Friday, August 26, 2016

Devotion for Friday, August 26 (The Beatitudes)

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7)

If you were to read through the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), you will find the following characterization: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  

This declaration is consistent.  It states that among all the many attributes of God -- holiness, omnipotence, righteousness, power, etc. -- these are the most defining. 

I have centered my ministry in this witness.  At the end of the day, the characteristics that are at the heart of the Gospel and most fully expressive of the Jesus Way are grace, mercy, forgiveness, and the fidelity and love of God toward human beings.  

Indeed these characteristics are not the ONLY characteristics that God professes and exhibits.  Of course.  I do believe that the witness of scripture and the words of Christ do say that these are primary.  And so I seek to live my life accordingly.

I strive to live graciously toward others and as St. Paul says, "insofar as it depends on you live peaceably with each other". 

I seek to live mercifully toward others, reminding myself that I have received mercy in times of brokenness and sin.

I strive to be forgiving as I recognize that how forgiveness has shaped me and given me new life in so many ways. 

I seek to remember in times of doubt, shame, and uncertainty that God is faithful amidst our suffering and stress and insecurity out of genuine and personal love for each of us.   

I fail to do this to be sure.  I forget these primary characteristics more than I wish it did.  However, I have committed my life to this vision of the Lord.  It is a vision that I believe the world needs. It is a vision that I believe is worth the energies of my adult life.  It is the vision that I believe changes others life toward a posture and promise of peace.

Lord, you are gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Thank you. Amen.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Devotion for Thursday, August 25 (The Beatitudes)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6)

In college, I went through a time during my sophomore year where I made a decision to live as righteously as possible.  I was committed to living a life that would be a witness to others on campus. I had recommitted my life to Christ is a new, more mature way.  I became very pietistic and rigorous in my study of scripture and living.  

What I found is that this wasn't me!  Don't misunderstand.  What wasn't me was not being true to my fun-loving, sometimes irreverent nature.  What wasn't me was a judgmental streak that began to rear its head toward others.  What wasn't me was the emphasis on being good enough for God instead of simply living into the beauty of God's love already.

Now, I remained rigorous in studying scripture.  And prayer with my small group.  And I remained committed to the Christian community on campus, worshiping regularly.  However, I realized for my renewed faith to make any difference beyond me, it needed to be authentic and genuine.  Pietistic, judgmental Dave was not authentic and genuine.

What I am thankful for is that I went through this period where I realized that I do hunger and thirst to live a life worthy of Jesus' love for me and this world.  I have learned that do to so in the best possible way, I need to walk that line of honest self-reflection and of being who I am with gusto. Sometimes I may err on one side or the other, but ultimately I know that being who God created me to be and doing so with faithfulness, humility, and adventure, it makes for a pretty filling life of faith!

God, you fill our hunger and thirst for faith.  Inspire us to do the same for others. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Devotion for Wednesday, August 24 (The Beatitudes)

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5)

What is real strength? I have known some incredibly strong people who would not be considered as such, at least by physical appearance.  The heart patient. The grandmother who took care of her troubled grandchildren.  The teen who stood up for those being bullied.  Strength comes not from an ability to dominate, but from a willingness to subjugate their own ego, time, and fear for the benefit of others.

A religion professor of mine from college, former Bishop of North Carolina Dr. Michael McDaniel, once said this in my Reformation class:  God's power is seen primarily in the powerlessness of Jesus on the Cross.  This paradox is at the heart of Jesus' great reversal, i.e. the first shall be last, the last shall be first.

Strength from God's perspective is seen in a willingness to appear meek, to serve, to offer oneself on behalf of others.  This is where we find true power.  This is why, after Peter rebukes him for saying he must be crucified, Jesus says "you have set your mind, not on divine things, but on human things." To Peter, this was loss, this was weak, this was meekness. To Jesus, it was the selfless, life-giving act that brings salvation and new life.

And isn't the truest reality of God's power seen in his willingness to become one of us? The creator subjecting himself to the wiles of the creation shows unimaginable strength and selflessness that permeates the entire Gospel.

Likewise, the cross is the ideal example of God's central narrative; to bring new life out of death. Or, in other words, to bring strength from meekness, hope from hopelessness, and possibility from uncertainty.  Yes, when we are meek and weak, in fact, it is prime soil for God to cultivate strength and blessing.  

This is why St. Paul says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me ... for whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 9).

God of the meek and weak, continue to make us strong. Amen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Devotion for Tuesday, August 23 (The Beatitudes)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4)

The Gospel message of Jesus Christ will "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable".  Indeed, the great reversal of the ministry and model of Jesus echoes the premise and promise of Isaiah 61 "to bring good news to poor, release to the captives, sight to blind, and set the oppressed free."

At the end of the day, the comforting nature of the Gospel is what inspires faith in so many.  When you have felt support, comfort, and strength through prayers, reading of scripture, the great hymns, and love of the church community, it is never forgotten.

I believe that the body of Christ, the Church, can be a place where comforting the afflicted, the mournful, and the suffering is a primary role and ministry.  At our best, the Church is a place of refuge and life-giving support for all, especially those who are marginalized and suffering.

I have seen my congregation support families going through significant health issues.  I have seen my congregation provide a welcome place for those who other congregations have shunned and dismissed because of their differences.  I have seen my congregation reach deep to support the needs of children and women around the world.  I have seen my congregation partner with other congregations to provide warm and safe lodging during the winter months for the homeless.  Not to mention the countless personal and anonymous ways I've witnessed people love, support, and comfort one another.  

I share this because while so many are quick to ridicule "organized religion" I have actually witnessed that despite our flaws, "organized religion" has done, is doing, and will continue to do so much good in this world as the body of Christ.  

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable is a pretty good bumper sticker I must say. 

Comforting Lord, help us to be about your work and mission for all. Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Devotion for Monday, August 22 (The Beatitudes)

Over the next two weeks, we will be using the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew as our focus. The Beatitudes, from the Latin word beatus which means blessed, begin what is known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Luke 6 has a similar version.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3)

One of the realities of my world is that I see people who are suffering with a poor spirit.  Perhaps because of anxiety, health issues, professional concerns, or financial strife, so many of us are struggling with poor spirits.  It is not necessarily that folks are always poor in spirit, but periodically they become overwhelmed by the difficulties that are such a natural part of our lives.

Certainly this must have been true in Jesus' time as well.  Different reasons, but the same reality. How comforting that Jesus speaks to this first.  Reminding us that our poor spirits are met by the promise of the Kingdom.  It is easy to assume that our poor spirits are an example of the Kingdom's absence. However, Jesus is saying that it is precisely for our poor spirit experiences that the Kingdom exists!

When we are suffering in anyway, we have the promise of a God who will come near and offer us strength, comfort, and hope.  And the kingdom will bring new life. This is the promise with which Jesus begins His sermon.  It sets the tone for all that is to come.  To know that our difficulties will be lovingly and graciously met by God.

Loving Jesus, continue to remind us to have faith amidst suffering. Amen.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Devotion for Friday, August 19

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19-20).

Jesus' final declaration here, known as the Great Commission, and the subsequent events of Pentecost, mark the new beginning of the Church!

And this new beginning gives us our marching orders as Jesus followers.  Baptize others into the Jesus Way, teach the Jesus Way, and trust that Jesus is with us! Boom!

The final piece here is the most important.  It is through the living Jesus who is still with us through the gift of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, that we find our strength to preach, teach, baptize, and serve this world in the name of Jesus.  We cannot do this without the Spirit of Jesus. It is the fuel source for faithfulness.

As we live into the new beginnings of our lives, in whatever form they take, we have this promise from the living Jesus.  His promised presence, called the Advocate in the Gospel of John, is the power for hope and strength amidst our new beginnings.  And how wonderful is this!

This allows us to risk new beginnings, to seek new beginnings, and to embrace new beginnings  brought upon us.  All because of this promise, "I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Loving Jesus, you commit to us so that we can dare new beginnings. Thank you. Amen.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Devotion for Thursday, August 18

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man who name was Joseph, of the House of David. The virgin's name was Mary.  And he came to hear and said, "Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you."  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus ... Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let be with me according to your word." 

God inaugurates a "new beginning" with human beings by daring to become one of us. And God does so in a most unexpected way ... through an unwed, teenager virgin from an occupied people living humbly in a backwater town.

I believe God chooses Mary exactly because of her lower status and anonymity.  As is the Biblical witness, God often thinks "outside of the box" (i.e. Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Ruth, David, etc.). In Mary, this is most certainly true.

This new beginning marks the commitment of God to us, God's beloved creation.  Amidst our failures and flaws, our imperfections and impurity, God remains faithful.  It is God's fidelity that is truly life-giving and saving for us.  God does not abandon us and God is willing to show no impartiality.  God values the least and the lost and the losers as much as the powerful and the popular and the winners.

God comes near to redeem us all.  And to do so, he will mark new beginnings in any and everyone who says "Here am I, your servant. Let it be with me according to your word."

Loving Jesus, come near my heart today and shape my life toward your purpose. Amen.