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Devotions Week 1  (3/17/20 - 3/21/20)

Devotional 1 - 3/17/20

Psalm 63

You, God, are my God,

    earnestly I seek you;

I thirst for you,

    my whole being longs for you,

in a dry and parched land

    where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary

    and beheld your power and your glory.

Because your love is better than life,

    my lips will glorify you.

I will praise you as long as I live,

    and in your name I will lift up my hands.

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;

    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;

    I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,

    I sing in the shadow of your wings.

I cling to you;

    your right hand upholds me.

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;

    they will go down to the depths of the earth.

They will be given over to the sword

    and become food for jackals.

But the king will rejoice in God;

    all who swear by God will glory in him,

    while the mouths of liars will be silenced.


I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to be thankful and happy when it seems like everything around me is starting to fall apart, and only held together with a thin unraveling thread. We are consumed with the ideas of quarantine, social isolation, prepping, hoarding, and panic as our country and the world is faced with what has been classified as the COVID-19 Pandemic. We have been forced to take stock of our lives, to see what it is that we absolutely need to survive. Apparently toilet paper is number one on everyone’s list (or at least number two - I’m sorry I couldn’t resist). But seriously, we have been stocking the shelves, limiting where we go and what we do, and who we interact with on a regular basis. Group meetings have been limited to 10 people or less and many business and organizations have closed for possibly 2 months or more. Things seem hard. Things seem difficult. How can we be grateful and thankful at a time like this?


Today this Psalm seemed to jump out at me. Psalm 63 is said to be written by David while he was in the Desert of Judah (Desert of En Gedi) as recorded in 1 Samuel 24. David was running for his life as King Saul pursued him relentlessly. I could imagine that David was feeling all of the things we are feeling today. Isolated, hiding in caves with only his closest companions. The need to prep and hoard resources, grabbing what he could when he could because he didn’t know when and where he would get his next meal. Panic, as an entire nation searched for him to kill him. 


Yet in the midst of it all, David writes this beautiful Psalm. David yearns for God when everything is falling apart around him. His entire being craves being close to God. Remember that time when you first fell in love? Where all you thought about was that special person. The idea of that love was the first thing you thought about when you woke up in the morning and the last thing that went through your mind before you fell asleep. So it is with David’s love for God. For David, God was all that sustained him and carried him through his entire life. This was especially true for David in the hard and difficult times, where God not only provided for him, but blessed him every step of the way.


It reminds me of the song “I Need Thee Every Hour.” God is the God of all things and he provides for us every single day. The air we breathe is a gift from Him. Without Him, we would not exist. We need God every moment of every day. We need His love and protection. We need His peace, especially when the world is falling apart around us. I love the line of this famous hymn where it says, “I need thee ev'ry hour, in joy or pain. Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.” We need God’s presence to be in our lives every moment of every day, or else life is pointless. I know it is a difficult time. I know things are scary and seemingly out of control. But God is constant. He is love. He is with us always. I pray that we all come to realize that it is God that we need, and God that we should seek, in all times and in all ways. 


Let us pray together: Heavenly Father, enter into our lives in amazing ways once again. Speak to us your message of peace and hope, even as we struggle with finding a new normal in a time of chaos. May we seek after your love, and pursue you wherever you lead us, that you be ever on our minds, in our hearts, and your praises be ever on our lips. Amen.

Song: I Need Thee Every Hour.- BYU Vocal Point

Devotional Day 2 - 3/18/20

Proverbs 3:1-5

My son, do not forget my teaching,

    but keep my commands in your heart, 

for they will prolong your life many years

    and bring you peace and prosperity.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;

    bind them around your neck,

    write them on the tablet of your heart.

Then you will win favor and a good name

    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;

    fear the Lord and shun evil.

This will bring health to your body

    and nourishment to your bones.


I hate not knowing things, especially when it comes to planning out what I need or want to do. I like to have a game plan of my next step, what’s next on my list, and what things I can check off that list. I am so bad sometimes, that pastor friends of mine get frustrated when we start a different season in the church because I am already looking to the next one. It is not uncommon for me to ask “what are you planning for Lent” when the beginning of December rolls around. Having an understanding of what comes next brings me peace of mind. So needless to say, I am a little besides myself at the moment,as I struggle with trying to predict the future and make the best decisions for my church, my family, and myself.


But what about other forms of not knowing? We ask questions like “why is this happening?” Or “what why would God do such a thing?” It is ok to have questions like that when we do not understand something. And sometimes with those questions, feelings emerge that are not always “nice.” We feel angered, scared, or upset when something happens that we don’t understand. And it is alright to feel those things. The problem arises when we act out in those feelings in negative and unhealthy ways.


The scripture I choose today tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I know, that is easier said than done. It is hard to trust when things seem uncertain, and the future looks uneasy. It is hard to walk down a path when we do not understand why we need to be on it in the first place. 


God loves us. I cannot stress that enough. Everything that we NEED to know, he has shown us. However, that does not mean that he reveals to us all that we WANT to know. He has shown us what he wants for our lives. He sent himself in the form of Jesus to walk among us, to live life the way that we were meant to live it. And in doing so gives us the example of what it means to truly live. To live a life of love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. We may not always understand what is going on, but we can know that God loves us, and frankly that should be enough. 


We will get our answers eventually. Looking back, I am a firm believer that everything that I have gone through has led me to my specific lot in life. If things did not go the way that they did, I would probably would not have my family, or be a pastor with the experience that I have had. Every season of my life has taught me something to guide me and instruct me in what it means to be a hired shepherd tending to God’s flock. But at the time, I could not understand why I needed to have so many doors shut in my face, to have so many things blow up in my life, to have my life ripped apart and rearranged time and time again. 


I stumbled across a song just the other day, and it quickly became my new favorite; “Farther Along” by Josh Garrels. It talks about how we will understand everything a little further down the road. But instead of taking the time to worry about it, we should “live in the sunshine.” Regardless of what is going on around us, we can take comfort knowing that God loves us. We can know this for sure, because he tells us in his word, and has shown us every day of our lives. Every day, every breath, is a gift from God, and it is more than we can ever deserve. 


I like the second verse of the song as it says, “Still I get hard pressed on every side, between the rock and a compromise. Like the truth and pack of lies fightin' for my soul and I've got no place left go. Cause I got changed by what I've been shown. More glory than the world has known. Keeps me ramblin' on skipping like a calf loosed from its stall. I’m free to love once and for all. And even when I fall I'll get back up, for the joy that overflows my cup. Heaven filled me with more than enough. Broke down my levee and my bluff. Let the flood wash me. And one day when the sky rolls back on us. Some rejoice and the others fuss, cause every knee must bow and tongue confess that the Son of God is forever blessed. His is the kingdom, we're the guests. So put your voice up to the test. Sing Lord, come soon.” Knowing God’s love should make us feel like that calf, jumping and skipping as it is let out to the pasture to have free rein of wherever it wants to go. It plays and is happy, regardless of where it came from and what is going on. 


We may not always know why things happen, or where God is leading us. But we know that God loves us. We know that God is in control. We know that he will never leave us nor forsake us. So what will we do about it? I love how the proverb says, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Regardless of what we face, love and faithfulness should abound in all that we do; love for God and one another, faithfulness to follow where God is leading us. Take some time to reflect on the things in your life. Look at the “good” and what blessings it has brought you. Look at the “bad” and the blessings that have come out of that as well. Look at where you are right now, and see how you can use what you have learned to better love God and your neighbor. Don’t worry about what we can’t understand right now, because God will tell us when we are ready.


Let’s pray together. Lord, we come before you knowing that we know very little. Help us to take comfort in knowing that you are the God of love and that you love us very much. Help us to see the answers you have given us, and open us up to be used by you in whatever way you see fit. Equip us for every good work. Amen. 

Song: Farther Along - Josh Garrels

Devotional Day 3 - 3/19/20

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Prayer is one of those things that fascinates me, yet is something that I sometimes feel completely inadequate in actually doing. I’m sure there was a time where you were asked to pray in public, and regardless of how well versed you are in your own daily prayers, it is not usually something for which a person volunteers. Every time we close Bible study, I ask if anyone would like to pray. Nine times out of ten, I am the one who ends up praying, but I don’t mind. For me, praying in public is not the problem. For my problem with prayer is…“is it good enough?” 


Have you ever met a celebrity? Have you ever met a popular political figure? Regardless if you like the individual or not, someone with power in any sense of the word, brings with them a sense of honor and respect that often makes us second guess what we say or do. We would be mortified if we were blessed to speak with such an influential individual and we mess it up because our foot fits too perfectly in our mouth when we talk sometimes. And that is with a person who is like us, a person. What about standing in front of the one who made all people?


God is Lord of all, King of Kings, Creator, and Sustainer. He is ultimate power, and the power that we think we have, the status that we claim we have, is loaned to us from Him. So, it can be daunting sometimes to think that we have the ability to talk with Him. So what are we supposed to say? Sure, we should ask for what we NEED, but what about asking for what we WANT? Doesn’t that seem a little selfish? (No, it’s not.) And what about praying for other people? Sure we can pray for their well-being, but do we really have to pray for those people who hurt us? (Yes, we should pray for all people, including those with whom we don’t see eye to eye.) And what about things that seem out of our control? Can we really pray for God to stop the disasters? I mean, after all, who are we to tell God what to do? (God still wants us to seek his will.)


As a pastor and a hospice chaplain, I go to visit people on a regular basis. I think the biggest need and desire of most of those I visit, is company and someone to talk to. They love the opportunity to simply sit and chat, about everything and anything. It is nice to hear from people. I know in a time where we are supposed to be “socially distant” from people, it is easy to get depressed, because our contact with others is lacking. And the best thing we can do to help ease that depression is to call and talk to someone. We long to hear from one another, and in a time when a text, an email, or even that seldom used app on your phone…the actual phone…can connect us to someone in a matter of seconds, it has never been easier to let someone know that you care. But do we do it?


That is how it is with prayer. We have a direct hotline to the creator of all things. And he longs to hear from us. He wants to hear what we have to say; our wants, our desires, our needs. He wants to hear our thoughts, to tell him how we are feeling, to tell him if we are scared or upset, happy or sad, confused or blissfully content. It is not the “what we say,” but rather the fact that we take the time to actually talk with God. But how often do we take the time to do so?


I like the scripture that I chose for today. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It tells us that we are to “rejoice always." In everything we do in every situation we face, we are to rejoice. That’s hard when things are difficult, but it is important to see that even in the worst of times, God is still blessing us. It is also nice to see Paul's encouragement for us as he says, “do not be anxious about anything.” (Easy for Paul to say. I mean I know he went through a lot, but he didn’t have to deal with being isolated with 2 kids!) He tells us to pray in every situation, because when we do, it brings us peace as only God can give.


There is a car with a bumper sticker that is prominently displayed on the edge of town, and every time I pass it, I get so angry. It says “Nothing fails like prayer.” Oh how wrong that truly is. I have stories upon stories of how God has answered prayer in amazing ways. And even when our requests are not answered in the way we think they should, at the very least, when we pray, it makes us feel better. I did a research project in college where we looked to see if prayer and mediation reduced stress levels. I focused on the prayer aspect, while my partner focused on the mediation. I went into several prayer meeting groups and asked participants to fill out questionnaires before and after the meeting in order to see any changes in their stress levels. Straight across the board, every person’s stress was reduced. Even simply sitting there watching the meeting unfold, my stress level was lessened. It is amazing how God works with us and within us when we pray.


But again, what should we say? Prayer does not always have to include words. One of my favorite types of prayer is called contemplative prayer, where you sit and clear your mind of all things and simply allow God to pour himself into you. Taking time in prayer can be a blessing when we do not say anything because it gives us time to pause in the presence of God, and allow him to fill us with his peace. 


Try taking a few minutes to pause in prayer, to sit in silence, and to listen to what God has in store for you. And yes, feel free to pour out your thoughts on God, to tell him your fears and concerns, because he wants to hear from you. He will always listen.


Let’s pray together: Lord, we sit and listen to you. Give us your peace as we pause in front of your throne. We know that you answer all of our prayers, we just don’t always see those answers. Maybe you answer with a “yes,” or a “no,” or a “not right now.” Help us to see your will and help us to love you more. Amen. 

Song: Sweet Hour of Prayer - Casting Crowns

Devotional Day 4 - 3/20/20

1 Kings 19:9-13

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.


There are a lot of stories in the Old Testament that I enjoy reading, and this is one of my favorite. And I think it is an appropriate story to piggy-back off of the devotional from yesterday about prayer. 


We are inundated with information. Everywhere we go we are accosted with information about what is going on in the world. The worse the news, the more we are told about it. No wonder why more than 18% of the American population is affected by anxiety disorders ( Our senses are constantly being bombarded, and even when we have time to be by ourselves, social media is at our fingertips feeding us more and more of the information that can cause even more stress and anxiety.


If anyone had a reason to stress in the Old Testament, I think it would have been Elijah. All of the prophets of God had been hunted down and killed, and the queen had her heart set on doing the same to Elijah. 1 Kings 19:2 says, “So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”” Elijah was on the run for his life when God spoke to him as he was hiding in a cave. God asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (As if God didn’t know what was going on.) Elijah was instructed to go out and be in the presence of the Lord, but Elijah waited until he knew for sure that God was there. Elijah was met with one spectacular event after another, yet each time, God’s presence was not there. It was not until a gentle whisper blew across the face of the cave did Elijah fully realize God’s presence. 


We talk too much. We do too much. We do not take the time to pause and listen. Only when we calm ourselves and wait patiently do we actually see God pass by. We expect God to make some spectacular entrance, to blow our socks off with a miracle bigger than anything we have ever seen before. But that is not how God moves. God often moves in small ways. Maybe it’s through a simple “coincidence” that changes our perspective and ultimately our world. Or an act of kindness that gets us through our day. These so-called “minor miracles” tend to be more powerful than a world shaking event. But more often than not, we miss them because we are not purposefully looking for them.


With all that is going on right now, we have been forced into our own little “caves” of isolation. The normal daily grind has changed into something we still can’t fully describe. Yet, even still, we do not take the time to stop. We scroll through our social media feeds and scour the internet, looking for the latest news, things to do, or things to entertain ourselves. This is the perfect opportunity to stop, to rest, and to listen to the still small voice of God. 


My challenge for you is to take a moment and listen. Find a space to be free from distractions. Put down the phone and spend some time with God. Maybe start out in prayer, but then just sit patiently, waiting to hear from Him. It may surprise you what you may find. What is he trying to tell you? What words of encouragement does he have for you? Just take some time to listen. If nothing else, it may help relieve some of your stress for a period of time.


[And if you really feel ambitious, try looking into contemplative prayer. The Contemplative Outreach would be a good place to start (]


Let’s pray together: God of peace, be with us during this time. Help us to listen to your quiet whisper as you comfort our souls in the midst of turmoil. Make your presence known to us, so that we can better share your love with our neighbors. Amen.

Song: Still Small Voice - Trent the 252 Sessions

Devotional Day 5 - 3/21/20

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


Rest is a hard thing to do. We are busy. We are worried. Even when we have “time off,” we still constantly fill it with one thing or another. As a pastor, a question that I am asked quite regularly by the powers that be, is “are you taking your sabbath?” We preach rest to the people, instructing our churches to obey the 4th commandment and take a break. Yet time and time again, we (and I mean “I”) too often neglect the break that we need.


We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, bearing all the stress and anxieties that come our way. Our bodies convulse as we hold the tension in, until we finally explode in some sort of breakdown. For me, there was a time where I dreaded a day off. It had become a pattern that many of my holidays were spent in the emergency room for massive migraines caused by the fact that the tension that I kept at bay (and usually in my shoulders) would finally release and my body would not know how to handle it. 


But God wants us to rest. He does not want us to get to the point where we are so overloaded that we cannot function with out stress in our lives. He literally built it into our week, to take a break, to spend time with him as we allow ourselves to recharge. When Jesus tells us to yoke ourselves with him, he is telling us to hook ourselves up to the same load that he is bearing and go in the same direction. Jesus literally took the sin of the world on his shoulders, and so we would think that his burden is heavy, but it is not. By latching on to Jesus, he is taking our load upon him, because he is big enough to take it all. When we turn to Jesus and we allow him to lead, he will guide us where we need to go, give us what we need to survive, and strengthen our weary souls. 


It is ok to take a break. I know this world seems like it is falling apart around us, but take a break. Take a breather. Enjoy the beauty of what is around you. Spend some more time with God, and allow him to ease your pain, ease your worry, and give you the rest you need.


Let us pray together: Lord, please give us your peace. Give us rest. Give us your love. Give us your heart that we can share it with others. Amen. 

Song: I Will Rest In You - Worship Together

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