Saturday, November 19

1 Peter 1:13-16

In today’s passage two words, therefore (v. 13) and instead (v. 15), function like flashing lights on a roadway sign. They signal that something important lies ahead.

The opening “therefore” connects the preceding paragraph to what follows. It also builds on the previous thought, as if to say, “what comes next is a consequence of what came before.” The writer says in effect: Since, as followers in the way of Jesus, we “are receiving the outcome of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (v. 9), then we must act accordingly. We are called to preparation and discipline while anchoring our hope in the grace of Jesus Christ.

The reference to obedient children (v. 14) prompts memories from my childhood. Often, when faced with the pressure to be like someone else or to fit in or follow along, my parents would remind me of the importance of being true to myself and my convictions. 

The instead of verse 15 contrasts our former behavior and motivations with our calling to be and behave like children of God. Our actions, our conduct, our very lives are to reflect God’s character. We are to be holy, as God is holy.

Eugene Peterson reminds us that “Holiness is not fussy moralism; it is not pious churchliness. It is wholeness—robust, virile, immense health of body and spirit. The call to holiness is the call to live deeply in the splendor and brilliance of God’s design.” Holiness is a journey, not a destination. It requires preparation, discipline, and utter dependence on God’s grace. It is, as Peterson says (borrowing Nietzsche’s phrase), a “long obedience in the same direction.”

Consider

What might preparation, discipline, and dependence on grace look like in your life with God?

Pray

Holy God, in your infinite grace, empower me through your Holy Spirit to take a step today toward holiness. Amen.

Friday, November 18

Psalm 46

I have learned—too often the hard way—that God doesn’t “show up” in time of trouble. God is not a genie I conjure from a magic lamp who otherwise sits idly by waiting for my prayerful pleas. God is a very present help (v. 1) in times of trouble because God is very present. Now. At this moment. Always. In fact, in one of the great mysteries and promises of faith, God is present even when God seems utterly absent and deafeningly silent.

In times of stress and distress, I have prayed for God’s help. I have prayed for strength, wisdom, and courage. It is certainly not wrong to pray in such times and in such ways. But, in the words of Tilden Edwards, if prayer is a “mutual presence,” then God hears my cries because God has never been not present. God is ever attuned to my heart. 

The encouragement to “Be still and know that I am God!” (v. 10) is the climax to this brief psalm of gratitude and praise. Hebrew for “be still” is literally “let your hands grow slack.” The phrase is derived from the word raphe, meaning “to be weak, to let go, to release.” A fair translation would be, “Drop your weapons of choice and trust that I am your security.”

God and God alone is our security, our help, and our refuge. Our challenge is to drop our well-honed defenses, surrender our self-
reliance, and let go of our pretense of self-sufficiency in order to trust in God’s faithful, abiding presence.

Consider

What “weapon of choice” do you need to let go of in order to trust fully in God?

Pray 

Dear God, I want to claim the promise that you are at every moment my refuge and strength. Amen.

Thursday, November 17

Luke 1:68-79

What a moment! Literally struck speechless some nine months earlier by the angel Gabriel, Zechariah had suffered in silence as day by day he watched Elizabeth’s belly swell with the miracle of new life—an answer to prayers the aging couple had long ago abandoned. Sentenced to silence for his lack of faith in the angel’s promise, the old priest has had plenty of time to ponder what he would say when his speech returns, as the angel also promised.

Now, that moment has come. The dam bursts and words pour forth in Spirit-inspired, poetic prophecy. 

I imagine the new father lifting his son heavenward as he speaks, offering a living symbol of God’s faithfulness in generations past now made evident in the present. I see him pause momentarily to lower the baby John to within inches of his own face. Looking directly into his boy’s eyes, he transitions the blessing to “you, child…” (v. 76).

Perhaps Zechariah’s gaze shifted to Elizabeth’s beaming face as he announced their child’s divinely bestowed calling to prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah. Then, with his song’s final stanza rising in exuberant crescendo, I imagine the priest extending the child forward in a gesture to the congregation he has long served, and to all God’s people to follow.

Perhaps you, like me, have endured dark times and dark places. The good news of the Gospel is that, in God’s tender mercy, the dawn’s light shines on the horizon, bringing guidance, hope, and peace.

Consider

In what ways do you need to hear the promise of Zechariah’s song? 

Pray

Help me, O God, to find my voice to sing of your light amid whatever darkness life may bring. Amen.

Wednesday, November 16

1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

Some 25 years ago I sat with a two-person video crew and a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionary on the dirt floor of a simple, one-room house in a small village in the mountains of Albania. 

One of our bearded, robe-clad hosts smiled broadly as he picked up a small glass, filled it with a cloudy liquid, and extended it to one of us before filling another.

We had been warned but also reminded that as guests we should not only receive the libation but partake gladly. Trying to disguise my considerable trepidation, I took my first ever sip of raki, a traditional Albanian drink, in this case home-brewed and, let’s say, intense. It burned all the way down.

As guests, we drank, if only a little, out of courtesy and respect for our hosts who spoke a language understood, at times, only by the missionary. Our hosts lived in ways also unknown to us. While we laughed later about the awkwardness, we knew the gesture of respect was in a way as important as the medical supplies we had brought.

Paul exhorted the Christians in Corinth to accept gladly an invitation to dine with unbelievers and to go with an attitude of respect and gratitude. After all, to quote Psalm 24, “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s” (v. 26).

To eat or drink—or not? The key is consideration for the other. And that requires humility, grace, and discernment. In that spirit, like the great apostle, we can be imitators of Christ.

Consider

What relationship needs your grace rather than your judgment?

Pray

God, to consider another’s sake rather than my own is counterintuitive for me. Help me to intuit and adopt the attitude of Paul and the Christ he served. Amen.

Tuesday, November 15

Ephesians 5:6-20

The refrain in today’s reading sounds familiar: Don’t do this; instead, do this. Many of us have been raised in a faith tradition that seemed to stress the don’ts while giving considerably less attention to the dos. Similarly, it seems we heard more about the consequences of violating the don’ts than the gifts of embracing the dos.

Scripture repeatedly reminds us that right thinking, right motivations, and right choices lead to living rightly in the light of God’s goodness and grace. In contrast, selfish and sinful choices pull us into the shadows. When I have behaved badly, when I have followed self-serving impulses, when I have hurt someone I love, invariably I try to cover up my actions or disguise the motivations behind them. I choose the illusion of darkness.

In contrast, when I choose generosity, humility, sacrifice, and love, I am drawn to the light. I can welcome the light’s gifts of honesty and transparency. When I honor my true self, the person God created and calls me to be, I find the courage to step into the light. Even when that will expose my flaws, my lies, my selfish ambitions, my distorted notions of what matters, and my misguided efforts to hide all these from others, myself, and God.

When I embrace God’s will and pursue God’s list of dos, I experience the joyful freedom of living in the light of God’s love.

Consider

In what ways are you drawn to the deceptive cover of darkness? What draws you to the light of Christ? 

Pray

God, “I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus” in whom “there is no darkness at all” (as expressed by hymnwriter Kathleen Thomerson in the Celebrating Faith album, 1999). Amen.

Monday, November 14

Luke 21:34-38

One of my favorite childhood memories is quail hunting with
my Grandpa, and often being joined by my Dad. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in that little county seat town near the Oklahoma panhandle where my grandparents lived, we would climb into Grandpa’s battered old van to drive out to one of several farms where relatives or friends allowed us to hunt.

With Skip, his Brittany Spaniel, a few yards ahead, Grandpa trudged through the shallow, thistle-filled ravines etched into the fallow wheat fields. It was often fingers-and-face-numbing cold. I haven’t picked up a gun in nearly 50 years, but I still vividly recall the moments when Skip would freeze in her tracks, “on point,” her nose often inches from the nearest bird. Grandpa would quietly signal with a raised hand and Dad and I also stopped.

I remember the feeling of being on high alert, 20-gauge Winchester in ready position, eyes peeled, nerves tingling, heart pounding, adrenalin rushing, knowing our quarry was so close by.

Perhaps those sensations are akin to the spiritual alertness and readiness Jesus spoke of in today’s reading. He urged his disciples to be on guard and alert at all times (vv. 34, 36). While Jesus was speaking of “that day” when the Son of Man returns with power and great glory, his exhortation applies to every day of life as Christ’s followers. We are to be spiritually disciplined and prepared, always alert to, and on guard against, anything that distracts or deters us from the life and mission to which God calls us.

Consider

What would enable you to live with spiritual alertness and readiness, free from the worries of this life (v. 34)?

Pray

God, so often I merely go through the motions of a religious life. In your power, enliven my spiritual sensibilities. Amen.

Sunday, November 13

Psalm 1

If given a choice, I’d rather prosper than not. Wouldn’t you? I’d rather thrive than languish, succeed than fail. I’d like for the psalmist’s line, In all that they do, they prosper (v. 3), to describe me. 

At the same time, I can get hung up on the ways this verse and similar texts have been employed to buttress a prosperity theology that contradicts larger biblical truths and the life and teaching of Jesus.

But after indulging my judgmental side, I need to return to the psalm’s promise that those who follow God and live as God intended will be like trees planted by streams of water (v. 3), trees that become strong and healthy, that do more than survive—they thrive and bear fruit.

Deep down, I want to prosper in the way the psalmist describes. I want to be wise and faithful. I want to be spiritually alive, vibrant, and growing. I want to be like the healthy trees that sink their roots into fertile soil nourished by streams of water. And I want to bear fruit like those trees. The Apostle Paul offered a list of such fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

All of us want to prosper. But are we eager to prosper in ways that truly matter? Are we eager to plant our lives in the rich soil of God’s love, then bear the fruit produced by the Spirit who lives within us?

Consider

Is there a stream, perhaps in the form of a spiritual practice, that you need to dip into more regularly in order to thrive as God intends?

Pray

God, this psalm reminds me of my need to access the life-giving streams of holy scripture daily so that I may follow your path. Please give me the reminders I need to help me to do so. Amen.

Saturday, November 12

2 Corinthians 3:1-18

On a busy Tuesday, I received a peculiar phone call. “Would you be willing to have someone do their community service hours at your workplace?” I paused. Who is this person who would be working here? I wondered if they had any references. My colleague on the phone replied, “His name is Roger. Just hear what he has to say.”

One minute into talking with Roger, I knew that God was at the center of our conversation. Following the death of his beloved, Roger’s life had spiraled into alcohol, drugs, and eventually incarceration. He had hit rock bottom and was working to dig his way out. I could see that God had brought us together, and I was determined to help. It’s what I felt in my heart God was calling me to do.

Roger immediately melded into the fabric of our office as if he had been there forever. Once he finished his community service hours, we had a big party to welcome him as a full-time employee.

How often have we tried to hide our flaws in our recommendation letters, choosing to appear overconfident rather than soulfully honest? As Paul reminds us, we are letters from Christ with all that we are—and that also includes the bumps on our journey. God is at work in us and through us. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God (v. 4). 

Consider

List words that describe your authentic self. Reflect on what is holding you back from living out these words. What are ways to continually be pure-hearted and vulnerable in all that we do? 

Pray

God, make us open to the ways that you are at work within us and through us. Teach us to continually give ourselves to you. Amen.

Friday, November 11

Micah 6:6-8

When my brother and I were in elementary school, our allowance was $5 per week. That amount went up over time but the question at our dinner table remained the same: How were we going to give to Jesus that week?

One afternoon my five-year-old brother was in tears. He had been watching one of many television ads that asked for donations to help starving children around the world. He had to help! But his allowance wasn’t enough. He complained to our parents. How was he going to help other children his age if he was only given $5 per week? He demanded a raise! And he cried. My mother reassured him that we would find a way to help. 

But she also said that it was important to remember that he had already taken the first step to living God’s way. He had chosen to be selfless, act justly, and give his whole heart to help others in need.

Micah asks a question that all God’s children are meant to ponder: what is the best gift we can give God? The prophet runs through a gift list, asking what specific offering God requires. In the end Micah assures us that there is not simply one perfect way to give, nor one perfect gift. What God longs for is the gift of our lives offered wholeheartedly: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the One we worship (v. 8).

Consider

Get to know your neighborhood better by exploring different routes to and from your home. Just as there are opportunities to help across the globe, there are also opportunities to do justice and love kindness in your area as well. There are countless ways to help those around us.

Pray

God, help us spend our days exploring the countless ways we could love you by helping others. Amen.

Thursday, November 10

Mark 12:41-44

A minister and his spouse were serving in the rural western hills of Puerto Rico. With most church members working on coffee or tobacco fields, the gifts their congregation gave simply came from the materials they had available. The couple learned that a certain number of mangoes could be traded for avocados; eggs were exchanged for plantains. Regardless of what the harvest was, one could always count on a rich cup of strong coffee to keep you awake for days.

One year, however, a devastating hurricane decimated the crops. As Christmas approached, all resources continued to be scarce; food security was a concern. And as for the expectations surrounding gift-giving, what were people going to do?

One December afternoon the ministry couple stepped out to run errands. Upon their return, they saw a simple grocery bag on their porch. Peeking out of it were all kinds of produce and delicately made savory treats. He prayed. She cried. “Who made this gift? This surprising, selfless gift in such a time of dire need?” To this day, they have never known.

God smiles down on us when we give—not from the fringes of our excess, but from our joyous heart, with all that we are and all that we have. This is the amazement Jesus expresses when he witnesses the widow’s extraordinary gift in the temple. When have we been part of such an extraordinary experience?

Consider

What leads us to take what we have and offer an extraordinary gift?

Pray

God, we often think we don’t have enough when in fact we have more than we think. Help us hear your call to give our whole selves and share our abundance, however lean, with others. Teach us to give selflessly each day. Amen.