Thought for the Day: Tomorrow is All Saints’ Day, or what was called All-hallowmas centuries ago. Today, the day before All Saints’ Day, is known as All-Hallows Eve or what culture calls Halloween. It is fascinating how names can change, and in time, the meaning and rituals associated with a holiday can modify as well. A 1000 years ago, no one was thinking about ordering a Dracula costume off Amazon in hopes of snagging as many Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as possible. But as Christianity borrowed from Celtic culture, there were those who enjoyed the custom of wearing costumes to ward off evil spirits in advance of honoring the saints. It was a time every year when the line that separated the living from the dead was blurred. Of course, as people of faith, we are not honoring the dead, but the living. For though we might grieve the physical deaths of those we love, we also make a dramatic claim in regard to how they are enjoying a resurrection like that of Jesus. Today, even as children try to navigate Trick-or-Treating, let us not forget that this day has a rich Christian history, a day when we are reminded how God has continued to blur the line between life and death. No, I’m not talking about Zombies or the Living Dead. I’m talking about a God who refused to allow death to have the final word.
Prayer: For all the saints, and even for some of the silliness associated with this time, we turn to you with gratitude, Holy God. Do not allow for the gulf between life and death to be so great that we lose hope. Instead, point us to those whose Christ-like witness continues to inspire hope and joy in all of us. For all the saints, we give thanks. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Are we awake? Has the alarm sounded? Did we hit snooze? When people of faith think about a holy calling, so often it includes a mountain, a burning bush, a clap of thunder and some other pyrotechnics. Yet in this devotional, I’d like to suggest that every morning we awake to an invitation from God. Whether we read some scripture first thing, say a prayer or just spend a few moments in silence, there is always a sacred beckoning upon our lives. That holy whisper is inviting us to choose a life lived for the sake of others. What would it look like if we all reduced our focus upon self by just 5% today, and maybe another 5% tomorrow? How much more impactful would our lives be upon the world around us?
Prayer: As I wake up and get moving this morning, Merciful God, put that holy calling of love and kindness before me. It is time for me to be fully alert to the opportunities of Christ-like living that will be before me today. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: We often see subtle and not so subtle contrasts within the Psalms. In this case, there are the saints, those who are faithful, as compared to those who are haughty. This latter group, the haughty or arrogant, will get its reward… which is ultimately to find oneself alone. The saints, by contrast, are humble and concerned about the other. Their reward is a healthy and life-giving community. Yet humility not only creates a relationship with others, but also with God. The author of this Psalm talks about taking refuge in the Lord, trusting the Lord, being heard by the Lord and rejoicing in the Lord. It is hard to have a relationship with God if a person is haughty, but those who are able to set aside their egos will find intimacy with God. Probably the most common attribute among the saints is that of humility, an attribute that allowed these amazing witnesses to embody the core teachings of Jesus – love, mercy, kindness, peace, service and generosity.
Prayer: For the sake of your kingdom vision, Kind and Generous God, I seek to reduce my ego while pursuing a more humble spirit. It is not always easy, yet I turn to Jesus who provides me a true example. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: We have a joke around the house – when the TV is a bit too loud and someone asks, “Can you turn it down,” the response is always, “What! I can’t hear you over the TV. Maybe I should turn it down.” There are times in history when the noise has been intense, and all the cultural clamoring leaves most folks confused over what is worthy of their attention. In the end, there is a tendency to focus upon the loudest and/or most flashy. To hear Jesus, the Shepherd, requires us to be aware and deliberate. Awareness is not simply an awareness of Jesus, but how there are those whose primary purpose is to confuse and distract us from our core values. They play on our fears, throw lots of confusing rhetoric at us, and then offer a simple solution that usually requires us to hate someone or some group. This approach has been resurrected and repurposed for centuries. Awareness requires us to look behind the curtain and see who really is benefiting. Yet simply being aware is not enough. We also must be deliberate in how we attune our ears to the voice of Jesus. How did Jesus speak? To whom did he speak? What was his overriding purpose when he spoke? For those answers we must spend time in the Gospels. Sadly, among Christians today, part of that intentional confusion and distraction is to draw upon obscure passages from the Bible, taking them out of context, and then somehow imposing them upon the lips of Jesus. I see this happen a lot, and it often ends with Christians thinking that Jesus wants us to hate someone or some group. Even today, I believe Jesus yearns for us to hear his voice, yet to do so requires us to be aware and deliberate.
Prayer: Your love beckons me, Heavenly Shepherd, yet too often my attention is pulled away by those who only wish to use me. Call to me through your words of grace and mercy as they have the power to invoke within me a YES to your invitation. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: The word ‘sanctified’ has always intimidated me. To be sanctified sounds so holy and righteous, and way above my paygrade. I’m looking for the rank of sanctified third class. That’s where it is helpful to see that the word sanctified is a passive verb (the original Greek). I’m not the one achieving or accomplishing this sanctification. The word describes those who are set apart, not by their own doing, but by the grace of God. All of a sudden the word is a little less intimidating as it is no longer based upon what I have attained, but the grace of God at work in me. I’m pretty sure the saints of Christian history would be the first to say, “Oh, it wasn’t me!”
Prayer: O Lord, I give thanks for your patience as you continue to move me toward the person you believe I can be. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: I used this verse of scripture during my prayer time yesterday. The time was spent praying for those who are grieving a death, yet not always able to do the hard work of grieving in the way they would choose. Families have not been able to travel very easily, there are limitations for both indoor and outdoor services, and even the restrictions at the hospitals and nursing homes might have limited visits in the last days or weeks of a person’s life. Faith is an indispensable tool in our grieving, yet there are some very practical pieces that eight months ago would have happened without a thought. The Book of Revelation speaks of a day when there will be no mourning or crying. For that to happen, death will have come to an end. Mourning and crying are part of the process by which we grieve. They are gifts from God that acknowledge the emotional and physical parts of grief. So until that day when mourning and crying have disappeared, we will continue to require as many of the tools as possible that make for healthy grieving. A week from today is All Saints’ Sunday. We won’t be in the same space together, and so the Cypress Creek tradition will be modified just a bit. My hope is that it is still a helpful piece in your ongoing work toward healing.
Prayer: For all who continue to hurt and struggle this day, O Lord, I pray for a multitude of opportunities for their grief to be expressed in helpful and healthy ways. Amen.
TODAY’S WORSHIP SERVICE
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Thought for the Day: I witnessed a rather common experience a few days back as a mother ran to the rescue of a child who had fallen. No major injuries occurred, but the tears clearly revealed a need for comfort and compassion. And the child’s need was immediately met by the graciousness of her mother. Some might say the mother saved the young child in her time of need, and that’s probably true if we understand the word ‘saved’ as it would have been understood in the first century when Titus and the other Christian Scriptures were written. To be saved means that we are healed and made whole. God rushes to our rescue in the person of Jesus, but God continues to do so in story, ritual and through the presence of the Holy Spirit. God never stops working to bring us to wholeness.
Prayer: Merciful God, your saving grace continues to find creative ways of coming to me with comfort and compassion. Allow these unmerited gifts to heal my wounds that I may know the wholeness you desire for my life and the lives of all people. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Revival happens when the church returns to the ways of Jesus. Though let’s be clear – a lot of folks talk about “returning to Jesus,” yet they don’t have any interest in reflecting on the practical implications of returning. It’s nice rhetoric, but if you spend much time with the Jesus of the Gospels you find that the ways of Jesus begin with unconditional love embodied in table fellowship where those who are marginalized and those who are scapegoated have the place of honor. It is not about using the scare tactics of damnation to get folks in the sanctuary seats. Instead, it is making sure every human being knows their sacred worth. It is community where the logistics of religion do not supersede life-giving relationships. It’s not about delineating membership on the basis of those we hate and exclude, but turning inside out the whole concept of membership in our capacity to emulate Jesus and his radical grace. Revival is going to happen in the post-pandemic world, and if the church has not returned to the ways of Jesus then revival will happen somewhere else…it will happen without us.
Prayer: Merciful God, don’t just bring me into another conversation about the ways of Jesus. Instead, take me along the path that engenders a life that truly resembles that of Jesus. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: When there is great upheaval and consternation, there are really only three possible choices that I can imagine. One – Get sucked further into the chaos; Two – Live in full denial (which technically has a person unknowingly sucked into number one); Three – Revival. As you may guess, I’m going with door number three. Revival suggests there is someone doing the reviving, a little mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It is as if God is breathing into the Body of Christ the Spirit of Life. I don’t imagine God had been sitting back and withholding this life-giving breath, but too often the ailing body is in denial and refusing to receive. God offers, but God does not forcibly compel. Revival is the meeting of God’s Spirit and a receptive community. Are we doing what is necessary to ready ourselves for revival?
Prayer: Holy God, there is a need for revival, something other than empty emotionalism. Make us ready to receive an indwelling of your Spirit of Love, yet readiness will require us to make room. Let us take an inventory of all those items within us that do not resemble the Fruit of the Spirit. And of course, once inventoried, guide us to a place where we can leave them and not ever see them again. Amen.
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