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Thought for the Day: In my sermon this morning from Esther 4, there is a section when I talk about being sucked into other people’s anxiety. It has been said that most of us have enough anxiety for ourselves and we don’t need to borrow or babysit someone else’s anxiety. In the sermon, I said:
When you let the story of the anxious become your story, there is only fear that is feeding you.
But when you let the story of the faithful become your story, there is strength to sustain you.
The dark valleys of life are not necessarily our valleys, but someone who we have chosen to walk alongside and support. As people of faith, this is often our calling. But it doesn’t mean we have to build ourselves a home in someone else’s dark valley. In fact, we need to maintain our residence in the light so we can return to the light, often bringing with us the one who was stuck in the valley. We might just be the representatives God has sent into someone’s shadowy gorge to be a reminder of God’s presence. This is where being rooted in the stories of faith helps us keep an eye on the light, or at least know the path that will get us there when we have to carry our friend on our back.
Prayer: Provide me a few stories of hope and illustrations of Good News, O God who is on the mountain and in the valley. Instill within me a message of light, life and love so that I might represent you to those who might be stuck in a rut that has turned into a canyon with some pretty steep walls. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: This was one of the recommended passages during our 24-Hour Prayer Vigil (concluding this morning), and for some reason, it caught my attention during my time of prayer. These disciples had found their lives turned upside down, and then they moved behind a locked door. It was not isolation because of a virus, but fear was very much a part of what drove them. Yet even behind this locked door, Jesus made an appearance. That alone would have been encouraging, but he spoke words of peace to them. Jesus was (and is) the Living Word who took on flesh. And in that moment inside the locked room, the flesh spoke living words to those who felt trapped and disillusioned. As we hide from a virus, we feel confined and restricted. The Good News is that the Living Word continues to find ways of taking on flesh and proclaiming words of peace into our difficult situations.
Prayer: Wherever we are, O Living Word, you find a way of coming to us and speaking words of peace. May we be receptive to this gift when it shows up unexpectedly. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Is that not a really good start to a story? In just a few words, we are made to feel as if we know this character (even if we don’t) and to sense his power. It connects to the reader in many different ways, engaging him/her quickly by immediately sparking the imagination and curiosity. I have so many questions about this Ahasuerus, specifically in regard to how he came to such power – was it money, charisma, luck of the draw? This coming Sunday, I will be preaching from Esther. It is one of the great stories found in the Bible, though it’s funny how the most common comment is how the book of Esther never mentions God. For so many, that seems problematic, even causing some throughout history to suggest that it shouldn’t be included in the Bible. If anything, I believe it might be one of the more important books of the Bible. It does not describe someone who is going to talk a good game, and then having nothing to show for it. Esther is just the opposite. She is this amazing witness of faithfulness and devotion, justice and righteousness. All you need to do is look at her life and you know something is different. Maybe there is something for us to learn when it comes to sharing the message of God. Maybe John’s Gospel was trying to tell us something when it spoke of the Word taking on flesh.
Prayer: Draw me into Esther’s story, O Holy God. Allow me to discern and appreciate what her life witness has to share with the world. Provide me with a bit of the courage put on display in her life. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Yesterday, I did an online Bible Study and Prayer Time. Besides a few glitches, my hope was to connect people with the beauty of these opening words from Psalm 23. Too often we breeze right past these words without allowing the necessary time to absorb what is being suggested. In the ancient world, gods were associated with bulls, a warrior, a dragon-like creature, an eagle or even a three headed beast. Especially as you went against other tribes and their gods, the hope was to present your understanding of the holy as powerful and intimidating, and of course, on your side. So when the Israelites spoke of their God as a shepherd, there was a shocking shift in people’s perception. I’ve always wondered if the growing monotheistic aspect of ancient Jewish religion (it was a transition over a period of time) no longer required an image of the divine that was fierce or terrifying. If we are not feeling the need to put our God against the other gods, because there is just one God, then I can begin to explore and gain a deeper appreciation of who God is. If I can trust God to be God, and I don’t have to defend my understanding of this Holy Other against some warring faction, then I can release much of what is a rather shallow protectionist thinking and begin experiencing and thriving in images like that of a shepherd or a life-giving stream or guy born to a poor family who was executed on a cross for teaching love. That’s a whole different take on God.
Prayer: Continue to present to me images and metaphors that provide a window into your glory, O God. Allow for these hints of you to explode with beautiful new meaning and extraordinary revelation. This I pray in the name of your enfleshed revelation, Jesus. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: So often we have made prayer into the Holy Vending Machine where we drop in our prayer coin, punch in what we want, and expect to receive exactly what we requested. This is not prayer, but fantasy. As I have shared before, but still relevant for this devotional: Rev. Rhodes Thompson, a wonderful DOC Pastor and Professor, used to say, “God doesn’t answer every prayer, but God answers every prayer.” What he meant was that God is not a Genie in a Bottle, affirming all our wants and desires. Instead, God answers every Pray-er, that is, every person who prays. And God answers with mercy and grace. There are others who do not view prayer as a Holy Vending Machine. In fact, they view it as the absolute opposite. They view it with trepidation, as something they do not deserve. Prayer suggest an intimate connection with God for which they are not worthy. Once again, the author of Hebrews suggests that we should have complete confidence in coming to God in prayer, and in that confidence, believe that mercy and grace are ours to receive.
Prayer: Gracious and Merciful God, thank you for the gift of prayer. Allow it to create a space where we can rest in your blessings that are life-giving to our spirits. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: This sounds like a genuine request from the Apostle Paul. We don’t know all that he is dealing with in this moment, but we can assume it’s a lot. This coming Friday and Saturday, Cypress Creek Christian Church is organizing a 24-hour Prayer Vigil. We are hoping to have at least one person in every 30-minute time slot from 8am on Friday to 8am on Saturday. Down below, you will find a link. Though we won’t pray for every single person in the congregation by name, we will be praying for one another in a very deliberate and conscious way. Prayer doesn’t solve every little problem, but it provides praying people the capacity to live the most faithful way amidst the problem. I hope you’ll consider joining the 24-hour Prayer Vigil, and even if you don’t commit to a 30-minute time slot, I ask that you find some time to join this chain of prayer. And if you’re asking yourself, “What do I do for 30 minutes?” We will send out on Thursday a sheet of suggestions, scriptures and other reflections to help focus your time.
Prayer: Lead us into prayer, Merciful God. Meet us in our prayers; connect us to the larger family of faith through our petitions and supplications; provide us with the spiritual sustenance necessary for this moment of time. We ask this in the name of Jesus who is the Bread of Life. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: What does it mean to live in unity when we are not to be interacting in our usual ways? I believe this moment provides one of the great opportunities for us to rediscover a sense of unity that begins with appreciation. You may believe you are isolated, but where did the food come from that you are eating, the electricity you are using, medications you are taking or the important information that you are depending upon? How about the people who are way down the chain of creating or delivering whatever it is? We are linked to one another in a great web of sharing and providing. Too often we dismiss our dependence on one another in pursuit of a strange and unhealthy individualism, yet in 99% of situations, we remain just as dependent as anyone else. Unity needs to begin with appreciation and respect for every person, job and task upon which we depend. Otherwise, we slip into a false sense of ourselves and our capacity to provide. It is only when we appreciate and enjoy that beautiful web of mutuality and reliance that we can begin to see the unity God desires.
Prayer: You have wired us to be connected and to thrive in community. O Creator of Light and Life and Love, redirect our attention to this beautiful and inescapable web of mutuality and holy participation. Amen.
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