Daily Devotion Name Change

Daily Devotion Name Change > One in the Spirit
a message from Pastor Charlie Woodward

 
Ephesians 4:1-6
Unity in the Body of Christ
 
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
 
I didn’t realize that when I started the daily devotions “Alone In The Wilderness Together” back in March, that I would still be writing them six months later. In the middle of March when we shut the doors to worship and activities, we had hoped we would be back at it by Easter. That didn’t happen, of course.
 
I am thankful that we can stay connected through the daily devotion, and you have my word that it will continue for the coming weeks and months as we continue on this journey. I appreciate your comments and encouragement – please keep those coming.


When You Pray, Say This.

Matthew 6:7-15

 
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
 
“Pray then in this way:
 

Our Father in heaven,

    hallowed be your name.

10     Your kingdom come.

    Your will be done,

        on earth as it is in heaven.

11     Give us this day our daily bread.

12     And forgive us our debts,

        as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13     And do not bring us to the time of trial,

        but rescue us from the evil one.
 
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
 
A story is told of a 3-year-old boy who went to the grocery store with his mother. Before they entered she had certain instructions for the little tike: “Now you’re not going to get any chocolate chip cookies, so don’t even ask.”
 
She put him in the child’s seat and off they went, up and down the aisles. He was doing just fine until they came to the cookie section. Seeing the chocolate chip cookies he said, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?”
 
She said, “I told you not even to ask. You’re not going to get any at all.”
 
They continued down the aisles, but in her search for certain items, she had to back track and they ended up in the cookie aisle again. “Mom, can I please have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “I told you that you can’t have any. Now sit down and be quiet.”
 
Finally, they arrived at the checkout. The little boy sensed that the end was in sight, that this might be his last chance. He stood up on the seat and shouted in his loudest voice, “In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone in the checkout lanes laughed and applauded. Do you think the little boy got his cookies? You bet! The other shoppers, moved by his daring, pooled their resources. The little boy and his mother left with 23 boxes of chocolate chip cookies.
 
(Brett Blair, Sermons.com; story from Paul Harvey Commentary and News.)
 
Is this how we see prayer? Keep asking for what we want until we get it?
 
Jesus is asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray. He offers them the words found in today’s lesson. It is a complete prayer that is filled with acclamation, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. It is a great tool that we shouldn’t take for granted.
 
Notice that when Jesus is asked, he responds with a prayer. Not a lesson on prayer, or how to hold your hands, what you should contemplate, or even when or where to pray. No. Jesus says, when you pray, say this.
 
And I would say that as Jesus teaches us, our relationship with God is personal, but not private. That is evident in the very first words – when you pray, say “OUR…”
 
I came across the following in my daily devotions a few months ago – it is called “A few thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer.” (the author is unknown)
 
I cannot pray, “OUR,” if my faith has no room for others and their need.
 
I cannot pray, “WHO ART IN HEAVEN,” if all my interests and pursuits are in earthly things.
 
I cannot pray, “HALLOWED BE THY NAME,” if I am not striving, with God’s help, to be holy.
 
I cannot pray, “THY KINGDOM COME,” if I am unwilling or resentful of having it in my life.
 
I cannot pray, “ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN,” unless I am truly ready to give myself to God’s service here and now.
 
I cannot pray, “GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD,” without expending honest effort for it, or if I would withhold from my neighbor the bread that I receive.
 
I cannot pray, “FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US,” if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.
 
I cannot pray, “LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION,” if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.
 
I cannot pray, “DELIVER US FROM EVIL,” if I am not prepared to fight evil with my life and my prayer.
 
I cannot pray, “THINE IS THE KINGDOM,” if I am unwilling to obey God.
 
I cannot pray, “THINE IS THE POWER AND THE GLORY,” if I am seeking power for myself and my own glory first.
 
I cannot pray, “FOR EVER AND EVER,” if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.
 
I cannot pray “AMEN”, unless I honestly say …”Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”
 

The Lord’s Prayer – you can’t go wrong with this.

 

Let us pray:

Our Father…
 


Remembering September 11, 2001

Romans 8 selected verses

 
St Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
 
Nineteen years ago. 9/11/2001.
 
In remembrance of that day, I share some words from my sermon I preached the Sunday that followed.
 

O Trinity of love and power, Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;

From Rock and tempest, fire and foe, Protect them wheresoever they go;

Thus evermore shall rise to Thee, Glad praise from air and land and sea.
 
It is a verse from my father’s favorite hymn – the old Navy hymn. He and my mother celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary this week – on Tuesday, September 11th. No longer will that day ever be the same – for them, for you, for me, for this nation. The past few days, we have shared with each other how we heard the news, the first time we saw the video of the plane hitting the World Trade Center, the fear we felt when it was not just New York City, but the nation’s capital as well. 
 
We have shared with each other how closely this has hit each and every one of us. I found out Friday that my Mother’s cousin, who was her playmate and friend while growing up, was on one of the planes that was ruthlessly crashed into the Trade Center. All of us know someone who has been touched by this event, if not we ourselves. It has touched our families, our places of business, even our churches. 
 
A pastor from a church in New York City shared happenings at his church earlier this week:
 
We had a packed prayer and Eucharist last night. We listened to stories. A teacher in our school is missing her husband. A staff person is missing her grandfather. Several children have lost parents. An airline stewardess grieves for her lost co-workers. A woman who worked the trade center was at a seminar out of town and wonders why she was spared. A broker sat with his family, shaking with grief…A parent pleads for words that can make sense out of this.
 
This morning we had chapel for the school kids–and dozens of parents showed up also–frightened and scared–looking to us to explain. The task belongs to us–and one must face it squarely with all vulnerability. One must be honest–this is no time for pious bull. This is real!
 
We turn to the Psalms. We read the beatitudes and pray that we mourn, that we strive for righteousness and become peacemakers. We pray for our sisters and brothers at Salaam Lutheran and ask God to give us wisdom to avoid blanket condemnations and thirst for revenge. We return to our office to learn that Christ Lutheran School in Yonkers, New York, has over 20 children who lost a parent. (Pastor George Mehl, New York)
 
It has hit so close to home. We have a new element of fear that we have never experienced – what once was safe is now a cause for questioning, concern. Many of us have been in those buildings that are no longer there – my family and I were in the World Trade Center less than four weeks ago. Many of us have been on airplanes, and thought nothing of it, except for some turbulence, or a not-so-perfect landing. Many of us have visited our nation’s capital, and have enjoyed the opportunity to get close to places where government happens. 
 
But now, things have changed. The things that bothered us on Monday seem menial on Tuesday. What were important events a week ago are meaningless today – sports, social events, gatherings, TV shows. We realize more clearly that life is more than the things that we squabble about, at home, at work, and yes, even at church. 
 
In this time of fear and uncertainty, we must turn to God, for in God, we have security. In God we have hope. In God we trust.
 
From the Psalm 23, these words:
 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 
Why does evil happen? Where is God in the midst of all of this? Why doesn’t God let peace reign now, and get rid of evil?
 
At the National Cathedral Friday at noon, a frail, but ever-powerful Billy Graham preached. From his sermon, these words:
 
How do we understand something like this? Why does God allow evil like this to take place? Perhaps that is what you are asking now. You may even be angry at God. I want to assure you that God understands those feelings that you may have.
 
We’ve seen so much on our television, and hear on our radio, stories that bring tears to our eyes and make us all feel a sense of anger. But God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest.
 
I have been asked on hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer totally, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says God is not the author of evil. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” He asked that question, “Who can understand it?” And that is one reason we each need God in our lives.
 
God is the author of all that is good. God is a God of love and compassion, and hope. God weeps with us. God sent his Son so that the sorrow we feel, is the sorrow he felt. God is with us.
 
So what are we to do? The Bible talks about forgiveness. Sometimes – often, in fact – people misunderstand what it is saying. They think, “You mean I have to forgive and forget? That I have to say, ‘Oh, that’s OK – it doesn’t matter?’ How can I do that? It doesn’t make sense!” That isn’t what forgiveness is about – not at all. Those who did this act need to be brought to justice. But, in the end, we will need to get beyond this. We can’t allow ourselves to get stuck in our anger.
 
That’s when bad things happen. That’s when we begin forgetting who we are. That’s when we forget about things like justice and doing what is right. When we get stuck in our anger, we can’t go on – we lose sight of our dreams and hopes, living instead in our bitterness and fear.
 
Forgiveness is the ability to trust God to set things right. It is faith in God’s ability to redeem, to set things straight again. Forgiveness is the ability to place this tragedy in God’s hands, knowing God’s love and care for those who were killed, knowing God’s love for their families and friends, knowing God’s care for the rescue units, doctors, and others that are caring for the victims, and knowing that God holds us as well.
 
Forgiveness is the hope that, even through such a great evil as this, God is able to work, that despite all, God’s kingdom will come and God’s will shall be done. Forgiveness is being willing to give our anger and our pain to God, trusting that God can heal us, and give us strength to go on. Forgiveness is the willingness to open the door to the future once again, trusting that God will be there – that whatever comes, God will hold us, and not let us go. And as long as we hold that faith and that hope, no power on earth or in heaven, can deter or destroy us. (excerpts from sermon by Rev. Gary Roth, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, New Bern, North Carolina)
 
From Martin Luther’s hymn, A Mighty Fortress, based on Psalm 46:
 

God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes, who fear it. 

For God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. 

Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse,

though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. 

The Kingdom’s ours forever!
 

Let us pray:

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Forgiven

Psalm 103:8-13 
 

The Lord is merciful and gracious,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He will not always accuse,

    nor will he keep his anger forever.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,

    nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,

    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

    so far he removes our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion for his children,

    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
 
Corrie ten Boom, author of the book, The Hiding Place, writes of this encounter she had after World War II. 
 
“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
 
“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever…’
 
“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
 
“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
 
[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]
 
“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’
 
“And I, who had spoken so credibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
 
“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
 
“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.
 
“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’
 
“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
 
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
 
“For I had to do it—I knew that. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war, I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
 
“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that, too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
 
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
 
“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’
 
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”
 
(excerpted from “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom. Reprinted by permission from Guideposts Magazine. Copyright © 1972 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, New York 10512)
 
Hear the Good News. Your sins are forgiven. Hear the good news. You are set free. Forgiven, may we, too, forgive!
 
Let us pray:
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


What on Earth

Matthew 21:18-22

 

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
 
So why did Jesus curse the fig tree? We might ask what the owner of the fig tree thought of Jesus’ actions, but we will save that for another time!
 
If we look at passages in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus offers a parable about the fig tree, that if after three years of not bearing fruit, then tear it down. In this lesson, Jesus is more proactive.
 
A fig tree needs three years for it to mature and bear fruit. It needs to be nurtured and properly fertilized. But if all that work is done and no fruit comes forth, cut it down.
 
The fig tree is not cut down because it bears bad fruit, it is cut down because it produces nothing.
 
The Alpha Discipleship Series leader Nicky Gumbel tells the story of the au pair who watched his children. She was not all that fluent in her English and sometimes got phrases mixed up. One day she found the kids had made a mess in their room, and she scolded them, saying, “What are you doing on earth?” instead of, “What on earth are you doing?”
 
It’s a good question, isn’t it? What on earth are you doing?
 
What has God created you to do and to be?
 
The question we might ask about life and death is not, “Why does God allow people to die?” but rather, “Why has God given you life?”
 
An answer we find in scripture is Micah 6:8. What is good and what the Lord requires of you:
 
  • Act Justly
  • Love Mercy
  • Walk Humbly
 
Our job is to walk with God, who has faced the tragedies for us, and promises we will never face it alone.
 
For Jesus is obedient, even to death on another tree, for you and for me.
 
Let us pray: 
Almighty God, we give thanks for your son, obedient and willing to endure the cross for us. Because of his death and resurrection, you set us free to live as you have created us to live. Guide us in your ways. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Where God Meets Us

Psalm 121

 

Assurance of God’s Protection

A Song of Ascents
 

 

I lift up my eyes to the hills—

    from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth.

 

He will not let your foot be moved;

    he who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel

    will neither slumber nor sleep.

 

The Lord is your keeper;

    the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

    nor the moon by night.

 

The Lord will keep you from all evil;

    he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep

    your going out and your coming in

    from this time on and forevermore.
 
 
This is one of my favorite psalms. I have used it at countless funerals and memorial services. The promise of God’s eternal presence and protection rings true in these words.
 
This psalm is “A Song of Ascents.” It is one of the psalms that were sung as worshipers came to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple. The first verse was sung by the pilgrims on the way, and the second verse was the answer to their question. From where does our help come? It comes from the Lord.
 
The only way to get to the Temple is to go up! Coming up from Jericho, near the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, you climb from almost 900 feet below sea level to over 2,400 feet above sea level in the 18-mile journey.
 
It must have been a joy and relief to finally make it to that place. Here is where God resides. Here is where we come to be in the presence of our Lord. Here is where we come to be with God.
 
The good news of Jesus Christ is that God comes to us. Instead of climbing up to be with God, God stoops down to be with us. Emmanuel, God With Us. This is where God meets us.
 
The image that comes to mind for me is Jesus’ baptism, when heaven is ripped open and the Spirit descends. That ripping or tearing apart is the same thing that happens in the Holy of Holies, in the Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus dies on the cross. The curtain of the Temple that separated God from God’s people is torn in two. Love breaks through and comes to us in that gift of Jesus.
 
So, the good news is that we don’t need to climb the mountain to meet God. But we can still echo these words, that the one who is our help comes to us right where we are.
 
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in (and your staying home) from this time forth and forevermore.
 
Thanks be to God!
 

Let us pray: 

Almighty God, you are our keeper, our shade, the one who watches over us. May we turn to you for protection and promise. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen


Through the Noise

1 Peter 2:11-17
 

Live as Servants of God

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
 
13 For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
 
 
I thought twice before selecting this reading from the daily texts. It hits close to home, doesn’t it?
 
How do we justify these words when there are examples throughout history of emperors and leaders who have not punished the wrong and have silenced the right? And in our own world today, there is a LOT of noise telling us who is wrong and who is right, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on that.
 
The next eight weeks are going to be filled with political ads, news reports and more as we lead up to election day in November. There will be a lot of noise, filling our ears and demanding the attention of our eyes, telling us who is wrong and who is right.
 
So what do we do with these verses? 
 
Let me offer a couple of things from the Small Catechism written by Martin Luther. Two of the ten commandments:
 
  • The Fourth Commandment – Honor your father and your mother.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
 
  • The Eighth Commandment – You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
 
God gives us people to be authorities in our lives, beginning with parents. There is a need for leadership and guidance. And when it is done well for the good of all, it shows.
 
Secondly, we are to speak well of our neighbor. That seems to be a lost art lately. How can we model this in our daily life?
 
Let me say this – where there is injustice and cruelty, it needs to be called out and addressed. We are called to care for the neighbor, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to care for the broken, and to love one another.
 
For me, the key verses here are 15 and 16: 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.
 
For freedom, Christ has set us free. Free to love one another.
 
And finally, may we never forget who the ultimate authority in our lives is – God Almighty, maker of heaven of earth. Trust in God. Love one another.
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, bless those in authority with your wisdom, love and grace. May we always put you first, and follow where you lead. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 


Rules vs. Love

Romans 13:8-14 

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
 
 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
 
 
Today’s devotion is from an article in Christian Century magazine.
 

Rules vs. Love

by Joann H. Lee

September 2, 2014

Joann H. Lee is associate pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.
 
The household I grew up in did not have a lot of rules. My parents were first-generation immigrants who worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. So even if we’d had a lot of rules, they would not have been home to enforce most of them.
 
When I began high school, I treated anything resembling a rule as more of just a general guideline. My parents expected me to regulate myself, and often they were too tired and too busy to be strict.
 
After I got my driver’s license, however, my parents did ask me to do one thing: call if I would be home after 10. 
 
I distinctly remember one weekend when I lost track of time as I hung out with friends. As I drove home, I steeled myself, preparing to get in trouble and for the punishment that would follow. 
 
But when I walked through the door, my dad was so relieved he began to cry. I could see in his face all the worry that had built up each minute I was late. His love, turned from concern to relief, was palpable. And it was that love, not any rule, that made me strive to be a better daughter and a better person.
 
In Romans, the Apostle Paul says that “love is the fulfilling of the law.” When we allow God’s love to encompass us, and then share that love with others, we are able to give even beyond the generosity, care, and concern for neighbor that the laws were set up to cultivate. In fact, the call to love is not an escape from our duties to one another. It’s a call to live with even more intentionality and attention to the needs of others.
 
We do so not because some rules or laws tell us we have to, but because we have experienced that radical and welcoming love ourselves, and that love compels us to strive to be better. 
 
We are not called to be rule followers. We are called to experience and understand the deep love that undergirds and upholds the commandments of God—and by intimately being known and loved by our God, to then extend and share that love with the world.
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, may we see your commands as gifts of your love for us and for others. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


The Psalm of Praise for Online Worship!

Psalm 149
 
Praise for God’s Goodness to Israel
 

1 Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song,

    his praise in the assembly of the faithful.

2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker;

    let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.

3 Let them praise his name with dancing,

    making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.

4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;

    he adorns the humble with victory.

5 Let the faithful exult in glory;

    let them sing for joy on their couches.

6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats

    and two-edged swords in their hands,

7 to execute vengeance on the nations

    and punishment on the peoples,

8 to bind their kings with fetters

    and their nobles with chains of iron,

9 to execute on them the judgment decreed.

    This is glory for all his faithful ones.

Praise the Lord!
 
 
I have decided to name this “The Psalm of Praise for Online Worship!” Verse 5 sums it up: “…let them sing for joy on their couches!”
 
There has been a lot of stress, anxiety, worry, weariness, uncertainty, frustration and more the past six months. Yep, we started all this back in March. There are things we miss. There are activities and events we wonder if and when they may happen. We make new plans, but every time we put something on the calendar, we wonder if that will hold fast, or be rescheduled yet again. I encourage you to bring these to God in your worship and prayers.
 
In the midst of it all, can you find reasons to give thanks? Is there reason for dancing and making melodious music? Where is it you find joy today? Again, I encourage you to bring these to God in your worship and prayers.
 
The good news is that God is with us on the mountaintop and in the valley. God is with us in the great outdoors and in the closed confines. God is with us in the sanctuaries and the living rooms, in the pews or on the couches, in the brightest of sunshine and the darkness of the moonless night.
 
Yes, we long for the day when we can gather in our places of worship, but until then, let us join together in songs of joy (and sorrow) on our couches.
 

Let us pray:

We give you thanks, Almighty God, for your presence with us. May our worship be a sweet sound to your ear, from wherever it is we worship. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


From What is Heard

Romans 10:15-21
 

15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 16 But not all have obeyed the good news;  for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

 

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,

    and their words to the ends of the world.”

 

19 Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;

    with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

 

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;

    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

 

21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
 
 
Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
 
A friend of mine told me that when he and his wife went on their honeymoon in Europe they were a minority – everyone they met spoke more than one language. There were amazed at how fluent the people were in English as well as their native tongue. This was also a hindrance, as they realized others could talk without my friend and his wife understanding what they were saying, but when they talked, those around them understood what they were saying. So, my friend and his wife decided they would talk in Pig Latin instead. It took some work, but they found a way to communicate and be understood without others comprehending their message.
 
Faith comes from what is heard.
 
How very important it is to hear about God and what God is doing. How very important it is that we proclaim the message of Jesus Christ over and over again. How very important it is that we do not assume everyone knows the story. How very important it is to hear the good news that you are loved, you are forgiven, you belong to God.
 
Faith comes from what is heard.
 
Harvey was concerned about his wife’s loss of hearing. As far as he could tell, her problem just kept getting worse. She stubbornly refused to admit that she had a problem and definitely refused to go to a doctor since that was the case. Finally, in desperation, Harvey went to a consultation on her behalf. He told the doctor of the problem and was told a simple home test he could try to gauge the severity of the problem. He was to go home, get out of his car, and call to his wife, “Hon, what’s for dinner?” If he heard no response, he should continue to move closer until the response was forthcoming. Judging by the distance, the severity of the hearing loss could be gauged.
 
So Harvey went home. He got out of his car and screamed, “Hon, what’s for dinner?,” hearing no answer, he moved to the front door. “Hon, what’s for dinner?” Still no response. Finally he stuck his head in the kitchen, and called, “Hon, what’s for dinner?” Harvey’s wife turned from the sink, looked him square in the eyes and said, “For the third time, we are having roast beef!”
 
How good is your hearing?
 
Do you need to hear the Good News?
 
Well, I have good news for you – every week we offer the message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who dies and rises for you and me. Because of this, you are forgiven and you are loved. God has named you and claimed you and will never let you go!
 
A little secret – we pastors only have one sermon – we just use different illustrations to get the message to you.
 
Faith comes from what is heard. Listen.
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, open my ears to hear your good news for me, and my heart to your love. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 


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