June 24

2 Corinthians 8:7-11

“Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” vs. 7

There had been a massive famine in the area of Jerusalem and the Jewish Christians there were struggling mightily. When Paul heard he launched a massive disaster response effort in the congregations he had started. Instructions were sent  out to gather a collection that could be brought to those brothers and sisters who were on the edge of starvation. Initially the response was positive in Corinth, but then enthusiasm ebbed. Paul knows he can’t command the Corinthians to give, but he does encourage them, first by telling them of the extreme generosity of the Macedonian congregations, and then, by challenging them to do better! Paul understood competitiveness, and decided to use it to increase the offering for the saints. It wasn’t just that he wanted them to give more–he only wanted them to excel in their sharing, to give in proportion to their blessings. That has continued to be the model for followers of Jesus. We not only open our hearts to the Christ, we open our checking accounts as well. Sometimes that’s a shock to new believers–but when they discover the real joy that comes from generous giving, they continue that pattern for the rest of their lives. And it really isn’t a competition, it’s a habit of the heart, and one of the gifts of the Spirit!

Thought for the Day: When did I become a generous giver?

June 23

Psalm 30:6-12

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,” vs. 11

The psalmist had a strong sense of having lived in the Lord’s favor through his entire life. There had been times when things had not gone well for him but he didn’t doubt that the Lord had his back. He knew that ultimately God’s underlying love would lift him up, and that hope never abandoned him when times seemed bleak. Generally that’s how it works for people of faith. As we look back at our lives we can recite countless occasions of profound sadness and even depression. Times of prosperity are followed by market collapses and loss of job or income. No life can be illustrated on a graph by a straight line from one side to the other. There are always peaks and valleys! As the psalmist put it so well, mourning is turned into dancing and sadness is replaced by joy. Of course most of us would prefer that life would always be lived on mountain tops, but we also know that such a life is impossible. But it does feel good to know on the dismal days that our current moods and feelings are not permanent. God takes no pleasure in our sadness and is always at work within and around us to bring resurrection and restoration. And when we know this great truth, those moments of darkness lose their power! They just don’t last!

Thought for the Day: The longest I’ve felt bad!

June 22

Psalm 30:1-5

“For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” vs. 5

The psalmist was intimately aware of the Divine Presence; he knew that the Lord was connected to him in every conceivable way. There would never be a time when God was absent. It’s natural in such a relationship to have feelings of regret and sadness about words or deeds, and even believe that the Lord is angry. But because the psalmist knew the relationship was established in steadfast love, he believed that such anger would never persist. That’s how it is when we’re connected to God and to one another by self-giving love. We see it on a regular basis with our love partners. To use the psalmist’s imagery there will be nights of weeping–it’s inevitable! We can’t make one another happy all the time. Occasionally, and in some seasons often, we will be irritable or resentful, and patience flies out the window. There will be tears! But the wonderful thing about love is that when the night of weeping is done, with the morning will come surprising joy and restoration. That happens for us again and again with God, and thankfully it happens in our other relationships too. Just as the sun faithfully dawns each morning, joy will rise within us, and our spirits are renewed. Instead of tears there will be smiles, and sometimes even laughter!

Thought for the Day: How do I “make up” with my loved ones?

June 21

Lamentations 3:22-33

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” vss. 22-23

These are words one might expect from a lottery winner, someone who has been the beneficiary of a sudden windfall. In reality they come from a prophet who has seen and experienced the complete devastation of city and country, a person familiar with starvation and lingering death. And that’s how it has always been for the people of God, those familiar with the indwelling Universal Christ. We know that our relationship to God is not contingent on external conditions or circumstances. Our faith does not waver during the darkness that is a part of living in this world. Even when the unthinkable happens and night settles in, when the sun makes its daily appearance, there’s a palpable change in our perceptions. It’s a reminder that God’s steadfast love is the constant in our lives, and God’s mercies will never end. And even when our faith is hanging by a thread, we know that God’s faithfulness never ends. No matter what happens in this world God’s story is going to have a happy ending, and every single one of us is going to rejoice on that day. It’s not likely that many of us will face the tribulations of Jeremiah’s time, but somehow it’s good to know that he never lost his faith. If he continued to feel the daily love of God, surely the same will be true for us.

Thought for the Day: How is God’s love touching me today?

June 20

Mark 4:39-41

“And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” vs. 41

Mark closes his little story with a question that he knew most every devout Jew should be able to answer. Who is it that even the winds and the waves obey? It was in their psalms–they sang about it regularly. It was the Lord who wielded such control over the forces of nature–there could be no other answer. So with this question Mark makes the point of his living parable. In Jesus, the power of God had been made flesh! In him, people were encountering the Divine Presence. But the disciples still didn’t get it–they were certainly impressed, and said all the right words, but they had only begun the journey. They wouldn’t be immersed in faith until they’d walked with Jesus to the other side of the cross.  We still see that response to Jesus–sometimes it happens in retreats. A mood is set, receptivity is heightened, and folks are amazed at their feelings, and sing with gusto, “Our God is an awesome God,” but they’ve only dipped their toes in the shallow end of life in Christ. Our God is more than the master of wind and waves–the God revealed in Jesus was full of love and tenderness, and hadn’t come to do magic tricks. It’s in the ordinary stuff of life, in our day to day encounters with anxiety and fear, that the God of peace brings calmness to our hearts, even on windy days!

Thought for the Day: What’s the relationship between faith and weather?

June 19

Mark 4:35-38

“But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” vs. 38

Mark’s little story raises a big question for a literalist reader. How could Jesus sleep through a windstorm that was swamping the boat? Answers for our question could vary–perhaps he was an introvert and had gotten exhausted with all the extroverting involved in ministry, and had collapsed like a preacher on a couch on Sunday afternoon. Of course Jesus’ nap isn’t the point of the story at all– Jesus has been telling parables for days, and in Mark’s hands the disciples are made the central characters in yet another parable. Only this story isn’t made up, it’s being lived out, and it has to do with faith in the time of great danger. The disciples’ question has probably been asked by us all at one time or another. “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” Most of the time life seems pretty okay, at the very least it’s predictable and we don’t have huge issues with our faith. But when the winds turn against us and we feel the crashing waves, we really like to know that our captain has control–at the very least we’d like to know that God cares. And at that moment it’s perfectly permissible to cry out, “Are you sleeping, Jesus?” It just might be that our cries will wake him up!

Thought for the Day: What do I do when I’m frightened and feeling alone?

June 18

2 Corinthians 6:11-13

“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.” vss. 11-12

Even though Paul mounts a spirited defense of his ministry to the Corinthians he does not expect that their relationship will be destroyed, and there is no hint that he holds any animosity. He loves them very much and even though they’ve expressed some negativity about his teachings, it has not affected his feelings toward them. That sort of confidence in relationships has been threatened in recent years. Long standing friendships have been fractured as our country has moved toward political polarization. As a result more and more people are taking great pains to hide strong convictions from their friends. They feel freedom in speech only when they’re around those who share their beliefs. And so we’ve become increasingly isolated from one another–some fear that if they say the wrong thing, others will be offended, and a friend will be lost. So we only talk about cultural, political, or religious issues with those who agree with us, and we lose any opportunity to learn and be changed. Living together in Christ transcends differences, making it okay to have frank and honest discussions with our friends. It’s love that binds us together in Christ and not our politics–and people who truly love each other are able to talk about anything, even their profound differences.

Thought for the Day: Why are some political conversations so difficult?

June 17

2 Corinthians 6:1-8a

We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way:” vss. 3-4

We can’t be sure about what was going on in Corinth–all we have is a couple of letters written by Paul to address his concerns. But from what he says we can be pretty confident that he was getting some blowback from his old friends. Evidently there were some making every effort to undermine his work and standing. Paul wasn’t one to ignore such things, and responds with a rigorous defense of his record in ministry. He’s proud of what he’s done and shares with his opponents a long list of both his sufferings and his virtues. It’s a reminder that sometimes it’s worth defending our record against those who would criticize us. Sometimes, even when we do our best to live beyond reproach, people are going to get on our case. And even though there will be times when, like Jesus before Pilate, we don’t speak on our own behalf, occasionally, like Paul, we will mount a careful and spirited defense of what we’ve done. When that happens, hopefully rarely, it’s good to have lovingly lived as he did, always speaking the truth and being faithful to the message of grace. The Spirit will be with us in those moments and give us the words we need to defend the gospel against all who would destroy it.

Thought for the Day: A time when I defended a position I felt to be just!

June 16

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” vs. 1

As the psalmist looked at the history of his people, he saw a recurring theme. Whenever people got in any kind of trouble, whenever disaster threatened, they would cry out to the Lord and they would be delivered. That happened, the psalmist reasoned, because the Lord is good and “his steadfast love endures forever.” Because this is the nature of God, he tells us, it is fitting for the people of God to live in a constant state of thanksgiving. Now, while that sounds good, there are some who would disagree. Like Job they’ve cried out to God in their calamities and things just got worse. We can be confident the psalmist knew such people too. It’s always been the case that some suffer without finding relief–it’s one of the realities of life in this world. Wonderful books have been written to provide explanations, but truthfully nothing really works–some suffering remains a mystery. But that doesn’t negate the goodness of God, nor does it undermine God’s steadfast enduring love. Goodness and love are the core values of our universe, and because they are, we will regularly and loudly offer thanks and praise to God. Life is pretty spectacular, an extravagant gift from our Creator that should be savored and relished. And if that doesn’t deserve daily thanksgiving, it’s hard to know what does!

Thought for the Day: For what am I giving thanks today?

June 15

Job 38:4-11

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” vss. 4-5

The writer shows the Lord reverting to sarcasm in his response to Job’s laments, implying that Job didn’t know squat when it came to the creation of the earth. It’s an amusing section and points to the basic deficiency we humans have when it comes to understanding our situation. There are too many things, even in these days of amazing scientific discoveries, that we will never be able to get our puny minds around. We do a pretty good job of describing the stuff of the universe, and we’ve even been able to figure out its age within a million years or so. But as to why things exist, and why we’re here, and why there’s so much pain and suffering in our lives, well, that’s way beyond our pay grade. All we can know is what we experience, and for most folks that’s enough. Without even asking to be born we’ve been plopped down on a globe nurtured by the sun, filled with unexpected and extraordinary delights, and rewarded with lifetimes filled with blessings. And all we’re expected to do is make sure that all the goodness is shared in a way that ensures we all have a crack at joy. Of course we have questions, and naturally we’ll complain about suffering, but perhaps the best we can do is just settle back and enjoy the ride! It’s God’s most precious gift!

Thought for the Day: What is the core of contentment?