Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Prayer for Tuesday, June 30

Holy God,
  This morning, someone in this world is weeping for joy, filled with wonder at some glorious surprise.  They might be filling a room with laughter alone or sharing their joy with a crowd of friends and strangers.
  At the same time, perhaps not too far away, someone is weeping, filled with misery and pain and wondering whether or not there is any hope for them.  They may well be deep in sorrow on their own, or they could be surrounded by fellow mourners.
  In between, there are billions, bouncing from joy to pain and back again, sometimes in the course of a day, often in the course of pockets of time much smaller than that.
  We are a volatile people, often caught in circumstances and events much bigger than ourselves.  May your Holy Spirit remind us, and may our lives be a reminder to one another, that in joy and pain, you are present, and that there is always hope in you, even beyond the veil.


Ephesians 4:17-24

Ephesians 4:17-24
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Who here likes change?  Everybody likes change, right?  Hands?  Nobody?  Nobody likes change?  I'm glad I'm not the only one...
  Change is hard.  We are accustomed to doing or seeing things a certain way, and then the world changes... and we have to change as well.  We change where we live, we change our relationships, we change where we work or how we act, and it's hard to find a new routine.
  When we become a Christian, we are supposed to change.  We are now called to see the world through the lens of self-sacrificial love.  We are called to see other people as brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved by God and worthy of our love.  We are called to see the world as a place to be treasured, a gift from God.  We see our lives as a gift, to use wisely and to worship the one who made us.
  Christ changes us.  We can resist that change and cling to the old, or we can embrace the love of Christ and trust that the change will lead us into deeper and more abundant life.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Prayer for Monday, June 28

  A new weeks dawns.  I rise to meet it, filled with hopes and fears, joys and concerns, wondering what exactly this week will hold.  I can't peek beyond the present, to see what might be in store, so I have to take this present moment, this gift, and give thanks, trusting that the next will be filled with your presence.
  I trust you, Lord.  I don't always live that out, and sometimes I'm not sure if I really do or I just say I do, but I trust in your goodness and your love, that you will be there through thick and thin, and that you will guide me forward.
  May I love you more today than I did yesterday, and may I reach for your guiding hand, listening for your voice in the wilderness, as I navigate the coming moments of life, treasuring your presence and the wondrous gift of now.


Ephesians 4:11-16

Ephesians 4:11-16
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Speaking the truth in love is hard.
  It's easier to speak the truth without love, to say what is true without regard to how it may impact the other person, focusing only on what you have to say, not how you say it or how it is heard.  We all have our own opinions on others' lives -- to share them openly without caring for the other isn't that hard.
  It's also easy to love without speaking the truth.  It's easier to care for someone and agree with their choices and offer them support without ever confronting difficult things in their lives or in your relationship. It's easy to put it off for another day, to delay any reckoning, because there's always going to be a better time, right?
  To balance the two is immensely challenging, but that is what we are called to do-- to be a people who care enough about others to speak the truth to them, but to balance those words with a deep love for the other, so that we communicate with our words and actions our selfless love.  It's easier to do one without the other, but to combine the two is the Christ-like way.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Prayer for Friday, June 26

  It must hurt you to see how we hurt one another.  You have called us to love one another, but we view one another as threats, as people who might encroach upon our territory, people who might threaten our little realms, and so we shut them out, in one way or another, hoping against hope to build something safe.
  How foolish we can be, Lord, as we play with the small things, forgetting your nearness, your power and might, forgetting our mortality.
  You are grand and glorious, and you stand forever.  You are ever ready to forgive, restore and redeem, offering new life to any and all who call on you.  You don't judge as we do, but you see the heart, Lord, and you seek those who will repent.
  Forgive us, O Lord, and convert our hearts anew to be a people of grace, ready to accept your love and allow your Spirit to change us here on earth, that your kingdom may spread among us, within us, between us.


Ephesians 4:1-10

Ephesians 4:1-10
English Standard Version (ESV)

  One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.
  Here on earth, we are divided, and we are fighting constantly.  We find just about anything to disagree over.  We invest countless energy disagreeing over things that we cannot change, and we sink our teeth into things we could change, but refuse to.  Our disagreements spill over into one another's lives, and we crash into each other, our stubbornness colliding and damaging the fabric of our inter-connectedness.  We hurt one another, but we just keep moving.
  We disagree over race, over religion, over politics.  We divide people into groups, and we like the people who live like us and disagree with the rest.  We hurt one another, we disregard one another, we ignore one another.
  One day, we shall all be united in Christ, and the divisions will fall away.  We will no longer be separate, but one.  Together in Christ, the walls will be torn down, and we shall be healed.
  Today, here and now, may we have the courage to work while we live to do whatever we can to remove those divisions, that the Kingdom may be alive and at work in us.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Prayer for Thursday, June 25

Gracious Lord,
  You are at work.  You have always been busy loving, busy enjoying your creation, busy enjoying the fellowship of the Trinity:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is what you do, it is who you are--you are unbounded love and wonderful grace, free mercy and wild compassion.
  Lord, you are so busy loving, and we get caught up in debates, trying to figure out who we should love and how we should serve, and I can hear your Spirit calling us to stop debating and start loving, start serving, start putting your words into action as we serve the least of these and love all, even those who make it very, very difficult to love them.  We love our words, and actions can be challenging.
  Be at work in our hearts, O Lord, that we might be comforted and encouraged, consoled and motivated, to put your words to work in the world, that all may see the church as a place of love and grace, where your work is practiced by your broken and sinful servants, as we endeavor to live and love as you did.


Ephesians 3:7-13

Ephesians 3:7-13
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I love doing puzzles.  I love doing them so much, in fact, that I had to stop doing them some time ago.  See, the problem is that I get completely absorbed in them, so lost in them that I cannot stop myself, and I find myself awake at 3 a.m. promising that I'll complete just one more piece, and then two hours later I finally go to bed.  It's such fun... yet it's exhausting, and I can't possibly bear any responsibilities, and I don't deal with distractions well, either.
  Paul is telling us that the Kingdom of God is like a puzzle, and the entirety of the picture is slowly being revealed to us, one piece at a time, and if we devote ourselves to God's work, we'll grow more and more excited as we see the reality of the whole picture come into focus.
  Right now we just have pieces, and we get excited when we combine one or two of them, but mostly we're just looking at fragments, small pieces here and there, and there is so much work still to be done, but God is at work in us, directing us and showing us how to use our pieces, guiding our hands and our lives so that we might use our time for his glory, as we reveal to the world around us the reality of the bigger picture, God at work in the world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Prayer for Wednesday, June 24

  All day long I sit.  Unfortunately, I cannot say that I am waiting for you, or that my heart is eagerly awaiting your words, so that I may go forth encouraged by your love.  I busy myself, Lord, and fail to notice your nearness, your presence.  Forgive me, Lord, and help me see broadly, that I may look beyond my computer screen, beyond my cubicle, and see a world filled with opportunity, filled with individuals who need to hear of your love, filled with chances to proclaim your love and grace.  May my eyes and heart be open to your moving, and may I treasure this day as an opportunity to see you in action.


Ephesians 3:1-6

Ephesians 3:1-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I'm not that interested in going to jail, and if I was thrown in jail for the wrong account, I doubt I would have the wisdom to look at it as an opportunity to share the Gospel.  I'd probably spend most of my time thinking about how to get out of jail.
  Paul, on the other hand, is so focused on Christ that his every situation is looked at through one perspective:  How might God use my current situation to proclaim his Gospel and lead others to Christ?
  Paul has trained his heart and mind to look upon life through this lens, and as a result he is a passionate advocate for the Gospel, and the situations he finds himself in are not overwhelming, but rather everything is an opportunity to proclaim the love and wisdom of God.  There is no need for despair, for each and every moment is another opportunity for God to use him for the Kingdom.
  May we find the wisdom to look at life in the same way!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Prayer for Tuesday, June 23

Precious Lord,
  You redeem.  You restore.  You bring back to life what once was dead.  You create hope where despair once threatened to take hold.  You shine light where darkness threatens.
  You are the author of life, and when the story derailed, you did not stop writing, you did not give up, but you entered into the story so that the end might be the same -- eternal life and peace and joy and hope.
  And as you write the eternal story, you call us, you call me, into a story that is taking place all around us, between people and nations.  You call us to dwell in the love and peace and joy of Christ now, so that we might not just wait on our hands until we get to heaven, but rather that we might get our fingernails dirty with the work of life, the work of love, the work of selfless service, so that in our lives we might reveal the source of our hope and joy, Christ Jesus our Lord.


Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians 2:11-22
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Do you suppose the butterfly spends much time thinking about how it was once a caterpillar?
  We don't spend much time thinking about our childhoods.  We just take adulthood for granted.  One of the most fun things about being a parent is the reminder of how wonderful the world is and how quickly we rush by most of it.  We forget about the journey because we're so focused on the destination, whatever that may be.
  God wants you to get lost in wonder from time to time.  God wants to remind you where you have come from -- how you have been transformed from death to life.  You have been saved by Christ, and it's worth remembering that you were once lost and now have been found, because in the memory, you are reminded to be grateful, to be amazed, to worship with grateful hearts the Savior who loves you.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Prayer for Monday, June 22

Holy God,
  You have led me out of a place of sin and darkness, where despair threatened to ensnare my soul, where hope was merely a concept floating far away.  You led me, by the power of grace and love, out of darkness into light, where sin is destroyed and death is a shadow through which I must pass into life in you.  You are good, Lord, for you did this before I could even think to ask, before I could even recognize how deeply flawed I am.  You showered me with love and grace, offering me life and redemption and hope in you.
  Lord, you have done so much, and done it so freely.  I thank you, Lord, for your kindness and grace, and I pray that you teach me how to live gratefully, so that I don't become so absorbed in myself and my small world that I forget the greater purpose of all that I am.  You have restored my soul and led me into still waters -- may I seek that peace for myself and others, practicing grace and living into gratitude, living into the new creation that I am in Christ.  May my response to you consume my life, that I do not seize to worship and praise, and in so doing may I live a joyous & worshipful life, dedicated to you, my Savior, Redeemer and Friend.


Ephesians 2:1-10

Ephesians 2:1-10
English Standard Version (ESV)

  From death to life.
  From despair to hope.
  From darkness to light.
  From mourning to dancing.
  From depression to joy.
  From brokenness to healing.
  From one extreme to the other... God wants to move us into new life, in Christ.  We were dead, and it was our own fault, but God, being rich in mercy, claims us back from the dead, restoring us to new life in him, granting us hope and peace and confidence, all as a free gift, if we're willing to accept it.  God loves you, and he made you, and he wants to give you life.  God doesn't want us to wallow in the despair of sin, but rather wants to transform us into creatures born anew in his grace.
  May the joy of Christ fill your heart today!

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Prayer for Friday, June 19

Holy God,
  I need you.
  You are the author and creator of life.  You, and you alone, can redeem humanity from a sinful state, cleansing us of the sin that taints us, that clings to us like a stain and cannot be washed by our own efforts.  You alone can breach the stronghold of death, reached through the shadowy veil to pull us back into life, into light.  You alone have the majesty to command the wind and the waves that swirl around us, threatening to engulf us and lead us into despair.  You are righteous and perfect, worthy and awesome, and you stand forever.
  On the other hand, Lord, I am not.  I am imperfect and frail and faulty, filled with base desires and mixed motives.  I am not who you made me to be, and I am not who I desire to be.  I serve myself before others and ignore the needs of many to my own benefit.  I am finite and broken without you.
  In your grace, Lord, you reach down and choose to save.  You redeem us for eternal life, cleanse us from all unrighteousness, bind up our brokenness, determine our future and restore us to a place of hope and peace.
  You do all this, and you call us to be a voice in the world around us, speaking peace and hope into the dark places.  Lord, this world is broken.  There are hearts breaking in it, and there are communities who have fallen into division.  Violence claims hearts, and then it claims lives.  Families are shattered by the hatred that runs over from a chaotic soul, and many are left to try and pick up the pieces and make sense of senseless violence.  I do not know the way forward out of such turbulent chaos, but I believe that you have charged your people to be a light in the darkness.  May we serve one another, our friends and enemies, and in so doing weave strands of your piece into the fabric of our communities, that when life is frayed and relationships threaten to rend us in two, your peace might remain, keeping us united when all else threatens to separate.  May we be active as a people of peace, loving all and working together to build your kingdom here on earth.


Ephesians 1:15-23

Ephesians 1:15-23
English Standard Version (ESV)

   I could read that over and over again.  Paul starts out this letter with such encouragement, such conviction in his belief, such abundant grace to share with the Ephesians.
  Let us join in this tradition -- may we begin with grace.  In a world racked by violence and heartache, may we begin our conversations and interactions with grace, sharing love first, anchoring ourselves in that before we move on to something else.  So often, we are in such a hurry to get down to whatever business we have to attend to that we miss this -- we miss this grace, this chance to root ourselves in love, and because we haven't anchored our relationships, we drift.
  God loved you first.  He chose you in love and pours out his riches and shares his inheritance.  Your relationship with Christ is anchored in the fact that he initiated the relationship in love.  He reached out with love, then inviting you into a life of faithful discipleship.  He leads us into repentance with kindness.  He loves first.
  May we seek to love others first, and let that be our first word and our first thought.  May the eyes of our hearts be so enlightened.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Prayer for Thursday, June 18

Gracious God,
  Your love is not dependent upon our willingness or ability to receive it.  Like a geyser erupting from the ground, your love pours forth with great force, showering all, whether they are paying attention to you or not.  You love freely, with reckless abandon, hoping that all will understand that your love and grace are the path to ultimate joy and freedom.
  So many times, Lord, I get caught up in my own life, in my own troubles and strains, that I fail to properly grasp the goodness of your love.  I turn inward, paying attention to myself, and your love swirls around me, but I am unaware.  I focus on the self, while you call me deeper into your love, away from the self and towards you, who are selfless.
  Forgive my self-focus, my self-centeredness, my kingdom I have erected around the self.  Teach me to empty myself, that I may learn to love you more.


Ephesians 1:11-14

Ephesians 1:11-14
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I hate losing things.  It's so frustrating to think that you had something and then it was gone, right from under your nose, as though you never had it in the first place.  Whether it's car keys or a good book or some other possession, it can be so frustrating to lose something.
  There is much anxiety in the world today about losing the love of Christ, about 'backsliding' and losing salvation.  What Paul is saying here is that we who have hoped in Christ have been sealed in the Holy Spirit, wrapped in his love as the guarantee of our inheritance, the eternal life which has been grated to us in Christ.  We have been given life, and we need not fear something tearing it from us, for in Christ we are held firmly, securely, forever.  We will continue to falter, but in Christ we shall remain, from the seal of the Holy Spirit until well into forever, when we shall worship God in spirit and truth.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Prayer for Wednesday, June 17

Gracious God,
  Today, I give thanks for the relationships that surround me, and I pray for wisdom in serving others in those relationships as you have served.
  In the beginning, you said it is not good for us to be alone.  Scripture paints pictures of what relationship looks like, and I can learn from its pages that the people within a relationship need not be perfect, just willing to elevate the needs of the relationship over the needs of the individual.  Selfishness and pride get in the way, and then we reach out for what we want, often damaging the other.
  Forgive me, Lord, for those I have hurt, and may I have the wisdom and courage to reach out to them.  Forgive me, Lord, for the ways I have been selfish and ignored the needs of others.  In Jesus Christ, you illustrate selfless love.  You washed the feet of the disciples.  You were willing to value the relationship above your own needs, to the extent that you were willing to die on a cross to restore humans to a full relationship with God.
  May I have the courage the see the needs of others, and may I have the humility to serve them, as you have served.


Ephesians 1:1-10

Ephesians 1:1-10
English Standard Version (ESV)

   1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
   3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
  7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.


  Every spiritual blessing.
  He chose us.
  We should be holy and blameless.
  In him we have redemption.
  Riches of his grace.
  Lavished upon us.
  Uniting all things in him.

  Friends, we worship a good and perfect God, who pours out his love.  Whatever you do today, you do so immersed in the grace and love of God, who is at work in you and the world around you.  He is at work in the hearts of the saints of the church, and he is at work in the hearts of those who do not seek him.  He loves all that he has created, and he seeks the good for each of us.  He chose to love, freely choosing us even though he knew it would hurt him when we turned from him.
  Still, he loves us.  No matter what, he loves, and he offers forgiveness and grace.  Today, you are not far from God, no matter what.  God is near, and he lavishes his love upon you.  Be at peace in the love of God, and may the active grace and forgiveness of God transform your heart and mind today.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Prayer for Tuesday, June 16

Awesome God,
  I can't help buy be amazed at the unfolding of your plan.  When I look around the world, so often I see chaos and confusion, as humans reach for the nearest thing possible that promises stability.  We are so often uncertain in this life, and there are so many substitutes that calm anxious nerves for hours or days or months.  I can build upon these foundations for a time, and it soothes me.
  And yet, Lord, you gently reprimand, you softly and sweetly call us back into the deeper waters of discipleship, where things are less certain and more dependent on you.  To me, it feels scary, and yet it is ultimately the safest place to be, because as long as my eyes are fixed on you, the things of the world that threaten me will be recognized as distractions that cannot kill me, that cannot rip me from your arms.
  This is the work you have been doing for centuries, calling your people back to you, away from the sin of idolatry, away from the visible certainty and security we crave so deeply that it drives us from you and into building worldly kingdoms that, while visibly strong for a moment, will ultimately fail.  You have been building your kingdom, calling your people, here on earth, and nothing shall tear your kingdom down.  You call us, Lord, and you redeem your people, day in and day out, as your Spirit works among the world, sowing seed to bring your people back to you.
  Lord, may I join in this effort, recognizing your wisdom and power and the security I find only in you.  May this day be a joyous day of worship in you, and may I serve you with gladness in my heart all the day long.


Nehemiah 13:4-9

Nehemiah 13:4-9
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  To close out Nehemiah, we find that Nehemiah, who invested much of his life making reforms in Jerusalem, has left the city and returned to his former job.  In time, he goes back to Jerusalem, only to discover that many of the reforms he led have been undone, and much of life in Jerusalem has turned away from God.  Though many of the people pledged their faithfulness and devotion to God, in time that commitment faded, and they went back to life as usual.
  We all do this.  We get caught up in passionate moments and swear our devotion to God, only to discover that passion fades, and that in time we return to a steady state, and without habits and routines to guide us, we drift away from that dedication to the faithful life.
  This is why habits are so important.  They serve like the rumble strips on the side of the road--when we drift, they remind us of the greatness of God and the importance of our continued devotion and steadfastness. Our spiritual devotions keep us focused within a way of life, and they return our eyes and hearts to God when they drift toward other things.  If we rely upon ourselves and our own strength, we will stumble, but if we remind ourselves, over and over again, of the greatness of God, we allow God to lead us deeper into the faithful life, and we find that the faithful life is formed by small actions, day in and day our, when we make room to listen and look for what God is already doing in our lives.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Prayer for Monday, June 15

Holy Lord,
  You told us we cannot serve two masters, which I try to achieve not by serving one, but by serving many.  I seek so many different goals that my efforts are washed down, diminished by so many different things competing for my limited attention.
  Today, Lord, I humbly pray for the courage to take time throughout the day and remember your grace and love, to set aside quiet time to listen for your voice, to be still and know that it does not depend on me.  You are all powerful and all loving, and I pray for a day when I am reminded that my life is rooted in your love, and that you alone can build a kingdom which will have no end.
  May your glory lead my heart and mind today, and may I love you more today than I did yesterday, seeking you first above all else.


Nehemiah 10:32-39

Nehemiah 10:32-39
English Standard Version (ESV)

   When we've been given a rich and wondrous gift, our gratitude should lead us, in some way, to give back, because in doing so we honor both the gift and the giver.  In giving back, we demonstrate our gratitude and are reminded of the generosity that led to the gift.
  The difficult thing, I think, is to remember all the gifts God gives to us.  It's pretty easy to take a lot for granted, to accept the gift of every day of life as a right, rather than receiving it with gratitude as the amazing gift that it is.  We lose our sense of wonder and move on, one day to the next, ceasing to be grateful and just trying to make it through the next day.
  Today is a gift.  It is a miracle that God has created, and he alone is keeping the universe spinning in motion.  We don't deserve it, but it is given to us, freely, and we have one more day.  Let us remember to be grateful, and in so doing we will be led to give back out of amazement that we have been given such a wondrous gift.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Prayer for Saturday, June 13

  You have done everything for me.  You have created me, and I am uniquely and wonderfully  made.  You have knit me together, carefully bringing together billions and trillions of cells to make me into the incredible creation that the human body is.  You have cared for me, watching over me through all these years, steering me through some of the poor choices I have made, preserving me each and every moment, granting me the sweet gift of life.
  You have redeemed me, Lord, at great cost to you.  Long before I was born, you knew that I would be in need of redemption, and so you reached down in love and offered yourself on the cross so that I might have hope, so that the folly of my choices might not lead me to despair.  You didn't have to, Lord, but you did anyway, so great is your love.
  Now, Lord, I want to live for you, to give back out of gratitude, to offer myself back to you and in service to your Kingdom.
  But I'm not sure how.
  I know that I want to live for you, to learn to reach for your glory and pursue a relationship with you, but I'm so turned around and confused that I simply do not know how to live for you, how to keep you in the front of my mind throughout the day.  I endeavor to seek you first, and sometimes I'll do okay for a little while... but inevitably I get lost in something else, forgetting your presence and your love, and I wind up not circling back around to you until I lay down in the evening, reprimanding myself for not choosing to love you more.
  Teach me, lead me, Lord, that I may choose wisely, opting for what is good, what is pure, what is of you.


Friday, June 12, 2015

A Prayer for Friday, June 12

Dear God,
  On this Friday morning, as the week draws to a close, I pray that I may finish all things well.
  You, Lord, never cease to complete something.  When you make a promise, you live into it.  When you assure the people of your will, you do not stop until your will is complete.  There is nothing to stop your will, nothing to prevent your plans from unfolding.  In our time, humans have erected numerous barriers, plenty of obstacles, each one that should allow us to pursue our own ends, rather than yours.  And yet you push through them, moving your kingdom forward, tearing down our walls and reminding us that you alone are God.  We have sought our own kingdoms, believing that human strength can stand against you, and yet our own kingdoms erode and collapse, while your kingdom continues.
  Precious Lord, you have painted a picture of the end, when your kingdom alone shall stand, when darkness shall be vanquished and light alone will remain.  Your love will conquer fear and hatred, and your purity and perfection will reign forever.

  Teach me, O God, to finish well.  May I pursue your plans with all my might, and may I not give up, weary and distracted, to pursue something easier, something less.  May I not turn from the purpose of living faithfully, challenging though it may be.  This world will try and distract me, luring me from a singular purpose through the temptations of money and ease, and I pray for the courage to continue on, day by day, step by step, moment by moment, that I may serve you faithfully until the end, trusting you to carry me through and into eternity.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nehemiah 10:28-31

Nehemiah 10:28-31
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's tough to give things up.  In a consumerist society, we're accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it.  If a certain place doesn't have our desires, we can usually go somewhere else.  What happens, then, is that we become selfish -- we grow so used to having our every need and want met that, when they aren't, we are shocked because we have started to think that the world exists to meet our needs.  The world then shrinks down, because what only matters is what serves to meet our needs.  It becomes all about us.
  So what God calls us to do is give things up.  We give up working on a day every week.  We give up some of the money we earn and some of the food we can eat, and we are reminded that it's not all about us, that there is a world beyond us, and when we look up to see it, we see some jarring things -- we see hurt and pain and need, and we see other people around us.  By not focusing on ourselves, we recognize that we are part of a community, and that we have a role to play in this community, a role beyond simply taking.
  So God calls us to give things up.  It isn't easy, but when we sacrifice, we re-enact in a very small way God's selfless love.  We are reminded that there is a bigger world beyond us, and we are oriented towards that world to go out into it and serve others.

A Prayer for Thursday, June 11

  Sometimes, I like to imagine what it is like in your throne room.  I picture light emanating from your throne, streaming in glory from your majesty, overwhelming all, encompassing and surrounding all, so that no shadow remains, nothing hides to dim your glory.  There will not be a corner left in all creation to harbor a shadow or a bit of evil, for your glory will be complete.
  In that place, I will harbor no selfish appetites.  I will be overwhelmed by you, completely focused in awe, lost in wonder and having only one desire:  to worship you with every ounce of my being.  I doubt that I will have the focus to recognize the folly I invest in myself, for rather than spend time in regret, I will fall before the throne with my brothers and sisters and worship you for all that you are.  You are magnificent and perfect, and I endeavor to serve and worship you.
  You are good, Lord, and such majesty that exists belongs all to you.  There are not words in our language to express the thanks you deserve, so I pray that this humble life might somehow exist to serve you in gratitude and love.


Nehemiah 9:32-38

Nehemiah 9:32-38
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Because of all this, we make a promise.
  Because of the faithfulness of God, we are amazed at our Creator.  Because he has always been faithful, has always kept his promises, has always sought our good, even when we didn't realize it, we will stand in awe, we will fall in worship, we will bow before the throne in gratitude and praise for the love we have been shown.
  Because of all this, we make a promise.
  Because of the sinfulness we have witnessed, in ourselves and in those around us, we are frustrated at how twisted the human heart can be.  We have cheated and lied to get ahead.  We have ignored the needs of those around us.  We have not done the things that we know we should do, because they seem an inconvenience to us.  We have done things we should not have done, because we wanted them, because our appetites craved them, because we weren't strong enough to do the right thing.
  Because of all this, we make a promise--that we will repent and turn back to God, trusting in God alone to heal and forgive us, and we promise to seek God, even in the midst of the chaos and turmoil of life, and to trust in God and God alone for our future, knowing that only God will stand eternal, only God will last beyond the sun, only God can bring us from death to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Prayer for Wednesday, June 10

  When I get rushed, I tend to hurry my steps, hurry my thoughts, hurry, hurry, hurry.  I get anxious and start to feel the pressure closing in, as all I can think of is the next deadline, the next step, the next item.
  In these frenzied moments, slow me down enough to take a deep breath, to think of you and your grace and the eternity in which heaven shall dwell.  May this moment of peace pervade me, and may I see the ultimate things for what they are, recognizing the rush of the moment to be pulling my attention away from the eternal and into the immediate.  In these times, may I attend well and faithfully to the demands placed upon me, but may I do so with a spirit focused on you, centered on the eternal reality of your presence, and recognizing that worshiping you is my first priority in each and every moment of life.


Nehemiah 9:26-31

Nehemiah 9:26-31
English Standard Version (ESV)

  There's a pattern that emerges here pretty quickly.  The people turn from God.  The people's lives fall into disarray.  The people realize their sin and turn back to God, and God receives them with open arms.
  Over and over this happens, and somehow, God never gives up.  God never gives them their last chance.  Now, some of the consequences of their sin is pretty dire, but God is always willing to forgive, willing to take the people back, willing to do anything to rebuild the relationship, to redeem his beloved people from the hands of sin.  God's love triumphs over all obstacles.
  As you go out today, know that the love of God is with you, reaching out, ready to forgive, ready to enclose, ready to redeem and embrace.  God loves you, and nothing will ever break that love.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Prayer for Tuesday, June 9

  You are at work in the universe, beyond the scope of what my mind can take in.  You have created stars and planets, and the edge of the universe is still within the palm of your righteous hand.  Nothing is too big for you.
  Remind me, O Lord, that you are at work in the smallest places of the world as well.  May this anxious heart believe that you care for me, that your love abounds, that in the stillness of the morning you are deeply concerned for me.  Just as you care for the sparrow, your eye does not leave my presence, your love does not fail to enclose me.  There are seven billion people on this planet, Lord, and I am not lost in the crowd, too small to notice, too similar to the rest to stand out to my loving Father.  You are with me throughout my days, in my presence when I wake and when I eat, when I work and when I ramble.  You never leave, and your love is near, guiding me, assuring me, encouraging me.  On this day, may I be comforted by your presence and certain of your love, that in this vast universe that spins through space, you somehow have the ability to care for each and every one of your creations as though they were the only ones to love and provide for.  Your love is astounding, Lord.  May I be astounded today.


Nehemiah 9:22-25

Nehemiah 9:22-25
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The story of God and his people is a narrative.  It twists and turns, and sometimes it ends up in places we don't entirely understand.  It's hard to understand all the reasoning behind the story of the Israelites conquering the Promised Land, because there were a lot of people already living there, and in order for the Israelites to move in, they had to conquer these people.  For many years, tough questions have been asked about these conquests, and while credible scholars have given answers that I mentally grasp, I still wonder about why it had to happen this way.
  God does things I don't always understand.  I trust that God is always loving, gracious and kind, and that God reaches out to all people in the hopes that they will all come to know and love him, accepting his forgiveness and grace.  I believe this is all true about God.  I also believe that God cannot tolerate sin, and that sin must be destroyed in order for us to dwell with God forever.
  Despite all this, there are plenty of places and events in the Bible that I just don't understand.  I suppose I will some day, but until then I will trust that God is moving all of creation forward, and that our choice is to sit on the sidelines and question or to move forward with God, trusting him and yet still having the confidence to ask big questions, wondering why and yet still participating in what God is doing.  We don't have to know all the answers to take another step, we just have to trust that God is acting in perfect love and justice and will be faithful to his promises to love and forgive all who turn to him.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Prayer for Monday, June 8

Father in heaven,
  O, how you love.
  You have always loved, from the beginning of time love has defined who you are.  You have loved in the moment you set the planets in motion, just as you have loved when you created the ant and the aardvark and the zebra.  In every breath, we are surrounded by your great and abiding love.  We swim in it, taking it in and breathing it out.
  Teach us to appreciate your love, Lord, rather than taking it for granted.  Your love leads you to be patient and kind to us, even when we do not deserve such graciousness.  Your love, O Lord, has led me through the night and awakened me this morning.  It has placed a song within me, waiting to be sung, so that the world may know of your love. Teach me the words, my God.
  You are great and powerful and perfect.  Anything that is tinged by sin and filth must be made clean before entering into your presence.  Your throne room cannot be tainted by the presence of evil and brokenness.
  Your love, O Lord, washes me clean, time and time again.  It removes from my soul the pockmarks and divots that sin painfully carves into my being.  It restores me and makes me whole.
  Lord, when I am weak and tempted to turn to easy solutions and mindless diversions, remind me of your great love and all you have done for me, that I might turn to you in gratitude, undertaking the hard work of discipleship, of loving you more each and every moment.
  You love, Lord.  May I do the same today.


Nehemiah 9:16-21

Nehemiah 9:16-21
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Last night, we walked to the grocery store.  As a treat, we bought the kids lollipops.  Now, the lollipops at the store have wrappers, so after checking out I took Danielle's lollipop so I could remove the wrapper.
  And she cried.
  And cried.
  Because I took her lollipop.
  She didn't realize I was going to give it back to her, making it possible for her to eat and enjoy since the wrapper would be gone.  She just thought it was gone forever.
  We do the same thing to God.  God tries to steer us in one direction, and whenever it gets tough, we start to wonder if God has abandoned us, giving us up to the whims of fate, leaving us to fend for ourselves.  We cry out... when in fact God has never left our sides, always with us, preparing us for whatever comes next.  God is always building us up, moving us forward, encouraging us.
  I don't know why bad things happen in life, but I trust in the God who promises to lead us into eternal life, and so in the moments of chaos and confusion, I cling to Christ and believe that the future in his hands will enable me to some day understand all the difficult phases that I discovered along the road.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A sermon on Zechariah 3

Zechariah 3
English Standard Version (ESV)

 A Vision of Joshua the High Priest 
  3 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.
  4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” 5 And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.
   6 And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, 7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. 8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. 9 For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. 10 In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”


  I have a distinct memory of being in bed in college in the middle of the night and listening to the police bang on my door, asking me to open up with a lot of authority in their voice.  As I lay in bed, I kept wondering what they had found out about…

Now, I don’t have a whole lot in my past that has run afoul of the legal system, other than a lot of underage drinking.  It turns out my mother was trying to get a hold of me to tell me she had missed a flight and a security guard was the only one around to answer the common phone in the dorm.  But the guilt I felt in my soul was deep that night, and that feeling has stuck with me—I had the sense that what I had done in my past was going to affect my future. 

We’ve probably all had that feeling before.  I doubt that I’m the only one who has ever worried that something in my past was going to catch up with me, latch onto me and prevent my future from turning out like I had imagined.  Sometimes, those fears come true, and our future is changed by our past.  Sometimes, we simply live in fear and let those fears or worries haunt us for years, constantly nagged by guilt.

Today’s Scripture reading teaches us about guilt.  It reveals to us the reality of a fouled past, and it tells us something about the future, too, and how God is going to deal with us.

Here we have Joshua, the high priest.  This is a different Joshua than the city of Jericho – this Joshua was a solid high priest, a man of integrity who you would want to be a leader in a religious community.  If there was anyone out there who could stand before God, it would be Joshua.

But here, we see that even Joshua is standing before God clothed in filthy garments, his life tainted by the reality of sin.  Even Joshua is not worthy of standing before God and claiming to be righteous, and look who is right there, ready to accuse, willing to remind God and Joshua of how dirty Joshua is – it’s Satan, the accuser, the one who wants to bring us down, who wants to destroy us, to corrode what good there is in us and prevent God’s kingdom from spreading.  Satan is ready to accuse, and if Joshua was willing to listen to Satan, Joshua would probably be so downtrodden from the reality of the filth that clings to him that he wouldn’t bother attempting to stand before God.

But God intervenes.  Before Satan can say a word, before Joshua can turn in shame, God rebukes Satan for what he is trying to do.  With a word, Satan is rebuked, and God turns his attention to Joshua who, just like you, is a beloved creation and child of God.  Joshua’s filthy garments are removed, and there, in the presence of God, pure vestments are placed upon Joshua.  A clean turban is put on, and Joshua is granted access to the throne room of God if he is willing to walk in God’s ways.  God offers to remove the iniquity of the land, and invites Joshua into a new way of life, one based on the grace and forgiveness of God.

Notice a few things here.  First of all, God rebukes Satan before Satan can say a thing.  God offers grace and forgiveness to Joshua before Joshua speaks.  God acts first, on God’s initiative, pouring out love and peace and mercy on Joshua.  Friends, we worship a gracious God, who is filled with mercy and love.  From before the beginning, from before creation, God has always been acting first, reaching out in love before we can think to ask for it.  God loves you, and wants to see you accept his offer of mercy and forgiveness, and he will always be reaching out long before you think to turn to God.  God is ever ready to forgive.

Second, Satan is always ready to accuse.  We will not be free of his lies until God defeats Satan in the final victory, but we do have a choice.  We do not have to allow his words to guide our hearts.  He will always remind us of the times we have failed and how deeply we have sinned, but focusing our ears upon his words will only separate us from God through guilt.  In Christ, we have been set free from this guilt and allowed to live in the freedom of grace and love and new life, so opting to listen to Christ is declaring that our hearts and lives belong to God, and that the words of Satan will no longer set the course for how we steer our hearts and minds.

Finally, there is a need of Joshua for God’s forgiveness.  Even Joshua, a man of integrity and righteousness, is covered in filth compared to the holiness of God.  Even Joshua cannot claim to be in God’s presence on his own righteousness—he needs the grace of God to wash him clean and make him worthy.  Joshua could not make it on his own merit—he needed God’s help.  In the same way, we cannot hope to stand before God based on our own lives, no matter how clean they may be.  We are guilty and sinful before God, and were it not for the self-sacrifice of Christ, our futures would be filled with despair because of the reality of our past.  But since we have new life in Christ, we have new clothes put on us, as Christ has taken our old, filthy rags from us and clothed us in the pure vestments that belong to him and are his to give.

They are given freely.  Accept the love and forgiveness that comes in Christ, and let the reality of God’s peace transform your life.  Be freed from anxiety.  Let your worry go.  Set your mind not on the things of your past, but focus on the future that God has made available, and live as a forgiven child of God, inviting others to come and experience that peace that comes from not having to worry about the sins of your past, rather being free to grow in your excitement about the future God has in store for you.

Let us pray 

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Prayer for Friday, June 5

My God,
  You are worthy of all praise and worship.  From before the beginning, you are good.  You are perfect and you are loving.  Your judgments are perfect and just, and your might is unassailable.  No one could remove you from your throne, where you rule with wisdom and power.  The elders fall down before your throne and worship, and there is no greater place in existence than your throne room.  You dwell in unapproachable light, and your Kingdom shall have no end.
  Lord, I confess that I do not constantly keep you in my thoughts.  My mind races from task to task, worrying about achieving results and fretting what others might think of me along the way.  I am in constant turmoil, pulled from different directions, and my mind races as I consider all that is before me.  My thoughts drift far from you.  Forgive me of this, for placing other things before you as priorities, for forgetting that my ultimate goal is to worship you at all times.
  Lord, as I go along today, remind me that I am in your hands, that nothing is impossible in you and that you will never be separated from me.  Encourage me, forgive me, empower me and embolden me, so that I may be a selfless servant who washes the feet of others in the hopes that your kingdom may advance and you may receive the glory you deserve.  May my mind and heart be singularly-focused on praising you in my thoughts, in my deeds, in my work and in my relationships.  May first things be first today, and may my fretting heart and racing thoughts find their rest in you.


Nehemiah 9:9-15

Nehemiah 9:9-15
English Standard Version (ESV)

 We all want to know what's going to happen in the future.  We look forward with anticipation to see what might come, eager to know the future, wondering if our greatest hopes or fears will come to pass.  We spend much energy worrying about the future, wondering about the future, mulling over endless possibilities of what today and tomorrow might hold.
  The Bible spends a lot of time on the future, but the Bible also calls us to look back, for in looking backward we are anchored--we remember who we are, and we remember how we've arrived at today.  As a people focused on God, we remember all that God has done, and in doing so, our hearts are shaped in such a way that we come to expect God to continue to be reliable, for we have this common memory lodged within us of all the times when God was perfectly faithful to his promises.  We learn about how God is dependable and trustworthy, and each story we read about God's faithfulness gives us a little more confidence to place more and more trust in God, until we find ourselves lost in him, so complete is our love and dependence upon the One who shall never fail us.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Prayer for Thursday, June 4

Lord of the earth,
  You have created a world filled with stunning beauty.  The colors of the morning sky reveal wonders renewed.  Flowers in bloom unveil their intricate designs while hummingbirds dart from place to place to dine on the nectar.  Granite mountains tower over pristine lakes as bears and deer trot across the landscape.  The tiniest creature goes about its day as the eagle soars high above.  The world sings of your glory and your wisdom in designing such a place.
  And here you have placed us, Lord, to enjoy your creation, marveling at the beauty around us and recognizing that it all points back to you.  The awe of vast migration and the wonder of cells dividing should all reflect your glory.  Many have lost the ability or desire to see beyond the creation to the One who created.  Lord, may your Holy Spirit continue to work in me so that I never fail to give glory to the author of the wonder around me, and may I live in such a way as to point beyond the glory in creation and encourage others to ask big questions, trusting that the answers they come to will help them see that creation exists because you love to expand your love and your grace.  May I take such joy in creation that others notice my orientation and seek to dive into a relationship with the God who created from nothing and creates anew each and every morning.
  Your mercies, O Lord, are new every morning.  May I be reconverted today to kneel before your throne and sing your praises once more.


Nehemiah 9:6-8

Nehemiah 9:6-8
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I mess up as a parent.  I try to do it right, and I would say I get it right more often than not, but I've got a long way to go.  I lose my patience.  I get frustrated.  I'm imperfect.
  We all are in some way.  It could be as a parent or a child or a sibling or a friend or a co-worker.  We fail those around us, and sometimes we don't even feel that guilty about it.
  God, however, never fails.  God never gives up on a promise.  God is always faithful and endures to the end.  Though the world may crumble around us, God's word will endure, and his kingdom shall know no end.  Put your trust in him and you will never be disappointed.  The Lord creates, and the Lord sustains.  He alone is righteous and perfect, and he will keep his promises forever!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Prayer for Wednesday, June 3

All powerful God,
  I link power to demonstrated strength.  When I see people with large muscles, I know they are strong, and I believe they are powerful.  When others get large groups of people to follow them and do as they please, this strength is understood as power.
  You, however, change all this.  You demonstrate your power and strength by choosing to serve.  You willingly lay down your strength and serve in humility, with love and gentleness, so that others may be welcomed into your embrace, motivated by love, rather than driven by fear.  You lay yourself down in humility so that others may be lifted up, and in doing so you demonstrate true power and strength.  Your power is not rooted in physical strength, and it's not demonstrated through coercion, but it rather shows up when you kneel to wash the feet of the disciples, when you willingly spend time with the outcast, when you ascend the cross to absorb the blows of my sin.  You, O Lord, demonstrate your strength and power in stunning and incredible ways, and it is so hard for me to accept your love and grace.
  Convert me once more, O Lord, that this heart may find its true rhythm in you.  Teach me to show your strength in a willingness to serve others, and grant me a life that seeks to use whatever strength I have to lift the eyes of others to the hills, from whence my help comes, for it comes from you alone!


Nehemiah 9:1-5

Nehemiah 9:1-5
English Standard Version (ESV)

 What's a balanced meal include?  Ice cream, cookies, and a milkshake would make for a full (& delicious!) meal, but it wouldn't be balanced.  Caleb eats nothing but chicken, chips and milk, and we're counting on his no-vegetable phase being temporary.  A balanced meal includes a little bit of everything to keep us healthy.
  In the same vein, being spiritually balanced includes different activities.  Repentance is a vital part of a faithful life, but it's not the only part.  We read Scripture as a way to grow and learn more about God and a faithful response to God.  We should shout and rejoice and worship God, giving praise to Almighty God in response to his goodness.  We go out and serve, loving others as we have been loved.  A Christian life includes a little bit of everything, all oriented around God.
  Don't isolate one part of the faithful life from the rest--immerse in the totality of the disciplines, recognizing how one aspect of faith enriches the next!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Prayer for Tuesday, June 2

Amazing and Awesome God,
  You are all-knowing.  There is not an event in the universe that escapes your mind, and not a thought that passes through the mind of humans that is not known to you.  The ocean of information that is new every second is not too great for you, and the smallest, most trifling occurrence in my day is not too small for you.  You have knowledge of all, and of each.
  Your wisdom and power are amazing, God.  You have created this world and you care for it.  You know all, even the most hurtful, damaging thoughts we think, and still you love us, and still you offer redemption and new life to us.  When our minds become twisted and hateful, you still create a pathway through repentance back to new life, back to wholeness.  When we turn violently against you and one another, you open your arms on the cross and let the vastness of your love be known for all to see and all to be saved.  You redeem, you provide, you rescue, you save.
  Lord, you know all.  You care about all.  Your hands are at work in each and every life.  Thank you, Lord, for how deeply you care and how well you provide.  Remind me throughout this day to be amazed at how wonderful you are.


Nehemiah 8:13-18

Nehemiah 8:13-18
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  Sometimes, it's important to remember just how far you've come.  We get so accustomed to our current surroundings that we often forget how long the journey was and just how challenging it was to get there.  We just think it's always been this way, and we also tend to forget about the people who helped us reach our current state.  They fade from memory, but our own effort remains.
  So the Jews had this festival to go and live in temporary structures for a time to remember when they were wanderers in the wilderness.  It reminded them that God had led them through, that God had helped them triumph over the wilderness, that they had come through chaos and found order.  It was a good reminder that they hadn't done this on their own, that they needed God in order to go forward.  They hadn't made it to Jerusalem on their own.
  Wherever you are, you haven't made it their on your own.  People have helped you out.  God has led you and equipped you.  God has made it possible for you to make it this far, and it's worth taking some time out to stop and thank God for leading you this far, and to pray for the grace to go forward from here.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Prayer for Monday, June 1

Holy God,
  It's a new day.  The earth that you have made and continue to support has twirled in its orbit and the sun has started to rise, and today is filled with possibility.  Throughout today, your Spirit will be alive and you will be on the move, awakening hearts to the reality of your presence and opening eyes to your work in the midst of our broken and beautiful world.  May this life be interested in your work today.  May this heart break for the things that break your heart, and may these hands join in demonstrating your Kingdom to the world.
  You spent your earthly ministering serving those in need and loving those who were around you.  May I do the same, focused on the person in front of me, next to me, rather than worrying about so many distant and unfounded things.  May this moment be an offering to you, and when it is finished, may I turn to the next, taking things one step, one person, one word and one action at a time, ensuring that it glorifies you, and then, and only then, moving forward.  Keep me from rushing into the future -- may I trust that it will arrive on your time, and that I will be strengthened for the moment when it arrives.


Nehemiah 8:9-12

Nehemiah 8:9-12
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  When we stop and look back at how God wants us to live, and then we compare that with how we are actually living, there is often cause for weeping.  God calls us to live in community, selflessly serving one another and showing unconditional love to all, including our enemies.  Our focus should be on God's Kingdom, rather than our own wants and desires.
  I know my own life is far from this reality, and so there is cause for weeping.  But Nehemiah and Ezra remind the people that they need not grieve--there is cause for celebration, for God is merciful and kind, inviting us into a life of repentance that leads to new life.  God is generous and wants us to turn back to him, and so while there is an appropriate time to mourn, there is also time to feast and celebrate the goodness and mercy of God.  May the joy and peace of God animate us to live with gratitude in our hearts and to share the mercy of God with others.  There will be time for mourning--let us remember to celebrate how wondrous our God is!