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The passage for today’s devotion provides two great themes--kindness and struggle.
Jacob had left home years ago to escape his brother’s wrath after stealing the family blessing. Now he is about to meet with the brother he had fled to escape so many years ago. The same brother who vowed to kill Jacob the next time he saw him.
Jacob’s servants reported to him that Esau was coming with 400 men, nothing short of an army. During the night Jacob struggled with what to do to avoid Esau’s wrath. Then the unexpected happened while alone with his thoughts--a divine presence appeared to Jacob.
The purpose of the presence was not altogether clear but what was clear is that anytime we encounter the Divine it is an act of kindness on God’s part. Divine presence shows up to a cheater, liar and deceiver who has not demonstrated repentance. God’s kindness comes in a form that could change Jacob’s perspective of who he was and what he could be. It was solely the kindness of God that altered the course of Jacob’s life.
Further reading of the narrative tells us about the kindness of Esau who did not take the promised revenge but forgave his brother and sought to start a new relationship with him based upon the bonds of family. Kindness is always in the power of another to decide to give or to withhold. Our lives are always made better when there are those who decide to give kindness.
The second theme in the passage is struggle.
There was Jacob’s struggle with what to do about the anticipated meeting with Esau. How would he survive and what steps must he take to secure his family? Then there is the struggle with the divine presence that Jacob refuses to let go of until receiving a blessing. This struggle leaves Jacob marked in ways no other struggle has left him. Jacob is physically impaired and walks with a limp the rest of his days.
There is a cost associated with struggle and those that enter the struggles of life must be prepared to pay the cost. The struggles are the things that change us and helps us to see what has real value. The struggles are the things that mark us and remind us of the grace that has kept us and brought us thus far.
We need both kindness and struggle to emerge and become what God desires most of us. It is only through kindness and struggle that a crawling caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly. It does not appear what we shall be but when we see Jesus we will be like him. Amen.
Published on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 @ 4:32 PM EDT
Last week our nation lost two moral compasses on the same day. C.T. Vivian and John Lewis both were preachers, both fought in the struggle for civil rights, both shed blood for the nation with hope that America could live up to what was put forward in the nation’s founding documents. Both men experienced the heartbreak of a nation that continued to fall short of their hope but neither man gave up on that hope or the nation.
In many way C.T. Vivian and John Lewis were like the prophet Hosea who lived the experience of a nation and a family that fell short of his hopes for them but would not give up on them.
Hosea went as far as the slave market to buy back the wife who had deserted him and the children. Hosea placed nothing over the importance of getting his wife back even if it meant losing everything he had of economic value. He paid some in grain, some in money and some in wine. Hosea did not say a word to Gomer about what she had done to bring her to the auction block nor did he blame her for what it cost him to get her back.
Hosea provided what the Hebrews call lovingkindness. Lovingkindness is never an emotion, it is always a deed that tells the story of what we will do for love’s sake.
By going home with his wayward wife, Hosea told the nation to return to the Lord. Although the nation had suffered for its rebellion, God was waiting to heal her if she would but return to him. The healing that God offers is complete. The Lord will bind up, revive and raise up in order that the nation might live and live in ways that are fruitful and joyful.
But it can only happen when we return to him. Hosea is calling upon the nation to repent, for in repentance they will find healing, help and hope.
C.T. Vivian and John Lewis called upon their nation to repent as well, for in repentance there is healing, help and hope. May we heed their call as they rest in peace.
Published on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 @ 9:39 AM EDT
The world today is need of truth tellers, persons who speak truth not for the purposes of proving a point, nor for the sake of injuring another with their speech, nor for the cause of political or popular gain.
We need truth tellers who demonstrate their concern for the community and those who suffer because of a lack of truth. What makes truth powerful is that truth is knowledge that can change perspective, change attitudes and change a community. Truth is more than someone’s opinion. Truth is a declaration about reality whether we like the reality or not.
The truth is that the current pandemic is not under control. The truth is that if something is not done to mitigate further spread of the virus, more people will become sick needlessly and the economy will continue to suffer as consumers choose to stay home whether there is a stay-at-home order or not.
To tell the truth always calls for courage because the truth is not in high demand. The truth about confederate monuments in town squares near courthouses has nothing to do with heritage but everything to do with a sign that minority communities need not expect equal justice. The truth is our current nation’s economic policies are exploding the federal debt and placing a hardship upon generations unborn to pay back.
Zephaniah was a truth teller. Although he was born into loyalty as the grandson of King Hezekiah and is part of the royal court, he is still willing to tell the truth about what he sees. He sees a government that has gone rogue. A government filled with people with more interest for what they could get for themselves and not how they would serve the people and provide a witness of loyalty to Yahweh.
Zephaniah declares that the city and religious officials are woeful. The lack of a moral compass has sent the entire city into a stage of rebellion. Oppression is everywhere and greed is the most common practice.
As bad as things are in the city, Zephaniah sees another truth. Although the city is bad and rebellious, God is still in the city. The righteous Lord has decided to reside in a place filled with rebellion. God resides in the city for one purpose and that purpose is to make himself known in the chaos.
God does no wrong. God applies justice. God does not fail. This is the truth of hope. We have hope because God is still in the city. No pandemic, no racism, no violence, no greed, no corruption can drive God out of the city. He is still here with us and his presence makes hope, mercy and grace possible. Now that’s the truth.
Published on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 @ 9:31 AM EDT
Romans 8:1- 11
Paul’s letter to the Romans reflects what most scholars believe is his best theology work.
By the time Paul writes the Romans he has years to think through the meaning of being in Christ. Paul by now has spent years establishing churches, developing church leaders and building an infrastructure that allows churches to have a model for ministry that could be duplicated anywhere.
There are two driving points behind Paul’s theology that he does not want the church to forever forget.
The first is that Jesus is a crucified Savior. Jesus died on the cross to pay the sin debt that all of humanity owed. Jesus died in our stead so that we might have life. The cross of Christ is what makes forgiveness possible and grace visible.
The second point Paul wants the church to always remember is the role of the Spirit. It is in Romans 8 that Paul speaks of the role of the Spirit that serves as a bedrock for Christian faith. Paul begins by saying that the Spirit removes all condemnation from us. Paul admits that we still sin and that we still fall short of God’s glory even with our best efforts, but the presence of the Spirit removes all condemnation and we are free from guilt. The Spirit has set us free.
Then Paul declares the Spirit changes our focus. We are no longer concerned with the things in life that simply feed the flesh, but we now want to please God. The Spirit helps us to set our affections on the things that have eternal significance. The Spirit empowers us to live by more than the present moment. Next Paul says the Spirit lives within us. No longer is the Spirit confined to a temporary presence that aids only for a time, but the Spirit is now with us and in us. It is the reality of the Spirit being with us and in us that makes it possible for the Spirit to lead us. This is what makes us the sons and daughters of God, that we have God’s Spirit residing in us.
The role of the Spirit in our lives is what gives peace, no matter the times, for we are certain as to who we belong. We are children of a loving father who has not left us alone and provided a guide, a keeper and a deliverer to be with us always. No pandemic can change that truth because it was settled at Calvary’s cross.
There was once a train that was running down a track out of control. What made matters worse, another train was headed down the same track in the opposite direction. The passengers were all in panic with one exception--a little boy who continued to play with his toys as though nothing was wrong. Finally, the crisis was adverted by a skillful engineer who regained control of the train and switched tracks to safely bypass the impending danger.
A passenger asked the little boy why was he not afraid and how could he continue to play during the crisis? The lad responded, “My father is the engineer and he knows I am on this train. I do not have to see him to know that he is looking out for me.”
Published on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 @ 7:48 AM EDT
One of the realities of life is there is no escaping having burdens to carry at one time or another. We all know what it means to have a load that we struggle to handle.
Sometimes the load is life because of moments when we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes the burden is a situation where every option is less than favorable but we know we have to do something. Sometimes the burden is bad health and we have to navigate through life the best we can with limited ability.
The entire world is dealing with the burden of a health pandemic that has claimed the lives of thousands around the world. People of color living in America have to deal with the burden of race.
In a world known for burdens and the toil they take upon persons, Jesus says come unto me all ye that are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Jesus offers an exchange where we give him our burdens and he gives us his yoke. The burdens are what we have been struggling with to carry alone.
However, the yoke comes with the promise of one who will be with us always. The yoke comes with the promise of help. The yoke equally distributes the weight and allows us to make progress not possible under the burden carried alone. The rest that Jesus gives is the rest that comes from a yoke that makes burdens light.
Jesus does not promise that there will be no weight in life that we have to labor under. What Jesus promises is that he will make the burden light. The burden will not inhibit our progress or hold us back.
The good news is that no one has to struggle under the weight of a burden they carry alone. We have a Savior ready and willing to help us when we come to him and exchange our burden for his yoke that makes all burdens light.
Published on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 @ 7:42 AM EDT