"Pastor Charlie Woodward", "Charlie Woodward"Pastor Charlie Woodward writes a daily devotion for the pandemic days until things are back to “normal,” whenever that may be. As the title states, we are in the wilderness alone, but we are still together. We may feel isolated and on our own. But we are in this together. I want to make sure we have an opportunity to stay connected. Each devotion will include a Bible verse, a brief reflection and prayer.  

Find a link to each day’s devotion below, or sign up here to receive the devotions to your inbox every morning. Choose the Devotions distribution list.

This is an opportunity for us to be present with each other in the days to come. You can be present by sharing your comments, insights, prayers and pictures in response to what Pastor Charlie shares in the coming days. For we are in this together. And where two or three are gathered in God’s name, God is present, too.

Do Not Fear

Isaiah 43:1-7 
 
Restoration and Protection Promised
 

But now thus says the Lord,

    he who created you, O Jacob,

    he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

    and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,

    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I give Egypt as your ransom,

    Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my sight,

    and honored, and I love you,

I give people in return for you,

    nations in exchange for your life.

Do not fear, for I am with you;

    I will bring your offspring from the east,

    and from the west I will gather you;

I will say to the north, “Give them up,”

    and to the south, “Do not withhold;

bring my sons from far away

    and my daughters from the end of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

    whom I created for my glory,

    whom I formed and made.”
 

 

I love this passage.
 
The words are given to God’s people after they have been removed from their homeland and now find themselves in captivity in Babylon. They are in a foreign land, far from the Temple and the land that God had promised them.
 
God promises they will be restored and protected.
 
We are first reminded who God is and what God has done.
 
God is the Lord, the one who created and formed us.
 
Then God shares a word of comfort – do not fear. A regular theme in scripture, yes? I have read that these words or words similar to them appear 365 times in scripture. Believe me, I didn’t take the time to count, so I will take others at their word. Even if it isn’t 365, it is a lot!
 
Moved from their homes to captivity – do not fear. Moved away from the place God resided (in the Temple) – do not fear. Uncertain what tomorrow may bring, let alone today – do not fear.
 
Why should we NOT fear? God has an answer for that — actually, three answers.
 
Do not fear for I have redeemed you. In the Old Testament, redemption involves deliverance from bondage based on the payment of a price by a redeemer. Now, this may seem strange for the people who are in captivity to hear. I believe there is more than just one understanding.
 
God reminds them that they were once in slavery in Egypt. Moses came along as God’s spokesman, and through the work of God, God delivered God’s people out of Egypt and to the promised land. The Jews remember this every year at Passover.
 
But I also believe there is a promise in this word – I have set you free before, and I will do it again. Do not fear.
 
The second word – do not fear for I have called you by name. God knows you intimately. The one who knit you together in your mother’s womb knows you inside and out. Do not fear, for this God will not abandon those God has named as beloved. Do not fear.
 
The third word – do not fear for you are mine. God is a possessive God. God loves what God has created. God’s desire is to restore what God has created. Do not fear.
 
How many times do you need to hear it? God isn’t going to stop saying it! Do not fear.
 

Let us pray:

O God, there are times we are afraid. You know that. Wrap us in your promise and in your word. Thank you for the hope and comfort and peace that surpasses all understanding. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Very Best

Deuteronomy 26:1-15
 
First Fruits and Tithes
 

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

 

12 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, 13 then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments: 14 I have not eaten of it while in mourning; I have not removed any of it while I was unclean; and I have not offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me. 15 Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.”
 
 
Before the Israelites enter the Promised Land, Moses passes along many teachings. They have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years! For 40 years God has provided for them with Manna – bread from heaven, quail, and water. A steady diet. Forty years of Manna Stew, Manna Burgers, Manna Surprise and more!
 
But, now they will be farmers. As they enter the land and plant the crops, they will have fruits and vegetables, meats, bread and wine. God will provide in the land flowing with milk and honey.
 
As the harvest is brought in, Moses instructs them to bring the first fruits of the creation to God. Not crumbs from the table, but the best of the best.
 
I have shared the story of a woman who called the Butterball Turkey hotline in November before Thanks-giving. Butterball has a hotline number you can call to ask questions and it is quite busy around the holidays! The woman said she had a turkey in her freezer and wanted to know if it was still good. The turkey had been in her freezer for 25 years.
 
The person taking the call put her on hold and did some quick research with her fellow operators at Butterball. After consulting with others, the operator came back on the line and said that as long as it was frozen solid, and that the freezer had maintained a constant temperature, and that the turkey hadn’t been thawed out at any time, and the packaging was still intact, it is likely that the turkey was still okay.
 
But the operator stated that they recommend it not be used just in case. The turkey owner said, “That’s okay, I was going to give it to the church anyway!”

What do we offer to God? Is it the best? Doesn’t God deserve our very best?
 
Note the words that Moses shares. Giving involves more than just giving. It also involves remembering. Remember.
 
Remember who God is, and what God has done for you.
 
Moses tells the people to say these words, “A wandering Aramean…” Remember Abraham and God’s promises to Abraham and his offspring. Remember what God has done. Remember what God continues to do. Remember.
 

God gives us His very best – his ONLY son, so that we might have life and have it abundantly. God gives his best. In return, may we do the same!

 

Let us pray:

Thank you, God, for all you have given us – ourselves, our time and our possessions. All these are signs of your gracious love. In response to these blessings we give back to you what you first have given us. Thank you! We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.