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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!
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
"The Sabbath was created for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
How would you interpret this verse? When I was growing up, Sunday was always family day. It meant we would attend church. Then, if we were lucky and the bank account allowed, we'd stop at Dunkin Donuts for a glazed donut and head home. In the afternoon we were big on games; outdoor, indoor around the table or at a grandparent's home. Sometimes I thought I was too old for these activities and they seemed silly. Now, I look back and treasure those Sundays.
What I didn't know then, that I do now, is my parents were trying hard to honor the Sabbath. During the week, they hustled and bustled with the best of them. But, on Sundays they slowed down and stayed family focused. Phones were not answered and there was never a TV on during those Sundays.
My father always led the noon prayer and spent a fair amount of time praising and thanking the Lord. As a youngster, I thought he was wasting time. Games were waiting! Now I know, my father was setting an example. He never lost sight of all the wonders God provided. Sabbath is a commandment. It is a part of the 10 that relates to the relationship with and our worship of God. Study, praise and thanksgiving were an essential Sunday ritual for us.
Sabbath means to slow down, learn and praise. Goodness is all around us and we get so wrapped up in the speed of life, we forget to take in the beauty of nature, family, our communities and life! It was created for us by our Savior. That is pretty awe inspiring. He deserves a lot of praise for the love and grace he bestows on us every day of our existence! So take time to learn the Word and enjoy its unconditional love
Accept and honor the Sabbath. Celebrate Christ.
Questions for Reflection:
- How do you celebrate/honor the Sabbath?
- Are there some changes you need to make in your life to spend Sabbath time honoring Christ?
Lord, you have bestowed so much in my life. Please remind me to be still and know that you are God. I pray that your goodness and love that flows through me daily helps me to remind others of your grace and reminds me to take time to give You thanks by reading and learning your Word.
When You Forget about Sabbath on Vacation
Monday, June 17, 2013
Vacations always upset the spiritual scaffolding I've painstakingly established for myself. This used to scare me. I worried that without my morning Bible study, journaling and prayer time, without my church and my community and spiritual routines, my faith would dissolve like sugar in hot tea.
Over time, though, I've realized that's not exactly the way it works.
I tucked my Bible and journal into my suitcase before we set off for Utah. I had every intention of carving out a quiet time each morning for prayer and reflection. In fact, our hotel's grounds offered the perfect spot – a bench about halfway up a small hill dotted with prickly pear and sage, with a view of the rising sun streaking Zion's formidable canyon walls. But it didn't happen. Not a single morning. I slept in instead.
We also blew off church two Sundays in a row. It never even occurred to us to find a church in Utah. Not only did I neglect to honor the Sabbath, I couldn't remember what day of the week it was for ten days straight.
As you might know from past blog posts, I take my pledge to honor the Sabbath pretty seriously. When I realized on the drive home from Utah that I hadn't given the Sabbath a second thought for two weeks running I grimaced a bit.
But then, I let it go. I didn't fret about my lack of prayer or Bible study or even the fact that I skipped over the Sabbath, because the truth is, I finally realized that my faith can stand alone, without all the accompanying accoutrement.
Like Jesus told the Pharisees when they accused him of breaking the Sabbath law, "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the needs of Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) We practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study and honoring the Sabbath not only out of habit and routine, and not just because Jesus suggests we do so, but because of the way they enhance and deepen our relationship with God.
We practice spiritual disciplines not because we have to, but because we want to.
I may not have picked up my Bible, darkened a church doorway or uttered a traditional prayer the whole time I was in Utah, but deep in the canyon, as the frigid water swirled around my ankles and the sun slipped through a sliver in the skyscraping rock walls, I praised our awesome God again and again. Not in words. Not in ritual. Not in any of my regular, everyday ways. But from a place far beyond language, in the very center of my being.
Questions for Reflection:
- What spiritual disciplines do you regularly practice?
- How do you feel when you drop the ball?
- How does your spiritual life look different when you are on vacation?
Lord, You know in my preoccupation with rules and rituals I lose sight of You. Please help me continue to use these spiritual practices not to prove to myself that I'm "doing everything right," but as a way to grow closer to You. Amen.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
"Spread for me a banquet of praise, serve High God a feast of kept promises,..." (The Message)
We often pray in desperation when we really, really need something; something totally out of our control; something only God can affect. Psalm 50:14 reminds us to pray to God not only for what we think we want or need, but praise Him for what we have right now. Every morning, we could thank God for being able to wake up to another day; for our families, near and far; for those who have gone before us, whose lives and deaths have molded us into who we are today.
Sometimes we can't see or hear God's gifts right in front of us.
For me it is the "gift" of how people know when I'm nearby. What? Me? What could they be talking about? Yeah, I know...it's my boisterous, one-of-a-kind laugh. I have been told it can be heard from up to a mile away. I have also been told that it can light up a room and make anyone smile - and help my husband find me in the middle of the grocery store! But, I have felt embarrassed by that laugh since I was young. It can be abrupt, cut the silence in a room, and can even scare babies.
Someone recently opened my eyes and helped me see it differently, though. My laugh can light up a room and make just about anyone smile. It's just the vehicle for a contagiously good mood. And, why would I be embarrassed about that? It really IS a gift from God. One that I can't hide and just need to share, and share often.
God wants us to share everything we have - no matter how big or small; tangible or intangible. I must share anything I have, including my laugh - and everything else He has given me - with everyone around me. And by sharing my gifts with "the least of these," I am also sharing it back with God. It is a feast of kept promises.
Questions for Reflection:
- What are the defining characteristics of your personality that you may never have considered a gift of God or have taken for granted?
- How can you share these gifts with others?
God, please let me see your gifts in all that I am and in all that I do here on Earth. Once I have recognized those gifts, may I find ways to give them away to others. I share my gifts in Your name and in order to carry out Your will. Thank you, God for all that you give me, for you are a truly wonderful, amazing, and awesome God. Amen.
Preparing for Sunday:
Friday, June 14, 2013
"God wanted to prove that his promise was true to those who would get what he promises. And he wanted them to understand clearly that his purposes never change, so he made an oath. These two things cannot change: God cannot lie when he makes a promise, and he cannot lie when he makes an oath. These things encourage us who came to God for safety. They give us strength to hold on to the hope we have been given."
As Warren Wiersbe says, "Many of God's promises to man do not depend on our character but on His faithfulness." Early in the Bible, in Genesis 22, God made his primary promise to Abraham – that he would be the father of great nation. This promise was made at a time when Abraham's wife, Sarah, was elderly and had not borne him any children. God kept this promise to Abraham. I know God's faithfulness is steadfast, but I wonder how God views my faithfulness to Him. I seem to pray harder in times of desperate need or when fear enters my life, but I have to consciously remember to say thank you when my life is rolling along flawlessly.
Today we have more promises from God than did Abraham, for we have the gift of the New Testament. Do these additional promises influence my life? Abraham had a strong faith and searched continually for ways to strengthen his relationship with God. I question whether my faithfulness to God is reflected in my life. Do I honor and respect all of these promises and appreciate the opportunities they have given me? God gave Abraham a promise and He confirmed it with an oath. God's promises were not only given to Abraham, but we are all included in His promises still today, as all believers are included as Abraham's spiritual seed. Galatians 3:29
What peace this brings to my heart that He has given us His oath. We have the assurance of salvation given to us through God's promise and oath, and through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Jesus Christ is our anchor in this life, and our hope for the future. (Read Colossians 1:15 and 1 Timothy 1:11.) How blessed we are.
Questions for Reflection:
- How does your daily life reflect that God is your witness?
- Do you see your faith continuing to mature through the possibilities God has laid before you?
Dear Father in Heaven, you kept your promise to Abraham and this same promise is given to me. How blessed I am to have your assurance of my salvation. Your faithfulness is unchanging. Please help me to be forever faithful to you. Amen.
Tuesday, June 13, 2013
62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." 64 "You have said so," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Perhaps it's happened to you. You know what you've done is right. You know that "who you are" is an honest, respectful, trustworthy and law-abiding person. Simply put, you play by the rules.
Yet someone has called you on the carpet. Some "authoritative figure" in your life is in your face and accusing you of being unfaithful and of telling lies. This accusatory person has made you feel small, dishonest and disgraced. They've made every effort to embarrass you and humiliate you. In their eyes, you've broken all the rules. Your acts could be interpreted as sacrilegious. They may even be viewed as criminal!
Depending on your self-control (or lack thereof) and how serious the accusations are, you may act or respond in a myriad of ways. Some people might lash out, losing their temper, perhaps to the point of causing a physical reaction. Or maybe you respond verbally, forcefully correcting the charges leveled at you. You may ask questions of your accuser or seek clarification on what you've supposedly done wrong.
It is indeed a rare occasion when you might surprise all those passing judgment on you and your actions by taking no action at all – physically or verbally.
However, that's exactly what Jesus did! He offered no defense. He didn't hide behind the power of God. He met all the false accusations against him with silence. The high priest had berated Jesus, charging him with making blasphemous, false statements under oath. Jesus knew how his silence would be received by his accusers. He knew that they would take drastic measures in response to his silence.
Realize that at any time during these proceedings, Jesus could have called it all off. He didn't hide behind the fact that because he was indeed the Son of God, he could save himself. He had the power to respond in a much different manner, one that would have resulted in less personal pain and suffering. But, he ultimately knew that through his pending death and subsequent resurrection, he would offer us all eternal salvation.
Jesus sealed his "fate" by responding to the high priest's statement "Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God" by simply confirming the statement. He simply said, "You have said so". His response was an observation, not a threat. Even to the end, Jesus knew just the right words to say and when to say them. In verse 64, His response was not a declaration of pay-back, a statement of "when I return, you'll get what is due you." It was a promise that those who accused him and carried out his sentence of death would see him again under very different circumstance.
Finally, through his actions, Jesus reminds us that when a person knows that the injustice he endures fulfills God's purpose his reaction to the injustice is quite different.
Questions for Reflection:
- When you've been falsely accused, how do you react?
- Does the reminder of how Jesus was falsely accused change how you perhaps level unwarranted accusations on those around you?
Heavenly Father, teach us how to be more understanding of others, reminding us of how hurtful we can sometimes be when we jump to conclusions or make false or unsubstantiated accusations of others. We're thankful that through Jesus death and resurrection, our missteps are forgiven. We will rejoice on the day the Son of Man returns sitting at the Right Hand of the God the Father on the clouds of Heaven. Amen.
Wednesday June 12, 2013
... and if in a truthful, just, and righteous way
you swear, "As surely as the Lord lives,"
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
and in him they will boast. (NIV)
I am a huge baseball fan. I grew up watching the Braves on WTBS and the Cubs on WGN. Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs' second baseman from 1983 to 1997, is my favorite player of all time.
He became my favorite player because when I was 13, I thought he was the cutest boy I'd ever seen. But he stayed my favorite player because of how he played the game. He played hard every day, but never made a big deal about it. Even during the years he was considered to be a superstar, he always acted humbly, both on and off the field.
I played both softball and basketball in high school. And I tried to follow Sandberg's example of working hard but staying humble. I still preach to my boys that when they play a sport, I better not find them whining or moping on the field or court. Sandberg's actions definitely spoke loudly to me over the years.
Jeremiah 4:2 also teaches about the profound effect our actions can have on others. I've sometimes read the verse to say only that when you give an oath, you should do it truthfully and honestly. But I'm beginning to think that it says so much more than that. I think that God is saying that if you live your life in a truthful, just, and righteous way, others will notice. And when they notice, they will follow. And when they follow, they will find Him.
Know what? I want to live my life that way. I want my kids, my friends, my co-workers, and even strangers to see how I live and wonder what my "secret" is. And I want to be able to tell them that my secret is God's great love for me. I want the way I live my life to reflect His love and inspire others to follow Him
Questions for Reflection:
- Is there anyone in your life whose actions have spoken particularly strongly to you? Was that influence positive or negative?
- What can you do today to demonstrate God's love for others?
Gracious God, thank you for your amazing love. I know I fall short every day of living my life in a truthful, just, and righteous way, but help me continue to try. I want others to be able to see your love through my life. Amen.
Tuesday June 11, 2013
33 "You have also heard that our ancestors were told, 'You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord. 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, 'By heaven!' because heaven is God's throne. 35 And do not say, 'By the earth!' because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, 'By Jerusalem!' for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, 'By my head!' for you can't turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, 'Yes, I will,' or 'No, I won't.' Anything beyond this is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37 NLT)
If you think about it, it's one of the first skills we learn all by ourselves, usually without the help of anyone. We don't even need to have it modeled by someone else. We just have a natural talent for it when we are young. Just after we learn to talk, we learn to lie. We lie about our friends, social lives, work, finances, relationships, sins, and to ourselves. Why is that?
A few years ago, I started a tradition of watching "The Passion of the Christ" by Mel Gibson on Maundy Thursday. As I watched the movie this year, I was struck by a scene between Pilate and Jesus, as depicted in John 18:37-38.
37 "You are a king, then!" said Pilate.
Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
38 "What is truth?" retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. (NIV)
For the last weeks, I have constantly been thinking about "What is Truth"? I have marveled at how our society has completely blurred the lines of this moral question. Then out of the blue, I get my devotional assignment from Pastor Sara on Matthew 5:33-37. The Holy Spirit is tugging at my heart.
I recently read a study that found only 22% of adults in America believe there is even such a thing as absolute moral truth. And we wonder why people have such a hard time telling the truth to each other. Probably, because the majority of us can't even identify what the truth is in the first place?
So what does it mean to swear or vow something? In the Old Testament, swearing and cursing were meant to validate the truth of a statement or the certainty of a promise. An oath was a solemn promise someone made to indicate that they were telling the truth and these oaths were to be sworn in God's name only. The Pharisees had corrupted these oaths to allow for deception. They began giving oaths in everything's name; except God. They were thinking that they had found a loophole to lie. Today, we've degraded this custom to "Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye" or "I swear on my mother's grave." We've even learned to cross our fingers behind our back when we promise. By doing this, we think our promise doesn't count!
The point in the Old Testament was to say that the reason we should fulfill our oaths is because we should always be honest. The Pharisees interpreted it to mean that only when you made an oath did you have to tell the truth, and even then, it only had to be a certain kind of oath. That is not at all what God wants.
Trustworthiness depends on integrity. Our "Yes" must be yes and our "No" must be no. During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus professes that giving an oath matters, because not all words are true. But if all your words are true, then giving an oath doesn't matter.
We will continue to find it difficult to speak truth from our hearts if we are not in love with Jesus, the One who is Truth. We need to devote time, thought and consideration of how we become truthful people – truthful from the heart.
So therefore; what is Truth? Jesus has told us, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 NLT) We need to invite him into our life, trust him, follow him and be changed.
Questions for Reflection:
- Where in my life is truthfulness a problem? Am I defining truth based on my selfishness, greed or pride?
- Do we speak truth from our heart? I don't know about you, but my heart needs some exercise in light of God's standard.
Father God; being believed based on earthly oaths and vows is nothing. Being a truthful person in Your eyes is everything. Please teach me to defeat the evil that is so prevalent in my life around truth. Please open my heart to Your absolute moral truths of eternity. In Your name, Amen!