Monday, August 31, 2020

“God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” —Acts 17:27-28

In Acts 17, the apostle Paul arrives in the city of Athens. While waiting in Athens for the arrival of some co-workers, Paul observes the religious practices of the city’s people. Paul is on a mission from God, so naturally he decides to spend time in both the local synagogue and marketplace, trying to persuade anyone who’ll listen of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ: that there is one God who is Lord over the whole earth and desires a relationship with each and every one of us through the work of his Son.

Eventually, Paul is invited to an elite philosophical forum. While speaking to this group, he contrasts the true God who made all of us with false “gods” built by human hands. Paul quotes Greek philosophers who, despite not yet knowing the one true God, spoke wise words about our relationship to God. Idols (things we pretend are God) are always our own creation. By contrast, the true God, the Father of Jesus Christ, made each of us and all that we know. He is the creator, and we are his creation. Our lives are his handiwork.

There’s a lot going on in this story of Paul’s time in Athens. For today though, let’s keep it simple: You have life because God has given you life. When you move, you move in God’s world with the body God has given you. Your very being is the product of God’s intentional act to create a world. And God created that world so that he could love that world.

You are not alone. You’re not disconnected from the source of life. You’re not an accident. God is not far from you. You are you because God wants you to be you. You are his child, a claimed, beloved child of the one true God and King.

So today, let’s live like it. Let’s remember that every move we make, we make as God’s children. “In him we live and move and have our being.”

Friday, August 28, 2020

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you. —Psalm 63:1

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me.” —John 7:37

In grade school, when my class would come in from recess on a hot day, we’d stop at the water fountain before heading back to the classroom. After putting all we had into climbing on monkey bars, playing freeze tag, and racing each other on the black top, we’d pour back into the school building and discover we were all desperately thirsty. I remember reaching the front of the line at the water fountain and feeling like I could drink forever and never get enough. And because we all felt that way, each kid had a five-second limit, or else we’d be there till the afternoon bell rang. As the kid behind me would count 1…2…3…4…5, I’d gulp down as much water as I could, each second precious and wonderful. Somehow this post-recess water was always cooler, sweeter, and more satisfying than anything else, and we couldn’t get enough of it.

I love when the Bible taps into our physical sensations to help us understand God. Today’s passages invite us to access our experience of thirst. Take a moment to recall what it feels like to be very thirsty. Now take a moment to recall how deeply satisfying it is to quench that kind of thirst with a generous sip of fresh water. This is the kind of interaction that occurs between our spirit and God. When Jesus invites all who are thirsty to come to him, we are reminded that he is essential for our survival. We are reminded that drawing closer to him is sweeter and more satisfying that anything else.

Consider your current state of spiritual thirst. Perhaps, you’re staying hydrated: turning to God with regularity, steadily bringing God your needs and concerns, relying on Scripture routinely to sustain you, getting your spiritual 6-8 glasses a day. Perhaps, you’re like a child on the playground, running around getting thirstier by the minute without even knowing it, and only understanding just how parched you are when you stop and take stock. Maybe your thirst has grown gradually; you’re not especially uncomfortable yet, but you know that soon you will be, if you don’t stop and hydrate. Or perhaps you’ve recently taken a sip, and that cool rush you feel when it hits your belly lets you know just how badly you needed it. Or maybe you know perfectly well that you’re thirsty, but you keep drinking coffee and eating salty food, all the time aware that it’s time to pour yourself a tall glass of what your spirit really needs. How would you describe your current awareness of your own spiritual thirst, and how are you responding to it? How would you like to respond to it?

The fact is, sometimes we’re like the psalmist and we recognize our thirst. At other times, we ignore it or forget about it or try to satisfy it with things that only make us thirstier. But Jesus’ ability to quench our thirst always stands. Whether you can feel your soul’s thirst or not, these passages remind us that we need Jesus on a regular and ongoing basis in order to keep our souls healthy and hydrated. Only Jesus can provide that kind of life-giving, life-sustaining refreshment. And this goodness is to be enjoyed and shared generously for the well being of us all.

As you go through this day, consider turning your own encounters with thirst and water into acts of prayer. Each time your body feels thirsty, meditate on your soul’s need for God. And each time you quench that thirst with a sip of water, meditate on how God is the one who satisfies and sustains you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

You have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:24-25

We all know what it feels like to want to be forgiven by someone. You’ve probably even had a time where you wanted to be forgiven so badly that you got angry at someone for their refusal to forgive you! It’s funny how quickly we forget this when we’re the ones who have been hurt. I’m sure we all have times where we are embarrassed about how angry we got about something or how we let a simple misunderstanding snowball into a bigger deal that it ever should have been.

But we also have relationships where extending forgiveness really takes work. Where the wrong that was done to us cut too deep, became too frequent, or was simply too painful. Where we aren’t even ready to want to forgive let alone extend forgiveness. When I think about those times in my life I feel convicted by, and grateful for, the words God speaks in today’s verses.

In Isaiah we read that God is pained by the fact that he’s given so much and the one thing he’s asked for in return, the love and trust of God’s people, they haven’t really even tried to do. God says, that this is a burden to him. In effect, the weight of the world’s sin, those things we do that pain God (and then sometimes blame God for), become God’s responsibility to forgive. God, who has done nothing wrong, is the one who has to do all the heavy lifting to repair the relationship. As one theologian puts it, in these verses “we sense the cross that God is already carrying.”

Recognizing then that God had taken it upon Godself to repair this relationship with us, may you go through today, forgiving as you have been forgiven and loving others as you are loved.

Monday, August 24, 2020

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” —Psalm 23:5

David, who composed Psalm 23, was a great and successful military leader. Despite his successes (or perhaps because of his successes), he spent much of his life under threat from enemies. Sometimes these were enemies of his people. Other times, he faced threats from within his own people, from a king he served loyally and a son he loved unconditionally.

So when David wrote about God’s presence and provision when in the presence of enemies, it wasn’t abstract or hypothetical. David knew what it meant to have people out for his head. David knew the deep pain of being deeply wronged by those he deeply loved. In the midst of this pain, David knew the power of the presence of God, the God who was greater and more faithful than David’s enemies. David knew that the faithfulness of God was far more important than the faithlessness of his friends and family.

David knew exactly who he was talking about when he talked about “enemies.” For most of us, we probably don’t think of people as “enemies” too often. Yet, unfortunately, all of us face times when we’re treated as enemies. Maybe you’ve been betrayed or rejected by someone you love. Maybe you’ve been treated unjustly for no good reason. Maybe you’ve been treated with suspicion because of something you have no control over. Maybe you’ve been ignored and neglected, left on the outside looking in. Maybe you’re seen as worthy of disdain because of some political view you do or don’t have. Maybe you’ve been written off as unworthy of respect. Maybe you’ve suffered an inexplicable relational breakdown that hurts like hell and makes no sense.

The reality of living in human society is that we’ll sometimes have breakdowns in relationships. The reality of living in our hyper-connected global society is that these breakdowns can happen at a macro scale that none of us has much individual control over.

People who trust our Heavenly Father are free to respond to this tragic reality in at least two ways.

First, like David we remember that God will not abandon us even if someone else turns on us or abandons us. Even if we’re totally in the wrong in a given situation, God will never give up on us or write us off. God still draws near to us, even in our lowest moments.

Second, as followers of Jesus, we’re called to treat all enmity as one-sided. That is, we reject the premise that we actually have true enemies. In Jesus Christ, God has knit all of us together into one family. He’s broken down dividing lines. When we love and pray for our enemies, as Jesus commanded, we quickly find that those “enemies” don’t remain enemies for very long. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all of our nasty conflicts are satisfactorily resolved (though we should pray for that, too), but it does mean that the category of “enemy” is emptied in our own hearts and minds. It’s impossible to consider someone an enemy when we’re praying regularly for their well-being. No matter what they think about us or say about us or do to us, we see them as someone for whom we wish the very best. And people we wish the very best for are not our enemies.

This is, of course, not easy to do. It’ll be imperfect. We’ll trip and stumble as we implement this. But it’s the only way to truly live. It’s the way of life that gives us the same mindset that God has, the mindset of the God who, while we declared ourselves his enemies, came into our space to suffer and die, to suffer and die so that we would be called his children.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-3

Whenever I get together with my three best friends from high school, we play a card game called Pounce. It’s like solitaire on steroids, and with four people. It’s super intense and ridiculously fast-paced, and I—being neither of those things—never win. My friend Anne is a superstar at all things requiring a) speed and b) focus on several things at a time. So Anne wins the most; then Lora; then Erin. I’m definitely in 4th place of four.  BUT…I have played this game a lot. I’m actually probably not terrible. I’m just the worst in this group. I have a feeling if I played Pounce with a different crowd, I might be pretty good. 

But it’s all relative, right? 

How often, even beyond frantic card games, do we determine our greatness (or success, or happiness, or attractiveness, or smarts…) relative to other people? How often do we decide we’re doing OK (or not) by looking around and seeing how everyone else is doing? Some of us are more competitive than others, but I think, for most of us, it’s hard to avoid sizing ourselves up like that. 

In today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples to stop. Stop wasting your energy comparing yourself to others. Stop worrying so much about who’s ‘greatest.’ Your standards are so different from mine. Instead, Jesus tells his disciples (and us) to put our effort into something different. He says to follow him, we need to change; we need to be like children. We are invited to establish greater trust in him, greater reliance on him, and greater humility in general. It’s not about being greater than the other guy; it’s about putting our trust in the one who truly is great.

When we size ourselves up (and size up other people) by making comparisons, our foundation will always be shifting. (After all, I’m a crummy Pounce player with my three best friends, but I’m probably pretty good against someone else—so where does that leave me?) But when we put our energy into relying on who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and who Jesus says we are, we root ourselves in a sure and steady foundation. 

May you set aside the burden of worrying about who is greatest (or smartest, or funniest, or happiest, or prettiest, or wealthiest, or most liked, or best dressed, or most talented…) and instead put your energy into asking God to nurture in you a childlike reliance on the Great One, who has humbled himself for the sake of the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

God called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 2:14

This is one of those verses that when I read it, I think I have a general sense of what it’s saying but if put on the spot, probably would have a hard time articulating what Paul is actually saying. Thankfully, writing these devotions gave me an opportunity to read a bit more about what Paul is saying.

Paul uses the word “glory” to describe what it is like to be in the presence of God. Theologian Michael W. Holmes uses words like “radiance” and “splendor” when talking about being in God’s presence. This deep and abiding presence is what we were created to experience but was lost as a result of sin’s corruption of the world that God calls “good.” The absence of being in the glory of God is why we are so easily drawn into believing that the latest gadget, car, fashion trend, or vice will fill the longing we have inside. But we know that the longing really won’t be satisfied with any of those things, don’t we? It’s like putting a wrinkly dollar in a vending machine only to have it spit back out.

Paul reminds us that by following Jesus, we trust in the promise that one day, when God’s Kingdom comes in all its fullness, we too will experience the closeness to God that we saw in Jesus’ relationship with his Heavenly Father. The satisfaction of finally seeing $1.00 show up on the little red LED screen of the vending machine.

But here’s the best part! We don’t have to wait to get a glimpse of that relationship right now. God is extending an invitation for each one of us to experience this relationship with God right now.  

Let that invitation to develop a closeness like Jesus had to his Heavenly Father be what guides us today in our own faith journey and what drives us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all those we care about.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Today’s devotion is written by Aneel Trivedi.

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Acts 2:46-47

I always held up the new converts to the Jesus tradition in Acts 2 following Pentecost as the ideal version of a Christian community. The newly baptized sold all their possessions shared everything they had, physically gathered together every day in a place of worship, and spent time breaking bread with one another in their homes. This sounds appealing at any time, but as we just moved past five months of existing primarily as a socially distanced Redeemer community, I can’t deny how much I wish to emulate the Acts 2 church. In fact, it feels like that’s what we’re supposed to do as a church. It feels like the pandemic is preventing us from existing as the church was intended.

But today I have been thinking about the way each of those new converts in the Acts 2 church was coming from something else, from something different. We don’t know exactly what their lives looked like before, but we know they were radically changed after their encounter with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They became a new community after an encounter with Christ in Baptism, in the spoken Word, and in communion—and maybe that’s what the ideal version of a Christian community actually looks like. The community is marked not by how and where it gathers or by its similarity to the first community, but by its regular encounters with God and a willingness to be changed.

There must have been some yearning for the old ways among the converts, and even some grief and sorrow for the communities left behind. There was even personal sacrifice—how many of us would joyfully sell all our possessions? And so perhaps God’s presence alone was the driving force behind the community’s glad and sincere hearts rather than the details of how they gathered.

I know that God will show up and make Godself present wherever and however we gather. And if I can imagine the church as a body willing to be radically changed by God’s presence, perhaps I can both mourn what’s lost and live with a glad and sincere heart in the new community God is building. Perhaps the ideal community isn’t about the way we gather but the way we allow ourselves to be changed by God’s presence among us.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Today’s devotion is written by Aneel Trivedi.

So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69

When God doesn’t behave the way I expect, I often get frustrated. My current understanding of who God is and how God works in the world is obviously correct, right?

One of my absolute favorite twitter accounts is named @MLBJesus—­­they are a delight to follow on social media. @MLBJesus is (obviously) a parody Major League Baseball account, and they tweet from the perspective of Jesus as a baseball fan, more specifically a fan of my hometown San Francisco Giants. They celebrate the Giants’ wins and make excuses for their losses with a snarky, funny, implied divine order. @MLBJesus takes credit for big home runs, strikeouts, and Dodgers World Series collapses. By following @MLBJesus, I can take pleasure in believing that God loves exactly what I love and even pulls the strings of the universe in a way that makes sense to me and the National League standings.

Now, I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but I think the crowds that followed Jesus across the sea to Capernaum in John 6 leading up to today’s text were looking for their version of @MLBJesus instead of the verified God incarnate. Jesus had just miraculously fed 5,000 hungry people who were now, quite reasonably eager for more bread. Jesus met a real, urgent, physical need, and the crowds tried to make him king – the kind of king they wanted. The kind of king that matched their existing understanding, needs, and expectations.

But Jesus was a different type of king offering a different kind of bread—the bread of life from heaven, his own very body, God incarnate. Jesus offered something better than the food the crowds sought: food for the spirit that sustains a new life, a different way of living. And since Jesus spoke of the bread of life instead of the bread the crowds expected, wanted, and understood—they turned back and stopped following Jesus.

So then, in today’s text, Jesus asked the 12 disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” Jesus knew that even his closest followers would struggle to accept a revelation of God’s identity that didn’t match their preconceived notions of God. It is a human tendency; we all do it. And so following Jesus means that our expectations, perspectives, and worldviews will necessarily be challenged.

God doesn’t just parrot back what we want to hear, like a parody twitter account that loves what we love and hates what we hate. The new life promised by God in Jesus won’t look exactly like what we expect, and we will naturally struggle with those revelations. But following Jesus means trusting him even when our firmly held perspective or understanding of who God is gets challenged.

Wednesday, August 12

If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. – John 14:14

It would be easy to read today’s verse and think that all we need to do to get what we want is to end our prayer with the phrase, “in Jesus’ name.”

It would be easy to think this because Jesus is the son of God. His name is powerful. It’s the name of the one who we believe conquered sin and death. It’s the name of the one who can bring, and has brought, healing and wholeness to people all over the world.

While the name of Jesus is powerful, calling on Jesus name isn’t like rubbing a magic lamp or tossing a coin in a wishing well. If it were, we know we would have far more of our prayers answered in the way we wish they would be answered.

This verse is located in chapter 14 of the Gospel of John. In this section of John, Jesus is telling his disciples, and us today, that they will go on to do greater things than even he has done. To understand what Jesus means we need to remember what Jesus came to do.

Jesus came with the message that the Kingdom of God was at hand. This meant that God’s desire for creation to be set right was within reach. Time and time again, we see that Jesus’ primary message for his followers was to lead with love as they sought to follow God. 

When Jesus tells us that whatever we ask for in his name will be given, he is saying that whatever we ask for that falls in line with his message, and God’s desire for the world to operate with God’s kingdom ethic, will be done.

So then, our call today…tomorrow…and every remaining tomorrow we have, is to align our desires with God’s desires for us and the world. When we do that, all that we ask for will be given to us.

Monday, August 10, 2020

“But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.’” —Judges 8:23

Can you remember the first time you were put in charge of something? Maybe your parents gave you a chore to do every Tuesday afternoon when you got home from school. Maybe a teacher gave you a classroom job that would be yours for a whole week. Maybe you were an older sibling allowed to stay home alone as long as you promised to keep an eye on your little brother or sister.

There’s an episode of The Office in which Assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight Schrute is allowed to put together the holiday and weekend work calendar. As he proudly works on the schedule, suggesting that his nemesis Jim will need to work on the coming Saturday, Jim says, “This is the smallest amount of power I’ve ever seen go to someone’s head.”

For all of us, being put in charge of something creates the possibility that we’ll abuse that power in some way. Authority is a responsibility, and we need to be responsible with it.

In the centuries following their exodus from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites faced relentless pressures, both internal and external. Internally, they struggled to keep faith with the covenant God had made with them. They went through cycles of rebellion and repentance.

The Israelites also faced external pressure from hostile neighbors. In Judges 6, we read about the oppression carried out against the Israelites by the Midianites. When the Israelites cried out to God, he raised up for them a great military leader named Gideon, who led the people to victory against their oppressors. As so often happens, the great military leader of liberation was asked to rule over the people.

Gideon’s response, one of today’s Daily Texts, reveals that he had not lost sight of his role. He was not the ruler over Israel. God alone ruled Israel. Gideon served God in the unique role to which God had called him.

Leadership of any kind is stewardship of something entrusted to us. Humans (other than Jesus) never rule in an absolute sense. When we have authority, whether in a specific situation or in a particular group, we have that authority in order to serve God and to benefit the situation or group. Human leaders don’t rule. Human leaders serve.

In whatever areas you’re in charge today, may you lead well by serving well. And may you remember that the Lord—and only the Lord—rules over each of us.