March 22

Romans 8:6-9

“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God…” vss. 6-7a

There is a huge variety of television and movie programming available to us in these days of Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube. Everyday we have dozens of new options for our viewing pleasure–it’s virtually impossible to keep up! And it doesn’t take a very large sample for us to see that the vast majority of our choices are not God-friendly. In fact spiritual or religious characters are usually presented in a negative way, and virtually none of them have what we might call a living faith. Instead we get a steady diet of blasphemy, cursing, and sexual excesses and can actually begin to think this is the norm in our culture. Now there’s no doubt that what we see has an effect on our minds–millions are conditioned to adopt the habits, language, and lifestyles of those depicted there. Hour by hour what we choose to watch changes us. Paul’s words to the Romans are a warning! What he describes as flesh is pretty much what we’re being deluged with! And when our minds fixate on flesh, he says, the result is death and separation from God. But when we set our mind on the Spirit, the road less traveled in our time, we will discover life and peace. People are still making that wise choice–it’s just not being seen on our entertainment screens.

Thought for the Day: How can I set my mind on the Spirit?

March 21

Psalm 130

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” vss. 1-2

It’s not much fun to live in the depths! The view is terrible and our only companions are depression and despair. But it was a familiar dwelling place for the psalmist–he likely lived in Jerusalem and life there was full of lamentable occasions. Calamity was a regular visitor. On this day, being at the end of his rope, he does the only thing he can, he cries out to the Lord with loud supplications. Many of us have been in similar situations and for some it’s a regular occurance. Again and again we cry out to God, knowing we don’t deserve special treatment but frustrated nonetheless. Tired of pasting on smiles we really don’t feel, worn down in our interior darkness, we double down on our prayers for release and renewal. And then we wait as patiently as we can, trusting and hoping that better days are just around the corner. And why do we hang on to that hope? Well, like the psalmist we have come to believe that in the Lord there is steadfast love and the power to bring new life. Like countless servants of Jesus before us we dare to believe that tomorrow will be a better day. And amazing as it may, simply having that hope will be enough to lift us out of the depths!

Thought for the Day: Why is hope so powerful?

March 20

Ezekiel 37:1-14

“Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.” vs. 12

The people of Israel, captive in Babylon, had given up hope. In their own minds they had been abandoned by the Lord and were as good as dead. But Ezekiel, one of their prophets, was given a vision of resurrection for the people. Their dry bones would be reconstituted with sinews and flesh and the breath of the Spirit would give them new life, and they would be brought back to Israel. That promise of new life has continued to bring hope to God’s people, and now it means more than a return from captivity for a nation. Because of Jesus’ resurrection we dare to believe that death never has the last word. We don’t know all the details, but we do know that even though our bones and flesh return to the dust, the life breathed into us by our creator will never be snuffed out. When death comes for us it will not be the end–a new life awaits in which we will be bathed in the unconditional love of God and have the peace we have always sought. There will be rest for the weary, an end to suffering and pain, and the Good Shepherd will lift us up and carry us home. That is our hope, and it can never be taken away from us.

Thought for the Day: What do I imagine the new life will be like?

March 19

John 9:28-41

“They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.” vs. 34

The man who had been blind wanted to share the insights derived from his life-changing experience with the Pharisees, but they refused to listen. More than that they drove him from their presence, likely with insults and blows. Not having been schooled in the Law of Moses, in their eyes, he lacked the proper credentials. Oh how much we miss when we write off the testimony of those who we consider to be our inferiors! God pays no attention to degrees, education, or social standing when our teachers are chosen. The Holy Spirit blows into lives and people have extraordinary experiences of the divine presence that they are glad to share, and because we disrespect their standing we close our ears and refuse to listen. More often than not we will quickly exit their presence. God’s greatest lessons never come to us when we are asserting our opinions or offering our experiences. It’s only as we listen that we learn–and often it’s hard to hear what we’re being taught, especially when it’s at odds with our own convictions and prejudices. This doesn’t mean that everything we hear is from God–there’s plenty of garbage being presented as truth out there, especially in this time of deliberate disinformation peddling. We need to pray daily for the gift of discernment! But the truth remains! The best way to learn is through indiscriminate listening!

Thought for the Day: My most unlikely teacher!

March 18

John 9:17-27

“He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’” vs. 25

The man who had been born blind had a simple testimony for the religious leaders who were questioning him. He didn’t know about the intricacies of their polemic against Jesus. All he did know was that once he had been blind but now he could see, and that was enough for him. In his book Jesus had to have been the very presence of God, and he really didn’t care what detractors said about him. That’s kind of still the way it is with us. Experience counts more than anything else as we make our life choices. When we have felt the nearness of God, and have been touched by God’s love, we don’t need a fancy philosophy or a carefully honed argument to become a believer. And that’s how we evaluate people too! When someone brings love and healing into our lives, whether by a word or by a smile, we are touched deeply, and an attachment is made. And we really don’t care whether that person is a sinner or not. If others speak poorly of them, we will likely become their greatest defender. As they have done for us, we will do for them. Can we be fooled and manipulated? Of course, that’s always a risk in relationships, But when we’ve been treated kindly and our lives have been changed for the better, a bond is established that is not easily broken.

Thought for the Day: How do people grab my heart?

March 17

John 9:8-16

“Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided.” vs. 16

The blind man must have cleaned up pretty well. When he returned from washing in the pool of Siloam many of his neighbors didn’t recognize him. His new found sight had made him a different person and the whole neighborhood was perplexed; so they brought him to the Pharisees, their religious leaders. Upon arrival they were amazed to discover that, while their friend and neighbor could now see, the Pharisees had gone blind! Because the healing had taken place on the Sabbath, a day on which doctors were forbidden to work, those pious keepers of the Law refused to believe that it had taken place. Their allegiance to rules and regulations had made it impossible for them to see grace, even when it was standing right in front of them. That kind of blindness continues to afflict religious folks of every stripe. They have such strong convictions about right and wrong that they can’t conceive that God’s Holy Spirit works in a variety of ways with all manner of sinners. It must be awful to have that kind of astigmatism, that prejudiced perspective that causes us to write off whole categories of people without a second thought. God is doing marvelous things in our world, barriers are being broken down, the blind are being healed–and some folks can’t even see the miracle!

Thought for the Day: Where have I seen blindness in the Church?

March 16

John 9:1-7

“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” vss. 1-2

It was natural for the disciples to have questions about the blind man. In their world a person blind from birth would be an anomaly, and they wanted to know how and why things like this occurred. There had to be a cause, and they strongly believed that it had something to do with sin. We often jump to similar conclusions about people who experience misfortune in their lives. We assume that their plight has something to do with their prior behavior or from poor parenting. Sadly, in some circles mothers often get the blame for the way their children turn out. For many, finding fault in others is often a favorite topic of conversation. They love speculating about reasons for addictions or behaviors. And of course sometimes there are discernible causes for the ugly things that happen–behaviors do have consequences. But Jesus doesn’t seem to have been interested in assessing blame when he encountered hurting people. Instead he offered compassion and healing. It was an opportunity for him to glorify God through service and love. His attitude reminds believers that it is far more important to talk to suffering people than about them. When people hurt they’re looking for support and love; they don’t need our speculation about their failures.

Thought for the Day: Why are mothers often made into scapegoats?

March 15

Ephesians 5:8-14

“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” vss. 8-9

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said to his disciples, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works, and give glory to God.” That theme dominated the faith and practice of the early church and continues to be the central calling of those who call themselves servants of Jesus. We are called to be different, people of the highest moral character, and models of the godly life. It’s not that we’re more loved by God or that we no longer sin, but there will be a discernible difference in the way we live. There are many who ridicule those qualities and who prefer to walk in the ways of immorality and licentiousness. Their immodest and profane ways attract attention and have even become the accepted standards of popular culture. In fact many idols of the sports and entertainment world have chosen to follow paths of darkness and have become powerful influencers. What a blessing it is when we see public figures who walk as children of light, who have a moral compass, and who live as people of goodness and truth! It warms our hearts to see their smiles and obvious love. In them the light of Christ shines brightly and the world becomes a better place.

Thought for the Day: Celebrities who warm our hearts!

March 14

Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” vss. 1-3

When Samuel’s one-person pastoral search committee led him to select the boy-shepherd, David, as the next king of Israel, he established a job description for godly leaders that will persist for all time. The prophets regularly described the kings of Israel as shepherds and castigated them when they allowed the sheep to stray. When Jesus spoke of his mission he readily adopted the shepherding terminology and even called himself “the Good Shepherd.” The earliest artistic renderings of Jesus found on the walls of ancient catacombs show him as a shepherd carrying a sheep. The very word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for shepherd and implies that the role of a pastor in a congregation will involve shepherding the members. Indeed, that is what people are expecting when they call someone to be their pastor. Not only is it a calling with a long and storied history going back even beyond David, it mirrors the mission of Jesus and carries with it huge responsibilities. Obviously, no pastor can be perfect, but people do sense when their pastor has a shepherd’s heart. Huge blessings come to a congregation when their pastor is a servant leader and is a caring, compassionate, and gentle guide through the sunny and the shadowy days of life!

Thought for the Day: How have my pastors been a blessing to me?

March 13

1 Samuel 16:1-11

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” vs. 7

Anyone who has ever been called to serve on a congregation’s pastoral search committee can empathize with Samuel as he carried out the charge that the Lord had given him. Sometimes the search group has call documents from dozens of candidates that need to be sorted and ranked. And then the most promising are contacted for personal interviews via Zoom. The committee may then ask one or more finalists to come for a visit, an occasion for more questions and some observation of what might be called intangibles. It’s still not easy to make a final choice! Because as Samuel learned from the Lord, outward appearances can be deceptive. Some folks can interview extremely well and be physically attractive but they won’t be the best match for the congregation. And since the all-important intangibles are so hard to discern, it sometimes feels like all the search group can do is pray and hope. We don’t know the method Samuel used–the text makes it appear the Lord whispered in his ear. But he kept interviewing until the vibe was right–and against all odds David was chosen. What a blessing it is for congregations when search committees are given good candidates and are also able to discern the heart that matches their needs!

Thought for the Day: Why do search committees sometimes make poor choices?