Friday, July 31, 2020

Do your very best to present yourself before God as one who has passed the test — a workman who has no need to be ashamed, who can carve out a straight path for the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15 (NTE)

My mom is a skilled pianist. She’s the kind of musician who makes you regret quitting your piano lessons as a kid. She’s an amazing sight-reader, too, so just about everything she plays sounds good on the first try. Of course, she wasn’t born that way. She developed the skill over a lifetime. She’s told me what it was like to learn. She told me that a few years into learning, it stopped being fun before it started being fun again, and that took powering through. She told me how her dad (also a musician) said you only really know a piece when you can play it three times in a row without a mistake. My mom is a skilled pianist not by chance, but because she spent years fine-tuning her gift, working hard at it, making sacrifices for it, and dedicating time to it. 

In today’s passage, Paul exhorts Timothy, a young church leader, to dedicate himself fully to the work God has called him to. Paul says “do your very best…[be] a workman who has no need to be ashamed.” Paul is inviting Timothy to develop skill and proficiency for what he’s called to do. Paul is challenging him to give his all in following Christ so he can share the gospel with confidence. 

This is the kind of development we’re called to as Jesus’ disciples. Sometimes it’s fun; sometimes it stops being fun and we stick with it. Sometimes it comes easily; sometimes it takes massive perseverance. We do not become better disciples by chance, but because we spend years fine-tuning our gifts, working hard, making sacrifices, and dedicating our time to this pursuit of following Jesus wholeheartedly. We become better disciples because we rely more and more on God, who is always with us, challenging us, encouraging us, empowering us. The more we commit ourselves to living this way, the more confidently we will live this way.

My mom has been playing the piano for 64 years, and she still practices almost every day. I suspect this is for three reasons: first, even as a highly skilled musician, she knows she’s never finished growing. Second, because she’s gotten really good at this skill, using it brings her joy. Third, because she’s gotten really good at this skill, using it brings others joy. Those three things are true as we practice a life of discipleship, too. May you give your all in following Christ; may your growth beget confidence, and your confidence beget joy; and may you share the gift of Jesus’ love so as to bring joy to others, as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Today’s devotion is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“We brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” – 1 Timothy 6:7-8

“He who has the most toys, wins.” I am not sure who first said this, but this is a quote I have heard often.  Yet what I have found in my own life as I have accumulated things over the years, as did my mother and grandmothers before me, is that the beloved china and collectibles are not treasured in the same way by future generations.  I always thought I could pass on some of these things to my children, but so far my family has shown no interest in these things and I will just end up leaving them things that they will have to figure out how to get rid of once I am gone. 

Like the Bible verse in 1 Timothy says, we bring nothing into this world with us and we will take nothing out of it when we die. Yet why do we feel we have to fill up our lives in between with things we don’t really need?  Shouldn’t we just be happy with “our daily bread”, or in other words, our food, clothing, shelter and basic needs?  Granted, there are some things I own that make it easier to do what I need to do, such as my computer to help me compose this devotion and participate in our virtual worship services.  And having a car makes it easier for me to get around, and there are other things as well that are useful to me.  Still, there is a lot I own that is purely decorative or was an impulse buy at one time.  And I can’t say that all of it has brought me contentment, and maybe even left me with less understanding and empathy for those who have less.

The text for this day should probably have also included the verse right before verses 7 and 8.  Verse 6 says this: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” In other words, our relationship with Christ brings us a contentment that nothing we own can ever give to us.  And that’s the true contentment we should all be seeking in our lives.  Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2020

“The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” —Proverbs 2:6

I have a bad habit that I’m usually able to convince myself is actually a good habit. Most days, I bombard my brain with data and information for as many seconds as I can tolerate. I read the news. I read analysis of the news. I read about sports. I look at statistics. I listen to podcasts. I read books (not as much as I’d like). I read email newsletters. I read emails from real people I actually know.

And I read the Bible. And I pray. And I spend a little bit of quiet time with God.

But too often I feel overwhelmed and unfocused, like the information is all coming at me too fast for me to do anything with it. I’m like a hungry man being pelted with fresh fruit and vegetables by the 30 best pitchers in baseball throwing at me simultaneously. It’s not really that helpful.

I think at the heart of the problem is misplaced faith. When I was in seminary, each day on the way to class I would walk past a stone engraving with words from Proverbs 9: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The verse from Proverbs 2 that is part of today’s Daily Texts gets at the same idea. Knowing the Lord and being known by the Lord is the path to real, lasting, meaningful wisdom.

I’m not suggesting that followers of Jesus shouldn’t read anything but the Bible. All truth is God’s truth, and learning about God’s creation and our fellow beloved human beings is a central way of loving God with our minds.

At the same time, we must remember where trustworthy wisdom and understanding really come from. So often, I get overwhelmed, anxious, or confused trying to take in all the information around me. In these moments, when I’m forced to slow down, to encounter God, to remember God’s truth and God’s promises, I’m able to see the world around me through the lens of my faith-in-Jesus worldview.

When I’m worked up about the sin and lack of integrity in the world at large, it helps to be reminded that this is exactly the same sin and lack of integrity that exists inside of me. And it helps to be reminded that God is not surprised by this sin and lack of integrity. In fact, he has already worked his master plan to deal with it comprehensively through the love of Jesus Christ.

When I’m anxious about the future of my career or community or country or world, it helps to be reminded that God’s promises and presence are much bigger than any of the fears that I can conjure (real as those fears may be).

The Confessing Church leader Karl Barth reportedly told young theologians “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” Those of us committed to loving God are all young theologians, and so the call to us is the same. By all means, learn. Learn from anyone you can. But do not forget the true source of wisdom and understanding. Do not forget the promises the Lord has made to you. Do not forget that our Lord has a plan for you and for this world he loves so much.

Friday, July 24, 2020

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down! –Isaiah 64:1

Rescue us from the evil one. –Matthew 6:13

A couple days ago, I watched the movie 1917. If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend it (ideally in a space where you won’t be embarrassed uttering involuntary, audible gasps like I did.) In the film, set in France during WWI, two British soldiers are tasked with traveling on foot to stop another regiment from walking, unwittingly, into a German trap. The movie begins with these two young men ready to risk their lives in an attempt to rescue 1,600 soldiers from peril they’re not even aware lies ahead of them.

The passages we’re reading today are requests for rescue. They are prayers asking God to intervene powerfully. Sometimes these words sound more dramatic, more weighty, than I feel my everyday circumstances merit. Jesus’ words at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from the evil one,” and Isaiah’s desire for the Lord to “tear open the heavens,” sometimes feel disproportionately epic and cinematic relative to my own day-to-day life. And yet, like the regiment in the film, we are all in desperate need of rescue, whether we see it clearly or not. What Jesus did for us truly is an event of epic proportion. Jesus defeated death. We call Jesus “Savior because he has rescued you and me from the snare of sin, from our own inclination to separate ourselves from God, and from walking toward the things that would harm us. Jesus instructs his followers to pray “deliver us from the evil one” because there are strong forces that would pull us away from God without Jesus’ ultimately reliable protection. 

The especially wonderful news is, we don’t have to hold our breath wondering if we’ll be rescued. We already have been. Jesus’ death and resurrection sealed the deal for good. We can approach each day—regardless of how epic or mundane it may seem—rejoicing in that rescue. As we continue to pray for God’s intervention and protection (as Isaiah demonstrated and as Jesus instructed) we can live in the secure knowledge that God has defeated the enemy in definitive and permanent ways. 

It can be difficult to really take in these large-scale truths. May you find moments today to marvel at the sheer scale of what Jesus’ has done. May your words, attitudes, and behaviors be motivated by the staggering reality that you have been forever rescued by your Savior, Jesus.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” – Mark 4:26-29

Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. What we see from his teachings and the manner in which Jesus lived, just how different God’s kingdom is from Earthly kingdoms. Where earthly kingdoms rule through force and oppression, God’s kingdom rules in service and love. Where Earthly kingdoms place the highest value on those things that separate us and actually diminish our enjoyment of life, God’s kingdom shows us that the highest values are love of God and love of neighbor. It’s living those principles out that will bring us true life and freedom.

Jesus’ promise in this parable is that when we look around and it seems impossible that earthly kingdoms will ever be unseated or that sins of greed, bigotry, or sexism will ever go away, through his life, death, and resurrection the seed was planted. The coming of the kingdom of God is “as inevitable as seed growing and producing fruit for harvest.”[i]

So then, may we encourage the growth of God’s kingdom today through our thoughts, words, and deeds.

[i] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, p. 336

Monday, July 20, 2020

Today’s devotion is written by Deacon Karen Katamay

Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness. I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away.  – Isaiah 46:12-13

I had to smile a bit when I read this passage.  Can’t we all be a little stubborn-hearted at times?  This passage ties in so well with Pastor Dan’s message on Sunday about Noah, and what was happening in the world at that time.  The people were sinful and stubborn-hearted, turning away from God and God’s righteousness.  God had every right to give up on the human race, but he provided a way for the human race and creation to survive through Noah and his family and all the animals on the ark.

Today we can be just as stubborn-hearted as the people back then.  We know exactly what God should do, so why doesn’t he do it?  Why doesn’t he just speak the words or wave his hand and make the coronavirus go away?  Why doesn’t he bring an end to all the violence in the world, and solve all the world’s problems for us?  Shouldn’t our will be God’s will, too?  Yes, we are a stubborn people, thinking we know better than God about everything.  And that includes me at times, too. 

But no matter how stubborn or self-righteous we are, God always gives us a way back, bringing his righteousness and salvation near to us through Jesus.  We only have to read the Bible to know through what Jesus taught us that God and God’s kingdom are near.  We have to trust that God understands our suffering and our pain and is with us through all of this.  He sighs when we sigh, and weeps when we weep, and surrounds us with his comfort and grace.  And we know that when God is by our side, and works with us and through us, that every little thing we do to make this world a better place and to ease the sufferings of others helps God’s kingdom draw a little bit closer.  Yes, God’s righteousness is not far away, it’s here.  You only have to believe!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. – Titus 2:11

Friday, July 17, 2020

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. –Deuteronomy 10:17

If you zoom out from today’s verse, you’ll see that it’s nestled among other verses (Deuteronomy 10:12-22) that capture two different, but equally essential, elements about God’s character.

In verse 15, God is intimately personal. Moses shares with the Israelites God’s message about their unique history: “..the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all nations, as it is today.” Words like “affection,” “loved,” and “chose” remind the Israelites that they are beloved, and they have a special covenantal relationship with their Lord. A few verses later, Moses also reminds the Israelites that God cares deeply for individual people, especially those who are easily left out and marginalized—the widow, the homeless, the fatherless—and that they should be concerned for all people, too. God is personal. 

At the same time, this passage is peppered with unambiguous pronouncements that God is infinitely powerful. Moses reminds Israel that their LORD rules the heavens and the earth, is great and mighty and awesome, is God of gods and Lord of lords, and is worthy of fear and service. God reigns over everything that was, and is, and will be…all of it. God is beyond our comprehension.

God is both personal and infinite. God takes an interest in the details of your life, and God is also omnipotent and limitless. That’s hard for me to wrap my mind around. Holding both of these truths about God’s character in balance is tricky. It may even seem counterintuitive. But it’s important as we seek to know God more fully. It’s a balance I need to ask God’s help to maintain. Sometimes I find myself thinking only of God’s friendship, and I forget that God is infinitely powerful; sometimes I think only of God’s vastness, and forget that God is relational and loving. But how truly wonderful that we get to serve a God who really is both of these things all the time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Today’s devotion was written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for each other.” – 1 Peter 4:7-8

During Lent of this year I led a Bible study on the Lord’s Prayer.  Most of us know the prayer by heart and can recite it easily if asked.  The problem for us can be that we recite it so often, that we sometimes forget to focus on what those words mean.  The study was just as helpful for me as it was for my group, because it helped me dig in to the meaning of each part of the prayer and explore it in depth.

As we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, one helpful thing to remember is that this is a group prayer.  Our Father … give us this day … forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us … and lead us not … but deliver us.  See the pattern?   Jesus was teaching us more than just a prayer to pray, he was teaching us to care for each other and to pray for one another.  Everything we do, and every time we pray, we are to show our constant love for each other.  We are to pray for daily bread for all who are hungry.  We are to forgive others as we ask for our own forgiveness.  We pray that God will deliver all of us from evil and keep all of us from temptation.

My favorite part of the prayer is about God’s kingdom. (Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven).  I dream for the day when life on earth can be as it is in heaven, with everyone loving each other and caring for each other and following God’s will each and every day.  Jesus gives us so many different images for what the kingdom of God is like.  We can think of a net thrown into the sea, catching fish of every shape and kind and color, including all and leaving none out.  We can think of yeast being mixed into flour, changing the flour and helping it to expand and grow and flourish. We can think of the kingdom of God as a great banquet, where all are invited and no one is left out and everyone has enough to eat.  And many more. Jesus gave us these images because that is how he wanted us to see our life on earth – as the kingdom of God here on earth, with everyone loving and caring for each other.

So take time to pray the Lord’s Prayer this week and pause after each petition, reflecting on what it means.  You can use the contemporary or traditional version, whichever you are more comfortable with. It might give the prayer a whole new meaning for you and a new love for all.

And the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, forever and ever, Amen.

Monday, July 13, 2020

“…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” —Ephesians 4:24

A couple years ago, Jade and I were invited to a wedding being held outside in September. September in this area seems to have more than its fair share of beautiful, pleasant days. This particular early September day was beautiful, but also quite hot. The prospect of attending a wedding outside on a hot day led to some (attempted) negotiating on my part to figure out just how casually I could dress and have it still be appropriate for a wedding. In the end, I think I avoided needing to wear a suit jacket. But the tie, the long sleeved shirt, the long pants, the closed toed shoes—those were all ruled mandatory. Fair enough.

We’ve probably all experienced the awkwardness of being overdressed or underdressed for a social event. Usually it’s not as dramatic as it appears in a movie or TV show, but there is something that throws us off about not looking like we belong where we are. And, conversely, there’s some truth to the idea that feeling like we “look the part” helps us to relax and bring our best selves to a situation.

In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, the apostle Paul picked up on this idea. Paul used the metaphor of clothing to describe taking off the “old self” and putting on the “new self.” This isn’t about physical appearance. There’s no uniform or single way to dress for followers of Jesus. Rather, it’s about what happens inside (in our minds) and what happens outside (in our words and actions). Paul recognized that there are patterns of thought, words, and actions that no longer make any sense once we’ve been told about Jesus.

Once we know about Jesus, the old way of grasping whatever we can get our hands on doesn’t make any sense. The new self lives simply, with openness and generosity.

Once we know about Jesus, the old way of fear and anxiety over the future doesn’t make any sense. The new self looks forward with hope, because the future rests in the Father’s hands.

Once we know about Jesus, the old way of fighting back every time we’re wronged doesn’t make any sense. The new self is formed by the same mind that Jesus had when he suffered for sinners and forgave his executioners.

For so many of us, the old self is like an old outfit that we keep in our closet and try on every once in a while. It’s not a comfortable outfit. To be honest, it never really worked for us. But it’s familiar and hard to get rid of. But if it wasn’t any good for us before, it’s even worse for us now. Why? Because now we have new and better clothing, clothing that brings out our unique beauty, that fits us perfectly, that feels like it was made just for us.

God has made you with purpose. God has made you to be you. God has given you the gift of the new self. So put away the old self, the old clothes that never really worked for you. And put on the new self, created to be like your Father in heaven.

Friday, July 10, 2020

One generation shall laud your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4

Since we’ve been worshiping from home, I’ve been in the Redeemer sanctuary only a handful of times. Each time I walk through those glass doors, I can’t help but laugh. Maybe you remember the banner set up right by the Welcome Table. It says, “Be Contagious.” The irony, right?

But today’s passage reminds me of why those words really are so important, despite how currently inappropriate they sound. This pandemic has certainly drilled home our capacity to spread what is bad. Yet this Psalm reminds us of our capacity to spread the ultimate good, infinitely and exponentially. The Psalmist marvels at what happens over time, over generations even, when people sing God’s praises. When one generation “lauds [God’s] works,” the next generation gets to catch the good news too, and they can pass it on to the next generation, and so forth. The world is changed.

And the reality is, we are direct beneficiaries of people’s commitment to share the good news of Jesus. My guess is you met Jesus because someone introduced you to him, or helped you get to know him better. Maybe it was a parent or a friend or someone else. Who helped you make Jesus’ acquaintance? Who helped you to understand who he is and what he did for you? Who helped you clear out your misconceptions so you could really nurture that relationship? People have been doing that for a long time and it’s why you get to know Jesus now. When we’re generous with the news we’ve received, we have the capacity to influence and impact generations to come, as well.

Sometimes Jesus’ call to share the Good News can be intimidating. If it feels that way to you, be encouraged by the Psalm. Each new generation came to know God because the ones before them couldn’t help but talk about how great he is. It really can be that simple. When you talk about what Jesus has done for you, about Jesus’ deep and unswerving love for you, about how following Jesus changed your lifeand when you share those things with authentic loveit’s a pure blessing to those who get to hear it. You’re making an introduction, you’re nurturing a new relationship, you’re making sure future generations get to know how great God is, too.

A few years ago our Faith in Action t-shirts featured a picture of a dandelion with its seeds (are they called seeds?) blowing away in the wind. The implication is ongoing, far-reaching impact. That’s the kind of impact we’re talking about here, but bigger. How might you change the world simply by singing God’s praises today?