Friday, May 29, 2020

My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long. —Psalm 35:28

When I look at this verse from Psalm 35, the word, “reflex” comes to mind. A tongue that tells of God’s righteousness all day long sounds to me a lot like lungs that inhale when they’re empty, eyelids that blink when they’re dry, and a stomach that starts digesting when it’s fed. It’s like flinching when we anticipate a threat. Without a whole lot of decision-making, these functions happen over and over, on and on. According to the psalmist, singing God’s praise is just what his tongue does in response to knowing God. A reflex.

And sometimes praising God feels like that, right? Sometimes we’re filled to overflowing with gratitude and awe, and we can’t help but express it in our attitudes, words, and actions. That’s the kind of praise reflex I think the psalmist is talking about.

Sometimes, however, my own praise reflex feels dulled. Sometimes I get bogged down by the mundane, I need to coax myself into expressing gratitude, I am too busy to experience awe. How about you?

Our bodily reflexes are good for us, and when they’re dulled, we suffer. So it is with our praise reflex. The truth is, I am created to praise God and my inclination to do so is important for my spiritual wellness.

This reflex is something I feel the need to sharpen in myself, especially right now when so many things feel dulled and fuzzy. In a conversation with my coach today, I figured out that I benefit from regular reminders of God’s presence. For me, revisiting Psalm 19:14 throughout my day is really important. When I do, my awareness of God’s presence becomes clearer. And with that clarity, praising God becomes more like blinking my eyes. More like a reflex. 

If you feel this need to sharpen your reflex for praise, consider these questions…

  • When has praising God felt more like a reflex than a conscious decision? What was that like? 
  • What would it look like for you to sharpen your praise reflex so that you might more readily and regularly praise God? 
  • What reminders about God do you need to keep at the forefront? 
  • What sins are blocking your natural inclination to praise the Lord? What would it look like to ask for God to help you repent of those?
  • What attitudes, if shifted, would position you to stand in awe of your Creator? 
  • Who can help you?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the last day of Jesus Christ. -Philippians 1:6

I keep hearing people call Memorial Day the unofficial start of summer. 

I don’t know if that’s true, but with the warm weather this past weekend, there was a certain feeling of “lightness” that people seemed to have.

I saw it in people as they walked their dog, were out for a run, rollerblading, or playing this strange game that a group of teenagers were playing on Friday and Saturday night. One of them would leave their bike in the street, ring someone’s doorbell (no, not ours), and run (rather than ride) away.

Based on the fact that the second night this happened the homeowner came out looking annoyed before walking to the street, picking up the bike, and putting it in his garage…I’m not sure of the sustainability of this game without some major revisions to the rules.  

Anyway, this lightness pointed out to me how not being able to see or gather with the people I care about and the excessive amount of time I’ve spent in front of screens has left me feeling like life is on hold. I’m just waiting around for life to get back to normal.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is likely written while he was unjustly imprisoned in Rome awaiting a trial where if he’s found guilty, could result in his execution. In the midst of all he’s experiencing, before Paul says anything about his own situation, Paul is encouraging the church at Philippi that when they came to accept the gospel, God began a process of transformation that will continue until God’s goal for each one of those individuals has been completed.

So, this leaves me with two questions…

If God’s “good work in [me] is carrying on” right now, should I feel like my life is on hold?

When I think about the promise God’s transformation that is taking place, is what I envision as “getting back to normal” where I want to go?

Monday, May 25, 2020

“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” —Psalm 5:3

For much of my life, I’ve had on-and-off problems falling asleep at night. I’m susceptible to a racing mind, and late at night is apparently as good a time as any to solve the world’s problems, re-litigate past disagreements, or thoroughly explore my many regrets. Add to this that I often stay up too late looking at screens and I have a recipe for a bad night’s sleep.

One of the knock-on effects of having trouble falling asleep is that early morning is often not my best time. When I haven’t gotten enough good sleep, I often sleep later than I intended or drag myself out of bed in a haze.

And this is a problem for several reasons, not least of which is that the morning is an important time for my relationship with God. In Psalm 5, David writes about speaking with God in the morning. Of course, conversation with God can happen at all times, but it seems like there’s something special about the morning.

I think it’s like a lot of other things: What happens first tends to establish the tone for what happens later. When we greet someone warmly, we set the tone for a positive interaction. When our tithes are the first thing we do with our income, we set a tone of gratitude and generosity. When we wake up in the morning and raise our voices to God, we establish an awareness that our lives are being lived with and for God.

In the Jewish calendar, a day really starts with sundown. Keeping that in mind, it seems even more important to start the day well with what I do in the evening as I prepare to sleep. Good rest and morning conversation are the start to a day lived joyfully with God. I’m going to try to take this seriously as a real part of following Jesus.

Friday, May 22, 2020

But while the son was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. – Luke 15:20

My grandma was a poet. A couple of months ago, my mom found a poem she’d written (who knows when!) addressed to me. It was an apology for an event I don’t even remember – a time she’d scolded me, evidently, for losing something. The content of the poem surprised me. My memories of Grandma are all smiles and warmth. But something I’d done had upset her, and I guess she didn’t feel great about how she’d reacted. And baked right into her poem of apology was also an offer of forgiveness: it was obvious that whatever I’d lost way-back-when was much less valuable to her than our relationship.

Today’s passage from Luke comes from the Parable of the Lost Son. It’s the ultimate story of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. When we read this parable, sometimes we identify with the lost son who’s messed up and is seeking forgiveness; and sometimes we identify with the father, who forgives everything because he’s just so happy his child is home. (Sometimes we even identify with the older son, who did all the right things, and still sees his brother getting all the attention). Wherever you find yourself in this parable, the message about forgiveness is the same: whether you’ve sinned or been sinned against, forgiveness is always the goal. It’s what God gives us, what God wants for us, and what God instructs us to give. The state of our relationships with God and with people matter. This parable reminds us of some simple, essential truths: 1) We sin, and by God’s grace, we are forgiven. God loves us and nothing we do limits that love. 2) Because we have been forgiven, we must – we get to – imitate God by forgiving people, too. It’s the only fitting response.

Grandma’s poem reminds me of the beauty of both sides of the coin. She sought forgiveness and she offered it. This receiving and giving of grace is what God wants for our lives. We’re called to be like the lost son and like the forgiving father. May this sink in for you today. May you stand confidently in the knowledge that your heavenly father forgives you completely, and treasures your return to him. And may that knowledge cause you to overflow with forgiveness for the people in your life, also treasured by God.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. – Hebrews 6:10

Psalm 103:12 says that God takes our our sin and removes it from us “as far as the east is from the west.” In Isaiah 43:25 God says, “I will forget your sins.” I find verses like these so comforting because more often than not, I want God to forget what I’ve done.

This verse reminds me that God isn’t only paying attention to the stuff I mess up so God can forgive it, God is deeply invested in my life because God is rooting for me to succeed. When I am taking steps that allow me to better follow Jesus, I am taking steps toward being the version of myself that God created me to be.

As you go through your day today, may you feel the encouragement of God. Imagine God looking at you and delighting in you. And know that when you show love to others, you are showing your love to and for God.

Monday, May 18, 2020

“You gave your good Spirit to instruct [our ancestors].” —Nehemiah 9:20 I have a love/hate relationship with the past. On the one hand, I’m fascinated by the study of history. And on an emotional level, I easily get nostalgic over time periods in the past (whether I actually experienced them or not). On the other […]

Friday, May 15, 2020

Will not God grand justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? – Luke 18:7 Something I’d like to work on is the perseverance of my prayers. Often, I ask God for what I need, or I share something that’s concerning me, or I […]

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. – 1 Kings 3:5,9

Imagine if your parent had a job where they were loved by the people around them. They may have had some enemies, but overall it was undeniable that they were great at what they did. Then to top it all off, as if they weren’t loved enough, people described them as “a man/woman after God’s own heart.” What would happen if it was determined that when they were done, you were going to be the one to replace them? Talk about big shoes to fill!

That’s where Solomon finds himself in today’s verses. God asks Solomon what he wants and rather than fame, a long life, or wealth, Solomon asks for a discerning heart. Solomon knew that if he were going to rule with justice and mercy and live up to the task God was calling him to, he would need God’s assistance.

Wisdom is about more than making the right choices or knowing the answers to all the questions. Wisdom begins with the choice to trust in God and follow God’s commands. May each one of us make that our starting point today and every day.

Monday, May 11, 2020

“Mary…sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” —Luke 10:39

The story Luke tells about Martha and Mary is a sneakily challenging one. In this story, Martha distractedly goes about all the work that needs to be done as she hosts Jesus and his disciples. As Martha runs around, Mary just sits and listens to what Jesus has to say.

The moral of the story seems clear: Slowing down and listening to Jesus is better than running around taking care of tasks that need to be done. And that’s not wrong, but it’s also a little confusing if taken on its own. Because there are a lot of times when Jesus taught that we should, you know, actually do stuff for each other. We can’t read the story of Martha and Mary as an excuse to sit around and avoid work.

But life is all about priorities. Life is about choosing what to focus on, how long to focus on it for, and how intently to pay attention. For some of us, it’s easy to go through a day without ever really paying much attention at all.

This story about Martha and Mary isn’t an excuse to be lazy. But it is a reminder of what the source of life and energy is. It is a warning about a life that misses out on the voice of Jesus. Let’s make today a day in which we—whether for an hour or for a minute—focus intently on what Jesus has to say.

Friday, May 8, 2020

“Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her.” Mark 1:30-31

At once. 

When Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, the disciples told Jesus about her at once. Immediately. Without hesitation and without debate. 

What inspires me about these two words is that they capture the disciples’ insight about how much they needed Jesus. I am challenged by their example. I’m a ruminator, a ponderer, a dweller, a worrier. I spend a lot of time in my head. And what that means is I often turn to Jesus…eventually, after I’ve had a chance to think things over and try to figure them out for myself. I believe that bringing my cares, my ideas, my questions, and my pain to Jesus first is always the best place to start. But I need passages like this to remind me what living like that looks like. When we orient ourselves toward Jesus, when to turn to him at once with whatever we need, we are always starting in the right place, regardless of the size, scope, or severity of our concerns. 

And when we turn to him, we don’t receive a cold shoulder. Our requests for help aren’t met with indifference. When Jesus learned that Simon’s mother-in-law needed healing, he “went to her, took her hand and helped her up.” He heard and he responded in the way only he could. Jesus has a heart for our suffering. Jesus responds to our requests for help as only he can. Jesus never said we need to muddle through our problems on our own, or that we can only approach him once we’ve charted out a good solution. Whatever your day holds, may you bring your needs to Jesus at once, and may you experience the guidance and healing that can only come from orienting yourself toward him.