Thought for the Day: Leviticus 23 describes a number of festivals, including the Festival of the Tabernacles. What caught my eye in reading this was how they were to celebrate the festival for seven days. It’s interesting how Christianity is rooted in Judaism, but we seem to have consolidated all the celebrations into one day events. Even the 12 days of Christmas, which were to be the 12 days of celebration between Christmas and Epiphany, got turned into a cheesy song that we hear on the radio starting in early November. Yet what would it be like for us to require all Christians to take a week off around Easter, Pentecost or Christmas for a week of nonstop festivities. We try to cram so much into a 24-hour period that we return to work the next day exhausted. I’d like to give rejoicing a full week where nothing else is distracting me. Just an idea…
Prayer: Come and rejoice with me, O Lord God. Let me celebrate you in such a way that it is not simply a holiday, but a true festival by which you are honored. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit Priest and philosopher who wrote:
Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.
Now the Fruit of the Spirt is, collectively, the sign of God’s presence, yet I might agree with the Priest as there is something remarkable about joy. It’s not the same as happiness or giddiness, yet it might be the most visible expression of the fruit when we meet someone for the first time. I imagine that you are able to name people who, by just being in their presence, you noticed something different. You may not have called it joy, but it was inviting and engaging…and whatever it was, you wanted some of it. This is not to speak negatively of any of the others in this list, but when you meet someone with joy, you are meeting someone with the whole package, or keeping with the metaphor, a full fruit stand.
Prayer: Let joy be one of the first things others encounter in me, O Lord. And then may they experience love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Earlier in the passage, Jesus told his disciples, “Soon you won’t be able to see me; soon after that, you will see me.” The disciples were a bit confused and debated among themselves the meaning of these words. Jesus then used the metaphor of labor and child birth, a common metaphor from the prophets referring to the end of the present age and the emerging of a new age. Th event of death and resurrection was the threshold moment, and from that point forward, how we see and perceive is radically changed. It is not simply about seeing Jesus, but Jesus seeing us. This is not some casual, “Oh sure, I saw Bruce the other day.” This signifies a true recognition of a person as one loved by God. To know that we are seen by God, not for our mistakes and shortcomings, but as inseparable members of the divine family is the birth place of joy. You walk over that threshold, moving from a life incapacitated by anguish and fear, to a life of freedom in the news of God’s unconditional (that’s not just a word that describes something unconditional until it is not unconditional) love for us. It is a true rebirth, for which there is joy that no one can touch.
Prayer: If I need to see it and feel it again, Loving God, take me to that threshold moment once more, a place where I can leave behind all that has me questioning my place in your household. Walk me into the new life where I am forever convicted by your look of grace that communicates to me, “You are forever loved.” Amen.
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Thought for the Day: If you remember the story, Naaman had a skin disease, and when the prophet Elisha told him to go wash himself seven times in the Jordan river, Naaman was incensed! He expected healing would require something elaborate, something spectacular. I wonder how often the real work of restoration, reconciliation and healing is not pretty or all that exciting. It may require seven separate trips to the same place to do the same thing. The work might be methodical, unremarkable or even boring. For that reason, have we ever refused to do the requisite and tedious work in the same way that Naaman did? Have we missed opportunities to help bring a remedy to some brokenness in our family, community, nation or world because the task asked of us didn’t meet our expectations?
Prayer: Whatever is needed in this moment, Holy God, I pray that my ego and my expectations are not a hindrance. Give me a task to do, and I will try to keep any haughtiness from influencing my attitude and participation. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: In the sermon this morning, I will reference the word encouragement. Though it is not the central theme of the sermon, it has had me thinking about encouragement, and how we bring encouragement to others. Like so often, we are told to encourage without any real explanation of what it might look like in real life. If you’re like me, then you are probably really good in the realm of the theoretical, but when the opportunity arises in day to day life, do you look more like a distracted cheerleader? The word encourage in this passage from 1st Thessalonians comes from the Greek word – Parakaleo, a combination of para = beside or near & kaleo = to call or invite. Maybe it’s not terribly sophisticated, but it sure sounds as if encouragement requires proximity, or at least uninterrupted attentiveness. To be there for someone, and not just in passing, is where encouragement begins. This is why God is the great encourager – always present.
Prayer: Teach me how to be a source of encouragement to others. O God who abides with us, show us how to come alongside someone who needs a friend, an advocate, a confidant. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: In this one verse, did you notice how the Lord is “in front” of the writer and also on the writer’s “right side.” How exactly does that work? In ministry, I have witnessed very faithful people obsess with these kinds of passages, trying to create theological schematics and philosophical diagrams in their search for an explanation. Some might say, “Well it’s God, and God can be in both places at once.” And I would agree, but I also want to remind us how the Psalms are poetry. The moment you try to literalize poetry, you forcibly extract and discard the beauty being conveyed. For me, I’m not too concerned about wrapping my brain around it all. It is good enough for me to find inspiration and comfort as I gently hear the beckoning of the Spirit, while also sensing the divine hand gently supporting me in a shaky moment. Suddenly I hear myself saying, “We can do this.”
Prayer: I know I’ve got this, O Lord, because I know you’ve got me. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: I’m sure there are some sports fans reading this, and if you’re like me, you’ve probably watched a few games when your team was clearly going to lose. No matter how much screaming you did (whether at the game or watching on TV), it wasn’t going to change the outcome. It was like watching someone fall off a ladder, and there was nothing you could do. There are times when life leaves you feeling helpless. Though if we are honest with ourselves, there has never been a time when we’ve been in control of even 50% of life. Of course, right now, there are days when it feels like the ladder keeps falling over again and again, and we are nothing but powerless observers.
One of the go-to lines people offer in times like this is: Choose Joy. Now that might be a little easier said than done, but there are things we can do. Let me suggest two. First, if you are watching/listening to more than 30 minutes of news each day, why don’t you turn off the TV and spend a few minutes reading some words from Philippians, followed by some time listening to music that speaks to your soul. Second, call a trusted friend and ask the question: What two things put a smile on your face yesterday? I have found the observations of others to inspire my perception of the world around me. What I had not notice suddenly comes into focus.
Prayer: Provide me some tools and models for my joy search. Holy God, I may not be ready to rejoice always, but I sure am looking for a few more opportunities right now. Amen.
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So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”
Thought for the Day: Two days ago I wrote about hope in what must have felt like a completely hopeless moment. But here at the end, like any good story, the book of Ruth comes to a Disney-like conclusion with all the main characters living happily ever after. Though moving beyond fairytale endings, I believe joy emerges from rough and real-life experiences. Yes, there was giddiness in a marriage and the birth of a child, but I’ve got to believe that joy began to emerge much earlier amidst the difficulty. That may sound strange, but joy, among other things, is the conviction that all the ups and downs of life will not impact or diminish the love of God. Our life story may not go the direction we had planned, and there might even be great sadness beyond our control, yet the love of God is like the keel of a boat. The storms will rock the boat, yet the keel steadies it and keeps it from being lost. In our own lives, we might speak of our trust in God, yet the life experiences reinforce that belief. Those experiences may not be as dramatic as that of Ruth and Naomi, but there is joy when one is able to say with confidence, “I know I was never alone, even in the worst of it.”
Prayer: By faith and love, O Merciful God, provide me a steadiness within my spirit. Let me declare how there is nothing in all of creation that can or will separate me from your love. Amen.
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