Daily Devotional Sign Up
These daily devotionals, written by members of Southwood, will connect you with our fall theme, God’s Story. Our Story. We will be digging deeply into the Bible stories to see how they connect us to God. Sign up (below) to receive a daily devotional email at 6:30 a.m. every weekday and Saturday. We are excited to share this new daily resource with you and are grateful to the many writers who are sharing their gifts with their Southwood family!
Wednesday May 1, 2013
"Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven." NIV
A literal translation of Jesus' words would warm the heart of all who seek material goods and unending support. All needed to obtain the "want" is to get someone else to agree and then pray to God for its delivery. And how easy it would be to settle personal, legal, and political disputes! But we all know life is not that simple. Furthermore, taken in the total context of Matthew 18, I do not believe a literal translation is what Jesus intended. This passage is similar to Matthew 7:7; "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
Verses 15-20 describe Jesus dealing with sin in the Church. So at the very least Matthew 18:19 must be read in that context. These verses collectively provide guidance to the faithful for facing sins of their brothers and sisters. Jesus emphasizes that first you must speak to the offending party directly, one on one. If that does not work then Jesus instructs us to take two or three others as witnesses. The goal is to get the sinner to repent. And if that step does not work verse 17 suggests that the matter should be taken to the church leaders and possibly the entire church. Verse 18 implies that whatever we do to correct the sin on earth will be recognized in heaven. But once the sin is absolved (the sinner truly repents) then the sinner is to be forgiven and supported. And finally verse 19 makes it clear that God is present, listening and importantly, guiding, even in very small gatherings.
Before Jesus came along, the disciples believed that only a priest could talk directly to God and make sacrifices for the people to absolve them of their sins. Jesus was trying to re-educate his disciples by making it clear that they could go directly to God to rectify sinful behavior here on earth. Jesus also seems to be saying that multiple faithful voices have more sway than one. Finally verse 20; "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them" tells us that Christians gathering together to worship and pray is a good thing and one that Jesus smiles on with favor. Faye Koehn addressed this verse directly in her April 5, 2013 devotional. She made the strong case that relationships are extremely important to God. Verses 15-20 collectively, also make that case. We are to help one another through fellowship and with God's help. He will be there!
Our small groups do just that. We help each other physically, psychologically and prayerfully. We do hold each other accountable. And we definitely learn from each other as we strive to become better Christians.
Questions for Reflection
- Have you confronted a fellow believer about behavior that you thought did a disservice to God? If so, what was the outcome? Did you become closer or did it have the opposite effect? And would you (could you) do it again?
- Can you pray with others? Do you need an intermediary to help? Let that intermediary be God.
Dear God, Give me the wisdom to recognize my own sinful behavior and the strength to confront sinful behavior of myself and friends. Amen.
Saturday January 12, 2013
Hebrews 12:1 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us," (NIV)
As I write this, most of us are in a race, but not the one God intended. By the time you read this, the race of preparing for and witnessing Christmas will be over and we will be looking to the next challenge, one that we have probably set before ourselves! No matter whether we are running the race that God had in mind or the one(s) we have created for ourselves, we are surrounded by those who have gone before us and are now witnesses to our actions.
The book of Hebrews talks about these witnesses. This "great cloud" of witnesses are people who led a life of faith and took actions because of that faith. This "cloud" includes Abraham, Moses, the Israelites who passed through the Red Sea when it parted and many, many others. They followed God's instructions based on faith even though they were unable to see the end result. Hebrews 11:6 states, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (NRSV)
So, what is this race that people of faith are called upon to run? If I had a complete, definitive answer, I would be better able to participate. In high school I was too slow to run sprints. Since track was required to play basketball I decided I could do distance races. The coach hauled us aspiring "milers" over a mile away from the school and left us there on a flat, rural road. He said we should run back to school. The school appeared in the distance but it seemed to be at least ten, not one, miles away. In this case I knew the path and could see the end which made persevering easier.
In the race God has set out for us, we usually cannot see the end and do not know the path so we must have faith to stick to the task. We need to strive to follow God's teachings and rid ourselves of our sinful ways which always slow us down. And therein lies the challenge. Finding God's path and sticking to it is a lifelong race, one which require perseverance. It takes faith that the Father will show us the way and we will eventually become a part of that "great cloud of witnesses." Without faith we cannot find that path and will end up running in circles on the great "roundabout" of life.
- Have you found the path on which to run the race that God has set before you? How do you seek that path and try to stay on it?
- What can you do to strengthen your endurance and improve your perseverance for God's challenging race?
Dear Lord, please remind me each time I stray from your path and get lost in this journey of faith. Help me shed my sins and stay in this race until my travels in this world are over. Amen
Preparing for Sunday:
Consider reading Luke 4:14-30 in preparation for worship tomorrow.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Luke 11:13 "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (NIV)
Gifts! It is the time of year when many of our thoughts turn to giving and receiving gifts. We are bombarded with ads in stores and on TV for things that we 'must have.' In recent weeks our church has been adorned with trees sporting gift requests from folks in our community and elsewhere. Many requests were for specific items such as video games, gift cards to a certain store, clothing items or something for a person of a given gender and age. Joyce's and my eyes tended to fall on requests for specific items since we believe the gift then will bring a smile and joy to the recipient. What do we know about the needs/wants of a 12 year old boy when our son is now in his mid 40s? Even in our family, we try to give gifts that are wanted/needed and will be used by the recipient. Practicality is generally the name of the game. But there is also great pleasure in giving surprise gifts that bring joy to the recipient. We try hard not to disappoint.
As a young child, I recall asking for a pencil box with an attached ruler and sharpener and new, wooden pencils. One of my uncles gave me two gifts, which I was to open in the order given. The first turned out to be a paper bag full of worn out, yet freshly sharpened, wood pencils. I am sure the disappointment I felt was as plain as the lights on the Christmas tree. The next gift, however, was just exactly what I had requested and my joy was quite clear. My uncle of course got a big kick out of "tricking" me even though it was Christmas, not Halloween. I must admit that I have used a similar tactic on our granddaughters.
Not all gifts that we give our children are material. We also give them guidance (sometimes not requested), love, morals, and support. These gifts are often delivered by observation and how we live our own lives. To the best of our ability we want those also to be good gifts.
Luke 11:13 says that even though we are sinners we still desire to give good gifts to our children. So isn't it only logical that the Father, who is perfect, would want to give his greatest gift to us, his children. God does not want to trick us. He wants us to have the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is His best gift and one that lasts forever. Even if we do not receive another thing this Christmas season the gift of the Holy Spirit will be there. We just need to remember to ask.
Questions for Reflection:
- What gifts have you given someone that turned out to be good in both your eyes and theirs? Have you ever knowingly given a bad gift to someone?
- Have you put in your request for the Holy Spirit? If not, why not? And if you have, do you sense that the request was fulfilled?
Father in heaven, please bless me with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Teach me how to recognize and use this gift to help me and those around me live Christian lives and to help spread your teachings to those I may touch. Amen.
Saturday November 10, 2012
"1The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; 2for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. 3Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 4The one who has clean hands and pure heart, who does not trust an idol or swear by a false god. 5 They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob. 7 Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.10 Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty—he is the King of glory." (Psalm 24 NIV)
Psalm 24 makes it quite clear that God made the earth and everything in it. That is an awesome feat and one that is underlined in the great outdoors. Have you heard the gobble of the tom turkey as he struts through the forest or the bugle of the bull elk as he stresses his prowess? These sounds magnify the glory of God and this amazing Kingdom he created. I truly believe that God entrusted man with this world and that it is up to us to take care of it and its living creatures.
The Psalm also seems to foretell the coming of Christ and state that Christ alone is the only one pure enough to ascend the mountain of God and enter the Kingdom. As I read these verses I felt quite small and inferior. I surely cannot and do not live up to the 'clean hands and pure heart' or 'not swearing to false gods' requirements necessary to enter the Kingdom. It made me think of the many times I have failed miserably to follow these central tenets; the times I have verbally abused (to myself) the other driver or lacked patience with my family or pursued my self interests instead of others. God wants to be the only God we worship. He knows what is in our hearts as well as what we show to others through actions. He presents a difficult challenge for us to follow into eternal life.
But then I reminded myself that this verse is from the Old Testament written before the saving grace of Christ. Were it not for that grace it seems that all would be lost on imperfect and sinful human beings such as me. We need to continue to strive to follow these clear signals and be transformed from within rather than relying only on the saving grace of Christ. If we all can live the way God intends, the world will be safer and our lives more enriched. Praise God for that opportunity!
Questions for Reflection:
- What about God's wondrous creation caught your attention today? Did you stop and thank Him for that?
- Are you making a conscious effort to follow His teaching? What did you do today that leads you to a stronger Christian life?
Dear Lord, thank you for this marvelous world that you have created and for the talents that you have given me and others. Please help me to use those talents to help others and improve the world in which we live.
"But he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented." (NIV)
These verses remind us just how lucky and loved we are!
Prior to Christ, God used plagues, armies of other nations and famine to reprimand his people when they strayed from the covenant that he made when he, via Moses, lead them from Egypt. His people often broke their side of that covenant and God threatened to punish them. Each time the people repented and once again followed God's words and desires for a while. Sadly, they just could not always "stick with it." God always brought them back again. He does this for us too!
I also have trouble "sticking with it!" I am reminded of a time when I was hunting Elk in a Wyoming forest. I checked my compass and topographic map (no, we did not yet have GPS.) I knew that if I walked straight East I would come into an open meadow in which there might be Elk. After walking for what seemed like too long and not finding the meadow, I decided I should check the compass. Of course I was sure that I was still walking east. Instead, I was headed straight north! Surely the compass was wrong! But I made a quarter turn to my right, moved less than a hundred yards and to my great joy walked into the meadow (no Elk by the way). I later figured out what had happened. I started out okay but shortly began taking the path of least resistance through the dense forest. Game trails tend to move around open areas rather than directly through them and I was following one of those. And the compass was right!
Our journey through Christianity often follows the path of least resistance and we get off course. But even when we mess up, our loving God is there to forgive and to help us get back on course. God is our compass in life. We need to realize that we can and do get lost in the forest, but our compass can get us back on the right track. We just need to check it more often than we sometimes do. And, when we check it we need to believe and follow where it points, not where own desires might point. Then we can be forgiven and move ahead on our path to the meadow of Christian living.
Questions for Reflection:
- Think about an incident or situation in your own life when you may have missed a turn and lost God's path. How did you get back on that path or are you still trying to find it?
- How is your Christian guidance system working? Does it need to be tuned up or is user failure the problem? Southwood Lutheran offers many ways to tune the system e.g. worship, small groups, education, and volunteering.
Lord, forgive me when I wander from your designated path. Help me turn in the right direction and relocate the road to honor your love and teachings.