July 25, 2011

Summer Sabbath Devotional- Week 4

Grace and Peace
July 25, 2011

I know a woman. Her name is Karen: mid-forties, she went to Northgate High School, single, an ordained Presbyterian minister with a big smile. While on staff at a Presbyterian church on May 29th of this year, she gave a sermon. Not much outstanding about any of that; there’s nothing out of the ordinary about her description and ministers give sermons. It’s their job. But I want to share this benediction that she prayed over her congregation at the end of the service on May 29th.
“Indeed, God’s grace is enough.
Now friends…
Go in peace, and may the grace of our mighty God go before you.
May the hand of our Lord Jesus rest upon you,
And, may the power and love of the Holy Spirit fill you,
now and forever more.”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear that, I can literally FEEL the peace of her words. Her peace: contagious. I can feel the strength of her sincerity in these words. She obviously knew them to be true personally.

She calls the congregation ‘friends’ as Jesus called His disciples. And there was a tenderness and truth to addressing them this way. Again, not much astonishing about this, as a believer we are supposed to believe these things. As a minister of the gospel, we’d assume she knew these truths.

But the reason these words have stuck with me so profoundly, the reason I experienced such tremendous peace reading these words is that this woman, Karen, died on June 17, nineteen days after she gave this benediction. She had been battling ovarian cancer for months and without a doubt she knew as she gave this sermon, it would be the last sermon she gave, the last opportunity she had to pray a blessing over these people she called friends, she knew, barring a miraculous intervention, the end of her life was very near.

And yet, she opens with: “Indeed, God’s grace is enough….” She knew her God to be mighty even in the face of certain death. She was living in and by His grace and it was enough. She knew His rest in the midst of incredible pain. And she knew His power and love as absolute truth. And there is no hint of fear.

And isn’t that the faith we all signed up for? When we became followers of Christ, isn’t this the faith we wanted and hoped for? A faith that moves mountains and a trust in God that is unshakeable regardless of our circumstances. A faith so strong that fear has no place. Karen’s words inspire me, they encourage me, and they remind me of my own young faith. They also challenge me to live in the authority and confidence of someone who believes these words. To pray, knowing He is faithful. To live knowing His grace to be enough.

Karen stood firm in her faith until the end.

Abraham believed God… Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed….
Rom 4:1,18
By faith Abraham … obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going … because (he) considered Him faithful who had made the promise … And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. Hebrews 11

God promised Abraham that he would have more descendants than the stars in the sky. And this elderly man, married to an elderly and barren woman, believed God. Abraham didn’t believe his eyes over God’s promise, Abraham didn’t believe his body, or the calendar of years or anything else. Abraham’s hope and trust were squarely in God’s promise. He didn’t even engage his own doubts. He believed and trusted in God.

Abraham so many years ago and Karen in 2011; neither got what they expected or deserved. But both trusted their God to be good and faithful to His word. So, like Abraham and Karen and so many believers between these two lives, I want to take God at His Word. I want to believe Him, and trust Him to be true to His promises to me, to all of us. Even against all hope, in hope we can believe. Even when everything seems to be going against us, we can have peace, because the One who promised is faithful. And He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever more.

So as we slow down our minds and quiet our hearts before Him, may we know that His grace is enough, may we live in His peace,

Questions to think about this week:
1. Think about it, what is the first thing you’d like answered when you are with God face to face? (or first several things you’d like to ask and understand – I can never pick just one thing )
2. Do you think you could say the words of this benediction knowing you were dying and dying as a young person, dying before you hoped or ever thought you would?
3. The challenge is for all of us to live this way, to live the truth of these words so that when faced with challenges, trials and even death, we will have peace knowing His grace is enough. Ask yourself what you might do to make this truth more alive in your life? And by His grace may you do it.

Romans 11:29 For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.
May you recognize His call and live committed to it.

July 18, 2011

Summer Sabbath Devotional- Week 3

Eyes to See and Ears to Hear
July 18, 2011

At night when I turn out the lights, it is pitch black.
Completely dark.
I can’t even see my hand held right in front of my eyes.
In fact I can’t see anything at all!

But given a few minutes, my eyes adjust and I am able to see the shapes of things that are there. I can see the faint light from outside slipping through the blinds, I can see the closet and the chair, all the familiar things that were there a few minutes before, but things that in the sudden darkness I couldn’t see.

What happened? Did the world and the actual degree of darkness change?
No. I changed. My eyes adjusted and I was able to see what was there all along.

Likewise, there are sounds around me constantly. But in the noise of my daily life, my brain chooses what my ears hear at any given moment. Then at night, when all is still and quiet, I can clearly hear the whistle of the train or the rushing of BART on its tracks. Those sounds are there all day, but it’s not until late at night, when other sounds have dropped away and I am still that I’m able to hear them. The sounds are the same but the noise around me and in me has changed.

It makes sense to me that hearing God’s voice, or seeing and doing what the Father is up to, is very much the same. It’s not that God isn’t speaking or showing me or guiding me, it’s just that without regular stillness in my life, stillness in my inner being, it’s just too difficult to hear or see.

C.S. Lewis reportedly said this: "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me."

I love that. I pray because I can’t help myself. The needs of life and my weakness compel me to pray. I am helpless in the face of the looming needs and responsibilities of life. I don’t have the answer for many of my life’s biggest questions. I don’t know about you, but these words of C.S. Lewis could be my words.

And, think about it, how often in your life, has someone not normally drawn to prayer, maybe they don’t even know if they believe in prayer… but when suddenly faced with something desperately bigger than their ability to handle, ask you if you would pray for their need?

I pray because my need is so great and apart from God I can’t meet it.

But prayer is only half of the equation. It’s the Lord’s response to my prayer that meets my need, answers my questions and gives me comfort. And patient stillness is most usually needed to hear what He’s saying and to see what He wants me to do. I need to let my spiritual eyes, so to speak, adjust, and find a quiet where other sounds drop away and my heart can hear only His voice.

To be sure, there are times when God may be silent, and I need to wait. But my thought is that more often, it’s my lack of hearing and seeing. My lack of stillness and quiet that’s at the root of not knowing what God is saying and what He wants me to do about it. That lack of stillness may be more internal than external. Sometimes a strong need will be so loud in my heart and mind as to compete with the inner stillness needed to be ready to really hear Him…

But, what do I know for sure?
That the apostles, teachers and prophets in agreement and have said over and over, God speaks to His creation.
We are His creation- and more, we are the children He loves.
God IS love and wants to be close to us.
God wants us to know His will for us.
And His grace is always available to us to do His will.
God is always the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. He cannot change.
But we can.
May we grow in knowing His voice, in seeing His loving guidance and doing His will.
May we grow in knowing that following Jesus is not a bunch of rules, but a loving, growing, committed relationship that leads us to our best life.
May we be changed to be more like Him.

Ears to hear and eyes to see—both are gifts from the Lord.
Proverbs 20:12 NLT

Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
Mark 8:18 TNIV

…blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.
Matthew 13:16 TNIV

Some questions to think about this week:
1.What do you think? Do you know you hear God’s voice? Or do you feel you rarely know His voice?
2.Can you recall times when you heard His voice clearly? What was it like? An audible voice? A consensus of trusted friends? A voice through His Word? A knowing deep inside?
3.Was there a time in your past when you desperately needed to hear His voice and felt let down not hearing anything?
4.Maybe can you look back on that event or time now and see where He did speak? Are there times you recognize His voice in hindsight?

Romans 11:29 For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.
May you recognize His call and live committed to it.

July 9, 2011

Concord Vineyard Summer Sabbath 2011 Devotional #2: We Are Called and Committed

July 11, 2011

Last week, we talked about the invitation and the challenge of resting, physically, emotionally and spiritually as we were created to do. This week we will look at why this is so crucial.

Dave officiated this past week at a funeral service for a 97 year old man. He was a dear man. Many spoke to the good he did, the good he brought to this Earth, and to their lives specifically. And it did, as it should do, get people’s minds to thinking, ‘Am I going to leave this world a better place? Am I investing in the lives of those God’s placed in my life? Will they have a good report to give when I pass on? Have I used my time on Earth as God hoped and planned I would?’ So Dave put forth a few thoughts:

We were created by God and He loves us.
God created us on purpose and for a purpose.
What is that purpose you specifically were created to do and how well are you doing it?

God knew us, planned us and had His purpose for us before we were even born. The bible is very clear about that!

Isaiah 46:3 “I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born.”

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…”

Psalm 139:16 “You (Lord) saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

We know we love life most when we are doing exactly what we were meant to do.
So then, in rest, and by His grace we are invited to do exactly what He created us to do.
He invites us to partner and participate with Him, our Maker and Lord. (WOW!)
He gives us His grace to live in such a way that His will is done here and now, on Earth!
Just as it is, and as it will be done in Heaven. (Again, a lot to get our mind around, but: WOW!)
We are called to participate with God in bringing His will on Earth.

We were bought by the Lord God Almighty at great cost, by great sacrifice.
So let’s USE this life and time we have as a mission.
What is the ‘mission’ God has given us this week? this year? in life?
What are we to do and be, by His grace, that will bring Heaven and His will on Earth,
(or at least our small part of this Earth),
as His will is and will be in Heaven?
Ponder THAT!

Mark 1:11 “ You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
(says the Spirit of God)

Isaiah 49: 1,2,5,15,16
Before I was born the LORD called me;
from my birth He has made mention of my name.
in the shadow of his hand He hid me;
And now the LORD says—
He who formed me in the womb to be His servant
… I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength—
because of the LORD, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.
‘I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…’

So we are CALLED by our Creator to participate in this great adventure,
and He has equipped us to be of service.
What does that mean to you?

1. What is it that you do, that while you do it, you lose track of time, you think, ‘I could do this forever, I was made for this!’? What do you do now that will carry over in the world to come?
2. How can you make more space or room in your life, even during or within the regular day to day responsibilities, to be or do that that you were made and called and purposed to do?

Romans 11:29 For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.

July 3, 2011

Summer Sabbath Devotional 1:

The Invitation and Challenge of Sabbath Rest
July 4, 2011

this first one is long, but the coming devotionals will be shorter.)

There remains, for God’s people, a Sabbath rest…
Hebrews 4:9

Seasons are great; they are built into our wiring, our internal clocks. And summer is my favorite. We all switch into seasonal modes as the year rolls along. Be it Christmas, Summer Vacation, Fall, Thanksgiving… seasons evoke memories and feelings. Seasons have traditions meant to reinforce our cultural, familial and spiritual beliefs. The church calendar has seasons as well. These are times of purposeful, intentional focus.

During Advent, we remember the birth of Christ. We light candles, we sing carols with words that tell and re-tell the story of Christ’s birth. We decorate our homes, give gifts and we remember. The awareness and anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth is all around us.

And then there is Lent. In this season, for the six weeks leading up to Easter, we often set aside something in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We intentionally call to mind the cross and its meaning in our lives of faith. During Lent we fast, we pray and we focus on this foundational event of our faith that culminates in the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

For us in the Concord Vineyard, Summer Sabbath is part of our seasonal rhythm. Life may not be much different day to day. We work, we meet deadlines, we cook, we drive children, we do the laundry, we interact with coworkers, friends and family… it is like any other season. But during Summer Sabbath, internally and spiritually we regroup, we remember, we admit our need for His rest. We remember God created the world in six days and then He rested. We remember that we are His created beings. We are made in His image. We are created to rest and work. Need for rest was actually built into creation from the very beginning. But the pace of life so often eliminates the time to rest. We can feel ruled by our work and just assume rest is out of the question. But during Summer Sabbath we can re-evaluate our pace of life. This is a time annually for us to remember in obedience that rest is not optional or occasional. Rest is part of our created order. Rest is part of our design and therefore, mandated by God. Daily. Weekly. Annually.

By the time of Jesus, Mosaic law that detailed Sabbath observance had become such a strict and cumbersome set of rules that people easily forgot the intended purpose of Sabbath rest, which was to help people by giving them rest, not to add burdens to them by forbidding things like healing. Jesus had to break through all that, as we see in the Gospels, but nowhere does the New Testament nor Jesus, deny that the principle set out in Genesis 1 remains important. In some ways not much has changed. Today, we don’t need Mosaic law to crowd out rest and restoration for our minds, body and soul. We allow the ‘demands’ of our life to tell us what we need to do. This effectively crowds out the rest, reflection and restoration we need as part of our life. This demanding inner voice is not God’s.

Some things to think about this week:
Remember you are created to require rest.
Humbly acknowledge that by His design you need rest and restoration.
Intentionally be aware of life’s pace trying to rob you of needed rest.
Remember those things that restore you physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Allow time to do those things.
Remember God Himself gives you permission NOT TO DO MORE THAN HE ASKS of you.
Use this time to reassess where your time is currently being spent and how.
Ask yourself if you are where He’s called you to be? Doing what He’s called you to do?
Sleep more.
Play more.
Do what restores your spirit.
Pray more.
Listen more. To God and to those who love you.
Be aware of God’s invitation to rest and just ‘be’ with Him.
Challenge yourself this week to find one thing you can do in obedience to this invitation.
By His grace, refocus your awareness on the rest you need everyday, every week, all year long, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Some questions to ponder this week:

1. What would a perfectly restful day be like for you?
2. What obstacles keep you from believing a balanced life of work and rest are achievable?
3. All of us face the challenge to trust God rather than to trust in our own concepts of what needs doing and when. What would help you keep the Lord’s mandate to find times to rest and to just ‘be’ with Him?

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength." Isaiah 30:15

May you find the grace to set aside your ideas of what is important to accomplish. And may you have grace to find God’s plan for your day and then to, by His grace, to do only that.