February 26

Romans 4:17-25

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” vss. 20-21

Paul’s extravagant description of Abraham’s faith stretches our credulity a bit, but there’s no doubt that he believed Abraham was the founder of the Judeo-Christian faith community. From his perspective salvation history began with the faith of Abraham and continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And now it’s our turn! While grace is the gift of God, it’s our faith that keeps the story alive in our homes and families. That’s not always easy to do! There’s a slipperiness to faith, an elusive quality that can make it difficult to hang on to. Sometimes it may seem that there is no evidence of God’s presence and we can begin to believe that the atheists have it right, that there really is no God, and that believing in a higher power is the height of foolishness. That it’s like trusting that a ninety-nine year old woman can actually give birth to a son! And they’re right! As the writer to the Hebrews put it so clearly, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We can’t prove faith, all we can do is hold on to it! And so we do! Why? Because it gives us a place to stand in a world of uncertainty. And its blessings are priceless!

Thought for the Day: How has faith blessed me?

February 25

Romans 4:13-16

“For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants…” vs. 16a

Paul is taking great pains to show the Romans the distinction between the legalisms of Judaism and the freedom he had discovered in Christ. He doesn’t believe that what he is teaching is new. Rather, he tells them that the seeds of this understanding were sown in God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah in the very beginning. That covenant was based, not on law, but on the righteousness of faith, and was applicable to all. And since faith is not some new law or legal requirement, the entire promise rests on grace. The blessing was a total gift of God and was intended not just for Jews, but for all nations. That’s why, in so many of our congregations, we find such a strong emphasis on grace–it’s the divine principle on which everything else rests. And what a blessing it is to be a part of a faith community where that principle is actually practiced! It’s wonderful to gather with others and celebrate grace week after week with no thought to theological distinctions or proper rituals. There’s no need for judgment or separation. We can concentrate totally on inclusion and love, and together find ways to serve the broken in our hurting world. We can argue and debate about any number of things, and when we’re done, by God’s grace, we give hugs and celebrate our unity in Christ. 

Thought for the Day: When grace is the unifier, what can separate us?

February 24

Psalm 22:27-31

“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” vss. 30-31

Sometimes when we see the mess that the world is in and the increasing number of people who have abandoned traditional religious forms, it’s easy to begin to think that believers are like the dinosaurs and about to go extinct. Indeed science has brought new knowledge and things once attributed to God are now said to be “natural” occurrences. And so we wonder–will our progeny take time for worship? Will church buildings ultimately be repurposed? The psalmist would be shocked at such a notion–he firmly believed that future generations would be people of faith. Of course he was right! It’s now over 2500 years since he wrote these words and belief has spread all over the globe. But are things different now? Have humans finally come of age and been liberated from their need to imagine an all-powerful deity? Some would say yes–and celebrate the growing influence of secularism. But others say no–while some may indeed give up on organized religions, most humans know that there is a power beyond themselves. Our images and ideas of God may be changing, but basic faith convictions are alive and well. And those precepts will be passed on! Most of us want our offspring to know that God is more than we can know and understand, and that God is real! And that good news will never be lost!

Thought for the Day: Why do I care about my grandchildren’s faith?

February 23

Psalm 22:23-26

“For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” vs. 24

We’ve heard the voices of the afflicted big time during this last year. Every country in the world has been affected, and millions of families have suffered pain and loss. Jobs have disappeared and the education system has been stressed to the max. Some have even echoed the psalmist in making complaints before God, questioning why they have been forsaken and forgotten in a moment of crisis. Humans have endured these times for generations, but the pain of our ancestors does nothing to mitigate our own. We continue to bring our laments before God, asking for some sign of hope, some expression of mercy. This particular psalmist, having made his feelings known to God, expresses praise and thanksgiving for having been heard. Perhaps his suffering had come to an end! Maybe he was anticipating God’s gracious response! But the time had come to recognize that God had been present all along, that there never had been a moment when God’s face was hidden. Some are at that point now in the battle with COVID-19. There is a sense that the tide has turned and healing is on the way. The struggle isn’t over yet but maybe it’s time to start offering praises for the bounty of life in the midst of adversity. We are not alone, our prayers have been heard!

Thought for the Day: How can praises be offered when suffering is not over?

February 22

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

“I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” vs. 16

Judaism was for the most part a patriarchal system. Men ruled their families and called the shots–faithful men would pray each day, “Thank God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” When Jesus began his ministry he intentionally ruptured that system–he proclaimed liberty for the oppressed and brought healing to Gentiles, slaves, and women. The Apostle Paul makes it clear: in Christ there is no distinction between Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, men or women. But still as the Church developed those old patriarchal habits found their way in the traditions and the regulations–women were expected to stay in their place (wherever that was) while men ran things. It took centuries for that pattern to be broken–seldom was it recognized that in the beginning God’s promises were for both men and women. Sarah received exactly the same blessing as did Abraham–the wording is identical–our faith has its foundation in both a patriarch and a matriarch. We’re beginning to reap the benefits of that blessing now as both men and women are being set free to use all of their gifts for the glory of God and for the proclamation of the gospel. Thank God for those faithful women who refused to be bound by traditions, and were bold enough to overcome the barriers to ministry that men had placed in their ways.

Thought for the Day: How have women shaped my faith?

February 21

Mark 1:9-15

“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” vss. 11-12 

Mark is a “bare bones” gospel. As the first to be written it charts Jesus’ ministry from baptism through resurrection, but leaves the teaching and parables to Matthew and Luke. Here Jesus gets no time at all to bask in the glory of his baptismal experience–immediately he is not led but driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for the first of his encounters with the Tempter. There are no details, just the facts. His moment of connection with the Divine on the banks of the Jordan was gone in an instant, and then came forty days of temptation in company with the wild beasts. We know what that’s like. Our moments of exultation and recognition are often quickly followed by a cold dash of reality. We can go from certainly to questioning in a heartbeat, and the times in the wilderness are ever so much longer than those fleeting minutes of joy and confidence. We might not like it but it has to happen–the wilderness is where the real growing takes place. It’s here that we sort out our priorities and consider what it might be that God has in mind for us. The good news is that we’re never abandoned–even Jesus wasn’t alone. The Spirit was there and angels ministered to him. In our darkest moments God will be present–and we will be taken care of. After all, we are God’s beloved!

Thought for the Day: Lows that have followed my highs!

February 20

1 Peter 3:18-22

“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison…” vss. 18-19

As early followers of Jesus reflected on his sacrificial death, it seemed absurd to believe that he had suffered only for the living. Instead they began to teach that after his death, he had gone in the spirit to proclaim the good news to the dead. Later generations of believers then included this teaching in what came to be known as the Apostle’s Creed. Initially they had described this as a descent into hell, which is nowhere attested to in scripture. For that reason some have begun using the phrase, “descended to the dead” in the Creed and have looked to these verses from Peter as their prooftext. This correction is a reminder that the salvation we have in Christ Jesus is by no means limited to the living–what happened in Jesus is for all and none are excluded. Not even death is a barrier to the overwhelming and universal love of God. For those who have lived with heavy hearts as they’ve worried about loved ones who have died without having come to faith in Christ Jesus, this is the best news ever. The Creator who gives life will never abandon us–and there are no exceptions!

Thought for the Day: How do I feel about taking hell out of the Creed?

February 19

Psalm 25:1-10

“Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” vs. 6

The psalmist wanted more than anything to have a solid relationship with God. He wanted to walk in the way of truth and righteousness–but he was wondering if he was going to be undone by past transgressions. Would God ultimately remember the sins of his youth and hold them against him? He’d like God to forget about those things and instead look in the mirror. His prayer goes like this, “Remember what you’re like, O Lord! Be mindful of your mercy and steadfast love! That’s how you’ve always been and I really need for you to be that way in dealing with me!” Some of us can relate to that. We have been taught and have come to believe that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. That refrain is a regular part of our liturgy, especially in the season of Lent. And as we consider the tendencies of our hearts and number the ways in which we miss the mark in our daily living, we need God to be the God who was revealed in Jesus. And really, that’s the step of faith that we take in confessing our sins. We’re assuming that God isn’t going to get us for what we’ve done, but will instead bring healing and restoration. And even though there are days when that’s hard to believe, Jesus assures us again and again, that’s the way God really is!

Thought for the Day: At what times am I reminded of my sin?

February 18

Genesis 9:8-17

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” vs. 16

Humans have a hard time wrapping their heads around the notion that all living creatures have a divine connection. Generally we understand ourselves as being the center of the universe and give little thought to the thousands of other species that also inhabit this beautiful blue planet and that are loved by God. Our ancestors in faith, those whose creation stories we read in Genesis had a much more inclusive understanding of our relationship to other living creatures. Even in the story of the flood it is made clear that God’s rainbow connection includes Siberian tigers, whales, and burrowing owls. No animal is exempted! It’s therefore natural for people of faith to be energetically involved in the environmental efforts to preserve habitat for endangered species. Our human tendency to exploit the natural resources of the earth for the sake of our own pleasure and gain goes counter to our responsibility to look out for our animal companions, especially the ones most severely impacted by the changing climate. The face of the earth has changed drastically in the last couple of hundred years, and much of the so-called progress has been at the expense of those less numerous species with whom we share living space. Some would say that it’s past time for us to be concerned about our stewardship!

Thought for the Day: How do humans cause species extinctions?

February 17

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” vs. 1

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, traditionally the time for followers of Jesus to receive the imposition of ashes at worship as a sign of repentance. In most congregations the ashes are imposed on the forehead in the shape of a cross with the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Believers are then encouraged to leave the ashes on their foreheads through the day as a public expression of their faith. It’s a worthy ancient tradition, though some wonder if it isn’t a violation of Jesus’ warning against “practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” It may be that for some it is a way of showing off, though in our secular times that usually isn’t something for us to worry about. Most of us are so careful about practicing our piety in public that our friends and neighbors don’t even know that we are people of faith. On this one day, the cross on our forehead, retracing the mark etched there at our baptisms, is a powerful reminder of our connection to the suffering and death of Jesus. We are people of the cross, familiar with suffering, and doing all we can to bring the message of redemption and grace to a guilt-wracked and hurting world–and we’re called to do that every day, not just Ash Wednesday.

Thought for the Day: What does the imposition of ashes mean for me?