Monday, February 3, 2014

February 3, 2014

Psalm 37:1-17, Ruth 1:1-18, Philemon 1-25


Well, much like a previous blog, this blog will end on February 3rd, exactly 5 years later.

My new blog is here. I don't know why I like to switch out blogs from time to time, but it feels good. Like Spring cleaning, or switching to a new journal. I don't really keep a journal or clean in the Spring, but I've heard about these things.


Monday, January 27, 2014

January 27, 2014

Psalm 27:7-14, Judges 6:11-24, Ephesians 5:6-14

In all three of these passages, I am struck by the presence and closeness of the Lord.

In the Psalm, it says that even if our own parents abandon us, the Lord will hold us close.

In Judges, the Lord is sending Gideon to rescue Israel, and promises to be with him.

In Ephesians, we no longer have to participate in a dark and sinful life, because we have the light of the Lord within us. So we are to live as children of light, carefully determining what pleases the Lord.

How is this encouraging, to know that the Lord is with us? Have there been times in your life where you were like Gideon, and wondered where the Lord was, and doubted his promises? Can you think of times in your life when you felt the Lord's presence?

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought
us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty
power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by
adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your
purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

January 26, 2014

Third Sunday After Epiphany
Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 4-9, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23

These are verses of hope and looking ahead to Jesus. Read each passage out loud.

What do you think it means when it says in 1 Corinthians that the cross is the very power of God? 

How are these passages encouraging to you today?

Prayer from Psalm 27:

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”


Saturday, January 25, 2014

January 25, 2014

Psalm 27:1-6, 1 Samuel 15:34—16:13, Luke 5:27-32

Today is one of many examples where the Lord chooses someone that people would have looked over as not good enough.

In Samuel, we start the story off finding out that Saul has disobeyed the Lord and is no longer the king (might have to read all of the story in 1 Samuel 15). After a time of mourning the loss of Saul as king, the Lord tells Samuel to go and anoint the new king. He goes to the house of a man named Jesse to anoint one of his sons as king. One look at the oldest son, and Samuel thought they had their man. But the Lord said it wasn't him.

Verse 7, "But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

After going through seven seemingly eligible men, Samuel still hasn't anointed the king, and wonders if there are any other sons. The youngest one, David, was out tending the sheep. He wasn't even considered by his own family!

Of course, he is the one that is anointed the new King of Israel, and the Spirit of the Lord was powerfully upon him from that day on.

In Luke, we see the tax collector Levi, at work (just like the fishermen from a previous day), and Jesus comes and tells him to be his follower. And, just like the fishermen, he gets up, leaves everything, and follows Jesus.

Later on, Levi invites his tax collector friends over for dinner with Jesus as the guest of honor. This caused some to question Jesus, because tax collectors weren't exactly known for being honest, godly people. Why would he choose to spend time eating with all these sinners?

But Jesus says to them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

God called David, a young shepherd to be the king of Israel. Jesus called Levi, a sinful tax collector to be his disciple. 

Why do you suppose the Lord works with the most unexpected people? How have you seen him equip you or others in unexpected ways?

O God, you prepared your disciples for the coming of the
Spirit through the teaching of your Son Jesus Christ: Make
the hearts and minds of your servants ready to receive the
blessing of the Holy Spirit, that they may be filled with the
strength of his presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, January 24, 2014

January 24, 2014

Psalm 27:1-6, 1 Samuel 9:27—10:8, Galatians 2:1-10

The words that stand out the most to me are in verse 6 in Samuel. "You will be changed into a different person."
What does it mean to be changed into a different person? For some, like King Saul in the Old Testament, or Saul (who changed his name to Paul) in the New Testament, it is obvious. King Saul was overcome by the Spirit of God and prophesied. Paul went from persecuting Christians to preaching the Gospel of Jesus. For others, maybe it is more subtle. Perhaps if you first encountered God as a child, you maybe didn't have as much baggage to turn from. BUT, perhaps getting on the right path early on spared you from all the other options that you could have taken. It's hard to know. Or, maybe you started out on the right path...then took another path...then another...and then had another encounter with God as an adult. Or maybe something else!
Everyone has a different story. But there seems to be a need for change in every story. "You will be changed into a different person." Either a different person than you already were, or into a different person than what you could have been.

2 Corinthians 5:13-21 (I bolded some)

If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

January 23, 2014

Psalm 27:1-6, 1 Samuel 1:1-20, Galatians 1:11-24

What is the one thing that you ask of the Lord? What is the one thing you seek the most?

The Psalmist wanted to live in the house of the Lord all of the days of his life, delighting in the Lord's perfections, and meditating in his Temple.

Hannah was feeling discouraged and poured her heart out to the Lord, and asked for a son, for she was childless.

Paul received the Gospel message via direct revelation from Jesus. Even though he was a zealous Jewish man, and strongly opposed Christianity, God had chosen him before he was born to eventually be the one who was so passionate about Christianity that he would be the one to preach the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles.

What has God placed on your heart? Do you seek time with the Lord? Do you seek a family? Do you seek the Gospel? Something else? All of the above?
How have you seen the Lord answer your prayers in the past?

Pray through Psalm 37:3-7a

Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finally Dawned on Me

One of my dreams has always been to start my own business. Lately I've been thinking that this will have to be one of the things I do once our children (I hope!) are graduated from high school and moved on and out. My priorities are my husband and family; there will be plenty of time for starting my own business later on in life (and if there isn't time, or time is cut short, then I will be glad that I didn't spend all my years busy with a business when my top priority was my family).
I used to say that I wanted to run a coffee shop, especially after such a good time working here. Love the idea of creating a space for people to meet with friends, or work on their own projects while enjoying a hot beverage. BUT, unless you are a major coffee chain, it doesn't seem like the best business plan, to open a shop where people spend hours of their time and only $3 from their pocket. That hardly pays to keep the lights on, or to have a barista to make the drinks. Most Ma&Pa coffee shops that I know have to do other things in order to keep afloat (sell other merchandise in their shop, or include a lunch menu, or cater, or, or, or, or). I also thought it would be fun to have a bookstore, but we all know how well bookstores are doing these days, sadly.
Another idea that I have thought of is a slow-food restaurant. Where you come in, order off of the limited and changing menu, and then I make you your meal from scratch. The menu would probably contain all of my comfort foods (soups, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, bread, cheese, etc). There would be a greenhouse attached to the back of the kitchen that grew some of our produce. And in both of these dreams we would roast our own coffee, of course. But I've always thought it would be too stressful to run a restaurant. So many regulations, and as always working with perishable items seems risky to me. Order too much and you end up wasting. Order not enough, and you're constantly running out of food and running out of customers. I do like the idea of restaurants who are only open until they run out of food each day. That does ensure a freshness, and probably less waste, I would guess.
Another idea I've more recently had, that doesn't include perishable items (at least not very many) would be a handicraft shop, that would provide three services.
1. It would sell handmade items made by myself and other local people.
2. It would sell crafting supplies.
3. It would provide space for people to work on their projects.

Fun, right? Maybe that is how I will spend my retirement?

And then it dawned on me. I can do all these things without having to try to figure out the business-side of things AND while making my family my first priority (well, actually Jesus is my first priority, but that is regardless of whether I have a family or a job or where I live or what I do. It is a given for me).
In raising a family, I definitely can plan and make healthy and from-scratch meals and work on whatever my craft is to benefit my family. I can support my husband in his work and ministry by opening our home and providing space for people to meet with a friend, read a book, drink a hot beverage, eat a good meal, be creative, study, think, etc. You guys, in just a shade over half a year, we will have the privilege of working with 20-30 young adults in a new Discipleship Program. Why is this just now dawning on me? Perhaps this is what all these dreams are about?

Here is a promotional video for the new discipleship program. Perhaps you know of someone who would be interested in applying? They should go here to find out more information and apply!

January 22, 2014

Psalm 40:6-17, Isaiah 48:12-21, Matthew 9:14-17

Today I am struck by verses 17-18 in the Isaiah passage. I have been thinking about fasting lately, too, but I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunity to talk about that over Lent (in March/April).

Isaiah 48:17-18
This is what the Lord says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you what is good for you
and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Oh, that you had listened to my commands!
Then you would have had peace flowing like a gentle river
and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea."

These are comforting words. So often in life I have wondered where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do, and the Lord has always shown me. Recently I have received confirmation from the Lord about where I don't need to be. Maybe someday, but not now. And I feel extreme peace about it.

Like a good parent should, the Lord teaches us what is good for us, he shows us where to go and the right thing to do. We need to practice listening to God, learning to hear his voice, and studying his word. Prayer as conversation. Do you dominate the conversation, or do you listen as much or more as you talk?

Lord, help me to hear you. Help me to listen.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January 21, 2014

Psalm 40:6-17, Isaiah 53:1-12, Hebrews 10:1-4

In the days of Moses, in the time before Jesus came to Earth as a human, people sacrificed animals as an offering to God to atone for their sins.
Today all three passages speak to this.

The entire Hebrews passage for today says this:

"The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

The Psalmist starts out by saying that he realizes that the Lord doesn't delight in his sin offerings. He pleads with the Lord to come rescue him out of his pile of sins.

In Isaiah we see that Christ took on everyone's pile of sins and was punished for them. In our place. So that we didn't have to continue to make sacrifices year after year.

Verse 5 in Isaiah 53 says, 
"But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed."

An older version says, 
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."

This is the verse behind my cross tattoo (or, one of the verses). As a daily reminder for what Christ has done for me, and all other rebels who believe in Him.

Ok it's hard to see, but their are stripes on the cross. Taken at the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania.

Read through Isaiah 53 again. Reread the Hebrews passage. Remind yourself daily what the Lord has done for you.

God of every land and nation,
you have created all people
and you dwell among us in Jesus Christ.
Listen to the cries of those who pray to you,
and grant that, as we proclaim the greatness of your name,
all people will know the power of love at work in the world.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, January 20, 2014

January 20, 2014


Psalm 40:6-17, Exodus 12:1-13, 21-28, Acts 8:26-40

Today in Exodus, we see the first Passover, where the Lord passed over Egypt and spared the Israelites because they had followed his instructions, which they were to carry out in remembrance each year after. In Acts, we see the parallel that Jesus was the ultimate Passover Lamb, and that it is by his blood that we are saved. If you haven't grown up in a Christian home, or haven't spent a ton of time in the Church (or even if you have), all this blood talk can seem a little weird. 
The Israelites were to mark their doorways with the blood of the chosen sheep or goat (one without any defects, spots, or blemishes....a perfect specimen), so that when the Lord passed over, he would skip their house, and the people inside would live (and then would be able to escape slavery in Egypt).
In Acts we see that Jesus is likened to a lamb going to slaughter. Because our broken world is enslaved by sin, we need someone to rescue us. Jesus was not blemished by sin, and was killed on a cross so that humanity could be freed from the bondage of sin, and made right with God (and this all happened around the observance of the Passover...perhaps you have heard of the last supper?). Do you see the parallel?
Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day, and think of freedom from racial discrimination. King envisioned a nation where his children would be judged not by their skin color, but by the content of their character. We have come a long way on this, but still have a ways to go, I think. 

Freedom is a broad word. What does freedom mean to you? What did freedom mean for the Israelites in Egypt? What does freedom from sin mean for humanity? What does freedom look like when thinking about human equality? What are some other ways that people think of freedom? Is all freedom the same?

God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you, God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and in our moments of sorrow, until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 19, 2014

Second Sunday after the Epiphany 

What does it look like to work for the Lord? In today's passages we see some examples.

Isaiah was chosen and called by God before he was even born, while he was in his mother's womb. Yet even he has feelings of inadequacy. He says in verse 4,
“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.”
But he continues to trust God.
The Psalmist says there is great joy for those who trust in the Lord.
In Corinthians, Paul, who also was chosen and called by God says that everyone who calls on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is made holy by Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:7-9 says, "Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
In John, we see John the Baptist recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah who will baptize with the Holy Spirit when he (John) sees the Holy Spirit descend as a dove and rest on Jesus. Because of John's testimony about Jesus, some of his (John's) disciples immediately follow Jesus.

What does it mean to trust God? What has Christ equipped us with as we wait for his return? Why do you suppose John's disciples so quickly followed Jesus? 
We know that Isaiah had been called by God in the womb, and that Paul encountered Jesus as an adult. John the Baptist was Jesus's relative (and a similar age as Jesus), but it appears that he did not fully realize who Jesus was until this passage. Each has their own story of their first encounter with the Lord. With whom can you relate the most? Why is each story important?

Steadfast God,
you have enriched and enlightened us
by the revelation of your eternal Christ.
Comfort us in our mortality
and strengthen us
to walk the path of your desire,
so that by word and deed we may manifest
the gracious news of your faithfulness and love. Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

January 18, 2014

Psalm 40:1-11, 1 Kings 19:19-21, Luke 5:1-11

I have been thinking a lot lately about priorities and boundaries, and what it means to follow Jesus and balance your family, ministry, and work (and all their possible overlappings)....and whatever else people do. Hobbies? Social life? Keeping up with all the latest pop culture? So of course I am not surprised that these are the Scriptures for today. 
In 1 Kings we see Elisha being handed the baton (or cloak in this case) to be the prophet to replace Elijah. He wants to go back and say goodbye to his parents, and Elijah tells him to go ahead and do that, but also to think about what just happened. I'm thinking this means that Elijah wants Elisha to reflect on how important this call is. How big of a life-changer this will be. How high on the priority list this needs to be.
So Elisha, who was plowing in the fields when Elijah came, went back and slaughtered the oxen and used the wood of the plow to make a fire and cook the meat. The ESV says as a sacrifice. He shared the meat with the townspeople...perhaps his parents were a part of this group? Perhaps it was a farewell party of sorts? Either way, after they ate, Elisha left with Elijah and became his assistant. Elisha burned his plow and slaughtered his oxen before he left...perhaps as a way to say, "I'm leaving my past behind me."
In Luke, we see that Simon, James, and John are at the end of a long night of fishing without success. They are weary, and probably wondering what will happen to them, since fishing seems to be their livelihood. Jesus steps in the boat and tells them to cast their nets, and when they do, the amount of fish they catch is overwhelming. In verses 8-11 it says, "When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus."

So they left everything and followed Jesus. They left everything. Their boats, their nets, their earthly source of security. Same with Elisha.

Now. Certainly not everyone is called to leave their current job and family in order to go and do something for Jesus. Your current job might be just where the Lord wants you. But some people are called to do something completely different, in a completely different place. Far from their family.
Either way, we as followers of Jesus are all called to make Jesus number one over all other priorities in our life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!"

To what or where or whom has the Lord called you? What does it mean to give up everything?

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so
guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our
wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto
you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always
to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, January 17, 2014

January 17, 2014

Psalm 40:1-11, Genesis 27:30-38, Acts 1:1-5

In each of these passages we see the importance of blessings and being cared for.
David says the Lord helped him, and there is great joy for those who trust in the Lord. He can't even begin to list all of the amazing things the Lord has done.
We see in Genesis the great anguish that comes when your blessing is taken from you (stolen, in Esau's case).
In Acts, Jesus showed many of his followers that he was still very much alive after his resurrection, and promised the blessing of the Holy Spirit, a gift from God the Father.

Can you list ten amazing things God has done in your life, or in the lives of others? Why do you think Esau was so heart-broken? What are the implications of Jesus eating with the apostles and talking about the Kingdom of God? Why do you think they needed to wait for the Holy Spirit? They were baptized by water, and then by the Holy Spirit; do you think the order matters? Do you think both are important?

Prayer from the Psalm:
Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.
Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reading Record - Book 2: In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream by Eric Dregni

Overall an enjoyable read. A book of essays by a guy who got a scholarship to go with his wife and spend a year in Norway, possibly connecting with distant relatives and experiencing the culture. At about the same time they learn that they will get to go to Norway, they find out they are pregnant. So of course they have the baby in Norway.

Easy to read. Fast read. Enjoyable.
Makes me want to travel to Scandinavia (ok. I wanted to travel to Scandinavia before I read this book).
Lots of familiar things. Some of the things they experience in this book are similar or the same as other European countries. So it was nice to remember our time in Lithuania (and other countries we visited) while reading this book.
Always interesting to read about someone's encounter with another culture.
Interesting to read about birthing a baby in another country.


The essays sometimes lacked a flow. Examples: He spoke about shopping at Rimi a few times throughout the book, but not until a chapter near the end did he explain that Rimi is a grocery store (as if it were the first time he had brought it up). No worries for me as a reader, we shopped sometimes at Rimi when we lived in Lithuania. Another example is he mentions bunads every once in a while, but in one of the last chapters he describes what bunads are as if he had never brought them up in the book. Little things like that. I'm guessing he wrote the essays out of order, and maybe his editor didn't notice or care? Or maybe the essays are meant to be read as stand-alone?

The author and his wife are sometimes of unlikeable. Sometimes his assessment of cultural things rubbed me the wrong way, like either it seemed like the conclusion he drew was too broad (this one Norwegian does this thing this way, so it must be the way ALL Norwegians do it!) or sometimes too specific (thinking that something was unique to Norway, when in reality, it happens in other cultures too). Sometimes his anecdotes seemed a bit random. Or it felt like he was looking down on the culture sometimes (ok, so fish soaked in lye doesn't sound all that appealing, but try to understand the other side of it. Do you realize that many other cultures use lye in cooking too? It's not just drain cleaner). Sometimes the wife came across as sort of an unadventurous stinker. I don't know if she is in real life, or if the husband's writing just made her seem that way. I can give her the benefit of the doubt, being pregnant when they first got there, and having the baby and being a new mom. Those can be adventurous enough, without having to be in a new place and try a bunch of new things. I get it. But perhaps this is the only chance they will ever have to spend a year in Norway. Soak up the experiences, lady! Try to find something to enjoy! (again, maybe it was just the way her husband wrote her. Maybe if this were her book she would have come across differently).

That's it. If you think that you would be the type of person to read about a Minnesotan's experience in Norway, then of course I would recommend this as a just-for-fun read. If you are going to move to another country and need some advice, this might be a fun read, but I would recommend reading other books in addition to this one to get you ready.

January 16, 2014

Psalm 40:1-11, Isaiah 22:15-25, Galatians 1:6-12

Psalm 40:1-11 is wonderful. It will do your heart good to read it each of the days this week that it is posted.

I don't have much to say about the Isaiah passage except that it is the Lord who gives power, and the Lord who takes away power. He is the most powerful.

Galatians is where I find my thoughts. Paul is warning the people to not follow or preach any other Good News than the Good News that Paul taught them (the Good News that he received from Jesus Christ). He says that the people are following something that is pretending to be the Good News, but is not the Good News at all. This is scary. This happens still. How can we know what is true? We study the Scriptures. David says in verse 8 of the Psalm today, "I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.” We must know the Words of God so well that they are written on our hearts. Not just some of the Words, that say what we want to say and conveniently leave out parts that make us feel convicted. All of them. We are all sinners. Sorry to be all gloomy, but it's true. And it's Bad News. And nobody likes to hear Bad News. Especially when it's about how bad we all are. BUT. This is why the Good News is so good! Jesus took the punishment we all deserved so that we could be made right with God. Jesus makes us Good. Jesus redeems us. Romans 3 says it better than I am saying it right now. Read that.

How does this Good News help us to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? How does this Good News help us to love our neighbor as ourselves? Who is our neighbor?

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all
things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord
of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth,
divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together
under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January 15, 2014

Psalm 89:5-37, Isaiah 51:1-16, Matthew 12:15-21

In what ways do we as human lose perspective about God's greatness? Why are we so forgetful? Why is it easy (yet often so disappointing) to fear other humans when we have God on our side? How can reading Scripture on a daily basis serve as a reminder? How can we better recognize the Lord's work in the world and in His people? According to Matthew, whose name is the hope of all the world? How can being a disciple of Jesus bring hope? 

O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to
flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all
our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears,
make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us
to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last
great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January 14, 2014

Psalm 89:5-37, Jeremiah 1:4-10, Acts 8:4-13

What makes something or someone "great?" How do we determine greatness? Generally we think of something that is bigger, or better. There is a sense of more-ness about someone or something that is great, especially when compared with something or someone else who is not "great."
In the Psalm, we see a list of the way that God is great:
He is mightier than the mightiest angel,
He rules and subdues the oceans,
He created everything in the world (sea monsters, north and south, the heavens, the earth, etc), 
Strength, righteousness, protection,
Anointed King David, a great King of Israel, name a few!

In Jeremiah, the Lord knew, before Jeremiah was even conceived in his mother's womb, that he would be a prophet to the nations, speaking for the Lord. Jeremiah protests, saying that he is too young for such a calling (perhaps feeling that he isn't great enough?), but the Lord says it doesn't matter. The Lord is great, and he will be with Jeremiah, protecting him and giving him the words to say. Difficult words. Words that could have the power to build up or tear down a kingdom.

In Acts, we see the story of the city of Samaria. A man there, Simon the Sorcerer, was seen as a very great and powerful man (by himself, and by others, because of the magic he performed). When Philip came to the city to tell people about Jesus, and performed signs and wonders, casting out demons and healing people, they saw an even greater power than Simon had. Many people, including Simon, believed and were baptized. It wasn't Philip's power and greatness that won people over, it came from the Lord.

Have there been times in your life where you did not feel adequately equipped to do what the Lord was calling you to do? How have you seen God equip others (or yourself) beyond what they thought they were capable of doing?
Conversely, have you ever been like Simon, and thought you were really great, and the Lord impressed you with even more greatness?
What are some other ways that you have seen the greatness of the Lord in your life (or in the life of others)?

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, January 13, 2014

January 13, 2014

Psalm 89:5-37, Genesis 35:1-15, Acts 10:44-48

In the Psalm we see a lot of amazing attributes of God. In Genesis, we see God making a promise to Jacob (and changing his name to Israel), that his descendants will be a great nation, that kings will be in his family line (a reminder of the covenant he made with his grandfather, Abraham). And in Acts we see that Gentiles also get to participate in and experience God's goodness and being a part of His family of believers. The Holy Spirit is poured out on believers whether they are part of the descendants of Jacob or not. This is Good News! 
Though not everyone will believe in it, the Gospel is available for everyone...not just one group of people. Maybe in today's time, the division isn't between Jewish people and Gentile people. Maybe it is between two countries, or two political parties, or two social classes, or two church denominations, or two skin colors, or two sexualities, or two genders...or, you get the idea. We like to divide ourselves. But we are all a part of the human race. We are all created in God's image. We all can find ourselves described in some list in the Bible of people who don't deserve to inherit the kingdom. We all need grace. We all need Jesus to make us right with God.

Galatians 3:26-29 says,

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.


O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

January 12, 2014

Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

In some traditions, today is a feast day, commemorating the baptism of Jesus. 

In each of these passages, what are some descriptions and characteristics of Jesus. To name a few, He is the Lord's Servant in Isaiah, "...there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all" in Acts, and He was required to be baptized in Matthew. There are many more listed in these passages. Take time to list them if you are able.
How do we see God the Father in these passages? How do we see the Holy Spirit? Why do you suppose Jesus was required to be baptized? What does it mean to be baptized?

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised us to the new life of
grace. Sustain us, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give us
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Reading Record - Book 1: Culture Making, by Andy Crouch

In recent times I have heard some statistics about the terrible (or even non-existent) reading habits of Americans. The numbers vary slightly, but the conclusion is the same: statistically, Americans don't read very many books in the course of a year. This has inspired me to tell you about every book I read this hopes of inspiring more reading in America. Dream Big!
Anyway, I decided to document the books I read in 2014 here. I probably won't give too many book reports or anything like that, but I will give the title and a general synopsis...and will probably say things like "Yes! Read this book right now!" Or, "No! Don't bother!"
I have a huge (and on-going) list of books to read (both on my phone, and on my library account), and every time someone recommends a book, I add it to the list. So every book I read in 2014 will have been liked by at least one person in the past. I also am a chronic re-reader, so I am sure there will be a handful of books that I've read at least once or ten times before.
Perhaps this year's reading list will help you add to your own list, and to read at least one more book than you normally would have.

Book 1:
Culture Making, by Andy Crouch

A few years ago, someone recommended this book. Since then I have checked it out from various libraries, read the first half of it, gotten busy, accrued late fees, and then returned it unfinished. More than once this happened. A couple of months ago there was a deal on this book on Kindle, and I jumped on it. I have no regrets. Since 2014 began, I re-re-re-started this book and FINALLY finished it. Crouch talks about the various ways that Christians deal with culture, and suggests that we need to be creators and cultivators of culture. It is the way that God created us! I would definitely recommend this book.

January 11, 2014

Psalm 29, 1 Samuel 7:3-17, Acts 9:19b-31

In each passage we see the Lord's power demonstrated. In the Psalm, it's in His voice. In 1 Samuel, it's in His help and protection from enemies. In Acts, it's in the completely changed life of Saul, and his bold teaching about Jesus.

How have you seen the power of The Lord in your own life?

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you
through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him,
that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

January 10, 2014

Psalm 29, 1 Samuel 3:10—4:1a, Acts 9:10-19a

Today we continue looking at the voice of God. In the Psalm, the voice of God thunders, in Samuel and Acts the voice of God gives some difficult instructions. The boy Samuel has to tell Eli that he and his family will be punished because Eli's sons were blaspheming God, and Eli did not discipline them. How difficult it must have been as Samuel had to go to his elder and relay the Lord's message, which wasn't good news.
Or how difficult it would have been for Ananias to hear that God wanted him to go to a man known for killing believers in Jesus, and lay hands on this man so that his blindness would be healed. In one story, someone received news that they would be getting what they deserved. In the other, someone received healing that they didn't deserve. In both stories we see unlikely characters starting their work for the Lord. Samuel, a boy who didn't even recognize the voice of the Lord the first three times, becomes a prophet, one who hears the words of God and speaks them to people. Saul, a man known for killing believers of Jesus, has an encounter with Jesus (who he also didn't recognize at first), and then becomes God's "chosen instrument to take [His] message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel." (Verse 15 in Acts 9)
Can you think of other instances in the Bible where God used an unlikely person to do his work? The first few that I can think of are: Abraham, an old, childless man, will be the father of God's people, a great nation. Moses, another old guy with a temper and a speech impediment, will lead God's people out of slavery. Mary, a young, unmarried virgin, will bear and give birth to the Savior of the World.
God gave the people in each of these examples the capability to carry out his plan, even in less than desirable circumstances.
Can you think of examples from your own life where God has asked you to do something difficult? What was the outcome? In what ways has he gifted you beyond what you thought you were capable?

Prayer from Psalm 29:11
Lord thank you for giving your people strength. Lord thank you for blessing us with peace.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

January 9, 2014

Psalm 29, 1 Samuel 3:1-9, Acts 9:1-9

List the ways we see the power of the voice of the Lord in psalm 29.
Why do you suppose Samuel didn't immediately recognize the voice of the Lord?
How is Saul's experience of hearing the Lord's voice similar to the powerful voice in the Psalm? How is it different? How is Saul's experience similar to Samuel's? How is it different?
Have you heard the voice of the Lord before? What was it like? In what ways does God communicate to his people today?

Lord thank you for speaking to your people; through audible voice, through Scriptures, and through signs and symbols and feelings of peace that surpass all understanding. Thank you for using others to speak truth into our lives.
Help us to hear you, Lord, and to take your words to heart.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

January 8, 2014

Psalm 72, 1 Kings 10:14-25, Ephesians 4:7, 11-16

What new insights can you glean from Psalm 72 after reading it for so many days in a row? For me it stands out that the poor will be cared for. It says so three times. So will the weak and the oppressed. It's a reminder that the common American saying, "God helps those who help themselves" isn't entirely true. God helps those who can't help themselves. God helps those whom the rest of the world overlooks. We can do nothing to save ourselves, it is a gift from the Lord. Whether you are as rich as Solomon, or the poorest of the poor (or somewhere in-between, likely), we all need the grace of God. 

Also, as we see in Ephesians, God gives each person in the Church (whether rich or poor) gifts to use to equip God's people to do his work and to build up the church, the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

How is this encouraging to you? How is this a challenge? How can we make sure each person in the church feels valued and appreciated? How can we use our gifts to equip others? Can you think of a time when someone used their gifts to equip you?

Pray through the rest of the Ephesians passage:
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.


Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

January 7, 2014

Psalm 72, 1 Kings 10:1-13, Ephesians 3:14-21

What do you think about the king and kingdom described in Psalm 72? How about the king and kingdom described in Kings 10? How are the same? How are they different?
What do you think is the significance of a visit (and gifts and praise) from a king or queen of Sheba?
Why should we value wisdom? How do we get wisdom?

Paul's Prayer for Spiritual Growth, from Ephesians 3:14-21:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 
Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. 
Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! 

Monday, January 6, 2014

January 6, 2014

Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

If you Google "what is epiphany," this is the quick answer that comes up: 
noun 1. the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).

So as I read these passages, I am going to keep this in mind. How do we see that Christ known to the Gentiles?

In Isaiah, we see that Jerusalem's light is for all people and nations to see. People from distant lands all around the world will come to worship the Lord.

In the Psalm, verses 10-11 say, 
"The western kings of Tarshish and other distant lands
will bring him tribute.
The eastern kings of Sheba and Seba
will bring him gifts.
All kings will bow before him,
and all nations will serve him."

In Ephesians, verse 6 says, "And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus."

In Matthew, we see the visitors from the East bringing their gifts to Jesus.

So God has always intended for all people to worship and know Him. As a Gentile, this is very Good News indeed!

In this season of Epiphany (which goes until Lent), how can we think about this: that Christ was born, not only for the Jewish people, but for non-Jewish people as well.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile
the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those
whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the
Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the
earth a community of love has been gathered together by
their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants
call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and
the glory are yours for ever. Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

January 5, 2014

Second Sunday after Christmas Day (and, the 12th day of Christmas!)
Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 147:12-20, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:[1-9] 10-18

Jeremiah looks ahead to a time where the Lord will redeem his people, Israel. And the Psalm tells us that He will send peace and end hunger. And that He can do it, because even the weather listens to Him and obeys. And Ephesians says that we Gentiles, too, will be adopted into God's family. The Lord will redeem Gentiles, too!

Ephesians 1:12-14 says, "God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him."

Isn't that good news, this 12th day of Christmas? That the Lord wants to adopt us all into His family? That the Lord of the Universe, who causes both the falling of the snow and the melting of the snow, wants to redeem us and save us? During the season of Christmas, we ponder and celebrate the fact that God came to the earth as a human in order to redeem His people.

John 1:10-18 says, "He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us."

(emphasis mine)

Are you a child of God? How does one become a child of God?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

January 4, 2014

Psalm 72, Exodus 3:1-5, Hebrews 11:23-31

Today again we get a glimpse of Heaven on Earth. A bush that is on fire, but does not burn. The audible voice of God. Moses choosing oppression because he is one of God's people (rather than enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin). In Hebrews 11:26-27 we see a good picture of faith:  "He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible."

As someone who hasn't been tortured or killed or persecuted for my faith, I have a difficult time fathoming this. I mean of course Heaven is our great reward, and of course we should be able to get through trials here on earth, because of what is to come, and keeping our eyes on the one who is invisible. I think I get it. And I have certainly seen God's hand in my life, in big ways and small. And I am thankful. It is just difficult sometimes to wrap my head around the different situations around the world that Christians find themselves in.

Let our prayer be from Psalm 72:12-14 today:

He will rescue the poor when they cry to him;
he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
He feels pity for the weak and the needy,
and he will rescue them.
He will redeem them from oppression and violence,
for their lives are precious to him.

Friday, January 3, 2014

January 3, 2014

Psalm 72, Genesis 28:10-22, Hebrews 11:13-22

The readings for the past few days have got me thinking about and excited for heaven. A place that God is preparing for us. The psalmist imagined a kingdom where the poor and the needy and the oppressed were cared for and redeemed. In Genesis Jacob sees the Lord on the stairway and gateway to Heaven in a dream. Even this glimpse he described as awesome. In Hebrews we continue reading in
Chapter 11. Yesterday's reading was a list of people who demonstrated great faith. In today's reading it continues (Hebrews 11:13-16):

"All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

What are the implications of knowing that God is preparing a city for us? What are the implications that we are nomads here on earth? Does this strengthen your faith? What issues and worries of today will no longer matter in Heaven? What issues and worries of today will matter in Heaven?

I've also been thinking about my family and friends who might not be super excited to think of Heaven as a city. Hopefully in our reading this year, we will learn more about Heaven. I suspect that it will be spacious enough for those who get claustrophobic just thinking about spending any amount of time (much less eternity) in a city. And I suspect that heaven is a city without crime and pollution and traffic. And even though there will be a lot of people, it won't seem crowded, and we won't be hurting each other all the time. I suspect. We will find out!

Prayer for cities:

Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of
that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their
glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth.
Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life.
Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate
poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail
with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and
women from different cultures and with differing talents may
find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

January 2, 2014

Psalm 20, Genesis 12:1-7, Hebrews 11:1-12

Can you imagine being 75 years old and God saying to you, "Go on this adventure, leaving everything you know behind, and I will bless you and make you into a great nation." What must have been going through Abram's mind? He didn't have any children, he was getting up there in age...shouldn't he be thinking about retiring? When I was in seminary, a classmate was a part of a celebration. An 80 year old woman was celebrating 20 years of being ordained! Quite the accomplishment, and during a time of life where many dream of kicking their feet up and living the retired dream. More than a few couples I know volunteer in their retirement. One of my heros, Corrie ten Boom was used in mighty and miraculous ways by God when she was in her 50s, during the holocaust. You guys. Stop reading this blog and go read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom RIGHT NOW.
Anyway my point is, it is never too late for God to work in your life. It is never too late for God to take you on new adventures and teach you new things and bless you in new ways you never dreamed.

These are all examples of people who had (or have) great faith in God, even though their future or present is uncertain. In Hebrews 11, we see even more examples of Faith. Hebrews 11 even looks back to Abram (or Abraham, as he was later called), in verses 8-10:
"It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God."

In what ways has God taken you on adventures that have grown your faith in Him? How can looking back on ways God has demonstrated his faithfulness in your own life and in the lives of others help you to trust God with future adventures?

Benediction from Psalm 20:1-5

In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
May he send you help from his sanctuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
May he remember all your gifts
and look favorably on your burnt offerings.


May he grant your heart’s desires
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January 1, 2014

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Psalm 8, Revelation 21:1-6a, Matthew 25:31-46

Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for everything. A new year is upon us; a time for fresh starts, a time to set new goals and resolutions, a time to look back on the previous year, and remember all the ways that God has worked in your life and in the world. What do you think it means in verse 11, where it says, "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end." I think it points to we (us?) being made for eternity, even though in our finite humanness, we can't even fathom what that means. We know that God is in control and has a plan, but we cannot see into the future to know all the details, and we often forget the past, and ways that God has walked us through. That's why it is important, that as we are taking this time to look ahead at the year that is to come, to also remember how God took us through 2013. Whether through trials, or through joys and blessings, or both.
The psalmist reminds us that God, who is big enough to set the stars and moon in their place, whose name fills the earth, whose glory is higher than the heavens, also cares for we (us?) humans. He has crowned us with glory and honor, giving us authority over other living things! God cares for us so much, that he is creating a new Jerusalem, a new city (Heaven is a city!) for us, where He will live among His people and be with us. Doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Revelation 21:4 says, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Not only will God be with us in this new city, but everything that is broken will be fixed. He is making all things new! The ultimate new year.
But what are we to do until then in this broken world? Ecclesiastes says to "eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of our labor, for these are gifts from God." Matthew reminds us to love our neighbor. Not just the easy-to-love neighbor, but the one who is hungry or thirsty, the one who needs our hospitality and to be clothed, and to have a friend who cares enough to visit them when they are sick or in prison. So while we wait for Heaven, we are to enjoy and remember gifts from God, and to love our neighbor above and beyond what our neighbor expects from us. This is difficult. And sometimes we are the neighbor who needs a friend to actively care for us. Fortunately we have a God who cares for us, and gives us the ability to care for others. Read 1 John 4:9-21 if you have time. And Mark 12:30-31.

Here's to loving our neighbor in 2014. And here's to remembering how God cares for us, and is preparing a place for us where he will live among us.

Cheers. Happy New Year!

Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all your mercies, and
make us mindful of the needs of others; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

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