April 22

1 John 1:1-7

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” vs. 5

Some of those who have experienced what are sometimes called “near death experiences” report having had a sense of being drawn to a light, and that it gave them a great feeling of peace. Skeptics, upon hearing those stories, dismiss them quickly, saying that this is just what happens when our brains start shutting down. Others are not so sure! Our faith ancestors have uniformly attested to the significance of light, and have connected it to the presence of God, both in creation and in the life of Jesus. There is no doubt that light is a mysterious force having a primal presence in the universe. It was present in the beginning and is the source of life for all that is. Humans, from ancient times, have known the significance of light and have taken pains to mark its coming and going, with some choosing to worship the sun as a god. While such worship now is primarily limited to those who like to work on their tans, we do continue to link light with goodness and the promise of new life in the face of death. And those of us who have struggled to make sense of this world and its decaying forms can find comfort in the knowledge that one day even we will see the Light! And it will be a glorious day indeed!

Thought for the Day: How do I feel about near death experiences?

April 21

Psalm 23:4-6

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.” vs. 4

It’s no mystery why Psalm 23 is so frequently read at funerals and memorial services. Death is probably the darkest valley that we can endure. No matter what our religious beliefs might be, or even if they’re non-existent, death packs a powerful punch. Our friends and loved ones leave the land of the living and enter a new dimension, and no matter what our convictions about the afterlife, we feel the pain of their absence. It’s in those moments of tears and despair that this psalm comforts us. Its direct and simple words point us to a singular truth–the Lord is with us! And like a good shepherd the Lord is equipped to protect and guide, particularly when the shadows of death are creeping in. And we find comfort! When we come to the end of our power, and weakness grips our souls, the power of God kicks in, and we are sustained in our weariness and will have our joy restored. And as we continue on the journey set out for us, we discover that goodness and mercy, the prime attributes of God, are our daily companions–and they’ll be there for the rest of our lives! Our shepherd will never leave our sides–even when we wander!

Thought for the Day: How have I been comforted when death comes near?

April 20

Psalm 23:1-3

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” vs. 1

It’s doubtful that the psalmist thought of himself as a sheep. But there’s no doubt that he thought of the Lord as his shepherd! He’d had plenty of opportunity to watch shepherds out in the fields with their flocks. Since there were no fences, and sheep can’t care for themselves, each flock needed constant care. The shepherd went out with them from the fold in the morning, stayed with them all day, saw that they got food, water, and rest, and then returned with them in the evening to the pen. In the course of the day he would protect them from predators and round up the ones who wandered off. It was a full time job! And that’s what the Lord did for the psalmist–and that’s what the Lord does for us. Some may feel as though they’re independent and don’t need any care, but that’s a pretty narrow view of existence. If we’re honest we will quickly realize that we need the constant presence of God in our lives. God is with us in our going out and in our coming home, and every point in between. All that we have comes from God–good food, water, clothing, work, family–and we are given 24/7 protection whether we think we need it or not. And God certainly is with us in our wandering–believe it or not, we can never be lost! No matter how messed up we might get!

Thought for the Day: When am I most conscious of God’s presence?

April 19

Acts 4:5-12

“let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” vs. 10

The early disciples were unabashed name-droppers! Whenever they were in a tough spot or needed a spiritual power boost they dropped the name of Jesus and were amazed at the results. People of faith have continued that practice ever since, and even now at sick beds and in worship the name of Jesus is invoked. We do it not because we’re superstitious or because we believe in magic, but because it localizes the presence of the Christ in our daily living. When we do and say things in the name of Jesus we are asking for our hands and hearts to convey his love and healing to the hurting and the needy in our presence. Sadly, because of sin, there are some for whom the precious name of Jesus has become a curse or an expletive, and it’s used to express anger or frustration. It shouldn’t surprise us–people have been using the Name in vain since the time of Moses. But how much better it is when we drop the name to invoke the real presence of our living Lord. And it’s not only pastors or priests who should be using it. The name of Jesus is a gift we can all use as we spread abroad the love and grace of God.

Thought for the Day: When do I drop the name of Jesus?

April 18

Luke 24:44-48

“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day…’” vss. 45-46

When Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels they weren’t just interested in compiling a narrative of Jesus’ life from beginning to end. They also wanted their readers to know that what had happened in Jesus was a fulfillment of the scriptures. His suffering and death had been foretold in the law, psalms, and the prophets. But it wasn’t obvious! None of the scribes or teachers had ever predicted such a fate for Israel’s messiah. Only after the resurrection, under the guidance of the Spirit, did the disciples begin to understand the scriptures in that new way. We still have that same struggle with the bible. It’s virtually impossible to read it as a predictor of what’s going to happen. We’re constantly being surprised by changing circumstances and new perspectives. But after things have happened, as we continue to read the scriptures, we get all sorts of new insights from our ancestors in faith. It’s even that way with the teachings of Jesus. What was once obscure and difficult can suddenly speak to the conditions of our lives in fresh and invigorating ways. The key is continued guided study! We’ll never reach a point where we know it all, but as we keep on pondering the words, understanding abounds.

Thought for the Day: Why do we need help to understand scripture?

April 17

Luke 24:36b-43

“They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’” vss. 37-38

According to the stories that Luke had investigated, the disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. At first they dismissed the women’s report of an empty tomb as an idle tale, but Peter’s verification of the story got them thinking. And when Jesus showed up in their midst, they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. We can understand! We too have heard the stories–every Easter one or another version is read at our worship services. But we still wonder if it could possibly be true, and often doubts fill our hearts. But even if we’re not frightened, we keep on believing that this story is true, because in some strange and crazy way, it all makes sense. The universe itself proclaims in countless ways that life follows death, and that the grave is not the end of the story. All we have to do is look at our yards and the annual cycle of dying and rising that takes place with our flowers and trees. Why should we imagine that it’s any different with us? Every religion testifies to the triumph of life–Paul said it well, “Not even death can separate us from the love of God!” And besides all that, Jesus keeps on showing up! He is the embodiment of love and grace, and comes regularly to walk with us in our helter-skelter lives. Christ is risen indeed!

Thought for the Day: What kind of doubts have I had about Easter?

April 16

1 John 3:4-7

“You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” vss. 5-6

Just a few paragraphs earlier John had told his readers that anyone who said they did not sin was a liar, and we would heartily agree. That certainly fits our experience! But he doesn’t mean to imply that we should ever be content with the sins that mess up our lives. While confession does bring forgiveness, it doesn’t give us a license to keep on sinning. And that’s our biggest struggle as followers of Jesus! We’d love to believe that forgiveness is the last word, but it’s really the beginning of a new life. Having been cleansed from sin and guilt, and welcomed into unity with Christ, we are expected to bear fruit. There is to be a discernible difference in our words and actions as we begin walking in love. John even says that sin is incompatible with the presence of Christ. Of course that doesn’t mean that we will never sin again on our walk with Jesus–that’s ridiculous! What it does mean is that there is a paradoxical nature to life in Christ. We live in Christ as both saints and sinners–and sometimes it gets confusing. The good news is that forgiveness is a part of our daily diet as children of God–and by God’s grace, even in our sin, we can actually do some amazing good works. 

Thought for the Day: How long can I go without sinning?

April 15

1 John 3:1-3

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” vs. 1

Love is the most powerful force in the universe! It’s been there from the beginning and defines the very nature of God. Love has been breathed into our lives from the moment of birth and sustains us until the day we die. And even then love is present, and draws us beyond death into eternal union with God. We do nothing to earn it–it’s ours because we are the children of God. Some say that this is a claim only Christians can make, that anyone who does not confess Christ is not a child of God. Of course such a notion makes the love of God conditional, and should be rejected out of hand. All creation is included under the blanket of God’s love and all persons are God’s precious children. It is true that not all people know this–even though God knows them, they do not know God or are convinced that God doesn’t care. That’s why it’s so important for people of faith to reach out in whatever way they can to touch the alienated and the broken with pure and unconditional love. As they experience our love, they feel the presence of God, and know in their hearts that they are not orphans. In this way many have actually come to know God–and their lives have been changed.

Thought for the Day: How has love changed me?

April 14

Psalm 4:5-8

“There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’” vs. 6

Twenty-five hundred years ago there were people wandering around Jerusalem, shaking their heads in disgust at the constant stream of bad news that daily came their way. They longed for good news–and so do we! There are daily reports of political scandals, international tensions, and the continuing effects of the global COVID shutdown. Our congregations have slowly been opening up but nothing seems the same. It’s hard not to get depressed–unless we stop being fixated by the bad and the ugly, and turn our attention to the goodness and light that is always with us. We know that in Jesus the Christ conquered darkness and has continued to be present. Every day the Christ, who is the light of God’s face, shines on us and through us to bring goodness and joy into the most impossible situations. We know that’s true because we see it happening in and around our Christ-filled friends. We see it in their smiles and hugs, the sparkle in their eyes, and we are lifted up–and it becomes more contagious than the virus. Through the Risen Christ darkness has been defeated–and if we have eyes to see, the light will be unmistakable. It’s totally a matter of believing what we say, of making every day Easter!

Thought for the Day: How will I celebrate Easter today?

April 13

Psalm 4:1-4

“When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.” vs. 4

The psalmist is here advising his enemies to think twice about the harm they might intend to do to him. Rather than simply acting on their feelings and saying something they will regret, he says they should take to their beds, consider options and then be silent. This is timeless wisdom! Many of us are plagued by runaway tongues and end up in troublesome situations purely because of our big mouths. Of course it’s not necessarily a bad thing to say what we feel and venting is often a huge relief. It’s in the timing that we make our mistakes–and many times when ugly words or thoughts are churning around in our minds, going to bed would be the wisest choice. It’s not that we’ll be able to sleep it off! God only knows that when we’re upset resting isn’t even an option. But often, alone with our thoughts and lying in the dark, we can make better decisions about the proper path forward, especially if we’ve coupled our thinking with prayer. Often the Spirit will intercede with us and we’ll be led to words of reconciliation and not division, and maybe be encouraged simply to say nothing. That’s what Jesus did before Pilate and it could be the best option for us too. Often giving a kind smile works better than getting in the last word!

Thought for the Day: When has my mouth gotten me in trouble?