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 8, 2013
Then he said to them all, "if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves?" Luke 9:23-25 (NRSV)
Self-denial. It's not something that our culture has embraced for some time. If I recall correctly, the 1980's were referred to as, "The Me Decade." In the '80s we were taught to stop apologizing for our personal desires and indulgences and ever since our culture has encouraged self-focused attitudes. However, psychologists and sociologists have long seen the ability to delay gratification, to deny one's self, as a positive indicator of intellectual and moral development.
A classic experiment was carried out in 1970 by Stanford psychologist, Walter Mischel. Dr. Mischel set 4-6 year old children in a room with only a table and a chair. On the table sat a single marshmallow (the great big s'mores size, not the little hot-chocolate ones). Then he explained to the poor kiddos that they were free to eat the marshmallow, but if they waited alone in the room (with the marshmallow staring at them...begging to be eaten) for 15 minutes and didn't eat the marshmallow, the good Dr. would return with a second one and they could eat BOTH! What followed was some of the most entertaining television you could ever wish to see (Bill Cosby and Tom Bergeron have nothing on Dr. Mischel...go to YouTube and search for Marshmallow Test). The kids were tracked through high school graduation and guess what? The kids that managed to deny themselves and take up their marshmallow...uh...cross, they performed better in any way the researchers could think to evaluate them, grades, social status, confidence, you name it.
So what, you might say. What does this silly marshmallow thing have to do with this bible lesson, with Jesus, with my life? Well, Dr. Mischel learned what God has been trying to tell us for thousands of years. Perhaps the Kingdom of God is a place, a time, a condition in which everyone thinks first of their neighbor and not about what what's "in it" for them. The paradox is that, by denying ourselves, by thinking first of God, and then of our neighbor, we make our own world, our own life better. Two marshmallows! I mean, c'mon...when is two marshmallows ever not better than one? I guess only when you just really don't like marshmallows. How about a Girl Scout cookie metaphor then?
Questions for Reflection
- When have you denied yourself, sacrificed for the sake of God, for your neighbor?
- Can you see the benefit of such sacrifice?
Dear Lord, help me to pause long enough each day to judge whether my choices are based only upon what I think is best for me right now or whether they are made with the intention of bringing the Kingdom of God just that much closer.
Friday January 11, 2013
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body - whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Once, when I was little and was staring at someone who I thought was much different from me, as children innocently do, my mother didn't only interrupt my behavior and explain to me why it was rude. She also implored me to make no judgments about the person. She asked, "What if that person was Jesus?" It seems like an odd question, but I don't recall being confused by it at the time, and I didn't question it. Even at a young age, I had learned that Jesus came as a humble person, an outcast. He could do that again. From this and other lessons, I learned from my mother to look for the divine in unlikely places. As I've grown, I continue to see value in differentness itself and to look for glimpses of myself in what I initially may judge as foreign. I see myself in other people's circumstances. I empathize.
I assume that it is because of these tendencies that a brief listing of my friends and acquaintances would check off quite a number of demographic boxes. This variety enriches my life in countless ways, but it is not without difficulty. I am often challenged and I must evaluate my beliefs about many things. This kind of self-examination helps me grow. But, I have begun to wonder if the ability to empathize, the willingness to see Jesus in others, to admit the sameness we share with every living person, is disappearing. It seems to me that perhaps our very human nature conspires to separate us from one another. We emphasize our differences and deny our sameness and connectedness. We are encouraged to define ourselves as Republican or Democrat, Christian or Muslim, Cornhusker or...not Cornhusker. And not only do we separate ourselves into these categories willingly, we even boast that we are more of a [insert label here] than the next person.
I wish that my mother, or the Holy Spirit who was surely guiding her, had whispered into all of our ears. "What if that person was Jesus?" Or perhaps it would be even better if we could hear the Gospel writer whispering in our ears, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." What if John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi could see Jesus in one another? What if Israelis and Palestinians could look at the other and see the face of God? It can only happen one person, one heart at a time. Will it be your heart today?
Questions for Reflection:
- What labels do you use to define yourself? Can you see a bit of yourself or a bit of Jesus in the opposite of those labels?
- How would your thoughts and actions be different if you lived every moment of your life knowing that you share a oneness in Jesus with every other person on this earth?
Dear God, remind me daily that, through You, I am forever connected to the One Body. Give me the wisdom to see my own face in the face of my adversary. Help me to see Jesus in every eye I meet and to respond with grace. Amen.
Saturday December 8, 2012
I am a counselor. Not the camp or the school kind. The my-parents-are-getting-a-divorce, I-just-lost-my-job, I-have-panic-attacks-at-Wal-Mart, I-wish-I-was-dead kind. When I meet people at work, they are often at or close to rock-bottom...and the first thing I ask them to do is, "Trust me." Doesn't that sound crazy? I mean, how arrogant do I have to be to ask them to trust me, a total stranger, a man, a grown-up, an authority figure, someone who will judge and label them, or however they might see me? What's even crazier is...they do. Not everyone, of course, and not immediately, but they do. Parents trust me to help their children. Adolescents trust me not to rat them out to teachers and parents. Hurting people trust me with their shame.
In Psalm 31:14, the author declares, "But I trust in you, Lord; I say, 'You are my God.'"
When I stop to think about it, it's not all that surprising that people trust me in my work. In some ways, they may not have any other choice. If people hurt enough, they'll try just about anything in the hope that they will feel a little bit better. They might cut on themselves or they might make a counseling appointment. They might try alcohol or drugs or they might face a fear with the help of a friend. They might even attempt suicide, or they might...pray. When people hurt, some of them pray. When I hurt, really hurt, I pray.
Even though I feel like I have things pretty together much of the time, sometimes I can see my rock bottom not so far away...and that's when I pray. It's not until I am absolutely helpless, completely sure that I can't solve things by myself, that I turn to God. Sometimes I feel like the evil twin of the psalmist, unable, or unwilling to trust God. I guess it's not only when I'm in the depths that I pray. I often pray for others. I give thanks for food and shelter and other blessings. But, for some reason, my natural tendency is to try and solve my problems, every last one of them, completely and utterly by myself. I try and I fail and I try and I fail, ad nauseum. Then, because I seem to have nowhere else to turn, I trust God. Despite countless sermons, small group discussions, and Wednesday night confirmation classes with my daughter, I still struggle to create and maintain a daily prayer life. I know that this is my struggle and I haven't stopped trying. [As I typed the last sentence I just realized that I have been trying to solve this problem by myself too. Old habits...]
Questions for Reflection:
- What does it take for you to trust God?
- Is there a particular struggle that you just can't seem to give over to God?
Lord, free me from the weight of believing that I can and must solve all of my own (and the world's) problems. Build in me a daily practice of prayer and communion with you, so that I might come to know you better, and in doing so, choose to trust you with all of my struggles and fears without having to hit bottom first.
Preparing for Sunday:
Consider reading Joel 2:12-13, 28-29 in preparation for worship tomorrow.
Friday, November 2, 2012
I went to college almost 700 miles away from home. I considered myself a rebel by this time and this was just another way to show all who cared to see that I was my own person. College life was eye-opening . I had discussed politics, social issues and religion with friends before, but never had I been surrounded by so many people with such a variety of points of view. My roommate was, "on the fence" as I recall, not only in terms of whether or not he liked these debates, but perhaps even if college and life away from home was for him at all. I'm afraid I may have given him an unintended push one night.
He wasn't confident talking in a group, but he was interested, so he listened. At times when we were back in our room with no other listeners, he would let me know what his thoughts were on the most recent subject. Actually, he would let me know what his father's opinion was. He almost always started out such conversations with, "My dad says..." It became apparent that my roommate had few original thoughts that he was willing to share, and for some reason, that really bothered me. He would only repeat what he had heard or what he had been told to believe. Eventually the self-righteous, free-thinker in me exploded through and interrupted, "Your dad says! Your dad says? What do YOU think?" I don't recall ever getting an answer from him and I don't recall him ever participating in these discussions again. I don't regret challenging him, but I do regret the way that I did it.
Joshua is challenging the Israelites in today's bible reading:
"Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. But if serving the lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But, as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24: 14-15
Joseph comes right at the Israelites. Make your choice now, today! Who will you worship? Who will you serve?
Now, many years after college, it is rare for me to engage in an open debate of ideas about much of anything. However, the choices I make daily based on my beliefs seem so much closer, so much more important now than they did when I was in school. Back then, they were hypotheticals. Now they are real. There are many voices clamoring for my attention and my allegiance. Now my challenge to my roommate has turned to face me. What do I think? From what sources have my ideals come? Who has influenced them? Whom will I serve?
Questions for Reflection:
- Have you ever thought about how your morals and ideals were formed?
- Have you examined them closely in the last few months...last few years...ever?
Lord, empty me of what I think I know. Help me ever to see Jesus's example for my life wherever I look and give me the courage to do as He did. Amen.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 – "Your flip and callous arrogance in these things bothers me. You pass it off as a small thing, but it's anything but that. Yeast, too, is a "small thing," but it works its way through a whole batch of bread dough pretty fast. So get rid of this "yeast." Our true identity is flat and plain, not puffed up with the wrong kind of ingredient. The Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed for the Passover meal, and we are the Unraised Bread part of the Feast. So let's live out our part in the Feast, not as raised bread swollen with the yeast of evil, but as flat bread - simple, genuine, unpretentious." (MSG)
When I read this passage in The Message translation, I thought of the London Olympics. After winning a gold medal, the victor addressed the camera directly, "Who's number one?" he said. "Who's the best? I am. All day. Every day." Bob Costas responded from the studio, "As great as he is, it is hard to have a higher opinion of [him] than he has of himself." It seems Mr. Costas isn't fond of this kind of arrogance. Neither was Paul. Such was the arrogance of Goliath when he faced David and of the proverbial Hare when he raced the Tortoise. But Paul wasn't talking about athletic prowess or victory on the battlefield. He was referring to the pride and arrogance of Christians who may have taken inappropriate pride in their works or in their status as "believers."
We are blessed by God and His blessings flow to others through the mission work we do and support. But we Christians are not immune to boasting, to comparing ourselves to others, to taking pride in gifts given to us by God's grace. Of course this is often done in jest, or with the sarcasm I use when I lord my (imaginary) basketball prowess over my 16 year old nephew. I think this is the way "Trash Talk" and "Celebration Dances" may have started in sports... "innocent" fun between friends. But it has become all too common to take this boasting away from the private realm of friends and into the public arena and to one's opponents. It seems that we aren't satisfied with the win. Our opponents must be humiliated.
This is the nature of such things. Sin is sneaky and insidious. The playful jest subtly becomes the insult. A celebration transforms into the humiliation of another. The bad apple spoils the barrel and a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. What I hear in this passage from Corinthians is that St. Paul would have us remember our humble place and avoid this slide into sin.
Questions for Reflection:
- When have you been the yeast, puffed up and arrogant?
- What small change can you make today to become more simple, genuine, and unpretentious?
God, help us to see our actions and hear our words through your eyes and ears so that we may speak to others and serve them as Jesus taught us, with humble, giving hearts.