bottom of the fourth inning, on two Rangers home runs. Perez only gave up three hits in seven innings, and the Rangers won 3-0. John King and Joe Barlow were perfect in relief, and Barlow is nine for nine in save attempts.

The Rangers are finally at .500, 24-24 for the season. They remain in third place in the AL West, seven games out of first and only two out in the Wild Card race. They play Tampa again, tonight, at 7:05 CDT, in Arlington.

The Red Sox lost to the Reds. Seriously. I mean, what gives, here??? 2-1. The Sox are now 23-27 for the season, somehow still in fourth place in the AL East, 11.5 games out of first and four out in the Wild Card race. They play the Reds again, today, at 7:10 EDT.

The Yankees (34-15) took back the best MLB record spot. And, after beating the Red Sox, the Reds are no longer at the bottom of the pile. That now belongs to the KC Royals, 16-32. The Reds are actually third from the bottom, now. The Blue Jays continue to hold the longest win streak, at six games, now. And the LA Angels (more dance of joy) continue losing, now having reached a six-game losing streak. The Dodgers now have a run differential of +116, almost 40 better than the next team (Yankees), and the Pirates now have a run differential of -81. That seems slightly improved. They are only eight runs worse than the Royals, who seem determined to have last place in all categories. The Rangers are now at +13 (woohoo!!!), and the Red Sox have drifted to +16.

The only thing on our agenda today is getting C home. Nothing else matters today. I’ll probably get a load of laundry folded, but it’s not urgent.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Dear Father in heaven, in your Word we trust, in your Word of eternal life, given us in Jesus Christ our Savior. We build on this Word of life in these days when it seems that everything is losing strength and value, and yet there is so much longing in people’s hearts. You will not let our hope be disappointed. What you have spoken must be fulfilled. What is promised in Jesus Christ must come into being, not only for a few but for the whole world, for which he died and was raised from the dead. Be with us. Keep us so fully alive that our lives reflect all the goodness we are allowed to experience and we overcome all the evil which tries to attack us. We thank you for calling us to life and for renewing us again and again. May your name be praised among us forever. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)

“The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
(John 6:33 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. for that true bread of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ
2. that God will not allow our hope to be disappointed; what He has spoken will be fulfilled
3. that God never changes; Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever
4. for the awesome ways that God loves us
5. for words and language, may we do better at using them

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
(1 Samuel 16:7 NLT)

O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! 
From the ends of the earth, 
I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. 
Lead me to the towering rock of safety, 
for you are my safe refuge, 
a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. 
Let me live forever in your sanctuary, 
safe beneath the shelter of your wings! 
For you have heard my vows, O God. 
You have given me an inheritance 
reserved for those who fear your name.
(Psalms 61:1-5 NLT)

Today’s prayer word is “forever.”

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
(Hebrews 13:8 NLT)

Things change. People change. Places change. Change can be good; change can be bad. I’ve never liked change simply for the sake of change. For example, when the grocery store rearranges everything for no apparent reason.

I’ve changed. Physically, I’ve changed quite a bit over the years. I get heavier, I get lighter, then I get heavier again. I don’t have as much hair as I used to have, and it isn’t the vibrant auburn-red that it once was. Philosophically and politically, I have changed quite a bit, over the past few decades. Hopefully, I am leaning more toward Jesus, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. And I’ve changed theologically, multiple times in my life, as I reflect on God’s Word, what it says, and what it means.

But God doesn’t change. Jesus never changes. The Holy Trinity is constant. We can depend on God, especially when other people, places, and things disappoint us.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!
(1 John 3:1 NLT)

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
(John 1:9-13 NLT)

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
(1 John 4:9-10 NLT)

Do you ever stop to consider what a miracle words and language is? The very fact that we have “capacity to speak words and make ourselves understood and capacity to listen to words and understand” each other is astonishing. I’ve seen the movie “Quest for Fire.” Nothing but grunts and moans and gestures. Who knows if that was really what it was like, but I still think language is a miracle.

The problem is that just because we can speak words and sentences doesn’t mean we will do it well. Or that we will speak truth. “We can, and do, speak nonsense. We can, and do, tell lies.”

Words delight us because “they bring us into understanding relations with the world and into intimate relations with people.” But words also dismay us, “even destroy us, as they misrepresent or falsify or manipulate.”

It is sad, tragic, to me, that sometimes “pastors” fall prey to the temptation to do the latter.

The church entrusts certain people to be preachers and teachers and sort of puts them “in charge of the words.” Not, of course, to the extent that the Catholic Church was in charge of them before Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation.

“Your task,” says the church to these people, “is to make sure we hear and listen to these words. If we forget or devalue these words, we are going to miss the point of everything. We are going to miss God. There is a lot going on. There are things to do and places to go and people to meet. There are babies to change and payrolls to meet, meals to prepare and cars to repair, wounds to heal and problems to solve. In the crises and the challenges, the noise and the frenzy of all this, we need someone who will faithfully and accurately say the Word, proclaim the Word, teach the Word – and stay with us as we listen and pray and believe it.”

May God have mercy on the “pastor” who strays from this path and begins teaching his own opinions as gospel.

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, I am grateful that You are constant, that You never change or waver in Your ways. I praise You that You are always here, always challenging me to be better, and always drawing me back to the path when I stray from it. I praise You that You hear my cries and lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.

I am also so very grateful for Your great love, love which is unimaginable, yet easy to know. Your great love for us is that which allows us, nay, calls us to be Your children, and then has procured for us a place in Your kingdom and an inheritance that can never diminish or be corrupted. What a great love!

And I thank You for words and language. Sometimes, I will speak a word and then speak it over and over, listening to it and thinking about what it means. Sometimes there are visual images that go along with those words, but sometimes there are not. When I say the word, love, though, I am filled with both visual and non-visual feelings. Some people say that “love’s not a feeling,” but I vehemently disagree. It is “more than a feeling,” yes. But it is definitely something that is felt. It becomes reality when actions accompany that feeling. Until we act upon it, it is nothing more than platitude.

And, Father, You acted on that love in the most supreme and magnificent way. You sacrificed Your Son to enable us to become Your children.

Help us to get our words better, Lord. The world is messed up, right now, especially parts of Your church in America, where “pastors” are preaching opinions, trying to manipulate people, and, in some cases, downright lying. I pray for Your intervention, that Your Church might be seen as whole and unified. I know in my heart that Your Church is alive and well, but it seems that we are having to look a little harder to see it in the midst of the mess. And maybe, just maybe, that’s Your Holy Spirit, doing some pruning. There seems to be a lot of pruning going on, right now.

But I cannot thank You enough . . . there aren’t enough words, as it turns out . . . for Your great love. And I pray for strength to continue walking that love and displaying that love to a hurting and suffering world.

All glory to You, through the Son and by the Spirit.

How often do we miss the fainter note
Or fail to see the more exquisite hue,
Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet,
Eyes fixed upon some other, further view.
What chimes of harmonies escape our ears,
How many rainbows must elude our sight,
We see a field but do not see the grass,
Each blade a miracle of shade and light.
How then to keep the greater end in eye
And watch the sunlight on the distant peak,
And yet not tread on any leaf of love,
Nor miss a word the eager children speak?
Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart,
To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part.
(Sonnet I, Philip Britts, 1947, Daily Dig from Plough.com)

Grace and peace, friends.

Little Is Much When God Is In It

Today is Wednesday, the eighteenth of May, 2022, in the fifth week of Easter.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,442

I had a pretty average evening at the library, last night. I had plenty of work, and shelved a pretty full cart of youth books, along with a partial cart of DVDs. That kept me busy for a little over three hours, and then I did my walk through the library, picking up stray books and marking them “used” in our system. We do that simply to indicate that someone at least showed some interest in the item, even if they didn’t wind up checking it out.

The Texas Rangers surprised the Angels in an eighth inning similar to what the Boston Red Sox are kind of famous for. The Rangers scored first in the bottom of the first. But the Angels answered with three in the top of the third. The Rangers tied the game in the bottom of the fourth, right after I got home. It was tied until the top of the seventh when the Angels scored on a Mike Trout solo homer. But then, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Rangers erupted for seven runs! They held on and wound up winning 10-5. Danny Santana got the win in relief.

The Rangers are now 16-19 for the season, all alone in third place in the AL West. They are one game ahead of Seattle, two games ahead of Oakland, and seven games behind the first place Astros. The Rangers and Angels will play again tonight, at 7:05 CDT, facing the fearsome Shohei Ohtani. Dane Dunning will take the mound for the Rangers.

The Red Sox lost to the aforementioned Astros, 13-4. Egad. They are 14-22 for the season, still in fourth place in the AL East, a half game ahead of the Orioles. They have another game against the ‘stros, tonight at 6:10 EDT.

The NY Yankees still have the best MLB record, 27-9, and still have not lost that tenth game. The Cincinatti Reds still have the worst record, 10-26, but finally won their tenth game. They are only one game below the Washington Nationals, though. The longest win streak is now a tie between the LA Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs, both with a four-game win streak. The Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks are tied for the longest losing streak, both at five games. The Dodgers are back on top of the run differential chart, with +81. The Pittsburgh Pirates overtook the Reds for the worst differential, now with -72. The Rangers’ run differential, after last night, is down to -5.

I’m off work today, as this is my “light week.” I’m about to head to the store to grab a few things. The lawn guy is coming around noon, and I’m planning to cook Pecan-Crusted Chicken for dinner tonight. I’ll be at work tomorrow, 11-8, so we will likely have some crock pot soup for tomorrow’s dinner.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Lord our God, Father of us all, grant that we may know something of you in our hearts. Each one of us is different, with his own particular needs, but we are all your children and should all become children of your Spirit. Then even in the difficulties of life, in the many struggles, temptations, and sorrows, we can keep up our courage and remain in the Spirit, who is victorious in every aspect of life. Protect and strengthen us on all our ways. We praise you for all you have done and for all the help you have given us. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)

And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
(Romans 8:15b-17 NIV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for my coffee
2. to be an heir of God and co-heir with Christ
3. that all I really need to be willing to do is small acts of daily kindness
4. that all of our small acts of daily kindness can add up in the community of saints
5. for the priesthood of all believers
6. for the availability of God's Word in my language (something many of us take for granted)
Sing praises to God, sing praises; 
sing praises to our King, sing praises! 
For God is the King over all the earth. 
Praise him with a psalm. 
God reigns above the nations, sitting on his holy throne.
(Psalms 47:6-8 NLT)

The prayer word for today is “morsel.”

Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.
(Proverbs 17:1 ESV)

I can attest to the truth of this Proverb. Not that I have ever been reduced to only being able to eat a “dry morsel.” But I have certainly feasted in a house full of strife, and the meal leaves much to be desired.

But, truthfully, that is not really the thrust of this word, today. The idea in today’s reading coincides with a song I have heard that says, “Little is much when God is in it.”

We all have this desire to do “big things” for God, right? I used to want to be a rock star, then I wanted to be a “Christian rock star.” I wanted to do great things for God. There is also a possibility that I really just wanted to be noticed and famous.

At this point in my life, having never been famous or a rock star, I simply want to be willing to do small things for God. “Little acts . . . in the Lord’s faith hands become precious morsels that go down sweet.” Simple acts of kindness are sometimes all that is needed in this world, today. Other people can handle the big stuff. I just want to be one who shows love and kindness in my own little corner of this world.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, I pray that You would allow me to be a “precious morsel” in Your kingdom, showing small acts of kindness to people with whom I come in contact. Let me be willing to provide the simplest of acts, maybe nothing more than a friendly smile, a cup of water, or a generous tip to a server. You have given me this desire, so I pray for opportunities to live it out.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 NLT)

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me. Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches.
(Romans 16:1-4 NLT)

But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.
(2 Timothy 4:17-18 NLT)

What happens when you have a bunch of morsels all together? You get a meal! Even Paul, that “giant” of faith, didn’t do things by himself. His work could hardly be called a “morsel,” but he collaborated with others, and he always was sure to give them credit in his greetings.

What was the first thing in creation about which God said it was “not good?”

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”
(Genesis 2:18 NLT)

As much as I enjoy being alone, we are not expected to be alone in our work for God. We need each other. We need community. There are some things that I can do alone, sure. Some of those “morsels” I mentioned above can be done by myself. But I could never have donated 1700 pairs of socks to a homeless ministry by myself.

Just something to ponder, this morning.

Father, I thank You for my brothers and sisters in Christ; the ones I know personally, and gather with regularly, as well as all the ones that I have never met and will never meet until the day we all stand in glory together. Together, we can do great things. May we spread Your love, mercy, and grace around the world!

One of the beautiful things about this community of saints is this thing that we call “the priesthood of all believers.” I have heard that phrase for most of my life, having grown up Southern Baptist. One of the things that this means, and probably the most important in Baptist life, is that we don’t need a priest (as in Catholic) to read and interpret Scripture for us. This was one of the big tenets of the Reformation, because, before Martin Luther came on the scene, the average parishioner did not have their own copy of the Bible. And it wasn’t available in their language, anyway, as all the copies were in Latin. So only the priest could read it.

One thing this does not mean, however, is that everyone’s interpretation is valid. That would be pure chaos. We still need people who are educated in biblical history and context. But, more importantly, we need the Holy Spirit. And it is my contention that no one can truly understand the Bible without the aid of the Holy Spirit. And no one who is not in Christ has the Holy Spirit.

The other piece of the priesthood of all believers is that we have the ability, in this community of saints, to be priests to one another, ‘with each of us mediating grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and with each of us capable of connecting with another in a way that brings God’s love home with personal force.” Eugene Peterson even goes so far as to word it “the leadership of all believers.”

“Leadership is that capacity everyone has for taking the first step, making it possible for others to follow–the capacity to connect with another so that others can get in on what we are in on. What we are ‘in on’ is Christ.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

My desire and hope in this is that I am taking those “first steps” by promoting the love of God through any forum I can access. If I can get just one or two people to follow in that, then maybe they can also be leaders in their own community, as well, and maybe we can have this “love revolution” that I’m praying for.

Father, I thank You for this idea of the priesthood of all believers. I thank You that, first of all, I have the access to read and understand Scripture in my own language. I also thank You that, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we have the capacity to be priests and leaders to one another, showing Your love, mercy, and grace to not only all other believers, but the rest of the world, as well. I pray that there would be more of a spirit of unity in Your Church, and that we would focus on the things that really matter, like walking in Your kingdom, and displaying the love of Christ in our world.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

"Love one another;
This is how they know you're Mine;
Love one another."
(Inspired by John 13:34-35)

Grace and peace, friends.

Abide

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Today is Monday, the sixteenth of May, 2022, in the fifth week of Easter.

May the peace of Christ find you today.

Day 23,440

C is home today, as she hasn’t been feeling well for a couple days. In fact, she is currently at Care Now, getting checked out. We believe it is nothing more than the usual sinu-bronchitis that rolls through every year. No fever, so far, just sinus pressure and chest congestion.

I’m taking Mama to a podiatrist, this morning, to deal with an ingrown toenail that flared up late last week. Otherwise, things are pretty good around here.

As noted below, I visited Living Word Lutheran Church, yesterday morning, and had a wonderful time of worship and communion with them.

The Texas Rangers won the last game of the series with the Red Sox, 7-1, behind the solid pitching of Martin Perez, who is now 2-2 for the season. He gave up one run in the top of the fifth, and the Rangers answered with a Cole Calhoun solo homer in the bottom. Going into the bottom of the sixth inning, the score was still tied 1-1. The Rangers had two men on base when I said to my mother, “They need to get a run, here, so Perez can get a win.” El Bombe must have heard me, because he promptly hit a three-run homer, to put them ahead 4-1. Cole Calhoun, not to be outdone, followed up with another solo shot, to make it 5-1. Later in the game Garcia (the aforementioned “El Bombe”) hit another homer, this one for two runs. So all seven Rangers runs were the result of four home runs by two batters. Quite a day for Calhoun and Garcia. And Perez, who I believe I heard the announcers say has a 0.86 ERA over his last few starts. That’s pretty amazing.

The Rangers are now 14-19 for the season, back in fourth place, one game ahead of the Athletics. Their next game is today, as LA Angels roll into town for a series. Gametime is 7:05 CDT.

That loss put the Sox at 13-21 for the season, still in last place in the AL East, a half game behind Baltimore. Their next game is tonight, against the Astros, who have been winning a lot, lately. Gametime is 7:10 EDT, in Boston.

The Yankees (25-9) continue to dominate MLB, still having lost only nine games. The Cincinnati Reds (9-26) still haven’t won ten games, and to add insult to injury, pitched a combined no-hitter against the Pirates, yesterday . . . and lost 1-0. The struggling Detroit Tigers have the longest current win streak, at three games, and Baltimore has the longest current losing streak, also three games. The Dodgers still have the largest positive run differential, at +70, but are only one run ahead of the Yankees, who have +69. The Reds have a run differential of -65.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Lord God, we thank you that you have revealed life in Jesus Christ. Grant that we may enter this life through the grace you have given us to recognize Jesus Christ as our Lord, to believe in him, and to hope for all the good still to come as the fruit of his suffering and resurrection. May the glory of the Living One be revealed to the dead throughout the whole world so that even the dead and the unbelieving may be awakened and see his life. Keep us true to what you have given us. Strengthen our faith and endurance in all our trials. Let your name soon be honored among all people so that hatred may cease and the coming of your great day may be foretold in changed hearts and changed thoughts. Protect us this night. Bless us and help us again and again as you have promised. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)

And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.
(John 17:3 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. that through Jesus, we know the way to eternal life
2. that there is hope for all good things still to come as the fruit of Jesus's suffering and resurrection
3. that I am able to abide with Jesus, and He with me, and that, no matter what circumstances may befall me, I have the confidence that God is with me
4. for the call to humility, and the command to slander no one and avoid quarreling (Titus 3:2); Father please help me in this
5. that words like "abide" and "humility" are realities in which we are to walk, not just vague concepts to ponder

Today’s prayer word is “abide.” I love this word, and perhaps I can explain why.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
(John 15:1-8 ESV)

The reading only featured part of verse 4, but I felt the need to post eight verses, for context.

What does it mean to “abide?” The Greek word in this verse is menō, which means “to stay (in a given place, state, relation, or expectancy): abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry.” In fact, the NLT uses the word “remain,” rather than “abide,” which is also true of the NIV. However, I really like the way Peterson puts it in The Message.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.”
(John 15:4 MSG)

So, to abide with Jesus, and to have Him abide with me, means that I dwell with Him, in Him, set up house in Him.

In 1847, Henry Lyte wrote a hymn, known as “Abide With Me.”

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Such comforting words for all possible circumstances, up to, and including, our eventual passing from this life. “Help of the helpless;” “O Thou who changest not;” “I triumph still if Thou abide with me;” and “In life, in death.”

Here is a beautiful arrangement of that hymn, one of my favorites, by Salt of the Sound.

Oh, my Father, You are, indeed, the “help of the helpless,” for that is truly what we are, in most cases. We think ourselves so strong, sometimes, and so “on top of things,” when in reality, we are largely clueless. But You, God! You have all things in Your hands and all things under Your control, no matter how chaotic things appear on the surface. Things seem to be “progressing” exactly how You said they would, and why would we be surprised about that? The sad thing is, there are different groups of people who will think different things when they read what I just typed. No matter. You know what is in my head and my heart, and You know that I am trying my best to promote love in this world.

So, I pray, along with my musical friends and Henry Lyte, “abide me!” I do need Your presence, “every passing hour!” Sometimes I am aware of Your presence, sometimes I am not. Life is much more sweet when I am aware of it, but I know that You are there, all the time. I believe that You are abiding with me, and I pray that You help me to also be always abiding in You, as well.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
(James 4:10 NLT)

Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker,
(Psalms 95:6 NLT)

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
(Matthew 5:5 NLT)

For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’”
(Romans 14:11 NLT)

I visited a Lutheran church, yesterday morning. Living Word Lutheran Church in Grapevine, TX. My good friend and former pastor has been attending there since the Christmas season, last year. He was also there, yesterday, so I sat with him. There were two significant things that happened. The first was when one pastor led the prayer of confession at the beginning. Here are the words that she read, at one point: “By the mercy of God we are united with Jesus Christ, and in him we are forgiven. As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” At that moment, not only did I get serious chill bumps, but I also wept a little bit.

But the other thing is more in line with the Scriptures I have shared above. When this (and I’m sure others as well) church observes Communion, which has, in recent years, become the central piece of the worship experience for me, the people go up to the altar and kneel to receive it. The pastors come around on the inside of the circle and hand out the bread and the wine. It is a tremendous experience for me. The first time I visited there, I was weeping as the pastor handed me the wafer.

It takes humility to kneel. We don’t like that, in general, especially in Western culture. But Jesus commands it. God desires it. All throughout Scripture we are commanded to humble ourselves, worship, and bow down.

Father, I pray for more humility in my life. Once again, I realize what a dangerous prayer this is, but only dangerous to my pride. I recognize the facts; I am nothing without You. I believe in the words of John the Baptizer when he said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” This should be the “mantra” for every single Christian on the face of the earth. It should be the chant of the saints everywhere. “He must increase; I must decrease.” As we abide more and more in You, in Christ, we know this truth, we are humbled.

Father, I also pray that we understand that words like “abide” and “humility” are not just words, but realities in which we are to live. The same is true for words like “love,” and “sin,” and even words like “Jesus,” and “Holy Spirit,” and “grace.” Too often, Lord, these become nothing more than words or hazy, vague concepts in which we claim to believe. But when we see these as realities in life, things become much more concrete. Jesus is real; He walks beside me in the form of the Holy Spirit, every day. As St. Patrick prayed, “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise . . .” This is reality, Lord! it is reality that I need to dwell, to abide, to remain in You and You in me. This is something that I desperately need to know, deeply within my soul.

So, today, Lord, help me to abide in You; help me to have humility, as I abide; humility that, when I see someone post something on social media that I don’t agree with, to simply pray and move on. Humility that gives me the capacity to not speak evil of anyone, no matter what they say the believe. And, above all else, the humility to truly love my neighbor as myself and love the community of saints in the way that Jesus loved us. Reality, Father.

(Above prayer inspired by words from On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

"Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
(The Book of Common Prayer, Morning Collect for Daily Devotions)

Grace and peace, friends.

Sticking Around to See What Happens

Today is Friday, the twenty-second of April, 2022, in the first week of Easter.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,416

It was a mostly quiet day at the library, yesterday. There were spurts of busy-ness in the Computer Center, and most of that occurred after 5:00 PM. I won’t be back there until next Tuesday evening.

The Texas Rangers came back and won a game, last night! They beat the Mariners 8-6, after falling behind on Taylor Hearn’s terrible pitching in the first inning. So they avoided a sweep by the Mariners. They are currently 3-9, for the season, still in last place in the AL West. They begin another three-game series in Oakland, tonight, at 8:40 CDT. I find it interesting that they seem to have changed the west coast game times. I don’t know if twenty minutes makes that much difference to the rest of us, as I’m still not likely to stay up to watch the game. There might be some fans at the game tonight, but Oakland’s attendance has been pathetic. In fact, a couple nights ago, their AAA team had a bigger attendance than they did.

One thing I’m happy to see is that the Astros are in fourth place, with a 6-6 record. I’m not happy to see LA in first place, but “it is what it is,” right?

Boston lost another game to the Blue Jays, 3-2, which makes two consecutive losses and they lost the series. So they have dropped below .500 again, and are in fourth place in the AL East. These teams are not making it easy for me to stay interested in baseball, this season. Already.

How much longer do we keep saying, “It’s early, still”?

There’s nothing really on the agenda for today. Probably some laundry. Maybe a quick trip to the store for a couple of things. C is working from home, and I’m off today, so we are all home together. Dinner tonight will probably be our homemade pizza on cauliflower crust.

And, at the last minute, we have decided that we are going to go to Scarborough Rennaissance Festival tomorrow.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"Almighty Father, who gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification: Give us grace so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
(The Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Friday in Easter Week)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
(Matthew 16:24-27 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that Jesus is always right beside me in this journey, to help me when I need to take up my cross and follow Him
2. that Jesus is the water of life, satisfying every thirst
3. for God's marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, and His forgiveness, and that He knows my heart better than I do
4. that God's Word is living and active
5. that God watches over His Word to make sure it accomplishes what He sent it out to do

Today’s prayer word is “cross.” Obviously, this one could have a veritable plethora of meanings. Pope Francis is quoted as saying “There is no cross, big or small, in our life which the Lord does not share with us.”

The reading for today speaks of a medically chronic condition with which the writer suffers. I respectfully disagree that this is a “cross” that she must bear. Many people use the phrase, “I guess that’s just my cross to bear,” or something like that.

The reason that I disagree that a medical diagnosis is a “cross” we must bear is that it is not something about which we have a choice. Jesus bids us “take up our cross daily.” This is something we choose. There is a reason that, accompanying that command is also the command to deny ourselves.

Jesus took up His cross and He died. It was His choice. It was not something He was forced to do; He gave up His life willingly.

Most of us don’t do a very good job of taking up our “crosses,” myself included. I didn’t make it through a couple of weeks of Lent, with the “fasts” that I was intending. When we “give up” something for Lent, we are taking up a cross, and denying ourselves. When we choose to not participate in something that others are doing, we are taking up a cross and denying ourselves.

All that being said, I agree with the Pope Francis quote. Jesus would never ask us to take up our cross if He were not going to help us carry it. That’s why He also invites us into His “easy yoke.”

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, I pray that I would do better at taking up the cross that You would have me carry, each day. There are certainly things in my life that need to be avoided or eliminated. There are attitudes and personality characteristics that still need to change. In short, I need to do better at denying myself. Help me to do that, and to step into Your easy yoke as I do so. Thank You that You are willing to be right beside me in this journey.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
(1 John 3:19-22 ESV)

The thing I want to point out in this passage is verse 20, that bit about our hearts condemning us. Who among us does not struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness? How often do we feel that we are just too bad, and that there is no way God can forgive us yet one more time for the same thing? I’m reminded of a song by Twila Paris, in which, I believe, the first line says, “I am here to confess the same old sin; how can He still be listening?”

I have most certainly been there. But here is the thing. “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” I am in no position to judge myself. J.B. Phillips, in his book, Ring of Truth, says, “It is almost as if John is saying, ‘If God loves us, who are we to be so high and mighty as to refuse to love ourselves?'”

And, in reality, that is exactly what we are doing when we refuse to believe or accept God’s forgiveness. We are placing ourselves higher than Him. And we call it “humility.”

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

Father, I praise You for Your great mercy and grace and forgiveness. Please forgive me when I act like I know better than You and doubt Your forgiveness. Help me to accept the truth that You know better than I, and that You know my heart way better than I. Thank You, Lord, for Your marvelous, infinite, matchless grace!

We’re back to talking about words again. Eugene Peterson says, “Words are never truly empty.” That’s a pretty bold statement, because I’m pretty sure I’ve both heard and spoken some pretty empty words. But every word has meaning. And real, true words “get under our skin and shaper our lives.”

Especially the Word. Once again, I will share that verse from Hebrews.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
(Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey.
(Hebrews 4:12 MSG)

“When the Word is preached or taught, said or sung, prayed or meditated, that is not the end of it. God continues to watch over this Word, tending it and caring for it until it brings forth love, obedience, hope, belief, or joy.”

Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, Doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.
(Isaiah 55:10-11 MSG)

We should be watching along with God, but not like spectators watch. We should be watching as shepherds, parents, lovers, and friends, “watching for signs of grace, watching for movements of joy, watching for evidence that once again the Word has become flesh.”

All too often, the leaders of the church miss out on this. Or, perhaps, it’s not “church” leaders, but itinerate evangelists or traveling preachers, who show up, preach the Word, and then disappear. But we need to “stick around and see what happens, and pastors need to lead their congregations to stick around and see what happens, to see how God performs this Word.”

We are all “great wanderers.” We hear something and ten minutes later, we’re off doing the next thing; we’ve gone shopping or turned on the television, or gone to get a snack.

“Everything that goes on in people’s lives is, or can be, connected with the Word that is proclaimed. God is watching over the Word to perform it. And we watch with him because we don’t want to miss out on a thing that comes out of these words that God puts in our mouths.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, this is something that requires some pondering. But we definitely need Your help in this matter. We are too quick to forget the truth that You stick around and make sure that Your Word does what You say it will do. I am grateful for this, but acknowledge that I am not always so good at sticking around to see what happens. Help me to be better at this, and help me to be more faithful to watch with You, when it comes to seeing Your Word in action.

Help us to be better at believing what Your Word says, too. I’m not trying to get into any kind of prosperity gospel, here, but Your Word is truth, and it is powerful, and it dwells within us. So we need to do better at believing it, so we can see the power at work in and around us.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.

Physical and Spiritual — Inseparable

Today is Thursday, the twenty-first of April, 2022, in the first week of Easter.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,415

There’s not much going on around here, today. We did try a new recipe (new to us), last night, that we got from Emily Bites, a cooking blog that we were introduced to at WW. This recipe is called Chicken Taco Rice Skillet. It’s not a crockpot recipe, so it took a little time, but wasn’t any harder than our normal stir fry dish. And it was absolutely delicious, a big hit with the whole family, so it’s a keeper, for sure. I tweaked it just a little bit, adding a little more chicken and used a cup and a half of brown minute rice. Everything else was per the recipe.

Tonight, we will be having another Emily Bites dish, called Slow Cooker Creamy Italian Chicken. I also have tweaked this one a little, as well, putting in three cans of chicken soup and a whole can of water. C will add the yogurt when she gets home from work, and I will have my serving after I get home from my evening library shift. We had this one last week, and it was at least as good as the Chicken Ranch Crockpot Soup we have made in the past.

I highly recommend Emily Bites for recipes. All of her recipes are WW friendly. I get semi-regular emails from the site, each one with a new recipe to try.

The Texas Rangers lost another game, last night, 4-2, to the Mariners. Dan Dunning was the losing pitcher. They play again tonight, at 8:40 CDT (on the west coast), with Taylor Hearn taking the mound. How much longer do we keep saying “it’s still early in the season?” Not necessarily giving up, already, but it seems as though they have picked up right where they left off last season.

The Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays, last night 6-1. They are still floating around .500 (6-6), in fourth place in the AL East.

The LA Dodgers are currently the best in MLB, with a 9-3 record. The Cincinatti Reds are worse than the Texas Rangers, bringing up the bottom of the list, but only because they have played (and lost) two more games than Texas.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
(The Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Thursday in Easter Week)

Bread of Life,” by Daryl Madden

Communion here
Of unity
That I long for
Longs for me

This living bread
Divinity
That I desire
Desires me

This gift, divine
Of grace freely
That I love
Is loving me

The bread of life
Eternity
That I consume
Consuming me

The Bread of Life, which is Jesus Christ, desires me, loves me, and consumes me. This, of course, is rather oxymoronic, to say that bread consumes me. But, if we are truly walking with Him and in His kingdom, we are consumed by His grace and mercy. It’s mystical, and words don’t do a very good job of explaining it. I appreciate Brother Daryl’s poetry, and wish that you would visit his site at the link provided above.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
(John 6:35 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the beauty of the night sky (there's an event going on right now, even though I couldn't see it, this morning because of the clouds - planets are lining up)
2. for the Bread of Life
3. for the example of grace, mercy, and inclusion that we get from Jesus
4. for the brightness of the future we have in Christ and His kingdom
5. that this life combines both the physical and the spiritual; we must both work and pray, and the two cannot be separated

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
(Joshua 1:8-9 ESV)

Today’s prayer word is “inclusion.”

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1 John 4:11 ESV)

I’m sure the word “inclusion” is a trigger word for some folks, in this day and age. But, personally, I would rather err on the side of grace and mercy, if I’m going to be wrong about something. In other words, I would rather be guilty of including too many people than not including enough. After all, Jesus chose to hang out with “tax collectors and sinners.”

But this also hearkens back to the bit, a few days ago, about angels and how we should show hospitality to everyone, because, who knows, they might be an angel. Our primary characteristic is supposed to be love. If we work harder to exclude than include, we are not showing love.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, help me to be more inclusive with my hospitality, and show grace and mercy to all with whom I come in contact. This includes not getting angry or upset when restaurants don’t get my order right, or when they are out of Route 44 cups or drink carries or tuna or whatever. People need grace, and if we don’t show them grace, how are we supposed to lead them toward You?

You make my life pleasant, and my future is bright.
(Psalms 16:6 CEV)

Think of the bright future waiting for all the families of honest and innocent and peace-loving people.
(Psalms 37:37 CEV)

Don’t be jealous of sinners, but always honor the LORD. Then you will truly have hope for the future.
(Proverbs 23:17-18 CEV)

“The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades,” is a popular phrase, and was included in a popular song, back in a previous decade. But the truth is, for those of us who walk in Christ and in His kingdom, the future really is bright. I don’t know how innocent we are (truly, is anyone??), but if we are peace-loving, that demonstrates our love for Jesus Christ. We show that love by showing love to others. The way we love Jesus is to keep His commands, and those commands (in case you’ve missed it, here) are summed up with “love God with all your might,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Then there’s the additional, “Love one another as I have loved you” that He gave strictly to His disciples, later.

My future is bright, regardless of outward appearances, because I have an inheritance that is incorruptible and will not fade. My treasure is laid up in heaven, where rust will not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal. The politics of earth have no bearing on my future, whatsoever. Oh, sure, the PTBs may start WWIII anytime, now, but that has no bearing on my true future. And, once again, I will repeat the words of Dallas Willard. “This world is a perfectly safe place for me to be.”

Father, I praise You that I feel safe in this world. Sometimes I forget this, and I worry, especially when madmen seem to be in charge and in control of things. Then I remember who is really in control, and I remember that this physical body is temporary, anyway, and that the worst anyone can do to me is cause me some pain, which will also be temporary. I thank You for the bright future that I have in You, and for the way You have led me to try my best to spread love and inclusion in this world. Help me to keep doing this, and, thereby, spreading the “good news” of the Gospel, which is that Your kingdom is here, right now.

The Christian life, the Christian faith, is both physical and spiritual at the same time. It is inescapable. There are times when we want to make it purely one or the other. Heretics, allegedly dealt with long ago, would have us believe that the physical is completely evil and unnecessary. I say “allegedly,” because those types of heresies always seem to resurface, centuries later.

But we, as Christians, have to work. It is, again, inescapable. “Caulking a cracked sidewalk, washing windows, trimming azaleas, pointing eroded masonry, fixing a broken pipe, and hauling debris to the landfill.” But also included in the physical part is “healing a hurt body, training the brain to recognize truth, and disciplining bodies to behave in acts of justice and love.”

There seems to be a great dearth of “training the brain to recognize truth,” these days.

On the spiritual side, there are acts of faith that are, for the most part, invisible. “Believing in the real presence of the Christ we do not see, loving people around us when they don’t seem to deserve it and we don’t feel like it, and expecting the arrival of the kingdom of God at the very moment journalists are announcing the latest sleaze.”‘

“Everything physical is at the same time spiritual. Everything spiritual is at the same time physical. There is no separating these realities. The Saturday workers and the Sunday worshippers are the same people. Everything we do, on both days, can be to the glory of God – or could have been for his glory, for the physicality and the spirituality of both work and prayer can be perverted into prideful sin.”

I find myself grimacing at that bit about loving people who “don’t seem to deserve it,” and when I “don’t feel like it.” But that is where I have to squash pride and obey the commands of my Savior. Because . . . well, you already know, because, if you’ve read this far, I addressed that in the previous section.

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, I pray that You help me to do just that, to love people around me who don’t seem to deserve love, and to love people when I simply do not feel like loving them. Who am I to determine if someone is worthy of love?? I am not You! I am not all-knowing and all-wise! Therefore, it is simply my duty to obey Your commands. Even when I don’t feel like it.

Help us also, Father, to train our brains to recognize truth. Apparently, it isn’t always so obvious, even when we think it is. And Lord, please, please, please, help us to show grace when we think that someone else’s version of “truth” is wrong.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

Live Quietly and Mind Your Own Business

Today is Tuesday, the nineteenth of April, 2022, in the first week of Easter.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,413

I had a great night of sleep, last night, and slept until almost 8:30, this morning. In fact, I might have slept even longer, had someone not called me. I didn’t figure out what was happening in time to catch the call, but I didn’t recognize the number, so I won’t be calling them back.

I had thought to make a trip to the grocery store, today, but it’s not urgent. I will be heading out, in a little while, to pick up lunch/dinner for everyone at Subway. That’s our Tuesday tradition, since I work my four-hour shelving shift on Tuesday evening.

We are finally getting rid of the grand piano, hopefully, today. C found someone who wants it, and is supposedly having professional movers come by this afternoon, to get it. That will free up a large amount of space in the front “dining” room, which we are considering converting to a reading area, with chairs and a couple bookshelves. We can then move the exercise bike up to the front living room, next to the treadmill.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen."
(The Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Tuesday in Easter Week)

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
(Deuteronomy 32:1-4 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for a really good night's sleep
2. for Your justice, righteousness, and faithfulness
3. for the desire in my heart to stir up love and peace, rather than anger and harshness
4. for the tasks that You have given me, praying that I might do those things while living quietly and minding my own business
5. for my brother and sisters in the faith, and the relationships You have built between us.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
(Job 19:25-27 ESV)

The prayer word for today is “stir.” This word could mean a number of things. The reading provides this verse for context.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
(Proverbs 15:1 NIV)

I used to be one who loved to argue. My father and I would engage in spirited debates, often. But, as I grew older, I found myself thinking more like he thought. I have also learned that arguing is no longer fun. Part of that is because it has gotten more hostile, for which I blame social media.

These days, arguments on social media are not “won.” No one’s mind is changed, because no one wants to have their mind changed. Everyone wants to be right, and “truth” or “facts” don’t enter into the picture whatsoever.

Because of this, I have made it my practice, my goal, to only stir up love and peace. It’s not easy to be a peacemaker, these days, because no one wants peace. They want to be right. They want the other side to . . . well, to be perfectly honest, I think that a lot of people would only be satisfied if the “other side” ceased to exist.

It’s hard to not engage. I have typed many a comment or reply on Facebook, only to delete it and not post it, because I knew it wouldn’t be helpful. So I just keep scrolling, and do my best to be one who stirs up love and tries to make peace.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
(Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV)

Somehow, I don’t think calling other people “stupid,” “idiot,” and “snowflake” does a thing toward spurring one another on toward love and good deeds.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.
(The Prayer of St. Francis)

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
(Psalms 34:4 ESV)

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
(1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV)

We all have different tasks to do in this world. Paul goes on at length, in Corinthians, about the different gifts and body parts that we fit into. Here, we are admonished to love one another (where have I heard that before?) by minding our own business (!), and tending to the work that is set before us, no matter what it may be. Why? So that we may “walk properly before outsiders.”

I am seeing a lot of instances where people are 1) not living quietly, and 2) not minding their own business, and 3) not walking properly before outsiders.

Things look a lot better in the world when you can manage to do those things. I’m not advocating a “head in the sand” mentality. Not at all. It’s good to be aware of what’s going on in the world. But the truth is, we have no control over most of it. And spouting off our “expert” opinions about the latest current affair tends to have no effect whatsoever, other than making us look somewhat foolish. Because very few of us are “experts” about anything.

Father, help me to pay attention to what is my business, to mind my own affairs, and to live quietly, so that I may walk properly before “outsiders.” It is in this way that “outsiders” might be drawn closer to becoming “insiders.” I thank You that You have drawn me more and more toward being one to attempts to stir up love and peace, rather than stirring up anger with harsh words. I pray that I may be more and more like this.

What is one of the first things we tend to ask people when we first meet them?

“What do you do?” Implied, of course, in the question, is “What do you do for a living?”

Eugene Peterson recounts a time when he asked that of a person, and received a twenty-minute discourse on all of the daily activities of the person. However, at the end of it, Eugene still had very little idea about what the person actually did.

But another friend shared a similar account, in which, upon being asked what he did, another person’s answer was, “I’m changing the world.”

That is, in a way, the job description of the Church, and every person who is part of the Church. We are changing the world. I am changing the world. No, I’m not solving the problems between the Ukraine and Vladimir Putin (let’s be honest . . . Ukraine doesn’t have a “Russia” problem, they have a “Putin” problem). I’m not going to solve world hunger, or create clean water resources for third world countries.

But I’m changing the world, doing my best to influence people toward “love and good deeds” in my own little corner of the world, in what Dallas Willard would call my own little “kingdom.”

Is that what we have in mind when we prepare for worship each week? “Maybe you just expect a little inspiration or solace. Maybe you just want to get away for an hour or two from life’s daily clutter and be refreshed by some beauty and sacred order. Maybe you are following an old habit. But we are changing the world.”

Creation is in motion every time the Word of God is spoken. When we invoke the Holy Spirit, “salvation is in motion.” “Every time we open our mouths in praise, confess our faith with our lips, and believe in our hearts, the world is changed.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Wait. I thought you said we were supposed to live quietly and mind our own business.

I am firmly convinced that both are possible. You see, there are people who believe that the only way to express their faith and belief is angrily, with loud shouting. (I once worked for a manager who subscribed to the belief that he who talks the loudest wins.) My brothers and sisters, this should not be! It is possible to express our faith, to confess our beliefs, and believe in our hearts, meekly and quietly, and while minding our own business.

Father, I pray that You would help me to change my world, quietly, and consistently, without anger, without condemnation, and by stirring up love and peace. That is my desire, that is my goal. I want to know You, and I want to present You to this world, in my little “kingdom,” as the God who is there, the God who loves and cares, the God who IS compassion, and the God who saves.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends

Christ’s Light in the Darkness . . . Right at Home

Today is Monday, the eighteenth of April, 2022, in the first week of Easter.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,412

I hope everyone who observes the day had a blessed Easter, yesterday. We were blessed to be able to have the Supper with our little group, after we read several of the Bible accounts of the resurrection event. We noted differences in the Gospel narratives, and celebrated the power that comes from knowing and walking with Jesus in our lives. We also spent some time praying together.

The Night of Worship that was to take place this coming Saturday has been postponed, but we are considering having a sort of prayer meeting, at some point in the near future. I’m going to suggest combining the two and kind of re-tooling the NoW thing.

This week is a “light” week for me, work-wise. I only work Tuesday evening, four hours, and Thursday, eight hours.

The Texas Rangers continue their losing ways, and lost three of the four games against the Angels. Yesterday’s loss, the second by pitcher Martin Perez, was 8-3. The highlight of that game was a two-run homer by Adolis Garcia. They have today off, after which they will begin a six-game west coast run, starting in Seattle, Tuesday. The Rangers are now 2-7 for the season, in last place in the AL West, but only 3.5 games behind the first place Angels. Jon Gray will be back in the lineup Tuesday, to take the mound against Seattle.

The Red Sox beat the Twins 8-1, yesterday, finally getting above .500. The two teams are playing another game today. That seems odd, to me, because series don’t usually go through the weekend into Monday. Oh, well. Update: I just discovered that today is “Patriot Day” in Boston, and the game is played at 11:10 EDT. It is also the day of the Boston Marathon. The Sox are 5-4 for the season, in second place in the AL East, only a half-game behind Toronto.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
(The Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Monday in Easter Week)

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.
(Psalms 46:10-11 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that I'm continuing to reflect on the wonder of the resurrection of Jesus, and that the celebration doesn't end just because Easter Sunday is over
2. that the Word of God is near me, in my mouth and in my heart
3. for habits and rituals (like this one) that help me get closer to God
4. for the call to serve one another and be Christ's light in the darkness, in our own sphere of influence
5. for Abraham's example of hospitality
"For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. 
"See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."
(Deuteronomy 30:11-20 ESV)

I found this, by Timothy Keller, through Facebook, this morning, and thought it was great. There is a lot of pain going through our little church group, right now, and I shared it with all of them. “On the Day of the Lord—the day that God makes everything right, the day that everything sad comes untrue—on that day the same thing will happen to your own hurts and sadness. You will find that the worst things that have ever happened to you will in the end only enhance your eternal delight. On that day, all of it will be turned inside out and you will know joy beyond the walls of the world. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear. So live in the light of the resurrection and renewal of this world, and of yourself, in a glorious, never-ending, joyful dance of grace.” ~ Timothy Keller

Today’s prayer word is “ritual.” There is a quote from Victor Hugo included. “It seemed to be a necessary ritual that he should prepare himself for sleep by meditating under the solemnity of the night sky . . . a mysterious transaction between the infinity of the soul and the infinity of the universe.”

I’m a fan of ritual. I’ve got habits. Who doesn’t, right? Even in the shower, I have a ritual. Just the other day, my brain misfired, and I failed to switch hands with the scrubber at the right time, and I’m pretty sure my right arm didn’t get washed that day. I have a cup of herbal tea every night, shortly before I go to bed. And I listen to a meditation recording on one of two different apps, as I fall asleep. Except for last night, because I forgot to charge my headband headphones. And guess what? I didn’t sleep very well, last night!

What’s the difference between a ritual and a habit? Turns out, in order to be a ritual, there must be some meaning behind it. So I guess my shower habit is not, in fact, a “ritual.” The cup of tea, I believe, is, though, because I believe it helps me relax and prepare for sleep.

Rituals aren’t necessarily good, though. To some people, ritual in the church is boring. I like it, myself, and am fond of what might be considered more “high church” worship. Don’t get me wrong, I love some contemporary worship, as well. I would love to find a church that combined the two, but so far, I have not. What’s funny about this is that the Catholic church, the “highest” of high church, was probably on the forefront of introducing contemporary worship music to the masses, back in the late sixties and early seventies.

The key is in intention and meaning. If you do something just to do it, it’s a habit or a routine. I grew up going to a Southern Baptist Church where exactly the same thing happened every Sunday morning, in the same order. It was weird when something was added or left out. Was there meaning or intention behind that? Or was it just the way we’ve always done it? I don’t know, to be honest. I suspect there might have been a little of both. But you know what? I found comfort in that routine. I could always count on those things happening . . . those three hymns between the pastoral prayer and the offering; that “special music” right before the sermon; and the benediction that signaled that we could finally go home.

I am engaging in ritual right now. Every morning (not always at the same time) I sit down at this computer and start reading Bible passages, along with several devotional materials, and typing this blog. There is most definitely intention and meaning involved. The intent is twofold; one goal is to grow myself spiritually and connect more with the Holy Trinity; the other is to maybe inspire or motivate someone else to do the same. I used to write these moments in a paper journal, but one day I decided to begin recording them online. 1) That saves paper and space; and 2) other people might benefit from my journaling.

Recently, in the past couple of years, I have developed a ritual of sharing at least five things every day for which I am grateful. The intent here is not to show how spiritual I am, but, rather, to inspire others to also be grateful for the things that they have in their lives.

So rituals can be good things. I firmly believe that they help me in my efforts to draw closer to God and walk in His kingdom.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, I am grateful that You created me as one who thrives in ritualistic settings. I pray that my habits and rituals, each day, will continue to help me to draw closer to You and weed out habits that aren’t good, as well as characteristics in my personality that are not healthy or helpful.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
(Luke 24:45-49 ESV)

We frequently make the mistake of thinking that the only way we can do “great things” for Jesus is going on adventures. We want to go on that mission trip to Africa or Mexico or somewhere. Or sometimes, we even stay in our own state, but we have to get away from our local area.

As Logan Eliasen was returning from a somewhat adventurous vacation trip to Colorado, he struggled with purpose. “What am I doing here” he asked himself. But then he realized he was asking the wrong question.

“What can I do here,” he then asked.

“Here, in Iowa, I have relationships with people I care about. Here, Jesus has provided me with opportunities to share His love with others. Here, I can be Christ’s light in the darkness.”

That is huge and profound. Our “witness” begins at home.

(From Daily Guideposts 2022)

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
(Matthew 10:5-7 ESV)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
(Acts 1:8 ESV)

Father, let us not be so quick to need to get away from our own neighborhoods to do Your work. Remind us that we can be Christ’s light in the darkness right in our own yards, on our own streets. As for our little house church, Lord, I struggle with what kind of impact we can have. But we can do the same. We can be Christ’s light in the darkness at Brandon’s house. And we can shine in his neighborhood. After all, if we can’t shine there, what makes us think we can shine in Africa??

Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it!
(Hebrews 13:1-2 MSG)

GOD appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was the hottest part of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them. He said, “Master, if it please you, stop for a while with your servant. I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path.” They said, “Certainly. Go ahead.” Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. He said, “Hurry. Get three cups of our best flour; knead it and make bread.” Then Abraham ran to the cattle pen and picked out a nice plump calf and gave it to the servant who lost no time getting it ready. Then he got curds and milk, brought them with the calf that had been roasted, set the meal before the men, and stood there under the tree while they ate.
(Genesis 18:1-8 MSG)

“Caring for others is the best thing we do. We are at our best when we are attending to the needs of others: hurts and pains, sorrows and disappointments, despair and grief, confusion and dismay. Speaking words of encouragement, binding up wounds, giving direction, sharing trouble – when we are doing these things, we are being fully human.”

We may not always do a great job at these things, and sometimes we may even do them badly. But we still need to be about caring for others, because only then are we “fully human.” And it’s not something to be done only when we “feel a gush of sentiment.” It should be part of “life together as people of God.” And we shouldn’t stop doing it just because we may not have done a good job at it.

Abraham is one of our best examples of this. Three men show up at his tent, one day, and he greets them enthusiastically and invites them to stay for a meal. “He did not treat them as interruptions to his prayers or as intrusions on his pilgrimage.” There is no indication that he knew, yet, that the men were angels.

C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses, said, “There are no ordinary people. . . . Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

So we go full circle back to the idea of routine, habit, and ritual. This is where caring happens, in the so-called “ordinary.” It begins in our neighborhoods, where we live, and where we “go to church.” It doesn’t start on the great adventures to Africa or Mexico or even the next state over. It starts here, where we live.

“Abraham in front of his tent. A hastily prepared meal. Angels unawares.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, I confess . . . I haven’t done a great job of this. I hardly know my neighbors. Motivate me to connect with them a little better, to reach to them, to see if there is anything I can do to serve them. And then I pray you guide us into service in the neighborhood where our church meets. And, most of all, help us to serve one another within our own little body of believers. Jesus, You told us to love one another the way You have loved us. I have not done well at this, either, so help me be better at it. Help me to love!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.