Thursday, June 1

2 Timothy 1:6-12a

“Kindle the gift of God that is within you” (v. 6).

I love the warmth and crackling flame of a campfire. It draws people close and inspires conversation and imagination.

One particular night, we had just settled down to make camp after an eight-mile hike. It was Brad’s job to get the campfire going so that we could roast some hot dogs for dinner and gather together as evening came.

I watched as Brad created a small, teepee structure with twigs and branches from the surrounding woods. He had bigger branches ready to fuel the fire once the flame had gotten started. But before that could happen, he found some kindling—dried grasses and mosses that he cupped gently in the palm of his hand. He lit this tiny tumbleweed and carefully placed it beneath the teepee of sticks. Lying on the ground, he blew softly on the flame, encouraging its growth, making sure not to blow too hard and put it out. Soon the fire was burning steadily, beginning to ignite the sticks that surrounded it.

Nurturing our faith is a lot like building a campfire. We structure our lives with habits, relationships, and ministries that give shape to the flame of God’s Spirit that burns within us. Seeing that Spirit burn brightly and draw others into the warmth of God’s presence is wonderful.

But some days, when the fire seems to only burn dimly, we need to lie on the ground and gently kindle the gift of God within us.


How do you kindle the gift of God within you? When has God’s Spirit brought you to life after the fire seemed to only burn dimly?


Holy God, help us to appreciate how important kindling is in our lives. Thank you for those people and those prayerful moments that fan the flame of your love within us. Amen.

Wednesday, May 31

John 7:37-39

Roan Mountain, TN is one of our family’s favorite places. We took our kids camping there many times when they were small, and I have been enamored with the 360-degree mountaintop views for as long as I can remember.

Even when we finally pass the sign for our destination, I never feel I’ve arrived until we round the bend and the rushing waters of the Doe River come into view. The mountaintop views are spectac- ular, but the Doe River is what brings my spirit to life. Deep calling out to deep, in some ways. “Spring up, O well, within my soul! Spring up, O well, and make me whole!” Based on Israel’s song in Numbers 21, singing this chorus gives voice to my exuberance.

Whether the water moves gently over the rocks or rushes reck- lessly, overflowing the banks after heavy rains or melting snow, it speaks life to me. Standing on a rock in the middle of the river and feeling the ice-cold water rushing over my feet is one of my favorite things to do. Experiencing life flowing all around me is cleansing, refreshing, and energizing.

Often people fly fish there, as the river teems with trout. I’ll never comprehend how this is possible when the water is barely a foot deep in most places. But maybe, as with God’s Spirit within me, the depth of the water and its ability to sustain life is not a mystery that I can solve. My job is to step in, to wonder and delight in it, hear and feel it, then let it flow through me and refresh my soul.


How can you step into the current of the Spirit that is always flowing within you? What new life might it bring?


Holy God, we are so thirsty so often. Help us discover the spring of living water that flows abundantly within us. Amen.

Tuesday, May 30

Romans 8:26-30

As a young minister, visiting someone in the hospital was always a stressful time for me. I felt the weight of the person’s situation and wanted to ease their anxiety and their pain. I wanted them to know the comfort and the peace of God’s presence, especially in that moment of need. But, often, I didn’t know what to say. Every- thing that came to mind felt trite. Nothing seemed like it would be comforting or helpful.

The silent ride up to the patient’s floor in the hospital elevator always felt like a pregame pep talk for me as I closed my eyes and imagined what situation I would encounter. Inevitably, though, by the time the elevator doors opened, the advice of a wise colleague would come to mind, that it is not our words, but our presence that matters most.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words (v. 26).

Sometimes Paul makes me feel better about myself. Apparently, none of us are very good at knowing what to say, what to pray. Perhaps we get so fixated on the perceived power of our own words, so focused on our desire and expectation to be able to fix things or to make them better, that we forget God is already present, that God just might have something to say if we make enough room to listen and to trust.


Sit silently in a posture of prayer before God. Do not offer any words. Give room for the Spirit to pray on your behalf. Perhaps you will discover what you didn’t know you truly needed.


Holy God, how grateful we are that, by the grace of your Spirit, you hear us, even when we don’t know what to say. Amen.

Monday, May 29

Romans 8:18-25

The nurse stood at the foot of my bed whispering, “I don’t know what else to do,” as she and my husband discussed why the delivery of our first child was not progressing.

“I can hear you!” I wanted to yell, but didn’t have the energy. Or the will. I was done. In my heavily medicated state, I thought she meant I would not be delivering at all. Ever. That the groans and labor pains were not leading to anything better. That suffering had no purpose and I’d be nine months pregnant for the rest of my life.

Despite my delirium and the nurse continuing to process her frustrations aloud, we successfully delivered a healthy baby girl together several hours later.

Scripture says that creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (vv. 22-23). We know that a resolution to labor and childbirth will come soon. (Not always soon enough! But soon.) And we pray that resolution will be healthy and joyous. But sometimes in life, our groaning feels indefinite when it concerns health, finances, circumstances, relationships. As if we’re in the pains of a childbirth and don’t know if or when relief will come.

Last summer our church offered a Bible study called “It’s Not Supposed to be This Way.” Eighty people signed up, since the title seems to say it all. Life often looks quite different from what we hoped or expected.

Paul tells us that the Spirit of hope is ours. We will be freed from the bondage of decay. As we wait for that day, perhaps the groans themselves can remind us that God continues to labor with us, in ways we have yet to see. Such labor is never in vain.


What areas of your life need a reminder of God’s hope? What assures you that your groaning does not go unheard and that God walks beside you?


Holy God, waiting patiently is hard for us, especially when we are in pain. You see the whole of our lives. Help us learn to trust in your care. Amen.

Sunday, May 28

Acts 2:1-28

Several years ago, my husband and I went with a group for a three-day hike on the Appalachian Trail near the Grayson Highlands in Virginia. It is an area with stunning views of mountain ridges and meadows, a place where wild ponies roam free.

The weather had not been the best as we set out, cloudy and misty. But we made camp that first night at a high elevation, on a level stretch near the edge of the mountain that overlooks the valley below, optimistically imagining the amazing sunrise that would greet us the next morning.

With spotty cell phone service, we were unaware that the forecast for the night had deteriorated. There was a high wind advisory and storms coming through the area, which we discovered some time past midnight.

For what seemed like hours, storm winds howled as they came up the mountainside and barreled over the top of our campsite. Winds flattened our tents across the top of the sleeping bags in which we were curled, only to pull them upright when the winds receded again. With the regularity of contractions, we endured a relentless pattern of surge and retreat every few minutes in the dark of night.

There was unmistakable power in the force of the wind, and we knew we were at its mercy. I don’t know how many times I prayed the Lord’s Prayer that night, trying to counter the force of the storm with a holy rhythm of my own.

The Spirit does not come quietly when the disciples gather for Pentecost. Rather, from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting (v. 2). The Spirit comes decisively, with power.


What is your experience of the movement of God’s Spirit in your life? When have you known both its gentleness and its power?


Holy God, may we never underestimate the power of your Spirit in our lives. Amen.

Saturday, May 27

Matthew 5:1-12

Jesus thinks like a Jewish rabbi. Which is great news for underdogs. As a devout rabbi, he believes words take on lives of their own.

That’s the idea behind the blessing of firstborn children and the occasional cursing of enemies in the Hebrew Bible. The act of speaking blessings and curses had power to make both good and bad things happen. Like an authentic, pre-Prosperity Gospel, name-it- and-claim-it declaration—only on behalf of others.

As a faithful child of Abraham, who believes words have power to change lives, Jesus gives underdogs a big boost when introducing his sermon. He says “Blessed are…” nine times. Since Hebrew blessings are tangible, this far eclipses “Have a nice day, poor in spirit” or “Hang in there, meek.” Jesus speaks Spirit-enhanced power into the folks he calls out. He infuses divine superpowers into spiritual underdogs— then, since then, and into eternity.

The through-line of the Beatitudes is that Jesus gives strength and endurance and vibrancy to the people the world tends to view as—and let’s be honest about this—wimpy. (Caveat: Peacemakers
win the Nobel Prize, but it’s always the most-debated award.) Think about public endeavors—from politics, to business, sports, entertain- ment, even science, and often medicine and (Lord, help us) religion. What’s the typical paradigm for success? Toughness, cunning, an indomitable will, hubris, power, determination. And with all that, we get conflict, polarization, and malaise.

Jesus knows what the world needs if it’s going to look and act more like him: humility, empathy, sincerity, righteousness, kindness, purity, sacrifice, and the willingness to suffer. So, Jesus gives those qualities a verbal and tangible boost. All week, we’ve talked about giving yourself. The Beatitudes are a laundry list of ways to do that.


Which Jesus-blessed virtue can you infuse into the world this week?


God, you empowered your followers to live out the virtues you bless in your sermon. Show us how to join you in blessing a strife-torn world. Amen.

Friday, May 26

Romans 8:12-17

The grandchild who looks most like me possesses none of my DNA.

Abram is our family miracle. He arrived more than five years after the birth of Ezra, his big brother, following numerous miscarriages and between the return of two foster-to-adopt babies to their biological families. We wanted Abram badly, but didn’t know he was coming. His mom and dad, Lindsay and Aaron, learned about him in late June. They arrived at the hospital in time for Lindsay to cut his umbilical cord in late July. A judge confirmed his adoption around Labor Day. Abram, our long-desired baby, belonged to our family.

My body must be comprised of recessive genes. Our daughters look like their mama; our other grandchildren look like their parents and other grandparents. I’m thanking God for Abram. His hair is the color mine was when I was his age. We both wear glasses, love to talk, and play games. He’s even funny, just like I think I am.

We don’t love Abram because he’s my doppelganger. We adored him when he was minutes old and still looked, as most babies do, like a miniature Winston Churchill. Abram’s adoption confirmed the unconditional love we already had for him. Thank heavens, just as a judge bound Abram to our family, the Holy Spirit seals our adoption as children of God, as divine heirs (vv. 15-17).

Of course, we love our children and grandchildren equally. But free will and intentional love intervene powerfully in adopted children, more than making up for the fact that we don’t share DNA. And in giving ourselves to a chosen little one, we learn—however dimly—how God chooses to wrap us in divine love and how God takes delight in our divine family resemblance.


What has loving your family taught you about the nature of God’s love? What can sensing God’s love for you teach you about loving them?


God, thank you for adopting us and making us your children. Help us secure the adoption of succeeding generations who will glorify you. Amen.

Thursday, May 25

Psalm 33:13-22

Virginia’s lifespan almost tripled Robin’s. She lived to be 106, and outlasted not only her generation but much of the generation behind her. Robin, however, died at 36, leaving a kind, loving wife and two precious children. Virginia had a full career practicing medicine and lived another four decades. Robin died just after earning a PhD, while still in his first pastorate.

Virginia was my oldest friend. And Robin was my youngest friend to die while we were both starting families and launching careers. But they shared something vital. Robin, who left this life while far too young, and Virginia, whose longevity challenged the imagina- tion, both reveled in God’s steadfast love and placed their hope in it.

Virginia and Robin appreciated the complexities and paradoxes of faith. They knew better than to place their trust in strength, might, and even technology (vv. 16-17). They feared the Lord and trusted in God’s steadfast love, but didn’t believe faith would stave off famine and death (vv. 18-19). Throughout their lives, they asked God to spare those who died, prayed for jobs that didn’t materialize, pleaded for marriages that failed. They never kidded themselves into believing bad things would not happen to God-loving people.

Yet they lived their lives—Robin’s achingly short; Virginia’s almost staggeringly long—with glad hearts. Robin said he felt grateful for a slow death because he had time to tell people how much he loved them. Virginia said her long life made her appreciate the love of God, friends, and family because, for years, she realized each day could be her last.

Their generous and loving lives illustrated that life is measured by more than our number of days and that death is a door to more.


How does your hope in God shape how you consider the future?


God, so much competes for our trust in you. Forgive us when we seek our deliverance elsewhere. Tune our hearts to place our hope in you. Amen.

Wednesday, May 24

John 3:31-36

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” must’ve been tattooed on my rump when I was a kid. Although I was compliant and didn’t get into much trouble, both parents and three grandparents spanked me. Ironically, punishment from Popo—my mother’s father, who never laid a hand on me—hurt the worst.

Popo was gentle, funny, and extravagant with his attention. We adored each other; I couldn’t spend enough time with him. If asked to choose between visiting heaven or fishing with Popo, I’d fetch my rod. But if I disobeyed him, he ignored me, which hurt more than a dozen paddlings. Back then, I didn’t know the word “estrangement,” but I knew it was hell, a word I wasn’t allowed to say.

While I’d never equate Popo with Jesus—and neither would he—I recall my beloved grandfather when I read, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath (v. 36). That sentence has launched a thousand debates about heaven, hell, and going to either place.

John links belief and eternal life, aka heaven. But then we’ve got disobedience linked to not… life and God’s wrath, which sounds a lot like hell. What happens if we believe but disobey?

This is where Popo provided an example of God’s love. I “believed” in and loved Popo, he loved me, and our relationship was sweet. But when I disobeyed, he disciplined me by giving me hell, separation from him, which was the worst thing I could imagine. That taste of hell always sent me back, returning love and obedience to the one who loved me unconditionally. Disobedience delivers its own punishment, estrangement from God. Fortunately, that queasy lostness can prompt our return, a taste of heaven.


How has God’s wrath prompted a renewed experience of divine love?


God, forgive us when we say we believe in you but fail to obey you. May the consequences of your wrath prompt our hearts to turn back to you. Amen.

Tuesday, May 23

1 Peter 4:7-11

When I was a kid, my mama taught me to say, “please” and “thank you.” Now, I particularly enjoy expressing appreciation at my favorite fast-food joint. I’ll say, “thank you,” just to hear “my pleasure” in response. On a good day, we work in three or four “thank you’s” and “my pleasures” by the time I’m sipping my Arnold Palmer (unsweet tea, lemonade).

It seems that Christians don’t serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received (v. 10) with as much enthusiasm and consistency as I’m used to in the drive-thru line. Do those workers really take pleasure in forking over my food? Who knows. But they’re excel- lent stewards of their restaurant’s hospitality and tasty sandwiches.

Sometimes, I wonder if people would line up around the block to enter our church parking lots if we took the same pleasure in serving them as those smiling young people seem to take in serving meals to busy drivers. Surely the manifold grace of God is at least as good as fried chicken. So, does a restaurant franchise serve more customers than
a church serves its neighbors? Maybe they just love their paychecks, their bosses and teammates, or working for a successful company, but love must have something to do with their attitude, as well as with how customers feel when they talk to them.

We’re told “love covers a multitude of sins.” Much like a sincere “my pleasure” or two makes a less-than-hot sandwich taste better and a tart Arnold Palmer taste sweeter, love propels Jesus-followers to give ourselves to serve others. The sins that love could cover happen when we’re distracted, selfish, and forget Whom we represent. Love stimulates the sincerity of spirit that provides pleasure when we serve others.


What aspect of serving others gives you the greatest pleasure?


God, help us maintain constant love for others, as well as to remember that how we treat them shapes how they see you. Amen.