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, June 5, 2013
"Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that's within you, love him with all you've got!" (Deuteronomy 6:5 - The Message)
God has brought his people out of Egypt and out of bondage and wants them to live a long, fruitful, and abundant life. And God wants them to know the freedom that comes when they worship only him. So Moses reminds them, first of all and most important of all, to:
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one. . . " They are to know and remember that there is only one God (not many gods as their neighbors have) to worship, to serve, and to obey. They are to put the LORD above all other "gods" (however they define them) in their lives.
And then Moses says these words: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (NRSV)
Through Moses, God now offers love as a counterbalance to the awe and fear they already know. They are to write these words on their hearts and teach them to their children; and they are to LOVE God with everything they are and will be, everything that is part of them.
What does this mean? What does it mean to love God? Not just to fear or stand in awe of God but to love God? What does it mean to love God above all else? And what does it mean to love God with ALL of oneself? How can we do this? Is it even possible? And must we be conscious of it every moment?
I don't know about you but I too often seem to go through my days a bit unconscious. I'd like to think that is because I simply take for granted that God is with me and that I am living out the steps of a journey of faith and trust. But at the end of many days, when I am honest with myself and review my thoughts and actions, I have had to confess that there were times when I was following my own will and what I wanted to do (or not wanted to do) instead of doing what might have been the better choice and more in line with what God would have wanted from me.
Recently I have been waking up singing, "I surrender all; all to Jesus I surrender, I surrender all." And I have wondered why. What is driving me to sing this song over and over again? And what does it mean? Truthfully, I don't really know the answer to this question yet. Just as I don't know the answer to what it means to love God with all my heart, soul, and might. But maybe that is the answer in itself. Maybe it is enough to know that I am living with these questions.
The mystic poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes: ". . .be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . .Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."
You see, God loves us so much that God wants a relationship with us that goes far beyond fear and awe, a relationship of Love, in part or in full, however we understand Love at this moment in our lives. God knows we will not always follow the "Top Ten," that we will put other things above him, but I think God will give us credit for trying, for confessing, and for trying again. And I know this is true – and so do you – because in Jesus Christ God gave his life for us forever; and through the Holy Spirit God continues to be with us, forgiving us, guiding us, blessing us, loving us. . .
And that is why (in addition to "I surrender all") we can also sing:
"You are my strength when I am weak,
You are the treasure that I seek; you are my All in All.
Seeking you as a precious jewel,
Lord, to give up I'd be a fool; you are my All in All."
Questions for Reflection
- What does it mean for you to "love God with all" of you?
- When were those moments in your life when you knew you were loving God with your all? (And when were you not?)
- What does it mean for God to be your "All in All"?
Gracious and forgiving God, Thank you for loving us first so that we can know what Love is. Awaken us to that Love within ourselves that we can give back to you with all that we are and ever hope to be. In Jesus' name
Tuesday June 4, 2013
Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11 NIV)
Think of the happiest moment in your life. It's a moment when joy fills your body and you have to tell it to the world. When I'm full of those feelings, I start singing and have a wide grin on my face. Today's Bible verse actually comes from a section of a song that Moses and the Israelites sang to the Lord in thanksgiving and victory the moment that they escaped from the Pharaoh in Egypt.
The Israelites knew that their blessings came from God, who introduced himself as "I Am." That pretty much answers the questions in the praise. Who is majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, and working wonders? God is. The praise offers tribute to that. It's a time when rejoicing is all around and our God is celebrated for his works.
Sometimes, it's hard for us to remember to celebrate God. We often speak of what He wants us to do or what He promises to do for us. We'll go to church and worship Him. We even think of His past deeds. But sometimes it's nice just to let that happy feeling fill you as you think of Him. Don't get me wrong – you can do that by going to church or thinking of his promises, but there are times when we don't remember to truly celebrate the things that He has done.
There's another side to this, too. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, so that God can live in and through us. When we do a service project or give to our neighbors, we are showing the world just how magnificent God is. I heard in Sunday School that we are the only Bible that some people will ever read. It's a form of worship and celebration to be a living Bible and let the Holy Spirit move us. It's just important to do it with a cheerful heart.
Today, take a few minutes to give thanks and rejoice, without asking God for anything in return. Just marvel about how great God really is.
Questions for Reflection
- What do you have to be thankful for? Reflect on all that God has done for you.
- In what ways are you successful in being a living Bible? What needs more work?
Dear Lord, thank you for doing your good works in my life and in others'. Stay with me as I try to do the same. Amen.
Monday, June 3, 2013
1 And God spoke all these words: 2 "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 "You shall have no other gods before me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:1-6 NIV)
All of the commandments are succinct, and are sensible practices by which to live, except the first. It is longer and more detailed, with both "you shall" and "you shall not". "You shall have no other Gods before me" (vs. 3). In fact we should not even "make an idol in the form of anything in heaven above" (vs. 4). In the Old Testament God never appeared in a tangible form, so it is easy to see that making a depiction of Him would be a misrepresentation and thus sinful. This command also comes with a promise, "I will show love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments". And therein lies the rub, how do we faithfully keep this commandment?
I think that those times when I have been most happy, productive and secure are those times when I have managed to set aside all of the other "idols" in my life and focus on God. The things that divert us are everywhere, alcohol and drug addiction, addiction to sex and pornography, violence, and prejudice in its many forms. Some things are sneakier, because we have lots of ways to entertain ourselves. Video games, television, and the internet are mostly good, but they can also become a major diversion if not moderated. Then there are the "idols" that I think most of us struggle with: money, that car we deserve, that next rung on the corporate ladder, all in the name of providing for our family. Once again not inherently bad, but we must be careful. The Bible doesn't say that money is the root of all evil, it says the love of money is the root of all evil.
So how do we keep those commandments? We must, as this first commandment says, keep God in the forefront. By not allowing those idols that would lead us to swear, over work, disrespect our parents, murder, cheat, steal, lie, or covet, to have a place in our lives. By keeping the first commandment the other nine seem a lot easier to manage. And fortunately for those times when we still screw up, God has made provision through Jesus to a forgive us, and love us for those thousand generations.
Questions for Reflection
- What are the "idols" that keep getting your way?
- How do we know when entertainment because addicting?
- When is too much time on social media counterproductive?
Dear Lord, help me keep my focus on loving you, making you the most important thing in my life, and giving me the discernment to keep all other distractions in their place. Amen.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
7 Deep calls to deep
At the thunder of your cataracts;
All your waves and billows
have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love;
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life (NSRV)
The wonderful and frustrating thing about the Psalms is that, as poems, they invite so many interpretations. For example, what are we to make of the odd phrase, "deep calls to deep"?
One answer might come from our perception of the ocean. At first we see only a bare fraction of it, the surface that reflects light and seems merely two dimensional. But beneath that surface is pure mystery: ancient treasures, strange geological formations, intense pressures, creatures straight out of a science fiction novel. Few of us will ever venture into that deep, so we must be content to imagine and wonder.
In the relationship between visibility and mystery, this deep water is also an apt metaphor for our relationship with God. We know something about God from the bible, our traditions, the natural world and our intuitions, but there is so much more that is unknowable. What does it mean to be timeless, all knowing, and all powerful? We seem to be wired to seek these answers despite their inaccessibility, and perhaps this is what it means to be made in the image of God. We perpetually seek the return to our source as "deep calls to deep."
When my wife, Michelle, and I began our relationship, I wasn't aware that she didn't believe in God, but I did know that she detested all kinds of "deep" questions. If it couldn't be documented, counted, or labeled, she didn't want to know about it. Occasionally, just to be a pest, I'd randomly ask a question like, "do you ever wonder where space ends?" then watch as the frustration and irritation spread across her face. In recent years, a transformation has taken place as I've watched Michelle become active in the life of the congregation, discover the profound implications of her faith, and, ultimately, give up a comfortable career to become a full-time Christian writer. That transformation has been astounding and humbling to witness.
When we seek a deeper understanding of God and ourselves, we do what we were created to do, and the result can be . . . well . . . pretty deep.
Questions for Reflection:
- What events in your life have made you wonder about the nature of God? How have you voiced your questions?
- Which parts of your life are "deep" and which are "shallow"? What are the relationships of each to God?
Lord, you have created us to be questioners and seekers. Grant us visions of those mysteries it would benefit us to see and make us content to accept the parts of you we cannot yet know.
Preparing for Sunday:
Consider reading Exodus 20:1-6 in preparation for worship tomorrow.
Friday, May 31, 2013
"So let's do it – full of belief, confident that we're presentable inside and out. Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big day approaching." (Hebrews 10:22-25 MSG)
I don't know about you, but I always experience a little "lull" at church after Easter is over. I love being involved in Lent and Holy Week and then our joyous celebration of Easter. But after it's over, I sometimes feel like I'm in a bit of a slump. Choir takes a break for the summer. Sunday School and Confirmation are over. Our friends are away on mission trips or vacations. During this time, church attendance to me can feel a little sparse. I miss seeing all of my church family and participating in my familiar events.
I try to imagine this is maybe what Peter and the disciples felt after Jesus' death and resurrection and then after Jesus' ascension. It's the "now what?" feeling. How did they motivate themselves to keep the church going after Jesus was gone? I imagine it took a lot of ingenuity and creativity to figure it out. They all could have taken a vacation or left all together, but they chose not to. In fact, they became even MORE involved.
The Bible doesn't just end with the Resurrection and Ascension. There is A LOT more to it. In fact, maybe our own everyday lives and stories could be an extension of the bible stories we know and love so much. Maybe the Bible was never really meant to end...we just stopped writing everything down as sacred text.
After thinking about this, I realized that my "church lull" is really the perfect time for me to "get engaged" in the church. This text is almost seems like a "rally call" for us to keep up the momentum that the disciples had after Jesus was gone. The extra summer time could allow for trying out a new church project or volunteer opportunity...ushering, greeting, singing in a summer chorus at church, or volunteering at The Gathering Place or with City Impact. Or it could be a time for a self or group bible study or mission trip.
So as summer commences, I will find a creative way to use my "church lull" to do something great for my faith. And I will look forward to the Fall when we all can come together again in our routines and share what we've learned.
Questions for Reflection
- What do you have planned to do this summer? Does it include expanding your volunteer or mission work in any way?
- How can we keep ourselves motivated as a church to keep growing and dreaming and spreading the good news?
Dear God, thank you for encouraging us even in our "lull" time. Help us to realize what you are calling us to do for you in this world. Help us to recognize the need that we can fill. You are an amazing and motivating God and we thank you everyday for giving us ways to serve you. Amen.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Life can be hard. Each one of us can most likely speak to a situation where something happened that impacted ourselves, our spouse, children, family and/or friend in a way that leads us to question God and our Faith. I feel lucky that I was able to spend the first 36 years of my life in relatively perfect health. I would get a couple of colds per year and maybe an ear infection or two, but nothing to slow me down or impact my daily life for more than a couple of days. The only meds I'd take would be an aspirin for an occasional self inflicted headache.
Now, for the last year and a half, I've been trying to get back to that. I been diagnosed with Crohn's Disease and will have to manage it the rest of my life. Doctors haven't been able to get it fully under control as of yet, and I now take five different daily meds. Each day is currently affected by this disease and because of that, I've caught myself going through the stages of grief during the past year. I guess I've grieved my perfect health and how I'll miss it. I've blamed God, genetics and myself.
2 Lord, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.
(Isaiah 33:2 NIV)
Instead of blaming God, I've finally accepted this challenge and I've looked to God for guidance. My Faith in God has been my strength and my salvation. I've flipped my mindset from poor me, to focusing on my Faith and the wonderful gifts God continues to bless upon me and my family. God's greatest gift of graciousness is eternal life where I won't deal with this issue anymore. I don't want that gift anytime soon, but am glad it's part of my Faith journey. We wait for the Lord and know that no matter our challenges, faith will see us through.
Questions for Reflection
- Where have you turned when challenges get in your way? Is it to the Lord?
- Have you reflected on your Faith and let your Faith in the Lord be your foundation?
Dear Lord, Faith is the foundation of our church and cannot be broken because of you, our Merciful and Gracious God. Be merciful in my journey of Faith and allow me to let my Faith grow, so that I am another rock on which the church is built. Amen
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, 23 they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness 24 "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him."
A lament can be an expression of anger, despair, grief, or hopelessness. In Lamentations, Jeremiah was crying because his favorite city, Jerusalem, had just been destroyed. Much of Jeremiah's story concerns itself with the fallen bricks and cracking mortar of the overrun city. It looked like Jerusalem had experienced a God-failure. But in these verses Jeremiah was filled with hope. Jeremiah knew that God's compassions never fail. God is faithful. God is in control.
I read the paper or listen to the news and hear about the effects of sin in our world. Terrible things happen, there is so much hurt, and sometimes I start to question and wonder, "Why did this happen?" These things bring tears to my eyes and I wonder if God is crying too. I am sure it breaks His heart to see His people hurting. God could take all of this away. He could stop the pain and the suffering. Sometimes God allows a problem to interrupt my peaceful day. When that happens, it doesn't mean that God has failed. He is right there beside me, walking with me every step of the way. God has a plan. It is not for me to understand, but I must have faith and trust in Him.
It is at these times that we must hope in the Lord. Hope means choosing to trust God, to remember His promises, to endure the pain and stand strong knowing that God's faithfulness never ends. His mercies are new every day. What a blessing that is!
Questions for Reflection
- Do you see any of that "destroyed city" in your own life?
- Are you in need of some Hope from God?
Father God, You are my hope. Thank you for your word, your promises, and your unfailing love. Teach me to praise you in all things. Help me to remember that you are in control. Let your light shine in me so that others may see it and have Hope. Amen