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Week 5 (4/12/20 - 4/18/20)

Devotional Day 33 - 4/18/20

John 11:17-44

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”


I really wanted to choose just one verse for today’s scripture, the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” But I also needed to put it into context. Jesus loved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. They were probably as close to Jesus as people could get without being blood relatives. Some of our greatest examples of faith and fellowship with God come from stories involving this family. But by the time of our scripture for today, Lazarus had become sick. Jesus specifically stalled in visiting the family, saying that this sickness would not end in death. But yet it did. By the time Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for 4 days. This story alone could be a whole sermon series, but to whittle it down to the basics, Jesus did what he did to show God’s power over all things, including death.


But the thing I want to point out specifically about this story is the fact that Jesus wept. Jesus knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life, and yet he wept. Some say that Jesus was weeping over the lack of faith of the family, but I hold to the understanding that Jesus was grieved at the loss of his dear friend, regardless of how temporary. Jesus shows us that it is ok to grieve.


During this time of isolation, there have been many people who have lost loved ones for one reason or another. And since we are not able to gather, it is impossible to do what we normally would do to provide closure for ourselves or for others. We cannot meet to eulogize the individual. We cannot join together in person in song and scripture and prayer. We cannot hold each other as we cry over our loved ones. And so we need to find new ways to grieve.


And grieving does not occur only when we lose a loved one. Any time there is a change, we experience a loss. We have lost the way something used to be in order for it to evolve or change into something new, regardless if it a bad or good change. Right now we have been forced to do things differently. We worship differently, we connect with people differently, and people have noted just how sad it makes them feel when we cannot do things the way that we used to. But when this thing is over, will it go back to “normal,” or will there be a new normal that will dictate how we move forward?


Regardless of what happens, it is ok to grieve. It is ok to mourn. And it is ok to do so long after things have changed. One of the biggest things that we talk about in the bereavement group that I run, is the idea that there is no time limit to our grief. But even in our grief we need to understand that there is something better coming. This world is finite, we are finite beings, but God is eternal. And he has given eternal life to all who believe in him. But that life will not be on this earth. It will be in heaven in his presence with all of those believers who have gone on before us and those who will follow after us. It is ok to grieve, but do not lose sight of the hope of what lays in store for us. Things may be different, loved ones may be absent from our sight, but in the end God will make all things right. We will exist in his perfect love for the rest of time and beyond. 


Let us pray: Lord, you love us. Help us in our grief. Help us in our despair. Help us to see your hand in all things. Help us to feel your presence even in our darkest days. Wipe away our tears and dry our eyes as we look to you for our eternal hope. Amen.


Song: I Will Rise - Chris Tomlin

Devotional Day 32 - 4/17/20

Matthew 4:12-17

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,

    Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people living in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

    a light has dawned.”

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”


What is the kingdom of God? Mentioned 86 times in the four Gospels (not to mention in Acts and Revelation), it was the focus of much of Jesus’ ministry. Yet we still don’t fully understand what Jesus means when he talks about it. Is it Heaven? Is it God coming back to establish a Millennial Kingdom? What people have discussed for thousands of years, I do not believe I will be able to flush out for you in a brief devotional. 


As we see with this scripture for today, that this was the topic of the beginning of Jesus ministry. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus message begins with a call for repentance. To repent is to seek forgiveness for what we have done wrong, and turn from it. What good is it to ask for forgiveness from something that you are planning on doing over and over again with no signs of remorse? Repentance is a follow through where we stop doing that which is wrong and stop pursuing it. We pursue something better, we pursue the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God.


Again, people have debated what this phrase actually means for two thousand years. Jesus may be talking about the actual place of God’s residence to be revealed and realized by humanity. It may be a spiritual kingdom where the power of God’s presence is here within the created world and within humanity itself. Personally, I like the idea of it being the God’s ruling power in this world through Jesus Christ.


God’s love put on human skin. He walked around in this creation as Jesus Christ. He showed us God’s love first hand. He shows us God’s power first hand. He transformed this world and is still affecting it today. Jesus lives within those who are believers and rules in their hearts. His Holy Spirit empowers us and emboldens us to live in ways that are pleasing to God. To love one another, to seek out justice, to help those in need, to care for the sick and the incarcerated.


If you look at the parables that Jesus give us in the Gospels in regards to the kingdom, we see it as being something that is more valuable than anything else. It is something that people would sell all they had to process it. It is something that once it is realized, it spreads and grows as it is passed along. It is planted as a small seed but grows into the biggest of trees. The kingdom of God is rejoicing over the lost being found. And Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God.


God lives within us. He guides us and leads us. He protects us and provides for us. His presence is very evident in our lives. We are called to seek his kingdom first. We are called to seek his power. We are called to seek his face. We are called to further God’s kingdom for his glory. This is to be the priority of our lives. We were all once that lost sheep, where God left the 99 to seek us out. But as I think about this parable, how nice would it have been if the 99 said, “hey, let’s go help find the one that is lost.” I think that is the role of the Church, the role of the believer. To seek out the lost and the lonely, the hurting and the poor, and to bring them back into the fold of God’s love. And in doing so, in actively spreading God’s love, we are building God’s kingdom here. We are spreading his love, we are spreading his power, we are helping his influence to grow in the lives of all with whom we come in contact. I want to be one of the 99 who follows the shepherd as we look for that one more to bring back into the fold. How about you?


Let us pray: Ruler of all creation, create in us a heart that is fashioned in seeking after you. May your kingdom come. May it be evident in all that we do. May your will be done, and may it be carried out in our lives. Amen.


Song: Build Your Kingdom Here - Rend Collective

Devotional Day 31 - 4/16/20

Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”


Often times when we hear this scripture, we talk about not being anxious or worrying. But today, I wanted to talk about today. Life is never for certain. We do not know when our time is up. None of our birth certificates have expiration dates on them. Each day that we have is a blessing from God. Every breath that we take is a gift from God. But we cannot take it for granted. We cannot assume that we have more time than what is directly in front of us.


God has provided for us. He has given us the food on our tables, the clothes on our backs, the roofs over our heads. And he promises to continue to provide for us. I love the teaching of Jesus in this scripture, where he points out that the birds of the air do nothing to store up food for tomorrow, yet every day God gives them what they need. He continues to talk about the beauty found in the flowers (and even weeds) which is more beautiful than anything humanity can create. If God does this for the world he created, how much more does he do for humanity which was created to worship and love him in return?


This should give us peace and freedom knowing how much God loves us and takes care of us. But yet, we often tie ourselves up with worry. Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t plan for the future. That would make us poor stewards if we do not take care of what God has given us. But we do need to make sure that we do not focus so much on what tomorrow MAY bring that we lose sight of what is around us today. Take time to enjoy the beauty of this world. Enjoy the company of friends and family. Savor every breath and every moment because it is a gift from God.


Let us pray: Lord, you hold all of time in your hands. Help us to see the value in what we have, and the beauty of what is around us. Help us to trust in you and to worry less about tomorrow because you will be with us regardless of what it brings. Amen.


Song: Tick Tock - Chris Rice

Devotional Day 30 - 4/15/20

Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”


Sometimes people drive me crazy. I see things going on around me and I think, “why in the world would they do that?” I know I don’t always see eye to eye with people and I question their sanity when I see some of their rants on social media for all the world to see. And I look around, and I see people doing things that they are not supposed to. I see people vandalizing property that does not belong to them. I see people fighting and arguing in the streets. I see people hating. I see people hurting one another. And I cannot believe that some people can be so…rotten.


In the scripture for today, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18 when he says, “Love your neighbor.” But even that is hard to do sometimes. There is a reason why they say that “good fences make good neighbors,” because sometimes if you only saw what your neighbor was doing, you would have some major issues that you would need to deal with. It is easy to find fault with one another. It is easy to pick out the things that irritate and anger you, and harp on them.


We need to pray for one another. We need to lift each other up to get through all of the things that we are struggling with. We need to love one another, even those (especially those) that we do not always like, agree with, or get along with. God has blessed us, even before we were believers. He put other believers in our lives to bring us to faith in him. So maybe in our treatment of our enemies, they too will come to know God for themselves and be saved. We need to pray for people to grow in love of God. We need to pray for them to receive God’s blessing and to actually see that those blessings are from God, even if it may make us wince to ask for good things to happen to those who have done nothing but cause us pain. Even Jesus asked for forgiveness for those who caused him to suffer.


Jesus wants us to love, regardless of who it is or what they have done. Jesus Christ was hung on the cross for our sins, and one of his last words before he died was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He loved the people that tortured him. He loved the people that crucified him. He loved the people that cast lots for his clothes. And he loves us, even though we do not always treat him the way that we should. God does not love us because we are perfect. God does not love us because we deserve it. God does not love us because we loved him first. He loves us because he is love. That is what makes God’s love perfect. And he wants us to love others in the same way.



So the next time that you see someone who bothers you, love them and pray for them. The next time someone encourages you, love them and pray for them. The next time someone loves you, love them back and pray for them. The next time some one hurts you, love them back and pray for them. Be perfect in love, just as God is perfect.


Let us pray: We love you Lord, and you love us. You love all that you have created, even when it hurts you in return. Help us to love one another. Help us to pray for one another. We cannot know what someone else is going through, so help our prayers to be a blessing for those in need. Amen.


Song: Pray For Me - Kirk Franklin

Devotional Day 29 - 4/14/20

Psalm 23 (KJV)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: 

he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


I think that this scripture has been requested at every funeral I have ever attended or have officiated, because no other Psalm brings about as much comfort and support as the 23rd Psalm. And of course you can’t help but recite it in the King James version. I think the reason that we like this Psalm so much, is because it gives us the understanding that God is always with us. Wherever we go, whatever valleys we walk through, God is right besides us. He takes us to the places where we have plenteous provisions, and he helps us find peaceful and safe places to rest. Even when things are falling apart around us and it seems like our enemies are closing in on every side, God takes the time to set a banquet for us, because nothing worries him. We are safe and protected and loved. He pours out his blessing upon us, not a simple drizzle, but to the point where our lives are overflowing with those blessings. 


How can we be afraid in life when God shows us and tells us that he is with us every step of the way? God is with us. Even when we don’t feel it, he is with us. Even when the storms of life are raging around us, God is calling to us. Even when we feel lost, God is leading us. Even when we are hurting, God embraces us. Even when we are in need, God provides. Even when we grieve, God comforts us. Even when when we are happy, God rejoices with us. Even when we are at peace, God is blessing us. Even when we are surrounded by friends and family, we are still filled with God’s love. 


God never lets go of us, even if we try to push him away. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God loves all of his creation - those who are close followers and those who don’t even believe that God exists. He provides for us all out of his love. I sometimes feel like a broken record, because I always come back to the same thing: God loves us. He loves us. He loves us. He loves us. I cannot say it enough. And he will never leave us. He will never turn his back on us. No matter how many times we try to run away, God is right there with his arms wide open ready to welcome us back. 


Right now, it is easy to feel alone and isolated. It is easy get down and depressed as sickness is running rampant, and people seem to be constantly on edge. But it SHOULD also be easy to know that God is with us, because he is walking through all of this with us. I pray that you know that, I pray that you believe that, and I pray that it brings you comfort and hope in a time where that is of short supply.


Let us pray: God, you never let go of us. Whatever we face in life, you are there beside us. Help us to experience your presence. Help us to feel your love. Help us to be the people you want us to be. Amen.


Song: You Never Let Go - Matt Redman

Devotional Day 28 - 4/13/20

Luke 24:13-35

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.


I love the stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, but we don’t always get to talk about them. This story is one of my favorites, in fact, I have a painting of this scene hanging on my office wall (it was actually my great-grandmother’s). This story is so full of interesting preach-able moments that it is hard to nail it down to just one point on which to focus. But the one that I kept thinking about when I read this text, was how did they not know it was Jesus?


I like the fact that Jesus “plays dumb” through all of this. As these two people (we are not sure who they were, but there is some speculation) traveled to Emmaus, Jesus walked up besides them, asking them to talk to him about what they were discussing. I love the idea that these two people were so engrossed with what they were saying that they didn’t realize anyone was approaching. But why in the world did they not know it was Jesus? Maybe these two who are mentioned were only believers by hearing what Jesus did, and they didn’t know his face. This is doubtful because they knew the eleven disciples and knew a lot of the details of what had transpired. Maybe Jesus’ appearance was changed. Maybe he simply clouded their minds to not recognize him. Maybe they were so flabbergasted by the events of the past few days that they were not thinking clearly. Regardless, they did not recognize Jesus.


Think about the implications of this. Many of the believers scattered (including the disciples) because they were probably afraid that they too would be executed for being one of Jesus’ followers. This was a very real possibility. And yet, these two people openly discussed what happened, and even talked to this “stranger” on the road to Emmaus. Personally, I would have been a little cautious thinking that it could have been someone looking to hunt down Jesus’ followers. I mean look at Saul (Paul) who not too long after all this transpired actively sought out and executed believers of “The Way.” I would have been a little more cautious. But these two believers just laid out their faith for this supposed stranger to see. It goes to show you just how emboldened Jesus’ followers were becoming (although the 11 and a good deal of others were still locking themselves in upper rooms at the time). When the time came, and showing the significance of the act of Communion, Jesus opened their eyes while breaking bread with them and they saw him for who he truly was. They were so excited by what happened, that they got up immediately and went back to Jerusalem. Note the fact that it was already almost evening when they stopped with Jesus in Emmaus to begin with, so to make the trek back to Jerusalem at night would have been very dangerous.


But what about us? Do we ever see Jesus as we travel down the road of our own lives and not recognize him? People come and go in our lives daily. We meet new people. Old friends fall out of touch. People pass away. And still we walk on. How many times do people walk up along side of us, and we openly share our faith with them? How many times to we close ourselves off in those same situations for fear that our faith will not be accepted, or possibly used against us? It reminds me of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 28, telling us that God will separate the righteous from those condemned. In this parable, Jesus flat out tells us that we are to be kind to others, because in doing so we are kind to him. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”


We see Jesus every day. He is in the lives of those around us. He is in the face of the stranger, and in the heart of those who are in pain. We need to strive to be more like those two on the road to Emmaus. We need to strive to share our faith with all that we meet. We need to live out our faith by feeding the hungry, giving drink to those who thirst, providing for the stranger, giving clothes to the naked, caring for the sick and the incarcerated. What better way can we show our love of God than by doing the things that he sees as being righteous?


Let us pray: Lord, help us see your face. Help us to see you, even when we feel lost and distant. May the news of your love for us be always on our lips and in all that we do. Amen.


Song: I Can See (The Emmaus Road) - Steve Green

Devotional Day 27 - 4/12/20


1 Corinthians 15:3-8

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.


Happy Easter! Happy Resurrection Sunday! However you want to say it, Jesus Christ is risen and alive! 


I could have used the standard Easter narratives from any one of the Gospels for today’s scripture, but I wanted to use Paul’s brief explanation found in 1 Corinthians. Paul was late to the party. As a Jewish zealot, he actively tracked down those who followed “the way” of Christianity. It was not until he was on the way to Damascus that he found Jesus, or actually Jesus found him. Paul was struck blind when the risen Jesus appeared to him and changed his life forever. This is why Paul says that he is abnormally born, that he became a follower of Christ (and an Apostle) well after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. 


Paul really spells out the evidence for the risen Christ in this passage. He points out that everything Jesus did was in line with the scriptures, and that when he rose from the dead, he appeared to Cephas (Peter), the to the 12 (and that includes Matthias who replaced Judas), more than 500 people at one time and finally James and Paul himself. I love the fact that Paul points out that the majority of those 500 people were still alive, telling the original readers of his letter that they can go and ask one of these eye-witnesses for themselves. 


So why do I talk about Paul on Easter Sunday? Because like Paul, we too are a little late to the party. We were not there to see what Jesus did first hand. We have evidence of what he has done in our lives and in the world around us, but we did not see the empty tomb with our own eyes. We did not see the risen Lord ascend into heaven. So all that we have to go on is the accounts of those who were there on that first Easter morning. As Jesus tells Thomas in John 20, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 


We are blessed because we believe based on the accounts of those first witnesses. Those who have gone on before us, have done all that they could in order to give us a firm foundation on which we can base our faith. And it is important that we do the same for those who come after us. What is it that you believe, and how will you share your faith with others?


Let us pray: Lord, thank you for your Son who died on the cross for our sins and rose three days later showing your power over sin and death. Thank you for your love and your forgiveness. Thank you for all of your blessings that you have poured out upon us. May we bless others in the same way you have blessed us. Amen.


Song: Creed - Third Day

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