Our Vision

Devotional for Saturday, April 25

This devotional is as simple as it gets. Keep your eyes on the prize!

Isaiah 25:6-9 (NLT)
In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will spread a wonderful feast
    for all the people of the world.
It will be a delicious banquet
    with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.
There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
    the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
He will swallow up death forever!
    The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
He will remove forever all insults and mockery
    against his land and people.
    The Lord has spoken!
In that day the people will proclaim,
“This is our God!
    We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.
    Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

I don’t know what I can add to that, except a prayer.

Lord, we sometimes forget that you’ve promised a way out. Resurrection, and the full restoration of joy that comes with it, will be ours! You have spoken! May such visions sustain us until we feast together. Amen.

A Belly Prayer

Jonasendewalvis1621PieterLastmanPublicDomainDevotional for Wednesday, April 22

Jonah 2:1-4 (NLT)

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. He said,

“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
    and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead,
    and Lord, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths,
    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
    Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’ “

Yesterday, we considered the overall theme of Jonah’s story. Let’s stay with the reluctant prophet today. His prayer from deep beneath the waters, in the belly of a great sea creature, may remind us a little of what we’re experiencing now.

I feel like I want to come up for air. I want what I think of as normal to return. And yes, I want to look once more toward our holy sanctuary, with all of you in it. I thank God for the technology allowing us to gather online, but it’s just not the same.

You might want to take time to read the rest of the prayer in Jonah 2. Jonah, flawed as he was, prayed the way we need to pray.

First, Jonah remembered the Lord, and his prayer went out in earnest.

There’s praying, and then there’s praying like you really mean it. We’re talking about that kind of prayer where we sense just how fully dependent on God we are.

I do not think of COVID-19 as a good thing, but God can work much good through what is very bad. As part of a culture where the majority of people have a false sense of control, it is good when we are reminded how dependent we are. That reality check helps us to “remember the Lord.”

Who knows, this experience might trigger some sort of national awakening to God’s presence. And I don’t mean the rise of a political movement paying lip service to God. I’m talking about real change, the kind of transformation that can be seen on people’s faces and in their behaviors.

Second, Jonah used his prayer to recommit himself to his religious practices and his vows, recognizing, “My salvation comes from the Lord alone.”

As Christians, we have a refined sense of what he meant, thanks to being born after the Christ event. God does not want any of us left in the belly of death. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, and we are thrown clear of death’s grip.

Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the truth we declare. In whatever ways we are able, let’s gather and glorify God as we celebrate the greatest gift ever given to the world. Let’s remember our baptismal vows, and our vows to support the Christian community through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. 

As the prayer ends in Jonah 2, we are told the Lord ordered the creature to spit the prophet onto the beach. It is debatable how much Jonah’s heart was transformed as he returned to his calling. Reading the rest of the story, we see he at best grudgingly obeyed. But he did obey, survive and succeed in his mission.

We can do much better, I expect!

Lord, as we pray in earnest and recommit ourselves to you, may we also find a renewed joy in all that we do. We know from where our salvation comes, and we rejoice in the eternal life we are given. Amen.

Prayer for the Day, with Extras

Devotional for Saturday, April 18

Here’s another guided prayer, this one based on Psalm 118:14-24. Again, I’ll invite you to pause at the end of each paragraph, lifting up specific names and situations as they come to mind. Please note that several links to song files are embedded. Think of them as little Easter eggs to find.

“The Lord is my strength and my might. He has become my salvation.” Indeed! As your Easter people, we now know how you work. Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

Our songs of victory are muted in the sanctuary this year, but not in our hearts. O victory in Jesus! Christ the Lord is risen today! Easter people, raise your voices! He lives! We sing these words in our hearts now, and we shall sing them in your congregation again.

I have sinned but shall not die, not forever. Christ went to the cross for me, Christ is risen to prove my resurrection will be true. We shall all sing together in the new Jerusalem, giving glory to the Lamb of God.

You have shown us the way; the gates of Paradise are re-opened, the Spirit rushes to us, and we are transformed. Reveal to me my flaws and sanctify me.

Thank you for Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of salvation. O Lord, you have done a marvelous work, and your people rejoice so you may be glorified.

Amen.

Prayer for the Day

Devotional for Friday, April 17

I thought I would try something a little different today and tomorrow. Below is a guided prayer, based on Psalm 16. I’ll invite you to pause at the end of each paragraph, lifting up specific names and situations as they come to mind.


Protect me and mine, O Lord: My family, my church, my neighbors. We root ourselves in you, O Lord, and we know a life separate from you is futile.

We give thanks for shining examples of faith, ancient and modern, and we pray they continue to sustain us.

We pray for those not living in your light, and we ask they be drawn to you. The power of Christ is in the world, so we know all people can be reached, and we no longer fear to utter their names or speak your truth to them.

I recommit myself to you, O Lord, knowing that my life, rooted in Christ, has no boundaries. Eternity is mine, hope sustains me now, and joy is the backdrop of my future.

Your word is a blessing and your counsel guides me. Speak to me in the night, and may I arise in the morning with renewed vision for what is possible. What you speak to me is what shall be.

In this truth, I find there is joy even now! Even death cannot haunt me, for it simply is a thin veil between us, Heavenly Father.

Continue to guide my way regardless of the challenges I face. I walk toward eternity, eyes up, seeing beauty now and for all time, until the end of time.

Amen.

Death on a Cross

Devotional for Good Friday (April 10)

John 18-19 (New Living Translation)


Posted above is a link to the story of Jesus Christ’s arrest, trial, beating and death. A video depiction of that story also is above for you to watch.

Today is a day for remembering. It is a somber and sad day. Even when we are able to be together in the sanctuary, we depart in silence. We should, after all, be shocked at what Jesus Christ was willing to undergo for us.

Good Friday is about the ultimate action, Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his arrest, he sought relief from the terrible work that had to be done. But once that work was underway, “He never said a mumblin’ word.” The negro spiritual declares Jesus’ prophetic words could not be construed as complaint or reluctance.

Today calls for a simple response from Christians. Give thanks for the work that has been done. We reap immeasurable benefits from the ultimate action story.

In this story, Christ gathers us in his arms, yanking us from death’s tight grip and delivering us to eternal life. As you lift up Good Friday prayers, thank Jesus by walking by his side as he stumbles toward the cross. As he hangs on the cross, some who had followed him ultimately run, and some stay for the burial. Remain with him to the bitter end.

We will join together online tonight at 7 o’clock (note the time—our prayer gatherings were an hour earlier). We will hear the stages of the story, and respond accordingly. More details about that service will follow.

As dark as the story may get, remember, good action has eternal consequences.

To join tonight’s online service:

From your computer, tablet or smartphone:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/607049869

You can also dial in using your phone:
United States: (646) 749-3122
Access Code: 607-049-869

First Things First

alabaster-jar


Devotional for Monday of Holy Week (April 6)

Note: An online prayer room will be available this evening at 6 p.m. Go to https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/607049869 to join, or dial in at (646) 749-3122, and then use this access code: 607-049-869.

John 12:1-11 (NLT)

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.


Yes, we are to care for the poor. Yes, we are to do all sorts of good works. We should commit a significant portion of our resources to the work Jesus calls us to do, caring for people living on the edge of ruin and death.

In this story, however, is a remarkable idea, one that even some very good-hearted people might find confusing. Honoring Jesus Christ takes precedence over all other motivations and actions.

The story of Mary anointing Jesus is a story of extravagant thanks. Jesus had recently restored to life the brother of Mary and Martha, after Lazarus had decomposed in a tomb for four days.

Mary took what was probably her life savings, her security, and used it all at once to honor the one who had granted this miracle. The stench of death had been the sisters’ great fear; now, a perfumed declaration of joy filled the room, emanating from the one who had driven death away. If you’ve never smelled spikenard, know that it is sweet and musky, an earthy, lively odor. Try to imagine peat from the Garden of Eden.

Even though Judas’ motivation likely was theft, some people might agree with his stated objection—the pouring out of all that nard in one place seems like an awful waste! These would be people who take a humanist approach to solving the problems of the world, saying if people would just act right and do enough good, with enough efficiency, most of the problems of the world would go away.

Christians see that as a cart-before-horse assertion, however. God is our motivator. God provides the power. In John 17:20-26, we hear Jesus root his relationship in the Father, and then Jesus prays that we will be similarly rooted in the Father and Son.

Even altruistic actions properly begin with an understanding of who we are in relation to God. If we are to develop that relationship, we need to stop occasionally and give extravagant and even inefficient thanks. Then, rightly motivated, we will see God pour grace into us until it spills out of our church and onto the world.

In fact, grace can arrive in such abundance that efficiency becomes at most a side issue. Remember the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes? All those leftovers indicate efficiency was not something the disciples needed during the distribution.

Great works will happen through churches that put Christ first. We hold on to God, the anchor of all altruism, and then we are able to pull back from the brink people living on the edge of ruin and death.

Lord, we offer thanks for who you are, and we consider in our hearts what we might do today to show extravagant thanks. May we revel in the inefficiency of it all. Amen.

 

Let’s Make a Prayer

list


Devotional for Friday, March 20

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We’ve all experienced worry at some point in our lives, but I think it is safe to say more of us than usual are feeling an extended kind of anxiety right now. Isolation is hitting many of us hard. Many of our businesses and investments seem in jeopardy, and we fear any light we see in the tunnel is an oncoming train.

God has a lot to say about worry, of course. The Big Guy, with his big-picture, outside-time-and-creation view, tells us repeatedly through prophets, disciples and even the Messiah to fear not, to stop worrying. And when we grasp the big picture, we see why God is able to say this. The hard work is done—Jesus has died on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection is a foretaste of what we will experience.

None of that is to deny, however, that we are little people who perceive our lives to be lived out in one tiny brush stroke on God’s vast canvas. And we worry. So God gave us ways to seek comfort.

Let’s not simply talk today about the greatest tool God has given us, prayer. As a church, let’s join together in prayer. Let’s build a prayer list, and let’s pray over it as we see it grow.

If you’re reading this on the website, at the bottom of this devotional you’ll see either a link saying “Leave a comment,” or an actual comment box. If you’re reading from the automated email that went out, you’ll see a comment button at the bottom.

However you get to the comment section, enter your prayer requests there. We will see those build through the day. FYI, you may not see your prayer appear right away; I have to approve comments before they go on the site. I’ll check regularly for new comments, though.

You check back regularly to read them, too. And throughout the day, pray about what you see!

Lord, as we pray, may our anxieties be transformed to hope and joy. Amen.