Follow along with daily scripture readings and insights that will enhance your faith journey.
Follow along with daily scripture readings and insights that will enhance your faith journey.
Primary Scriptures: Romans 12:9-18; 13:8-9
Book: Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living (Rueben P. Job)
MONDAY 2.18.19 Exodus 20:13-17
In the saga of how God relates to people, the Ten Commandments came at a pivotal moment. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. They had learned the Egyptian culture, the brutal, dominating behavior of their masters. Now God called them to a very different quality of life, one that sought to avoid doing harm to others.
• Murder’s harmfulness is pretty clear. Think about the ways that adultery, stealing and giving false testimony against your neighbor cause harm. How have these behaviors harmed you, or someone you knew well? What kinds of things can we “steal” from others besides money or possessions?
• The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines “covet” as “to want to have something very much, especially something which belongs to someone else.” If you covet, who does that harm? In what ways can coveting open the door to some of the harmful behaviors named in the previous commandments?
TUESDAY 2.19.19 Leviticus 19:9-18
Jesus said Leviticus 19:18—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—is a vital life rule. An expert in the law asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” In reply, Jesus told the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). But the expert could have known that Leviticus, in the verses before the command, already listed many “neighbors” God’s people shouldn’t harm.
• Have you ever heard the phrase “Don’t leave any money on the table,” urging you to squeeze every penny out of someone else in a business deal? How did the commands in verse 9-10, 13, and 16 urge the Israelites to deal with others? How can you as a Christian decide whether guarding your interests does or does not harm others?
• “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” That saying may help a child cope with playground taunts, but as adults we know words can do great harm. Especially as the next election year heats up, what principles do verses 12-13 and 15-18 teach that bear on how we speak to one another, and about candidates for office?
WEDNESDAY 2.20.19 Romans 13:8-14
Paul sent this letter to a set of Roman house churches. In Romans 14-15, we see that these churches were very different. Some were mainly Jewish; others mostly Gentile. Their customs and standards of “righteousness” varied. It was all too easy for them to quarrel and tear each other down. “Love does no harm” was a big challenge, a crucial call.
• Bishop Reuben Job says “each of us knows of groups locked in conflict…the conflict is real, the divisions deep, the consequences often devastating. If…all involved can agree to do no harm, the climate in which the conflict is going on is immediately changed.” (Three Simple Rules) How might ugly religious conflicts (e.g. the Salem witch trials, the Inquisition) have been different if Christians had always aimed to “do no harm”? How can you stand for truths that matter to you without harming those who disagree?
• Which of the “deeds of darkness” Paul listed mainly harm the doer? Which of them harm others? In what ways does “do no harm” challenge you to avoid harming yourself?
THURSDAY 2.21.19 Galatians 5:13-21
In Three Simple Rules, Bishop Job asks if one reason we don’t choose to live into “do no harm” may be that “we are afraid of its consequences. To abandon the ways of the world for the way of Jesus is a radical step.” Paul called the Galatian Christians to let the Holy Spirit’s presence radically change their lives.
• Paul describes the way of life he’s talking about with the phrase “walk by the Spirit.” When have you experienced what we sometimes calls “inner nudges” that move you toward the right, or away from what is harmful? How can you learn to be more attuned to the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life?
• Who have you known whose life consistently followed the pattern of doing no harm to others? In what ways did that person’s life avoid the negative traits that Paul lists in this passage? What positive impacts did (or does) that person’s life have on you and on others?
FRIDAY 2.22.19 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Paul wrote that to reject whatever is harmful makes space for all kinds of beauty in life. He lived in the Greco/Roman world. Its people enjoyed violent gladiatorial fights and chariot races, practiced “sacred” prostitution, and worshiped scheming emperors as gods. In many ways, we face similar choices about our attitudes and entertainments today.
• How much do the positive qualities of life Paul listed in this passage (e.g. rejoicing, praying, being thankful) appeal to you? How can you nurture an inner appetite for the good? In what ways do you find that choosing harmful attitudes and actions (to yourself or to others) reduces your appetite for the good things God offers?
• “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire,” Paul wrote. In what different ways do you believe God can communicate with you, helping you to discern what is harmful from what is good and helpful? How can you give the Bible’s principles, prayer, and sharing with Godly friends a larger role in your decision-making?
SATURDAY 2.23.19 Isaiah 11:1-9
In Three Simple Rules, Bishop Job writes that “even a casual reading of the gospel suggests that Jesus taught and practiced a way of living that did no harm. His life, his way of life, and his teaching demonstrated so well this first simple rule.” Jesus is the biggest reason for us to adopt this approach to life. Isaiah wrote prophetically about God’s dream of a world restored through the Messiah’s work, a world where “they will neither harm nor destroy.”
• Imagine a world where people never purposely harm or destroy. If they unintentionally do harm, they quickly apologize and make things right. How much tension, fear and grief would a world like that have? What one step will you take today to make yourself more aware of any harm you may be doing to others, especially those you love? Ask God for help. Seek pastoral or professional help if you need to. Do no harm.
Family Activity: In all families, we say words that hurt each other. Read Proverbs 16:21. Create a family encouragement jar. Cut out 30-40 slips of paper. On each slip, write a word or phrase of love, support, care or hope. Think about what words lift you up and include those as a blessing to others. Place all of the slips in a jar. Any time a family member has spoken words of harm, he or she can then pull out a slip of paper, apologize, then say something encouraging. Better yet, work toward not speaking words of harm at all. When you need help, go to the jar for ideas and inspiration! Ask God to help you use your words for good.
PRAYERS FOR THE WEEK:
God of love, mercy and justice, it’s been said that “hurt people hurt people.” I’m sad when others hurt me, but I’m also sad when I hurt others. Heal my hurting self and transform me from the inside out. Teach me to want what you want, to love as you love, to do no harm. In the name of Jesus who did no harm to those who harmed him. Amen.
Pray for General Conference
February 23-26, St. Louis, MO
Pray for our Iowa Delegates
Diane Wasson Eberhart
Lilian Gallo Seagren
"Fear of Change"
MONDAY 2.11.19 – Praise to God, our dependable refuge and strength
Read: Psalm 46:1-3, 113:1-8
Sometimes we say, with a wry smile, that in today’s world “the only constant is change.” But many times this idea brings us, not a smile, but deep-seated fear. That didn’t just start. In the psalms (Israel’s hymnbook), we find mention of the world falling apart, mountains crumbling and the sea (an ancient symbol of chaos and disorder) roaring and raging. But we also find the confidence that God is high over all the changes that cause us fear. God is always our refuge and strength.
• The psalms were positive that God was present with us at any time of fear, “always near in times of great trouble.” That trust was based on the faith that God is eternal (i.e. outside of time), a God we can praise “from now until forever from now!” Have you wrestled with the mind-stretching idea that, unlike us, God is not limited by time or space, but can be with us any place and any time? In what ways is that a strong antidote to fear of change?
• What experiences have you already had that made it feel as though your world was falling apart? Did you allow your faith in God to provide you with a stable place to stand as everything else seemed to be crumbling? What makes it valuable to build your trust in God before the next time when everything seems to fall apart?
Pray: Lord God, I want to praise your name from sunrise to sunset because I genuinely trust that you are “high over all the nations.” Let my praise to you override my fear about any other realities. Amen.
TUESDAY 2.12.19 – God’s ultimate purpose: unshaken goodness for all people
Read: Psalm 23:1-3, 96:10-13
The familiar King James Version rendering of Psalm 23:3 is “he restoreth my soul.” Along with “still waters,” it may sound to us like a day at a peaceful spa. But “he keeps me alive” (the Common English Version’s translation) reflects the fact that for sheep, water and grass were not luxuries, but absolute necessities for survival. The Lord who ultimately rules over our world provides the things we need to keep our spiritual life always alive.
• Israel’s neighbors worshiped a “council” of Canaanite gods who, they believed, played favorites and ruled the world unjustly (cf. Psalm 82:5). Psalm 96:10 set the one creator God against that idea. “In contrast to the unjust rule of the gods…. God’s rule of justice and righteousness promises a stable and secure foundation.” * What helps you to trust that God’s eternal justice gives your life a stable and secure foundation?
• King David, who had been a shepherd (cf. 1 Samuel 17:34-36), likely composed Psalm 23. He described God as guiding him (and all God’s children) “in proper paths.” Living as we do in a culture that places great store on our freedom to choose our own path in life, how easy or difficult do you find it to trust God to point to the proper paths for your life? How can confidence that you are on the proper path reduce your fear of change?
Pray: King Jesus, truly, you rule! You rule the universe, including our world—yet you will rule my heart and life only if I ask you to. So please rule my life, and direct me in the proper paths. Amen.
* J. Clinton McCann, study note on Psalm 96:10 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 947 OT.
WEDNESDAY 2.13.19 – God: our place of safety even in the darkest valley
Read: Psalm 23:4-6, 46:4-7
The expression of trust in Psalm 23 did not promise that God’s people would never face painful, “dark valley” experiences. In fact, in common with other Biblical passages (e.g. Isaiah 43:3), it assumed that such times would come into all lives. The value the psalmists saw in trusting God lay not in being able to avoid pain and sadness, but in having God with us even in the darkest of times.
• Psalm 46:4 is poetry, not geography. “There is no river in Jerusalem. The river here is a symbol of life-giving power, in contrast to the threatening waters and waves of Psalm 46:3.” * How did that psalm set the stage for Jesus' dramatic claim: “On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, ‘All who are thirsty should come to me! All who believe in me should drink! As the scriptures said concerning me, ‘Rivers of living water will flow out from within him’” (John 7:37-38)? In what ways has Jesus quenched your inner thirst?
• We most often think something “pursuing us” is bad. Psalm 23 reversed that, saying, “goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.” Were there times when you, like so many of us, tried to ignore or avoid God’s presence? In what ways have God’s goodness and faithful love pursued you even if you were trying to get away from them?
Pray: Lord God, sometimes I forget you. Sometimes I try to ignore you. But I do not want to face this scary world alone. And I thank you for never giving up on me, but pursuing me with your goodness and faithful love. Amen.
* J. Clinton McCann, study note on Psalm 46:4 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 891 OT.
THURSDAY 2.14.19 – God: the unchanging “king of kings”
Read: Psalm 46:10-11, Revelation 17:9-14
The traditional King James Version translation of Psalm 46:10 is, “Be still.” But the Hebrew did not refer to going to a quiet mountain retreat. It was a call to say “enough” to our noisy inner fears, and with them silenced, to recognize God as our place of safety. At the end of the Bible, in visions packed with symbols, Revelation proclaimed Jesus’ final triumph over evil. In the first century, for Christians, the persecuting Roman Empire (Rome—the city on seven mountains, or hills) was evil incarnate. The vision gave Jesus a double title— “Lord of lords and King of kings.” It echoed a title Caesar often claimed. Jesus was king, not just over “little people,” but over all other kings, even over Caesar. He was, and is, “our place of safety.”
• “The basis for the Lamb’s victory in 17:14 is that ‘he is Lord of lords and King of kings’…. Just as the Babylonian king [in Daniel 4] was addressed by this title, so the king of latter-day Babylon (Rome) in John’s day was similarly addressed…. The Lamb exposes as false the divine claims of the emperor and others like him.” * Rome was hardly unique. Human rulers have often claimed divine approval or status (e.g. Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles that said, in German, “God is with us”). Many rulers today, formal or informal, claim exalted status for themselves. Do you trust that Jesus is “king of kings” over all of them? In what ways is that trust the foundation for the peace and hope in which we can live at all times?
Pray: Lord Jesus, you are the King of kings, you are the Lord of lords. I cannot fully grasp all the reach of that, but I can and do ask you to be Lord of my life, to make me the person you want me to be. Amen.
* G. K Beale and D. K. Carson, ed. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007, p. 1139.
FRIDAY 2.15.19 – God—our support and strength at all ages
Read: Isaiah 40:27-31, 46:3-4
Today’s readings likely came from a time when the Israelites were returning to their ruined land after decades in exile. There were no “Babylon to Jerusalem” flights—Isaiah 40’s references to “stumbling” and “walking” reflected the only way most exiles got home. So the Israelites were weary, and feared maybe God was too. But these prophetic texts said God never forgets his own. Israel (and we) could always hope and trust in God, because God has pledged to support us all our lives—and our God never grows tired like we do.
• Can you recall times when you have felt like the Israelites in Isaiah 40:27: “My way is hidden from the LORD, my God ignores my predicament”? Are there areas of your life that feel that way to you right now? In what ways can you reconnect with the Creator who “doesn’t grow tired or weary” of caring for you? What helps you trust God’s promise that “until you turn gray I will support you”?
• Isaiah wrote, “His understanding is beyond human reach” (40:28). Our need to control, our challenge with “letting go,” inexorably runs into our inability to control time. Even the best health and fitness programs cannot (honestly) promise to fully halt the aging process. How can really trusting in a God who’s vastly wiser than you are renew your strength by setting you free from the need to try to control life’s uncontrollable realities?
Pray: Lord God, when I’m worn out, you are still full of eternal energy. As I age, you remain the same creative, caring God you’ve always been. Help me learn more and more to trust your timeless love. Amen.
SATURDAY 2.16.19 – Hope in God’s unseen glory—greater than illness, age, death
Read: 2 Corinthians 4:6-10, 16-18
The apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians after a painful time, when many Christians in Corinth, biased by a set of false teachers, had turned against him. Later in the letter, he cataloged the many challenges he had faced in carrying out God’s mission (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Yet Paul did not let any of that destroy him. In verse 10, he tied his struggles to Jesus’ death, which seemed the worst defeat of all and yet became a victory when he rose from the dead three days later.
• When did you last feel confused, harassed or knocked down? What resources helped you avoid being crushed, depressed or knocked out? Have you ever seen, in yourself or anyone you know, the truth of “even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day”?
• We often tend to feel shame about the realities of illness or aging. We see them as a sign of weakness or failure. Paul faced those realities, but saw them differently. Are there disciplines (e.g. Bible memorization, meditation, prayer) that help you access God’s strength to keep your inner self moving toward victory even when your outer self is breaking down? How has the Bible’s teaching that our eternal life starts now shaped your view of your limitations?
Pray: Lord Jesus, on the days when life feels dark, when nothing seems to go right, help me not to be crushed or destroyed. Remind me always that “the worst thing is never the last thing.” Amen.
Family Activity: Many people struggle with change, sometimes even fear it. As a family, name the four seasons, then invite each person to share what they like and dislike about each one. For example, the summer brings about more free time, but often high heat. The winter offers snow for sledding and snowball fights, but unsafe driving conditions. Take a moment to imagine what life would be like if you only experienced one season every day, all year long. What would you like about that? What would you miss? Remind one another that even though change can be difficult, we can often find good in the new experience or situation. Read Lamentations 3:22-23 and Hebrews 13:8 aloud, then thank God for being faithful through all of life’s changes. Pray for a heart and mind open to positive and healthy change.
Fear of Failure
[The LORD said to Moses,] “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” … But [Moses] said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Exodus 3:10, 4:13
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, “… As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you… Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:1, 5b, 9b
God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
MONDAY 2.04.19 – Moses: lots of frightened excuses, world-changing success
Read: Exodus 3:2-4, 9-11, 13, 4:1, 10, 13; Deuteronomy 34:10-12
Moses had a safe, steady (if fairly boring) job tending sheep for his father-in-law. He’d long ago left his upbringing in Egypt’s royal palace behind. But God had other plans. God came to Moses as he did his steady, boring job (with little need to trust in himself or God), and kept calling as Moses offered excuse after excuse. In the end, Moses left his safe life to answer God’s call, and marched into history trusting God to guide him in leading Israel out of slavery.
• As you read all of Moses’ reasons for not doing what God was calling him to do, consider which of them most resonate with any fears you face. Ask God to day-by-day help you grow, as Moses did, into a person God can use to serve where you are—your home, workplace or neighborhood—or in a special mission you sense God calling you to.
• Moses seemed to think only a strong, important person could carry out God’s call. Was he really supposed to go as one man, with no army, and demand that Pharaoh let most of his slave labor force go just because God told him to? Do you ever fear that you are not strong or important enough to live as God calls you to live? God can help you shift your focus from your limitations to your strengths, the greatest strength being the fact that God will be with you.
Prayer: O God, you don’t call all of us to huge, historic missions like the one you gave Moses. But at times your call looks big enough that I get scared. Give me your strength to live for you beyond any of my fears. Amen.
TUESDAY 2.05.19 – God-given success when facing a scary giant
Read: 1 Samuel 17:4-11, 32-37, 41-45
This is the first story about Israel’s King David most children learn in Sunday School. Even in sports or business, we often talk about a “David and Goliath” story when a “little guy” takes on an established power. The Philistine giant, whatever his exact size (ancient manuscripts differ), was big enough to terrify King Saul and the whole Israelite army. But he didn’t scare David. For him, the size of the God he served mattered much more than the size of his enemy. (And, of course, the story goes on in verse 46 ff. to say the giant lost—badly.)
• When have you had to face a “giant” problem or person? Were your inner feelings (whether you showed them externally or not) more like those of Saul and the army, or like David’s? What role, if any, did your trust in God play in the way you faced the intimidating situation? Did you learn anything that helps you with giant problems or persons you face today, or may face in the future?
• Goliath was no doubt a veteran fighter, but he seemed to count as much or more on insults and intimidation as on his physical skill. As the Philistine poured out scornful insults toward David, the Hebrew young man wasn’t cowed or distracted. To what extent are you able to be “inner directed,” rather than overly sensitive to what others (especially any giants you face) may think of you? What makes that ability important when you’re tempted to feel afraid of failing?
Prayer: Lord God, giants don’t always have to be nine feet tall to feel that way to me. Teach me that you are bigger than any human “giant,” and help me “cut them down to size” by trusting in you. Amen.
WEDNESDAY 2.06.19 – A failure of nerve rooted in a failure of faith
Read: Numbers 13:27-33; 14:1-3
As Israel neared the Promised Land, Moses sent 12 men to scout the land (Numbers 13:1-3). When the scouts returned to give their report, ten of them focused on obstacles and problems, and were terrified. Long before David faced Goliath, they were frightened of the “huge men” they saw in the Promised Land. Only Caleb (along with Joshua—Numbers 14:6) focused on God’s promise and power, and pleaded with people to keep moving forward.
• This story shows two things about fear. First, it’s contagious—the 10 scouts’ fear spread to most of the people. Second, it clouds the ability to think clearly—once afraid, the people thought irrationally, “Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Can you think of times when fear has magnified a challenge you faced, or led you to a damaging response? How can you avoid being a source of contagious fear for others?
• Camped right on the borders of the Promised Land, Israel turned away because fear got the better of them. Are there any “frontiers,” spiritual or emotional as well as physical, you sense God might be calling you to cross? What fears arise in your heart as you think about where God may be calling you? How can you develop the kind of faith Caleb and Joshua showed?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, had you been governed by fear, you’d no doubt have stayed safely away from this broken, sometimes hostile planet. Please keep infusing your holy fearlessness into my heart and life. Amen.
THURSDAY 2.07.19 – A puzzle: the apparent success of the wicked
Read: Psalm 73:1-13, Daniel 8:12-25
Psalm 73 reflected a spiritual puzzle. People who completely ignored God seemed to be having success—no troubles at all (verses 3-5). If that was the case, maybe serving God was futile (verses 11, 13). Daniel 8’s apocalyptic vision pictured an evil power (probably, originally, the oppressive Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes). Three times it said he would “succeed,” but only in the short term. In the end, “he will be broken—and not by a human hand.”
• For this psalmist, it was “the prosperity of the wicked” that nearly caused him to give up faith in God. At what times in your life, if any, has the “success” of the wicked led you to ask, “Does the Most High know anything?” (v. 11) Whose position, possessions or prospects do you envy? How much does it matter to you how “success” is reached?
• If the evil power in Daniel 8:12-25 was Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the “daily sacrifice” likely referred to that king sacrificing a pig on the Temple altar in Jerusalem, deliberately trying to discredit Israel’s God. He was arrogant about his power— “in his own mind, he will be great.” But his army and title did not dethrone God. Can you think of other evil forces (e.g. Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich”) that crumbled after seeming success? Can you trust, as James Russell Lowell wrote in “The Present Crisis,” that “behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own”? *
Prayer: O Lord, give me more and more of your eternal perspective on success. Keep my steps from slipping at the times when I see the apparent success of the wicked. Amen.
* If you’d like to read Lowell’s entire classic poem (it’s long), visit http://www.bartleby.com/42/805.html
FRIDAY 2.08.19 – Young minister, tough situation, and a recipe for success
Read: 1 Timothy 1:3-5, 4:8-16
On his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul met a younger man named Timothy (cf. Acts 16:1-4). Timothy became one of his most trusted associates, one Paul trusted to lead some of the churches he planted, and to continue leading them after Paul was gone. Such a large responsibility must have frightened Timothy at times, especially in the light of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). But Paul urged him to lead with confidence and trust in God.
• In God’s sweeping story in the Bible, we see that God used people who might have been thought too old (e.g. Abraham, Moses) and others who might have been thought too young (e.g. Jeremiah, Timothy). If you are on the younger end of the age spectrum, do older people ever intimidate you, making you afraid to offer your gifts and insights? If you are on the older end of the spectrum, what helps you resist the urge to look down on younger Christians whose thinking or music may be different than you’ve been used to?
• What examples of either spiritual courage or timidity are parts of your family’s spiritual legacy? In what ways have parents, grandparents and other important people given you confidence to fearlessly value and use your God-given strengths? What effect have they had on you? How can you mentor and encourage someone who is younger than you are?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as I live in this age-conscious culture, remind me that from your eternal view, age is one of the least of your concerns. Empower me to live without fear, now and in all the years of earthly life that are left for me. Amen.
SATURDAY 2.09.19 – The divine definition of true success
Read: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:11
Rabbis debated who Isaiah’s fourth “servant song” was about. The first Christians had no doubt—they quoted this song more than any other verses to describe Jesus’ redemptive suffering. In Jesus, the early Christians saw, God’s servant succeeded by taking the world’s evil and hatred onto himself and through what looked like failure to human eyes changed it into a redemptive force. No passage in the Hebrew Scriptures spoke more eloquently to those early Christians—and to every generation of Christians since—about the meaning of Jesus’ death. As the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology said, “God’s power is at its greatest not in his destruction of the wicked but in his taking all the wickedness of the earth into himself and giving back love.” *
• Jesus set the stage for the way New Testament writers applied Isaiah 53 by quoting part of the passage and applying it to himself (cf. Luke 22:37). It all came true in Jesus’ saving death and resurrection, they said. What does Jesus’ way of succeeding in defeating evil as the Suffering Servant tell you about how God defines success? What kinds of evil have you faced? How can Jesus’ example guide you toward the path of genuine success at those times?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you succeeded through self-giving love, through suffering for others and giving your life to offer me life. Reshape any flawed notions of success I may have, and help me to truly succeed by the same divine standards that you did. Amen.
* T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, ed. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 222.
Family Activity: Collect a backpack, some large, heavy rocks and a few thick markers. As a family, invite each person to try on the empty backpack, and feel its lightness. Next, ask everyone to take two stones and a marker. Have each person think of something they are not very good at or something they have done wrong and write it on one rock. Pass the backpack around asking each person to share what they wrote and place it in the backpack. Talk about how the backpack is feeling heavier. Now, invite each person to take their second rock and write on it something they do well but can sometimes be difficult to do. Pass around the backpack again with each person sharing what they wrote on the second rock, and placing their rock in the backpack. Have each person try on the backpack again. Discuss how at times both our failures and our successes can feel heavy or burdensome. Read I Peter 5:7 and Matthew 11:28-30. Thank God for helping us carry our burdens.
"Friendless and Alone?"
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it… Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” Genesis 2:15, 18
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me…
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?…
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
Psalm 139:5, 8-10
I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. John 13:34
MONDAY 1.28.19 – Intentional times of being alone with God
Read: Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, John 6:15
Reflect: Jesus loved people, yet he regularly sought solitude as a way to refocus and cultivate his walk with God. For some of us, a fear of being alone can grow so strong that we nearly panic if we find ourselves alone. We may almost fixatedly seek to be with others, perhaps even in settings or situations that do not match our stated values. It’s a useful spiritual practice to learn to value solitude, intentional or unintentional, and grow stronger through it.
• “The experience of solitude varies widely from taking advantage of the little solitudes in our days to setting aside planned times of retreat to step out of our daily patterns in order to enter into the silence of God…. Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place.” * Where, both in daily routines and in more deliberate ways, are you able to experience solitude? Do you fear those times, live through them passively, or value the opportunity for spiritual growth they give you?
• The gospel passages often associated prayer with Jesus’ times of solitude. Of course, he also prayed when around people (e.g. John 11:41-42). But we see that he often found solitude conducive to prayer. In what ways do you find prayer different when you are alone than when you are with others? What strengths can you see in each kind of prayer setting?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me not to shun times of solitude, or to waste them in wishing I were not alone. Teach me how to use those moments, whether minutes or days, into times to draw closer to you. Amen.
* Quoted from https://renovare.org/about/ideas/spiritual-disciplines, a service of the Renovare Institute, founded by Richard Foster, the author of the classic book Celebration of Discipline.
TUESDAY 1.29.19 – When trying to “do it alone” is destructive
Read: Exodus 18:14-18
Reflect: Task: lead a throng of ex-slaves safely through the Sinai desert. They hadn’t learned to work out even minor conflicts—their slave masters had run everything. Few of them had developed even basic leadership skills, or had reason to give leadership any thought. Moses found himself trying in person to iron out every little problem the people had. But his father-in-law wisely told him, “What you are doing isn’t good…. You can’t do it alone.”
• It was good that Moses took his role as leader seriously. “The people come to me to inquire of God,” he said. But his father-in-law was God’s instrument to remind him that he wasn’t called to be a solo act, handling everything himself. What tasks do you carry alone right now? Look prayerfully at what parts of them you could share with others.
• We often carry an emotional burden about challenges in our workplace, family or church, even though there is nothing specific we could do to fix the situation. Or we may be able to affect one part of the problem, but convince ourselves that we alone must figure out the full solution. Have you ever tried to carry “the weight of the world” on your shoulders alone? How can you recognize people God may have sent to lighten your load?
Pray: God, I can’t do your job. Deliver me from the temptation to try to be what you, and only you, can be—the ruler of the universe. Remind me not to try to “do it all alone.” Amen.
WEDNESDAY 1.30.19 – Our deep need for connectedness
Read: Genesis 2:18, Ecclesiastes 4:7-12, John 14:18-19
Reflect: News reports, and mission partners in various parts of Africa, have showed us the plight of more than 100 million orphans and vulnerable children due to the AIDS epidemic. Genesis 2 stated a human truth: it isn’t good for us to be all alone. And Jesus, in a land where poor health and Roman violence left many children orphaned, used that image to promise his followers that, whatever befell their human connections, he would never leave them as orphans. Through the Holy Spirit, he would always be with them.
• Sometimes seen as bitter and cynical, the wisdom teacher of Ecclesiastes warmly valued human friendship. “Two are better than one,” he wrote. They “can help each other, can keep each other warm and safe.” * Then he added that “a three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap,” which “may imply that three companions are even better than two.” * In what ways have you found value in doing things with another person or two, rather than all alone?
• In John 14, Jesus gave his followers a glimpse into the mysteries of God. He preceded the verses we read today by promising to send “another Companion” (Greek paraclete, which meant companion, helper, advocate and comforter, and referred to the Holy Spirit). Then he said, “I will come to you”—in other words, the Spirit’s presence was his presence. When have you sensed Jesus’ comfort, protection or uplift without a visible presence giving it to you?
Pray: Lord Jesus, thank you for keeping your promise not to leave me as an orphan. Teach me how to claim you as my Companion and Comforter, even when my circumstances seem the hardest. Amen.
* Brent A. Strawn, study notes on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013,
p. 1061 OT.
THURSDAY 1.31.19 – God calls us to provide community for those who are alone
Read: James 1:26-27
Reflect: True devotion to God, James said, doesn’t show itself in grand words, whether they are lofty or angry. Our devotion shows most truly as we actively care for and help those who have to face the world alone. That can be as simple as extending friendship and human warmth to those whose circumstances leave them alone, or as demanding as becoming foster or adoptive parents (for information on Fostering or Adopting in Iowa, go to www.iowafosterandadoption.org) ordinary Christians suffered from social and legal persecution. But life in those conditions was even harder for orphans and widows, who had no family and no legal standing at all to protect them. Which, James asked, would help them more—a biting, angry tirade against the tyrants, or a tangible act of love and assistance? How can we apply the principle behind his words to situations we face today?
• “Orphans and widows in the Old Testament symbolize the most unfortunate members of society (see Exod. 22:22-24).” * If James were writing today, who might he list in his letter as among the most unfortunate members of society? As you think about those people, is your heart moved with compassion, or do you find it uncomfortable and try to put them out of your mind?
Pray: Lord God, I’m devoted to you—after all, I read the GPS. Give me the insight and the courage to find tangible ways to live out that devotion, serving you by serving others who are alone and hurting. Amen.
* Patrick J. Hartin, study notes on James 1:27 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 456 NT.
FRIDAY 2.01.19 – God knows and loves you, inside and out
Read: Psalm 139:1-12
Reflect: Have you ever had moments when you feared God had given up on you? Or maybe had a time when you tried to run away from God? The psalmist said that, no matter where we go, God goes there with us. But this sweeping poem didn’t merely assert God’s presence—it also told believers that God’s presence is a good thing, because God will always guide, strengthen and support us.
• Suppose all of the promises in this psalm were shaped into a “commercial” for God. Would you believe them? Would you want to have a God who watched over you so faithfully and patiently? Which parts of your life, of yourself, do you keep the most hidden? God knows all about them—and looks on you with compassion and love anyway. Talk trustingly to God about those hidden things today—and listen inwardly for God’s response.
• Jesus began the Lord’s Prayer (which we say each week in worship) with “Our Father who is in heaven.” “Heaven” translates the Greek word ouranōs, which meant, not a place far away, but “air” or “sky.” Jesus was not saying God is far away, but around us, above us, wherever we go—the same idea as verses 7-12 in today’s reading. What helps you experience God’s presence? What spiritual difference does that make for you?
Pray: Dear Jesus, at my worst, I feel like hiding from you. At my best, I want you to stay with me all the time—and that’s exactly what you’ve promised to do. Amen.
SATURDAY 2.02.19 – You’re never alone when God is with you
Psalm 27:7-10, 68:3-6, John 16:32
Reflect: Every time we baptize a child, the pastor tells the parents that God’s design is that they model God’s love and goodness for their child. In this broken world, in Bible times and still today, human parents, friends and spouses sometimes fall sadly short of living out God’s design. But Scripture said that, even if our human relationships let us down, we do need to fear being alone and friendless. We can always depend, if we will, on God’s loving presence with us.
• Part of our faith heritage, starting with Methodism’s founder John Wesley, is a profound sense of calling and mission. We believe God calls us to be God’s voice, hands and feet, in a hurting world. God’s work, the psalms said, is to provide a family for orphans, a sustaining relationship for widows, and companionship for all who might be lonely. How can you join in God’s work (and, in the process, build better relationships for yourself)? Do you know anyone who may not be an “orphan” or “widow” in the concrete sense of the term, but who you could uplift by extending God’s love and care?
Pray: O God, the psalmist said you are “Father of orphans and defender of widows.” Thank you for always being with me. Give me eyes to see others who are hurting, and use me to bless them with your love and caring. Amen.
Family Activity: At times, everyone fears feeling alone or unloved. As a family, share ideas about how you can work with God to bring comfort and care to others. Discuss each person’s unique gifts and abilities. How can those be used to comfort others? How can those same gifts be combined with those of other family members to care and help? Use construction paper to create the symbol of a heart. On it, write or draw the gifts of each person. Also write or draw about how they can be used to comfort people who are sad or lonely. Pray together, asking God to help guide you to use your ideas and gifts. Thank God for giving them to you. Display your family’s “heart” as a reminder to comfort others this year.
"Fear of the Other"
January 20, 2019 – Unafraid – Living with Courage and Hope
“Fear of the Other”
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?…
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:1 and 14
“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” Matthew 5:43-44
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen.
I John 4:18a and 19
MONDAY 1.21.19 – Should I fear anyone?
Read: Psalm 27:1-5
Reflect: Within the confines of time, the promises of Psalm 27 do not always come true. But our God is eternal, not bound by time, so we need not fear—anyone or anything. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, at the funeral of four girls killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, “Like the everchanging cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of the summers and the piercing chill of its winters. But through it all, God walks with us. Never forget that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope.” *
• Israelites who prayed and sang this psalm saw Babylon destroy Jerusalem, saw Rome overpower their land—yet they still trusted. Christians saw Jesus crucified, the apostles Paul and Peter martyred by Rome, prayed the psalm in dim Roman catacombs—yet they still trusted. What difficulties test your trust, and seek to make you afraid? How can you trust that in the end God will always keep the promise to set you up high, safe on a rock?
• Verse 4 said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord… to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, seeing the Lord’s beauty.” In his beloved book Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote to God, “Thou knowest well that it is not thy gifts that I desire… but Thyself.” What draws you to adore and yearn for God with anything like that kind of intensity?
Pray: Lord Jesus, grow in me an ever-deepening trust in your eternal presence and power, and your great heart of love. Amen.
* “Eulogy for the Martyred Children,” in James M. Washington, ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1986, p. 222.
TUESDAY 1.22.19 – God doesn’t play favorites
Read: Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:14-19
Reflect: We often think of Old Testament Israel as exclusive and narrow toward non-Israelites. But here we read, “Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself.” Israel’s faith stressed God’s concern for all people, especially those who needed help. In theory (though too often not in practice—e.g. Isaiah 58:2-10), Israel was a nation in which everyone was responsible to seek the well-being of all.
• God told Israel to remember their history as poor immigrants when they were a settled people into whose land others might immigrate. What does this suggest about how God sees people of all nations and races? As God’s follower, how can you live out that same spirit in your attitudes and actions today?
• All over the world, in virtually every nation and culture, those who are “different,” who are
“outsiders,” face prejudice because of ethnicity, poverty, lack of education or many other markers of “otherness.” When have you seen people who are “other” treated that way, or been treated that way yourself? How can you make things better rather than worse when such ugly actions happen?
Pray: Lord of all, when difference offends me, or when prejudice enrages me, remind me that you came to change my heart. Help me, like you, to meet evil with good. Amen.
WEDNESDAY 1.23.19 – “Love your enemies”
Read: Matthew 5:43-48
Reflect: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his last Christmas Eve sermon on December 24, 1967. It included these words: “Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return…. This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Love your enemies.’ And I’m happy that he didn’t say, ‘Like your enemies,’ because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like…. I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself… every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.” *
• Jesus (and Dr. King) knew that one of the most common ways we deal with fear is to turn it into hate toward those we fear. But following the teaching of Jesus, Dr. King said there’s a better option. To those he called “our most bitter opponents,” Dr. King declared, “We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. be assured that… we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory…. the truth crushed to earth will rise again.” ** How can you more and more live into the God-given spirit of agape toward whatever frightening people and forces you face, big or small?
Pray: O God, make me an instrument of your peace. Grow in me confidence in the long-term power of love, the world-changing power that makes me a follower of Jesus. Amen.
* “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” in James M. Washington, ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1986, p. 256.
** Ibid., pp. 256, 257.
THURSDAY 1.24.19 – Jesus saw people, not “enemies”
Read: Luke 9:51-56, John 4:4-10
Reflect: Just knowing Jesus was going to Jerusalem led a Samaritan village to refuse to allow him to stay in their village. Jews hated Samaritans, a mixed race born of Assyria’s policy of wiping out the identity of conquered peoples (2 Kings 17:24). Samaritans hated Jews, who snubbed their offer to help rebuild the Temple (Ezra 4:1-4). Each side’s fear of the other had hardened for 700 years. The Samaritan woman was astonished that Jesus would ask for something as simple as a drink of water—yet Jesus reached out to Samaritans, again and again, rather than fearing or avoiding them.
• In Luke 9, the Samaritan villagers were rude and unwelcoming. James and John reacted as we are often tempted to. “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to consume them?” they asked. But Jesus said no. Have you ever been in a position either to fan the flames of hatred higher, or to lower the temperature and move toward peace? Which course did you choose? How did things work out?
• What risks of misunderstanding, damage to reputation, rejection or rudeness existed for Jesus when he chose to engage the Samaritan woman in conversation at Jacob’s Well? What made him willing to take those risks in order to offer “living water” to a member of a different and despised race, and a disgraced woman at that? What does his model teach us about fearing people who are different?
Pray: Lord Jesus, it’s true that “hurt people hurt people.” But you refused the path of fear and anger even when snubbed. Transform my heart to be more like yours each day. Amen.
FRIDAY 1.25.19 – The apostles preached the gospel to “enemies”
Read: Acts 8:5, 25; 10:9-28
Reflect: Jesus’ example made a difference, and Acts reported that the apostles preached in many Samaritan villages. But even after what happened at Pentecost, Peter still felt the reluctance he’d learned all his life about mixing closely with Gentiles, especially Romans. God had to propel him dramatically, using a startling vision, to break down some of those inner barriers. (This is a great story—if you have time, read the whole thing in Acts 10:1–11:18.)
• Peter’s vision struck him so hard because, like all devout Jews, he carefully followed the laws (especially in Leviticus 11) which forbade eating “unclean” meat. Those laws were not about kitchen hygiene, but about an approach to ceremonial “cleanness” before God. Entering a Gentile dwelling also brought ceremonial impurity (cf. John 18:28). What made Peter’s mission “clean”? Are there any places or people you avoid because you fear they might make you “unclean”?
• Even after his vision came three times, Peter didn’t fully get the point. Verses 27-28 of the story suggest that meeting a large group of Gentiles eager to hear the gospel was his “aha!” moment. Have you ever had a particular contact or experience that broke through some prejudice of yours, and opened your eyes to God’s inclusive mission in the world?
Pray: Lord God, it feels so natural, in so many ways, for me to divide the human family into “us” and “them.” Teach me what you taught Peter—that in your eyes, there is only “us.” Amen.
SATURDAY 1.26.19 – No fear in love
Read: Galatians 3:26-28, 1 John 4:18-21
At the foundation of all Christian faith is the trust that God loves us, that God created human beings out of love and for love. This was (and is) quite extraordinary. Egyptians, Canaanites, Greeks or Romans—none of them believed their gods loved them. But Christians believe Jesus embodied that belief, and showed us how it shapes life for the better. And that belief makes a real difference in how we relate to all other people, those who are close to us and those who are “other.” Paul told the Galatians that in Jesus ethnic, economic/social and gender distinctions all lost their power to divide us and cause fear and separation.
• Why would perfect love drive out fear? Have you ever experienced a situation in which as love developed for another person, fear of that person decreased and disappeared? 1 John 4:20 got blunt, and may make us uncomfortable: “If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar.” To what extent do you agree that hate for human beings rules out genuine love for God? Why would that be the case? Can you think of practical steps that move you in the direction of caring about “others,” about people that you may see as dangerous enemies, as deserving of fear and distrust rather than of love?
Pray: Lord Jesus, sometimes I find your ways appealing. Sometimes I find them hard. I need your grace to guide and energize me to more and more see everyone as a person you love, even the ones who frustrate or scare me. Amen.
Family Activity: Jesus served and shared God’s love with others in many ways. Martin Luther King, Jr. followed in the footsteps of Jesus and sought to do the same. How does your family work together to share God’s love with others? Select a way to serve others together. Ask an older child or youth to research some volunteer opportunities in your area. Consider brainstorming about some less-structured ways you can serve others with God’s love, such as helping others in your neighbor or at school. At a family gathering, ask the child or youth to present these opportunities to the rest of the family. Pray for God’s guidance as you discuss the possibilities. Choose one or two ways your family can share God’s love with others.
Read: 1 Peter 5:6-10
Reflect: Early Christians faced hostility, ostracism and often persecution. They might be beaten, imprisoned or even executed. Peter wrote a stirring call to those people. As they lived in conditions guaranteed to make people anxious, he urged them to bring all their anxieties to God in trusting prayer. Peter and those early Christians looked beyond the boundaries of this life. They trusted that all earthly struggles are only “for a little while,” while God’s restoration of us to the kind of life humans are meant to live is an eternal reality.
• What does it mean for you to cast all your anxiety on God? In what ways have you learned to trust that God cares for you? In what parts of life, if any, is it still hard for you to trust that? Read John 21:15-19 to see why Peter could say with such confidence that God will restore you, and make you steadfast, strong and firm. Are there failures from which you want God to restore you? Are there areas in which you wish to be more steadfast or strong? Ask God in prayer to work with you to make restoration and strength a reality for you in 2019.
Pray: Lord Jesus, keep me clear-headed, keep me alert. Let me use those qualities to let you carry my anxieties, rather than trying to carry them myself. Amen.
Family Activity: For this activity, you will need a Bible, a sheet of blank wrapping paper or newsprint to cover a doorway in your home, a marker and some tape. Gather together and have someone read Isaiah 41:10 aloud. Discuss why at times it is difficult to be brave, strong and full of faith. Write down everyone’s fears, obstacles and roadblocks on the large piece of paper. When everyone has responded, tape the paper to the doorway. Join together to break through the paper covered in fears and barriers and walk through to the other side. Pray together and ask God to help you remember that God is always you, even through the unsure and scary times.
Read: Philippians 4:4-7
Reflect: We surely understand peace, don’t we? The apostle Paul’s statement that God’s peace “exceeds all understanding” may make more sense when we realize that he sent this letter from a dank, dreary Roman prison cell (cf. Philippians 1:12-14). Even there, he had God’s peace. And he shared a key he’d found for living in God’s peace: to take anything that might worry him and give it to God in prayer.
• Paul advised, “Don’t be anxious about anything.” Almost as if he heard us saying, “How?” he added, “rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks” (verse 6). What are some things that trigger ugly, anxiety-producing thoughts in you? How can you incorporate Paul’s wisdom about taking those things to God in prayer more fully into your daily life?
• Paul, at peace even in prison, did not say, “I sure was lucky to be born with a peaceful temperament.” Instead, in Philippians 4:11, he said, “I have learned how to be content in any circumstance.” Under what conditions, good or bad, do you find it a struggle to remain in God’s peace? What experiences or examples have helped you learn to make choices or take actions that lead you toward accepting God’s gift of peace?
Pray: Lord Jesus, I want to turn my worries into prayers. I lay before you all the things that worry me today, and I open my heart to your gifts of peace and contentment. Amen.
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