Thursday, November 27, 2014

Restore Us, God!

Friday, November 28, 2014
[1]Fall had not officially hit the calendar, that didn’t seem to matter to the clerk loading the store shelves with Christmas ornaments. Nor the customer who filled her shopping cart with ornaments almost as fast as they were shelved. The image immediately initiated a mental “to do” list of everything I would have to prepare for the holidays.
Many years ago, during the first holiday season after my divorce, it seemed my “to do” list had transformed into an uncontrollable monster. Balancing feelings of grief and anger while trying to maintain what would hopefully be a normal Christmas for my two young children began to overwhelm. I quickly lost the hope and joy of Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, as I drive the children home from the candlelight service, I was tired and thinking of getting the children to bed and the house ready for Santa’s visit. As we neared the house, while looking out the window at the starlit sky, my daughter quietly asked, “Mom, I wonder what Mary was thinking around this time the night before Jesus was born.”
Each year as the calendar hustles us into the season of Advent, I am reminded of my daughter’s question. What are my thoughts during the season of Advent, are they focused on a “to do” list or the anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope it brings. Restore me, God!
On what or where are your thoughts focused during this season of Advent?
Rev. Valerie Harvard, Covington Mill UMC,
North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

[1] During this blessed season of Advent we will enjoy together daily devotions which are shared by Local Pastors and Associate Members of the United Methodist Church from around the United States.  I had the privilege of participating in this project, and look forward to sharing these daily uplifting thoughts with you over the season from now (Thanksgiving) to January 1st.  Each author will be identified, and we thank them in advance for each contribution.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Light of the World


During this blessed season of Advent we will enjoy together daily devotions which are shared by Local Pastors and Associate Members of the United Methodist Church from around the United States.
I had the privilege of participating in this project, and look forward to sharing these daily uplifting thoughts with you over the season from now (Thanksgiving) to January 1st.
Each author will be identified, and we thank them in advance for each contribution.

As we set out on our Advent journey, we join hearts and voices as we sing, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” God promised His salvation long ago; it is realized in Jesus Christ. As we live in the tension of “now” and “not yet,” we await Christ’s return at a time known only to the Father.

We wait in darkness. While the Light of the World shines through the dark that is around us and in us, we still reside in a world that knows dark times. This is my Father’s world, but, right now, this is a fallen, imperfect world. A dark world.

So we cry out to the Lord! We cry out in pain. In anger. We understand having times of sorrow; we have drunk tears, knowing more tears will fall. We pray with the Psalmist and with fellow travelers through the ages for we know there is only One response to the darkness: GOD’S response.

Only God can shine a divine Light. Only God can turn to us, leading us to salvation. If God does not act in this way then we will remain in darkness. We will not be saved.

Yet, in Christ, God’s face shines on us. God has smiled and smiles, still. We have hope because we are part of God’s smile; because we know that the day is coming when He will BEAM broadly for all eternity.

It is Advent! Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

How are you preparing for Christ? Where do you need God to shine His Light in your life?
Rev. Carol Taylor, Warren Plains UMC,
Warrenton, NC;
North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

pars pro toto

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’  But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.     
Matthew 5:27-30 (NLT)
The Latin saying "pars pro toto" (the part stands for the whole) applies here.  It simply means that even the smallest part of a larger entity represents the whole entity. 
We elect representatives to Congress.  They are supposed to represent (as a part of us) the whole district. 
The mind is one part of the total body....but it represents the whole body, connected by nerves, blood, flesh and bone. 
In just the same way, Jesus says that the lust of the mind (pars) is as real as the acts of the entire body (toto).  You cannot separate the two. 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis because of his testimony.  He said, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die."  To die to self means we should view sin so seriously, as to prefer to lose an eye or hand, rather than disappoint the Master. 
When it comes to adultery (in Greek, literally "marriage-breaking"), we are to be one in mind and body - rejecting the way of the world, and being obedient in self-denial.  We are called to responsible living in the area of our sexuality and fidelity, whether married or single.

For You, Today

Even the smallest thought that differs from the mind of Christ can tear the pars from the toto in the body of Christ.

Be careful to walk in toto today…strengthen the body; be a strong part!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder.  If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’  But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!  If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court.  And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.  “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar.  Go and be reconciled to that person.  Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.    Matthew 5:21-24 (NLT)
Have you ever noticed that it is much easier to BECOME a Christian, than to BE ONE?    
Jesus refers to the Old Testament "eye for an eye" passage, and breathes life into a demand for reconciliation.  He asserts His rightful place as the Authority, and says, in fact:  "You have understood the principle as eye for eye....But I say to you that reconciliation is the better way." 
A new convert came to his pastor and explained that after reading the story of Zacchaeus he was convicted and tried to return a rope he'd previously stolen from a neighbor.  But the neighbor wouldn't be reconciled to him. 
"Are you sure that's all you stole from him?" questioned the minister. 
"Well," said the new believer, "Do you suppose I should've given him back the calf that was attached to the rope I swiped?" 
Jesus makes the point that demeaning someone’s character (calling that person an “idiot”) is no less convictable in heaven’s court than if you murder someone and face an earthly court.  The word “idiot” (as translated in the NLT) is Hebrew "raca" and it means "empty head".  We run the risk of God's judgment when we let our anger drive us to holding an opinion of another person as lower than what is rightful; that is, all persons are those for whom Christ died! 
Anger kills; and it first kills the spirit of the angry person.
You cannot worship God when you are killing your brother; no matter whether the weapon is an attitude or an A-bomb!
Jesus made this point so strong that we might understand – forgiveness from heaven for our sins hangs in the balance, and it is our own attitude we hold towards other people which will tip the scale. 
He punctuated the whole issue by instructing his followers to forget about coming to church, putting an offering in the plate, or staying for the potluck dinner if there’s no forgiveness in your heart; it won’t do you any good with God.
It’s that important!

For You, Today

Are you holding any grudges?

Here, a few days before Thanksgiving, would be a great day to be reconciled to others.  Think how thankful you’ll be.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Guarding the Sabbath Doors

In those days I saw men of Judah treading out their winepresses on the Sabbath.  They were also bringing in grain, loading it on donkeys, and bringing their wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of produce to Jerusalem to sell on the Sabbath.  So I rebuked them for selling their produce on that day.   Some men from Tyre, who lived in Jerusalem, were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise.  They were selling it on the Sabbath to the people of Judah—and in Jerusalem at that!  So I confronted the nobles of Judah.  “Why are you profaning the Sabbath in this evil way?”  I asked.  “Wasn’t it just this sort of thing that your ancestors did that caused our God to bring all this trouble upon us and our city?  Now you are bringing even more wrath upon Israel by permitting the Sabbath to be desecrated in this way!”  Then I commanded that the gates of Jerusalem should be shut as darkness fell every Friday evening, not to be opened until the Sabbath ended.  I sent some of my own servants to guard the gates so that no merchandise could be brought in on the Sabbath day.  The merchants and tradesmen with a variety of wares camped outside Jerusalem once or twice.  But I spoke sharply to them and said, “What are you doing out here, camping around the wall?  If you do this again, I will arrest you!”  And that was the last time they came on the Sabbath.  Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and to guard the gates in order to preserve the holiness of the Sabbath.  Remember this good deed also, O my God!  Have compassion on me according to your great and unfailing love.     Nehemiah 13:15 - 22 (NLT)
We live in a world in which the pressures can sometimes be crushing.  There was a man who ran up to an airline ticket agent and said, "Give me a ticket."  The agent said, "Where to?"  He replied, "Anywhere; ANYWHERE, I’ve got business EVERYWHERE!"[1]

We live in a very tense, uptight, and fast-paced world filled with hurry.  A Tahoma, Washington newspaper carried the story of Tattoo the basset hound.  Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut the dog’s leash in the car door and took off for a drive – with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice. 
A motorcycle officer noticed the poor basset hound was, “picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could.”  He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued (and survived), but not before the dog had reached a top speed of 25 miles per hour, falling down and rolling over several times.

Too many of us are living our lives like Tattoo, picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can – rolling around and feeling dragged through life.[2]

Today in Jerusalem when the Friday afternoon sun hits the horizon, you had better make sure you’ve gotten everything you need from the locals.  When the Sabbath begins (at dark) the restaurants will be closed, elevators and buses won’t run, and you can carry your own bags up to your room.  They take the Sabbath seriously.  
When it comes to obeying the 5th Commandment to Remember the Sabbath, our Jewish friends have it all over the Christian community!

The whole question about this topic of Sabbath is the center of this message.  And the answer is for today’s hurried, dragged-out, “pick-‘em-up and put-‘em-down”, over-worked, stressed-out believer.

Understanding the Sabbath

What, exactly, is the Sabbath?  The word literally means “to rest” or cease from working.  The Sabbath was given to us by God’s example:

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God.  On that day no one in your household may do any work.  This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.  That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.    Exodus 20:8 - 11 (NLT)

The Sabbath is also given by command:

Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the LORD your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm.  That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:15 (NLT)

Usually God’s commandments and His wonderful example are insufficient for today’s humans, so it requires explanation more so than “God said so”; we also understand that the Sabbath is good for us.

As we recall the basset hound that was pulled-along in his master’s evening ride, we remember our own leashes in this life.  Life is filled with stress, overwork, worry and frustration.  We live in a fallen world!  That fallen world pushes our ability to cope right to the edge of the envelope. 

A man was known for always praying the same thing at the altar:  “Oh, Lord, fill me again, fill me with your Spirit, Lord.”  Each service he would come to the altar and pray it, “Oh, Lord, fill me again!”  One dear sister got tired of hearing it so many times.  Finally, it was once too much for her.  As the man prayed, “Oh, Lord, fill me with your Spirit again”, the lady sent her own prayer up, “Don’t do it, Lord – don’t fill him, he leaks!

Well, the reality is that we DO leak; all of us.  That is why we need a regular Sabbath.  We need regular filling of rest,(שׁבת shâbath).

God has always been in the business of giving us what we need, rather than what we think we want.  He gave the Sabbath to defeat our human default mechanism (HDM).  The HDM is that part of our nature that responds to the fallen-ness of this world.  When there are things we want, we take them.  When there are places we want to go, we go there.  If anything stands in our way we do our thing harder, faster, more often and with incredible determination. 

Human Default Mechanism says Do it yourself – Make it work – Nobody denies me what I want. 

When doing things faster, harder, or in spite of common sense doesn’t work, the HDM in all of us says, “Bail; Get out of there; do not fail!”  We watched an episode of Fear Factor one night (it was under protest…we had a couple of twenty-somethings for dinner, and they knew when 8:00 came around!)  The show had one of those water episodes for couples.  The woman was padlocked in a glass chamber and lowered in the pool; the man had to “rescue” her.  Out of four couples, two of the men “bailed” on the ladies.  HDM!

Rather, Sabbath says, take a regular dose of Deuteronomy 5:15 – it is God’s hand that rescues you....  Sabbath tells us to be still one day in seven and reflect on God’s marvelous providence – how His nature is always to provide our needs. 

We don’t have to push harder than all the rest; we simply need to trust more than HDM says we ought.  God gave us Sabbath not merely to keep us from doing things on a given day – He gave us Sabbath to bring something to our souls – REST!

Keeping the Sabbath

In the Scripture passage we read we find that in a very short time the leaders in Jerusalem had gone from honoring the Lord to forgetting all about Him.  They forgot about keeping the Sabbath holy – devoted to God.  The Sabbath day became just like any other, with business being done and worship forgotten.

I got a dose of that last week.  Our internet service at the house died on Friday.  When I called Time-Warner to see about getting it fixed, no less than three customer service people tried to schedule me for a Sunday appointment.  No Sabbath for those repairmen!

Nehemiah was livid at the sight of the merchants streaming through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath!  Like Jesus chasing moneychangers out of the temple with a whip, Nehemiah slammed the doors and got in everybody’s face.  No more business on the Lords’ Day!  Talk about “blue laws”!

Now, this begs the question – Should we bring back the blue laws?  And, while we’re at it, should we be worshipping on the Sabbath like our Seventh Day Adventist friends?  The answer is yes.  But it ought not to be a Washington blue law…it ought to be cardiac-based.  It ought to come from our hearts!

God never meant for us to be a law-based group.  God’s way is to write His ways on our hearts, and then take up residence there too.  Here are several ways we can keep the Sabbath with our hearts:

Physical Sabbath

It is true that your body will not last forever, and God will give you a new one.  However, in the here and now this is the only body you are going to get – and therefore it is the only body with which you have to serve and please God.  If you treat your body badly you go against New Testament teaching:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.         Romans 12:1 - 2 (NLT)

I want to suggest that your body needs Sabbath.  Each of us needs to realize the benefits of treating our physical bodies with respect is a holy thing. 
*    I need to eat better and less, and exercise more.  Some of you need to join me…and we need to encourage each other. 

*    I quit smoking years ago.  Some of you need to get on that too!  If you need, we will develop a support group.

Physical needs are no joke.  We know that God will take us home when He is ready…it is up to us to cooperate with His program for fitness with the body here and now.  It is good stewardship to observe Sabbath for our physical bodies.

Emotional Sabbath
Emotions run high these days.  Our minds are assaulted by attitudes in the workplace and schools and malls.  CNN does my emotions no earthly good with its war-on-every-front predictions. 

We worry about the education of our children and the influences our culture will have on them.  We worry about so much, taxes, health, traffic on the roads and in the skies…we even worry about the economy and a balanced budget.

Your emotions need Sabbath.  I would prescribe a daily dose of Psalms and Proverbs and Gospels for your emotions. 

Read psalms written by David about those times when he was hunted, chased by King Saul – how he hid in caves and felt the hot breath of pursuit of the king’s armies on his trail.  And you’ll notice how David’s trust was in the Lord. 

Read the Proverbs and let the wisdom of God rest upon your emotions. 

Read the Gospels and let the Good News steady your heart. 

Sabbath for our bodies and minds, and then for our souls…

Spiritual Sabbath
Spiritual Sabbath is worship.  Should we be worshipping on Saturday?  Should it be Sunday?  YES!  And Monday through Friday as well.  Don’t forget, your faith is not taken out of the garage on Sunday like a seldom-used Rolls Royce so you can show off at Sunday School.  Your faith is much more like a pickup truck that hauls you everywhere, hauls the necessities of life.  Relationships are like tough pickup trucks – they go where needed and carry it all.  Sabbath for the soul is a relationship with Jesus.
·  Are you a little like Tattoo the basset hound…dragged out, tumbled over?
·  Is life a little hectic?
·  Is your body screaming for a little break in the action?
·  Is your soul a little heavy?

Try this:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.            Matthew 11:28 (NASB)  

Blue laws for the body, mind and soul; God said you need it, and you know it too!

[1] Ray Stedman, Preventing Burnout and Preserving Power,
[2] James Botts, The Crossing Community Church, in "Rest For The Stressed."


Monday, November 24, 2014
One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them.  But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.  Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me.  Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.  I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”  Luke 18:15-17 (NLT)
I see it on the faces of children every week when they gather for the Children’s Time with Pastor during the worship service.  It’s that look of innocence and expectation particular to the little growing bodies and hopeful minds of children.  It’s trust, curiosity, wonder, and faith all bursting with energy and ready to soak-up life’s experience like a flesh and blood sponge.

I have to confess – I love that time in worship.  (Not just because I get to sit on the floor with the kids).

There are those who question the value of such a time as “the children’s sermon” or “kid’s lesson” in the context of a faith community’s worship.

But not me.

If anything that time shows how a community of faith ought to act.

Jesus permitted it; he even turned this gathering of little ones into a great life and salvation message for the “big kids” (the disciples).  He told them unless you develop a little of that innocent trust in your own heart, you can forget heaven!

I also have to confess that, in the back of my mind (at least), most of the lessons I develop for the children are as much for the adults.  I sometimes tell the children when they gather that we will talk about Jesus doing this or that…and then ask if it would be ok if the “big kids in the pews” listened-in. 

And, so…are you listening?

Once, long ago, I went out on a limb with a series of children’s sermons.  For the whole summer I passed around the “mystery bag” – a plain burlap sack.  The kids would take turns bringing it home Sunday, choosing a toy or something from their room, and bringing it back the next week.  Nobody was supposed to know what was in the bag until I called for the children to come forward, and the child presented it to me. 

It puts a preacher (and the Holy Spirit) on the spot to come up with a valuable lesson with a couple hundred eyeballs waiting to see a pastor fall into the show-and-tell abyss.

One Sunday it was little Savannah who brought the mystery bag; it contained a broken statue of a woman carrying a water pot.  (I just knew her Dad had chosen this one!  He had a mean streak, my friend, Joe Ball).

But God provided something valuable.  We had a broken woman, a water vessel…and we were seated near the baptizing pool!  I got to talk for five minutes about how hard it would be to put this poor plaster lady back together.  But then, as I turned the object lesson towards the woman at the well, the lights came on.  The children made the connection naturally, as Savannah spoke…”Jesus put that lady back together; he can do that!”

Out of the mouths of babes!

I’m still doing children’s sermons (after 30+ years that’s quite a statement, you know?) 

Although I haven’t done the mystery bag in a while, I think it’s time; it helps me have childlike faith to trust God that much!

For You, Today

What “safe” parts of your life could use a little mystery bag to help you develop a little childlike trust today?

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Thursday, November 20, 2014
“Belial” (be-lee-uil) in Hebrew is anything wicked, perverse or underhanded.  The word can be used to describe a small imperfection, or an assassination plot.  King David made grand sweeps with this Psalm; he won’t tolerate Belial in his sight:
     ü  Verse 2  His own behavior would be wise 
                             and mature
     ü  Verse 4  No evil friends
     ü  Verse 5  Excommunication and 
                             banishment for slanderers
     ü  Verse 7  Liars banned from his presence
     ü  Verse 8  Everyone who does wickedly 
                             cut off (literally, figuratively 
                             and legally), from having any 
                             right to be in Israel; 
                             this includes their families

One problem with understanding this Psalm is that it’s hard to tell if it comes before or after Psalm 51.  Of course Psalm 51 is the well-known contrition of David’s heart after his sin with Bathsheba.  If you take time to read that whole event (2 Samuel 11) David’s whole heart is swimming in Belial; he’s totally steeped in lying, evil plots, and slander of Bathsheba’s husband’s reputation – in short, David is doing wickedness, Belial

It would seem quite impossible for him to have written Psalm 101 after his fall.  Well, not with a straight face anyway!

I believe Psalm 101 came first; David’s love for God caused him to want to live his life as a perfect (mature) example of how to live before God.  And this is because he wanted to set the right standard in Israel; he wanted to be a great king for God. 

But David had a little problem understanding just how far-reaching is the depravity which lurks in the human heart.  His later fall in sin would reveal that all too graphically and publicly, as Nathan the Prophet exposed David’s actions as Belial!

So Psalm 101 and 51 are juxtaposition, a picture of extreme contrasts; it’s the light of deep love and obedience to God and God’s law, set against the background of dark living.  Psalm 101 – sets David’s speech of holiness in the forefront, while the backdrop of Psalm 51 is full of the opposite – Belial. 

By this kind of contrast we see how foolish our human resolve can appear to others.  We often fail with our living to measure up to our preaching!  Scripture has plenty of warning about that:

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.  1 Corinthians 10:12 (NLT)

I saw a church sign recently that said: 

Children of God ought to bear the family resemblance

A good thought toward that end might be to go ahead and declare your love for God, but humbly remember that it is only by God’s grace you can possibly live that way.

For You, Today

Did you take time to pray today?

Keeping your relationship with God fresh and current has a lot to do with how your life’s obedience to God will play out.  It keeps the Belial at check.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Forgiving Seven Times a Day

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
So watch yourselves!  “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive.  Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”  The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”  The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you!     Luke 17: 3-6 (NLT)
Mustard seed faith has been largely misunderstood by many believers as a way to get stuff done.  In reality it is more a requirement for living – something like breathing.

Jesus was introducing the disciples to the art of forgiveness; that part of human interaction for which there is no substitute…and no peace without practicing!  He posed the incredible scene of a fellow believer who cannot get it right.  Seven times there is an offense; seven times there is a call to repent; seven times there must be forgiveness.

The disciples, upon hearing this cried-out…Lord…we don’t have strong-enough faith for this kind of living!  Jesus’ answer is classic…Yes you do…it’s like a tiny mustard seed of obedience; if you will obey my command at all, it must start with your will to forgive brothers.  You can do this!

Beloved, this is Christianity-101; forgiveness is the way you became a Christian. 
Christ forgave you before you knew you needed forgiving; he then died for you to make it real.  He then offered it for you to receive freely (grace).  And he then empowered you with that faith to forgive others, just as you have been forgiven.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.  Colossians 3:3 (NLT)

The world in which we live is largely on the lookout for offenses in order to retaliate in kind – read the riot act – punish the offender.  But disciples of Jesus Christ live differently than that (or should).

For You, Today

Your assignment (from above) is to find ways to forgive, even when common sense and the rest of the world say strike back!
That will never be easy; but then, neither was the cross.  It’s a rocky road out there…step lively today!