Thursday, December 2

Jeremiah 30:8-10

I grew up in a traditional Black Baptist church in southern California. While I love my church service today, I miss the “Testimony Sundays” that were an aspect of worship from my childhood. Usually held during a Sunday evening service, believers would take those opportunities to share what God had done for them or describe what the Lord had brought them through.

These stories recounted unexpected favor on the job that led to promotions, salary increases, or new opportunities. Sharing this inspired hope in the unemployed, in those stuck in a rut, and those with young, impressionable minds like mine. On more than one occasion I heard “right place at the right time” stories. One testimony recalled a time when someone with a special God-given skill was already at the hospital on the day of an emergency surgery that required their particular skill. Some may call the availability of the specialist a coincidence, but the speaker attributed the coincidence to God. These worship services inspired hope in those still waiting in the midst of uncertain and hopeless circumstances. They reminded us that God can bring us through challenging times and will journey with us through tough situations.

As I reflect on the prophecies of hope and breakthrough that Jeremiah delivers, I remember those sacred testimony services. Jeremiah tells us that the God of Israel will liberate, transform, restore and care for us. Through all the ages, God’s hope rings true.

Consider

What stories do you remember about God’s activity in your life or in the lives of those around you that give you hope?

Pray

God, grant me the courage to share the story of your activity in my life. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1

Jeremiah 29:13-14

I have attended church for most of my life. I value worship with the community of faith. I’ve experienced the benefit of a disciplined life studying Scripture. I love being in the house of God and spending time with folks who love the Lord. Nothing touches me more than to witness new or returning believers journeying with God. Their excitement, joy, and hunger for the Lord feed my spirit.

Conversely, I’ve had seasons in my life when I doubted God and that doubt turned into distance from God. There were situations that I thought God should have warned me about or protected me from. I decided to put up walls and guardrails to protect myself from those who offended and harmed me. In hindsight I realize that my efforts to protect myself from others also created distance from God. I chose self-preservation instead of turning to God in prayer. I dismissed the spiritual discipline of fasting and chose to fend for myself.

Jeremiah’s prophecy of restoration has geographical implications; however, I believe seeking God with our whole heart brings forth restoration of the heart as well. There is a grounding and centering that comes when we return to God. I believe this heart restoration is greater than location restoration.

When we seek the Lord with all of our heart through the hurt, disappointment, pain, and confusion, we will find a Lord that hears our cries and restores our joy. This restoration may not be immediate. It can take time, but God meets us as we turn back, and it is worth it.

Consider

What roadblocks get in the way of my relationship with the Lord?

Pray

Holy Spirit, I give you all of me today. Show me any gaps in our relationship. Amen.

Tuesday, November 30

Jeremiah 29:10-12

Patience is difficult in a society where instant gratification is increasingly the norm. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the benefits of making reservations at the movie theater instead of waiting in line early to get a good seat. I enjoy watching short clips of family and friends on social media to see how and what they are doing. And prepared meal companies have saved me from many “hangry” nights.

However, for me, the growing ease of gratification makes patience a bit more complicated. If I can be honest, patience is already my growing edge. My journey with God gets bumpy when doors of opportunity take longer to open than I think they should. I’ve had a few faith crises in my life when health circumstances and justice situations have taken longer than I’d like to be resolved.

The prophet Jeremiah tells God’s people that there may come a time when we find ourselves living in unexpected uncertainty for an extended period of time. Although deliverance may not come how and when we want it, the prophet reminds us that God will show up. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope (v. 11). Through Jeremiah we remember that God does not want to harm us. In fact, our Lord has plans for our welfare and desires to give us a future with hope.

Consider

How can I live as a person with hope while I’m waiting on God?

Pray

Holy Spirit, help me become keenly aware of you and your plans for me while I wait. Amen.

Monday, November 29

Jeremiah 29:8-9

I grew up in a home that believed in the power of prayer. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve my mom, at home, praying for our family, people who were sick, ministries of the church, and ministers who led the congregation and the community. She was a praying woman.

When situations seemed particularly tough, I vividly recall my mother saying, “I’m turning over my plate,” which meant she was fasting and praying. Most often, her fast consisted of persistent prayer and Bible reading while only drinking juice and water for a predetermined period of time. I was amazed how the spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting allowed my mom to gain new clarity or peace about situations.

My mom’s example influenced my life. I’m not as disciplined as she, but when I’m in tough situations and find myself confused, I turn over my plate.

Over the last few years, I’ve struggled with the toxic political climate. After the multiple killings of unarmed Black men, often with women and children in clear view, there were many instances when I needed to fast. The competing messages of politicians and the mixed messages of the Church caused confusion, frustration, and anxiety. To make it through, I chose my mother’s path. Prayer, Bible reading, and fasting provided clarity and peace when I could not find it otherwise.

Consider

What’s your process to make it through when there is too much societal noise and mixed messaging from the world and Church?

Pray

Lord, I need to hear clearly from you. Please grant clarity and peace for my journey. Amen.

Sunday, November 28

Jeremiah 29:1-7

In 2020, the world was thrust into uncertainty by an unknown illness. The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, invaded countries all over the world. The virus impacted the physical, economic, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of citizens regardless of social status. Rich, poor, young, and old alike were affected. This viral intruder reshaped our reality. It caused many of us to contend with fear, anxiety, faith, and the future like never before.

An exiled Israel finds itself struggling after being invaded by an intruder that threatens its wellbeing. Jeremiah’s letter to a struggling Israel is not filled with promises of immediate deliverance or quick fixes. Jeremiah conveys God’s instruction for the people of God to build, plant, and develop meaningful relationships, as well as to pray for the welfare of the larger community.

The new reality of 2020 gave birth to creative worship and biblical and community engagement. Virtual worship and Bible studies expanded in new and imaginative ways. Public worship in parking lots and on church grounds was novel but produced good fruit. Houses of worship stepped up and creatively used their grounds to serve the community as virus testing locations and meal providers.

We have the capacity to produce and increase during unexpected, uncertain times. As the people of God, it is important to note what Jeremiah tells us all. Our welfare is tied to the welfare of the larger community.

Consider

What is something that I should do that I’ve put on hold because of my uncertainty?

Pray

Lord, when we face uncertainty, help us discover ways to be productive in our lives, work, and relationships. Amen.

Saturday, November 27

John 8:12-20

Isaiah’s wife, “the prophetess,” is among the many unnamed people in the Bible. Though her words and her gifts are lost to us, we can speculate about what she might have said in her unique voice, responding to God’s revelation.

“Child to come, I will be in my grave long before you are born. I will have no name, but you will have many. I live in the shadow of my husband, but there will be no shadows to obscure you. My words will be forgotten, but your words will be remembered. My story will vanish into obscurity, while your story will be told forever.

“Child to come, I am a mother. I have sons, and I pray urgently for you just as I pray for them. I pray that you will live into your many names. I pray that you will be wise and compassionate and courageous. I pray that you will grow strong in body and in will, so that your shoulders will be broad enough to take on all the yokes, bars, and rods that are oppressing God’s people. I pray that you will always stay true to your calling and that you will never lose trust in God. I pray that the days of laughter in your life will outnumber the days of grief. I pray that when pain comes to you, God will give you endurance. I pray that your life will bring hope to people who are living without it, and that when you come to die, the hope you engender will live on beyond your death. I pray that you will be a beacon of light for everyone around you.

“Child to come, I whose name is known only to God, a voice from the past, am praying for you now, praying across time. May God hear my prayer, watch over you, and bring you peace.”

Consider

What can we learn from the unnamed characters in the Bible?

Pray

God help us listen for voices that have been silenced and marginalized. Let their music fill our ears and enliven our hearts. Amen.

Friday, November 26

Luke 1:32-35

There she sits on the dusty ground, more child than woman, wearing much-mended hand-me-downs. Calloused hands are cooking bread on heated stones. A stranger hails her from the street: “Greetings, favored one.” She snorts, turning over the bread. Favored one? Must be talking to someone else. She tunes him out. He comes closer, still talking: “you will bear a son.” Snickering, she grabs a morsel of bread from the stones and hands it to the man, waving him on his way.

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High—” She chuckles. Persistent, isn’t he? “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” Stifling a giggle, she rolls her eyes. “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.” She is shaking with barely suppressed mirth. “Of his kingdom there will be no end.” The floodgates break and she laughs. When she catches her breath, she looks the man in the eye and gasps: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

He silently waits until her laughter is under control and she has wiped the tears off her face. He perseveres. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Yeah. Right. Enough of this. She tosses the bread into a cloth and bundles it in her arms. “Therefore the child to be born will be holy.” On her feet. Time to go. “He will be called Son of God.”

She pauses mid-step. A memory has stirred. Fireside talk. Heated Sabbath debate. Much-repeated prayers. A boy-child. “To us a son is given”—were those the words? She examines the stranger once more, blinking, off balance. He hands her the morsel of bread she had given him. “Greetings, favored one.” She is no longer laughing.

Consider

How do we listen to God’s calls to us? Why are we so eager to think that God is talking to someone else?

Pray

God, keep us mindful that you perform great things through ordinary people. Amen.

Thursday, November 25

Psalm 65

I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast, where there is really only one season. But I was brought up to believe that you should dress as if there are four, and I have carried that mentality with me into adulthood. Now that I live where the temperatures do change from one season to the next, I enjoy choosing whatever clothes reflect the month each morning and wearing them through the day. I love the thrill of that ultimate shopping trifecta: finding a garment I love, in my size, at a thrift shop. If my clothing feels good against my skin—flannel shirts are a special favorite—then I feel good.

True confession: I have more clothes than I actually need, and I wrestle with that. I try to assuage my guilt by shopping locally and passing on garments that I no longer wear. Bonus points on my conscience scale if I buy clothes from not-for-profit gift shops.

Apparently, the earth does not share my scruples. The psalmist envisions the earth enthusiastically clothing itself in God’s bounty. The image is extravagant: the meadows are dressed in sheep by the hundreds, and the valleys are enrobed with abundant grain. The hills, reaching to the heavens, are happy simply to be clad (or not) in joy. In the psalmist’s eyes, the earth gratefully rejoices when dressed in the lavishness of God. It revels in God’s excesses and is happy to be gloriously crowned by creation’s gifts. Gratitude and praise fills this psalm: the earth’s grateful song fills the air and the psalmist offers praise for God’s outrageous abundance. Clearly the exuberant earth enjoys its God-given clothing even more than I enjoy my flannel shirts—and is much less subdued about expressing it.

Consider

On this Thanksgiving Day, how will you appreciate God’s beautiful abundance and give thanks for it?

Pray

Generous God, teach us how to graciously receive your gifts and appreciate them fully and unabashedly. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24

Isaiah 9:7

As a child, I always pictured God off in the distance, sitting on a throne, comfortably situated, well dressed, somewhat detached in attitude. I suppose I have outgrown that image, but it still exists in my memory bank.

Thankfully, Isaiah’s description is not of a detached God sitting inertly on a throne. Isaiah’s God is impassioned and tireless, like one who rolls up their sleeves and gets their hands dirty. This God is razor focused on a goal, passionate about the desire for justice, righteousness, and peace. The God Isaiah describes will act with zeal to make those things happen.

I am a “words person.” Occasionally, I zero in on a word that I have used all my life, and suddenly wonder if I am using it correctly. When time seems to have obscured its meaning, I look up the definition. This time I looked up zeal.

Various dictionaries define zeal as “intense emotion compelling action.” Zeal implies “energetic and unflagging pursuit of an aim or devotion to a cause,” or “fervent or enthusiastic devotion, often extreme or fanatical in nature.” Its synonyms include passion, fervor, perseverance, zest, urgency, verve, sincerity, and spirit.

Wait a minute, devotional readers. Notice that the definition of “zeal” includes the word “devotion.” Devotion is “an ardent attachment or affection, religious ardor or zeal.” God’s zealous devotion to us and our wellbeing creates a devotion in us for the God who offers us salvation. If we let it, God’s zeal nurtures a zeal within us. When that happens, the circle of devotion and zeal is complete. Would you describe your daily devotion to God as a time full of zeal?

Consider

How is God’s spirited devotion to you actively reflected in your devotion to God?

Pray

Zealous God, may your zeal and passion inspire a zeal and passion in each of us, so that we, like you, will seek after justice and peace. Amen.

Tuesday, November 23

Isaiah 9:5-6

My husband and I have three children; our youngest is 28. It’s been awhile since we had an infant in the house, but our memories are vivid. Nothing is quite like that first time you hold your flesh-of-our-flesh, completely helpless, totally dependent newborn. “Holding your newborn rewires you. Suddenly you know you would do anything for the child in your arms,” a new father recently opined.

Planning for a child’s future is the hobby of new parents. Kindergarten? College? Career? Wedding? Grandchildren? A newborn is a kind of blank slate—full of possibilities. We may be tempted to live out our lives through our children, but we should always move toward setting them free to explore all those good possibilities. Our hope for our children overflows: hope that they will have good, long lives; hope that their obstacles will be few and their joys many; hope that they will succeed in all they attempt.

When Isaiah proclaims the son given to us, the prophet envisions his future and breezily skips over those middle years. The son moves from helpless newborn to one with authority . . . upon his shoulders, from infant to Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace (v. 6)

Isaiah named his oldest son Shear-jashub, which means “A remnant shall return” and the younger he named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, meaning, “Spoil quickly, plunder speedily.” But this child that Isaiah foresees has loftier names that convey breathtakingly high expectations. This expected child is no blank slate, but someone who offers new life to all people. Isaiah foresees a child who will inspire hope and embody it. As we approach the first Sunday of Advent this week, let’s prepare for Christ’s birth with renewed hope and breathtaking expectation.

Consider

What does Christ’s name mean to you?

Pray

God, you are the source of hope. Through all our days, may your light and hope fill our lives. Amen.