Thursday, December 22, 2011

Love All 5 (Matthew 1:18-25)

Matthew 1:18-25

Can you imagine being Joseph in this scenario? A respected, hard worker known by everyone in town to be engaged to a young woman who everyone believes is pregnant with some other man's child. I suspect Joseph and Mary were the subject of much discussion in their small corner of the world. I suspect everyone called Mary nasty names and considered Joseph to be a patsy to still be marrying her.

Everyone knew the child Mary was carrying was not Joseph's. As they were officially betrothed, it was legal for Joseph to have Mary stoned because under the law of the time she was considered to be an adulteress. Yet Joseph decided to call off the wedding quietly and not try to recoup any pride he might have lost in this seemingly calamitous situation.

Joseph truly had to feel God calling him to this marriage to go through with it. There is no other explanation for why he would go forward with the wedding. Joseph showed true love for God when he showed compassion and love to Mary. Joseph's demonstration of love allowed God's love to come into the world.

Christmas comes in two days. No matter where you are in your Christmas preparations, it will arrive. Whether or not you have found ways to worship fully, spend less, give more, or love all, Christmas will come.

Christmas comes because God has made it come, not because we have made it come. Christmas comes because God’s love poured out upon his creation. If Joseph had refused to show love to Mary or if Mary had refused to be God's vessel, God would have found another way to bring Christ into the world.

If you have gotten nothing else out of this Advent devotional, get this: God loves YOU so much that He was willing to do anything to make a way to save YOU.

That is what Christmas is about. If we see Christmas for what it truly is - the celebration of God's amazing love for us - how can we do anything but give grace and mercy to everyone, just as we have received grace and mercy?

Father God, bless this Christmas. Bless our families, our homes, our comings and our goings. Give us an internal understanding of your love for us and let it permeate our hearts and our lives. Help us to be so filled with your love, that we can do nothing but pass it on to others.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Love All 4 - Isaiah 9:2-7

Isaiah 9:2-7

This is a familiar passage of scripture that we often hear this time of year. It foretold the birth of the Messiah and gave great hope to the people of Isreal.

God loves his creation so much that He was willing to go to drastic measures and sacrifice for our good. God knew from the beginning of time that Jesus would be necessary to save us from our sins because we are unable to help ourselves.

No matter what we have done, are doing, or will do, God still loves us and wants to redeem us. God in His infinite love for us is willing to do whatever it takes to give us an eternity with Him.

What are we willing to do to show our appreciation for an eternity with God? Are we willing to try to follow His command to love all people? We know that we will fail - but are we willing to try and keep trying? Are we willing to be that strange person who refuses to build ourselves up at anothers expense? Are we willing to show care and compassion to people who others refuse to go near?

The love of God for all people which is exemplified by Jesus' birth, life and death promise an end to war, fear, and defeat. Are we willing to take the love that we have been given and share it with the world instead of hoarding it for ourselves?


Heavenly Father, Thank you for your love of us in the middle of our unlovliness. Give us the courage and the character to pass on your love to others who have need of it. Amen.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Love All 3 - Luke 6:27-36

Luke 6:27-36

Are we people who are ready for the truth? Not just the truth that the world gives to us, but the Truth that Jesus gives to us....

When I read the words that Jesus speaks in Luke today, it does not surprise me that the people cried out for Jesus to be crucified. Anyone with an ounce of self-righteousness (which would include 99% of humanity) would be offended by His words. All of those 'good' things that we do and pat ourselves on the back for doing are thrown out the window with today's passage.

How often do we truly do something 'good', for nothing? How often do we help other people we hate? Or remain anonymous when we donate goods, services, or money? Have any of us been struck down by words or fists and stuck around to offer our attacker another shot without trying to defend ourselves?

When we are attacked, we usually fight back or run away. When we do something positive, we usually want some kind of recognition.

I don't want to say that these reactions are completely bad. We train our children to do the right thing by giving them positive affirmation. Most of the time, avoiding physical or hurtful verbal conflict would certainly seem to be the prudent thing to do.

We have to be careful, however, not to equate being 'safe' with being 'right'.

Jesus didn't call us to be safe or right. He called us to love, just as He loved.

Father God, help us to feel truly loved by you and to share that love with others whether they return it to us or not. Amen.



Monday, December 19, 2011

Love All 2 - Mark 12:28-34

Mark 12:28-34

The Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a 'rule' that all of us learned in grade school. It is something that parents and teachers use in a variety of ways to help our children develop empathy and kindness.

Despite the way we use the "Golden Rule" for others, we don't always follow it ourselves. I like to be given the benefit of the doubt. I like to be respected. I like to be treated with compassion. Yet all too often, I find myself assuming others set out to hurt my feelings. I lose my temper and am disrespectful to my husband and son. I don't always feel compassion for the various losses and wounds that others have received in this life.

Jesus is reminding us to move beyond our egocentric viewpoint in this passage. Our human nature is to focus on ourselves: our victories and our losses, our real or imagined hurts, our joys and our disappointments. It is so easy for us to live for ourselves instead of others.

Jesus was born for us, not for himself. Jesus lived for us, not for himself. Jesus died for us, not for himself.

How can we honor the one whose name we bear unless we, too, live for others?
When you show love today to someone you find unlovely (either in the moment or most of the time) try to see life from their point of view and try to see yourself through their eyes.

Almighty God, help us to treat everyone the way we want to be treated, no matter how provoking or disgusting we find them. Help us remember that we are all your children and therefore loved and valued equally by You. Amen.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Love All 1 - Matthew 5:13-16

Matthew 5:13-16

The phrases "salt of the earth" and "don't hide your light under a bushel basket" are commonly used phrases in the English vernacular that came from this passage of Scripture. We might be inured to their meaning because they have been used so often but the message behind them is very important.

In the time of Jesus, salt and light were two very precious things. Light came from oil lamps, and oil was not to be squandered. Salt used to be such a precious commodity that Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in it instead of in coin.

When Jesus is talking about Christians being the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world", this is a big deal. Food without salt is bland and in the time of Jesus, more often than not, rotten. Our world without light is a dark and frightening place.

Jesus is trying to say that the world needs His disciples. Christians help to make Earth a better place IF we live our lives the way Jesus taught us to live. If we are the people who Jesus calls us to be, we can make a tremendous difference in this world, just as salt makes a tremendous difference in our food and light makes a tremendous difference in the darkness.

Just like salt and light spread to flavor and illuminate the whole, rather than the part, we are called to share God's love with everyone - not just those whom we like.

This is the last week of Advent. It is the last week we have to prepare for the coming celebration of the birth of Christ. My challenge to each of us this week is to share the love of Jesus with someone we find unlovely. That might mean getting coffee for a co-worker you don't like. It might mean having loving kindness for a family member who is causing you aggravation. It might mean treating the person on the corner of the intersection with dignity by looking them in the eye as you drive by - even if you don't give them anything.

Whatever it is, find a way each day to show love to someone in some way that is not easy for you.

Heavenly Father, help us to love others as you love us. Remind us that without the cover of your grace and mercy we are as unlovely to you, as others sometimes are to us. Give us an measure of your grace and mercy as we strive to be the salt and light of this world for you. Amen.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Give More 5 (Matthew 5: 43-48)

Matthew 5: 43-48

It is hard to love and it is hard to forgive. It is even hard to love and forgive the people in our own families sometimes let alone those people we don't even like.

When was the last time you offered love and grace to someone who really makes you clench your teeth? It's really hard.

Praying for people who irritate me is usually the last thing I think of doing. I tend to want to dwell on my anger or frustration. I talk to my friends to get confirmation about how annoying and inappropriate a person or their comments are. I completely do the opposite of what Jesus is telling us to do in this passage. Instead of forgiving and loving the people who hurt me, I hold my bitterness close and feed it.

I sometimes even find myself disliking those whom I usually love when their behavior is unattractive or hurtful towards me or others. I read recently that the moment we are "...most repelled by [our] child's behavior, that is [our] sign to draw the very closest to that child." I suspect that directive could be applied almost anywhere in our lives and interactions with others.

Giving more love is never a mistake.

The love we offer might be rejected, but it is never a mistake to offer it. If we stand in the amazing and infinite love that God gives to us, then we can stand to be rejected or hurt by others in this life.

Who in your life can you be more available to emotionally and mentally? It might be someone you love or it might be someone you hate. When you reach that point with another person where you want to throw your hands up and walk away, stop. Ask God to help you reach down deep within yourself and into His love to give more to that person than you thought was possible.

Father God, you give us more than we can receive or reciprocate. Help us to find the well deep within us that is filled by you. Help us to reach into that well of love for those we consider unlovable and unforgivable. Amen.



Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Give More 4 (Luke 6:37-38)

Luke 6:37-38

How much better off would most of us be if we gave and received more grace? Judgement and condemnation don't lead to good feelings and miraculous change or improved disposition. They lead to shame, guilt, feelings of unworthiness and usually an increase in the behaviors that caused the condemnation and judgement in the first place.

This is a very difficult cycle for us to stop because it is in our nature to condemn and judge. Think of how often little children tattle on one another. We naturally tend to give bad behavior much more attention than good behavior.

If you look at how Jesus handled misbehavior (sin) in the Gospels it should come as no surprise that his response was in direct contrast to how the people around him responded. With the woman caught in adultery, Jesus didn't pick up a stone even though stoning was the penalty for her crime under the Law. Rather he helped the angry mob to realize that all of them were guilty of sin and deserving of punishment. At this realization, the mob disbursed. Then Jesus told the woman that he did not condemn her but that she should go and change the direction of her life. He offered her grace and an opportunity to make better choices.

When we sin, make bad decisions, and hurt others we already feel bad. To have others compound those feelings isn't helpful. It also isn't helpful to pretend that the bad choices were not made. Simply acknowledging that the error is there and giving an opportunity for grace is a much better way to deal with each other's sin than emphasizing how bad the other person is for whatever action they did or didn't do.

This week try giving more grace - to yourself as well as to everyone around you whether you know and love them, dislike them, or know them not at all. See if it doesn't change your small corner of the world in a radical way.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace you give us. Thank you for the coming of Jesus that gives us freedom from condemnation. Help us to follow His example and give grace rather than judgement. Amen.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Give More 3 (Matthew 5:3-12)

Matthew 5:3-12

Giving more can be painful. It can be painful financially, it can be painful emotionally, and it can be painful mentally - but giving more will never be painful spiritually. In fact, it will be the opposite. The more you give, the more you will be spiritually fulfilled because when we give more, we make more room for God in our lives.

Jesus gives voice to so many paradoxical statements like those found in The Beattitudes because His kingdom is in direct conflict with the 'kingdom's' in this world. We lust after power but through his sacrificial life and death, Jesus scorned it. We chase after earthly happiness but Jesus sought joy in eternity. We look for immediate gratification but Jesus sees the fullness of time.

I truly believe that the ability to give more is simply a matter of perspective: like being able to shift your focus so that you see the vase instead of the profile in the picture. If we can keep our hearts focused on Christ, we will naturally desire to give more. Here are some good ways to re-shift your focus on a daily basis:
-Set your alarm during the day to remind you to pray or read the Bible.
-Tape a note or picture to the bathroom mirror that reminds you that the eternal is more important than the temporal.
-Have someone check in with you to keep you accountable for the way you are spending your resources of time, money, and natural talents.

God, we want to honor you in our daily lives and we are sorry that so often our good intentions are left behind us in the morning hours. Forgive us and help us be the people you designed us to be. Amen.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Give More 2 (Mark 10:17-31)

Mark 10:17-31

Without God, it is impossible for us to give as much as we are able. If we rely on our own generosity and good-will, we will constantly be disappointed in ourselves and those around us.

As the rich young man in the scripture story this morning discovered, the more we have, the harder it is to let it go. It is part of our human nature that the more worldly goods we accumulate the tighter we hold on to them. It is also part of our nature to think that just a little more money, love, or stuff will make us happier. This lie makes it very hard for us to let go of anything or give anything to the point of sacrifice.

But it is to sacrificial giving that God calls us.

We are to imitate God, our beloved Heavenly Father, just as our children imitate us and we imitate our beloved, earthly parents. God gave us the biggest sacrifice of all - Himself. God subjected Himself to all that comes with the human condition- temptation, physical pain and weakness, death and seperation from Himself - in order to save us from ourselves.

We can all give more than we do, we just choose not to. What we have to keep in mind is that what we choose today, is also a choice for or against eternity. On our own we might not be able to choose to give more, but God can help us to do so.

Almighty God, help us to give more than we think we can. Give us courage and bravery to do what we know we should do even when we don't want to do it. Give us a strong sense of the eternal that overwhelms our knowledge of the material and temporary. Help us to give our all to you and to what you call us to do for you in this world. Amen.



Sunday, December 11, 2011

Give More 1 (Matthew 4:18-22)

Matthew 4:18-22

It is ironic, but the person the whole Advent season revolves around usually isn't included on our gift lists. When we make out our Christmas gift lists we include family members, friends, and co-workers but we don't usually put Jesus on that list.

This year, maybe we should spend more time thinking about what we can give to the child who was born in a stable and placed in a manger to sleep.

When Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, and then James and John to follow Him, these four men did not hesitate. They put down their nets and followed Jesus. This may not sound like a life-altering decision. In our minds we might think an equivalent action might be to stop washing the car or the dishes to go do something with our church for the day. The action of these four men, however, was much bigger than this. These men gave their lives to Jesus when they put down their nets and walked away from their boats and father. These men and their families lived day to day depending on the day's catch. A loss of a day's work would have tremendous consequences for them yet they chose Jesus over the safety of their regular routine.

Have we really chosen to gift our lives to Jesus? Are we mindful of how our daily actions honor or dishonor God?

If we choose to gift Jesus with our lives this Christmas it will change everything. It will change the way we think about others. It will change the way we interact with strangers and those we love. It will change the way we use the resources God has given to us. This Christmas, let's think about how we can spend less and yet give more.

Father God, help us to give our hearts to you. Help us to know that in your hands, our lives are in the safest place they could possibly be. Give us the ability to be generous with all the gifts you have given to us instead of keeping them for ourselves. Amen.



Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spend Less 5 - Matthew 6:25-35

Matthew 6:28-35

In 2010, the United States ranked 18th in Global World Income per capita. According to this study, the average American makes $47,000.00 annually. The average income per capita annually worldwide, however, is $9097.00. This is because between Libya (#71 on the list) and Burundi (#215 on the list) the annual income per capita drops from $12,020.00 to $160.00.

Can you imagine trying to keep your family fed, sheltered, and clothed on that average amount of money? For most of us reading this blog today, that is an idea that is absolutely ridiculous. And yet the majority of the world lives in just such a way. 23% of the children in Texas live in poverty while over half of the kids in Texas live in low-income families. That means that half of the families in Texas make less than $38,314.00 for a family of four. Think of how these families live and how hard it is for them to make ends meet and then think of those outside of America who live in even more desperate poverty.

Most of us reading this today are rich by most people's standards. We have computers and access to the internet. All of our children have access to education for free. We have cars and jobs. We have a TV, video games, and MP3 players. We have to actually exercise to stay at a healthy weight because of our abundance. We all have more than enough.

We don't need to worry about tomorrow - but there are people who do. God has placed us in the positions we are in to care for those who are in need. Let's spend less on ourselves so that we can give more to those who really need it.

Heavenly Father, thank you for putting us in a place of abundance. Help us to remember that with abundance comes the responsibility to share with others. Help us to always keep in our hearts the attitude of giving and humbleness that Jesus exemplified for us while he was on Earth. Amen



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spend Less 4 - Luke 16:19-31

Luke 16: 19-31

Depending on where you live in the Greater Austin area you may see more of less of the multitude of homeless and poverty stricken men and women begging at the street corners. I drive through the intersections of several of the main roads in Austin every day and it is not unusual for me to see 3-4 men and women at every intersection.

I see men and women sitting under the overpasses with all their worldly possessions at their sides. I have seen pregnant women, old women, young women. I have seen men holding up signs begging for money to pay for their medical care so that they don't orphan their children. I have seen veterans with obvious wounds from the war. I have seen men and women of different ages, races, and educational levels standing on the street corners asking for the help of those passing by.

Sometimes I see people and I give them something. But more often than not I drive on by without making eye contact because I am ashamed to not be sharing my abundance with them. What makes me so ashamed when I willfully drive by those who have less than me is that I recognize my greed. I don't ignore them because I can't afford to share money or food with them. I drive by them because I would rather spend the money on myself and my family. I would rather buy that $4 holiday latte from Starbucks or go meet my girlfriends for lunch than give the 'out of work Dad' $10 or a bag of groceries. I would rather go buy something for myself or my family at that great BOGO sale than provide a warm shirt or a sleeping bag for someone who sleeps under the bridge at night.

My greed is fueled partly by my desire to fit in and partly by laziness. I want fit in and not stand out because I am wearing something that is a little worn or not as fashionable as it was last year. I don't want to spend hours clipping coupons or making sure I go to the grocery store with the best sales that week.

The parable Jesus tells us today is a little shocking. Do we really choose whether we get our reward on earth or in heaven by the choices we make in this transient lifetime?

I don't know for sure. What I do know, however, is that Jesus calls us to share what he gives us. If he has given to us abundantly, we have a greater responsibility to share that abundance with those who have lack.

If we spend less on ourselves and our families so that we could give more to those who are truly in need we might be surprised at how little we feel deprived. Maybe by sharing what we have with others, we can find joy in our salvation rather than joy in the transitory feeling of acquisition.

Father God, forgive us for passing by all those who are living such desperate lives of poverty. Help us to want and need less so that we can share with others out of the abundance you have graciously given to us. Amen.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Spend Less 3 - Matthew 6:19-24

Matthew 6:19-24

Have you ever felt a moment of complete contentment? If you have, it probably had nothing to do with anything you bought or were given or achieved. It probably had to do with an internal feeling of wholeness that had something to do with God. Earthly things alone can't give us contentment. It is just a part of how we are created. St. Augustine wrote in the 4th century that "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord."

The imprint of the divine that we have deep within us seeks out God. We try to calm that restlessness with all sorts of other things our entire lives - earthly succesess, material goods, mind altering substances, even trying to control our bodies through unhealthy methods. All of these things that we find ourselves obsessing over are ways we try to seek contentment. But we will never really find contentment until we seek it in God.

If we are constantly chasing after things of this world, we cannnot chase after God. It is like a person who has an affair outside of their marriage. You cannot be committed and faithful to two people at the same time no matter how hard you try.

God wants us to choose Him. Not because it is good for him, but because it is good for us. When we make a conscious choice to choose God every day, we have less of a need to run in the rat race or keep up with the neighbors because we realize that our value doesn't lie in what we posess or in what others think of us. Our value lies in the fact that God loves us, totally and completely.

Almighty God, help us to choose you over the world. Help us learn how to focus more on you so that the world we live in becomes a place for us to improve life for others, rather than a place where we compete with others. Amen.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Spend Less 2 - Luke 3:1-14

Luke 3:1-14

John the Baptist speaks his prophetic wisdom to a culture that has become greedy. He warns those who come to him that claiming their faith as protection will not work on its own. When asked what they should do to remain faithful to God, John advises practicing contenment and generosity. He tells the people to share what material goods they have with those who have less and to be content with having 'enough'.

The question for us today, as people who also live in a culture of greed and excess, is what constitutes 'enough'? It is hard for us to stop accumulating things. We like to have the newest iPhone and computer. We like to be fashionable. We like to go to Starbucks and out to eat.

We tend to compare our lifestyles to those people we see on TV or read about in magazines. Most of these people live lifestyles that spend an outrageous amount of money. Would it be fun to live like that? Sure. But as Christians, would we feel good about it? I don't know.

What I do know is that we tend to want a lot more than we actually need. What if we stopped buying everything we wanted and for the most part, only bought those things that we needed? Would your life look and feel differently? Would you feel deprived? Or would you be surprised that you don't miss what you don't have? Would you be embarrassed in front of others at leaving the race to collect 'stuff'? Or would you find a new contentment in your life?

Why don't we try it and see?

Heavenly Father, help us to be content with our lives. Help us to see the world through your eyes instead of our own. Give us the strength and committment to share what we have with others and to learn how to want less. Amen.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Spend Less 1 - Luke 2:1-7

Luke 2:1-7

When we think about Christmas what first comes to mind isn't necessarily the Christ-child. Rather, we often think about presents wrapped and waiting under a decorated tree and stockings filled to the brim with goodies and surprises.

How did we get from the first Christmas when the Savior of the world was born in a barn and placed in a trough for his bed to where we are today where it is common to take out a loan from the bank or rack up debt on a credit card in order to buy mountains of presents for people in our lives?

When did Christmas become less a reason to celebrate God's incarnation into our world and lives to save us and more a reason to go out and spend money on things we don't really need?

Think of all the need in the world and all the money that we spend on our families at Christmas. Wouldn't some of that money be better spent helping strangers who are hungry, cold, and uneducated? People who can't turn on a faucet to get water that won't make them or their children ill? People who have curable diseases and sicknesses who can't afford to get the medicine to save themselves or their family members?

What if we all spent less on ourselves and our loved ones this Christmas and gave more to people who really need what we can provide for them?

It seems to me that if we all chose to give at least one less gift to people we know and used that money to help someone in need, that would truly be honoring the meaning of Christmas: the celebration of God's gift of life to each of us through the birth of Jesus.

Father God, forgive us for not remembering what Christmas is really about. Help us to know the true meaning of Christmas and to orient ourselves towards you in this Advent season. Amen.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Worship Fully - Day 5 (Luke 2:8-20)

Luke 2:8-20

Have you ever noticed that when an angel appears in the Bible with a message the first thing the angel says is 'Do not be afraid!'. The shepherds were having a quiet night in the fields when all of a sudden and magnificent light appeared in the air before them and began to speak! It's amazing to me that the shelters wee able to follow the directions given to them!

Can you imagine the scene? One angel appears and tells you about the birth of the messiah. He has come to you! A person who is not very important in the world scene. A person with no political influence or wealth. And yet, God has come to you to announce the birth of the long awaited Savior! Not only has this news been given to you, but you have also been commanded to go and see and worship the Christ child. What an amazing honor! You have no gifts worthy to give this child. You have no ability to keep him or his family safe in this world filled with fear and darkness. Yet, you have been invited into the Holy presence of God to worship.

This is not an invitation to be taken lightly.

Each year, we are each given the opportunity to come before the Christ child and worship the Almighty who came as a helpless child in order to save the world. Jesus came to be with you and save you.

Will you come and worship? Or will you stay where you are and miss the miracle of God breaking into our world to meet us on our level?

Heavenly Father, draw close to us that we
might draw close to you. Help us to worship you with all of our heart, mind, and soul this Christmas. Amen.