DEVOTIONS @ 205.825.9633
Senior Minister Ricky A. Woods
@ 8:15am & 7:15pm
Dial (205) 825-9633 a few minutes ahead of the scheduled start time.
P.S. REMEMBER, DON'T ANNOUNCE YOURSELF AFTER THE START TIME AND PLEASE PUT YOUR PHONE ON MUTE!
A once often heard phrase in the black church is “The storm is passing over, hallelujah!”
The phrase was an indication that whatever difficulty the community may have encountered was no longer a threat. There was a return to a time of joy, praise and celebration that affirmed God’s goodness among the people.
Sometimes the phase was a reference to weather conditions that made agricultural life difficult when crops would not produce. Sometimes the phase was a reference to a political crisis that crushed their aspirations. Whatever the case, the phrase was acknowledgement that things had not gotten better by human achievement alone but God had gone to work on behalf of His people. God had heard their prayer and acted.
A prophet writing to a community in exile shared the same sentiments centuries earlier. The rebellion of a nation coupled with idolatry had led to Israel falling at the hands of its enemies. The nation was not just defeated but many were carried away in forced captivity. While in captivity the conquering nation benefited from their labor, skills and intellect. While in captivity their names were changed, their rituals forbidden and their young miseducated.
But the prophet tells them their time of mourning about their condition has passed. It is now time to sing aloud. Make a noise that the enemy can hear that speaks of your expectation of pending deliverance because God is in your midst.
The Lord has acted by taking away the sin that bring judgment among the people. The Lord will act as a warrior who gives victory. The people are called to shout before the battle begins because the outcome has already been determined. The Lord will give them the victory.
The prophet does not stop with the promise of victory but also declares the Lord will renew them in his love. The witness of renewal will be seen in the removal of enemies, the justice that will come to all those who oppressed the people and the change in condition of those without strength to change their condition on their own.
God will save the lame, bring back the outcast and alter shame in ways that makes praise possible.
What the prophet is providing is a model of restoration and how restoration is at the heart of the work that God does for us. We have a Redeemer who will restore us and restore our community. Singing while in exile is the way the people affirm their belief that it is true. God will do it.
The pandemic may not be over and the challenges that face our community have not all been met, but we know that we serve a God who is a Redeemer and a Restorer so we can sing now with a loud voice that victory will be ours.
“Victory will be mine. Victory will be mine if I hold my peace and the let the Lord fight my battles, victory will be mine.”
In every generation, people seek directions for their lives. We may all have some idea of what we should do and want to do but there beats within us the desire for validation. We want to know if we are doing the right thing, making the right choices, living a life that makes a difference.
Three distinct groups come to John in the wilderness near the Jordan River where he has set up a ministry that challenges the social, political and theological constructs of his day in Israel. The multitudes, the tax collectors and the soldiers all come to John with the same question--what shall we do?
Each group understood there were demands placed upon them in their position that helped uphold a system of oppression. Each group understood that they bore some responsibility for the community that had help to create this situation.
Although they may have not been involved in the policy decisions, the choices they made in their roles each day had helped to maintain polices that were not always just. In their search for direction, John provided a vision for their choices that was connected with God’s intent for humanity.
We should not live our lives concerned only about our welfare. We should not just keep our head down and do our job and hope for the best. We should be concerned about others in ways that we recognize their humanity. Every person we encounter rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, bond or free has been created in the image of God. Thus, John told the multitude to share what they had with those who were less fortunate.
John told the tax collectors to be fair and only take what was right. Finally, he told the soldiers not to abuse their power, not to commit unnecessary violence to people and not to make false charges against the people. Moreover, they were to be satisfied with their pay. They were not to use the lack of pay as an excuse to extort the people. What John made clear was there was no division in the secular and sacred and our lives are intertwined in ways that tell the truth about who we are.
John’s words need to be heard again in this current environment when politicians would risk the welfare of the economy and prevent needy families from receiving the assistance they need.
John’s words need a second hearing in the midst of police misconduct and an ex-president who pays no taxes when you and I are made to pay more than our fair share. We need the kind of direction that will tell us what is right and how we do not have to play by the rules of a world infested with sin.
The redeemed have something to say about the choices they make. So, let the redeemed say so.
There may be no gift that we receive from others more valuable than the gift of authentic concern for our well-being. When there are those who are concerned about us, they look for ways to express that concern in ways that alter our situation.
Authentic concern will not allow barriers to stand in the way of people showing their concern-- they find a way.
Paul is in prison and will never taste freedom again when he pens this letter to the Philippians. Paul is an old man whose youth and energy has been spent. There is very little that Paul can give or do in return for the Philippians. However, they do not allow these limitations to stand in the way of showing their concern for him. They send one of their own on a mission to find Paul and give him a gift of money that may assist him with his needs while in prison. Epaphroditus remains with Paul for some extended period of time to assist him in whatever way he could as a further expression of the Philippians’ concern for Paul. The concern that others had shown him was enough to move Paul to praise God, display humility and affirm his gratitude.
Paul immediately recognized that it was God at work in the Philippians that led them to show their concern for him. The bonds of Christians fellowship tied them together in ways that would not let them forget Paul or be dissuaded from helping him in any way they could. Paul rejoiced in the Lord that word and work are lived out within a church community willing to be led by the spirit. The Philippians response to the spirit’s leading is an indication that Paul’s service in the gospel among them had not been in vain. Praise to God is always due when the church is able to live up to kingdom expectations.
Paul’s gratitude comes coupled with humility. The gift from the Philippians does not come because of a request or command on Paul’s part. Paul tells them, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” He knows what it is like to have little and he knows what it like to have much.
Contentment for Paul comes as a result of his belief that God can and does use him in whatever condition of life he finds himself. God’s glory was Paul’s ultimate aim and concern even when God’s glory caused hardship or inconvenience for Paul. The gospel is not the good news of our personal pleasure but the good news about a suffering savior whose sacrifice has secured eternal life.
Lastly Paul affirms his gratitude. It was kind of them to share in his trouble. Congressman John Lewis has told us the value of good trouble, the trouble we get in and share with others that can alter the course of our world.
Paul is grateful that he has partners in ministry willing to share not just the glory but the agony as well. The Philippians are not ashamed of Paul’s chains. In a world where shame and glory are the lens through which the world is viewed, this is not small matter.
In the days that we live in it is vital that we learn the lesson from the Philippians and show our concern for each other in ways that can be life changing. Send a card, make a call, whisper a prayer, carry a meal and do whatever God leads you to do to show others that the bond of Christian devotion is greater than any pandemic. Outdo one another in showing Christian love.
2 Timothy 2:1-7
A critical part of Christian faith is our need to share our faith with others. The word and the work of God is to be passed down from generation to generation as well as shared broadly with the existing community. Paul calls upon Timothy to teach this vital lesson to the church at Ephesus in order that the work of God as well as the ways of God would be known.
There may be no greater need in our community today than the need for biblical literacy where there are persons who know the gospel story and know how to share that story with others. When there is a lack of biblical literacy, the void is filled by a lack of understanding that breeds selfishness and individualism in the name of freedom and religion.
Paul goes further to provide three examples for Timothy of why it is important to ensure the gospel is shared with faithful persons who will continue to pass the story on to others.
First, sharing the gospel is akin to a solider whose aim is to please his commanders by not becoming distracted. A solider has to be responsible because issues of life and death can be determined based upon how he/she responds with the responsibility given them. No matter what may be going on--the world pandemic or otherwise--we should not be distracted from our responsibility to share the gospel story.
Next, Paul uses the illustration of an athlete who has to compete according to the rules in order to win a prize. The athlete has to know the rules for the games he participates in and each game has its own rules. Thus, believers need to know the word of God in order to share the word of God. Remember, salvation is not because of our words but in the power of His word.
Lastly, Paul says it is the farmer who does the work who receives the first share of the harvest. Sharing the faith is work that requires patience and trust in the process. There will not always be quick results from our witness but the absence of results should not dissuade us from always being ready and willing to share the good news about Jesus Christ. We have a story to tell worth sharing and hungry people are waiting to hear where bread can be found.
As the old hymn makes clear, “Lift Him up for He still speaks from eternity. If I be lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all men unto me.”
The time Israel spent in the wilderness was not wasted time. In the time of wandering, God instructed Moses on how the people were to live once they inherited the Land of Promise. The wilderness was transformed into a classroom where the expectations and demands of God upon his people would be made known.
At the heart of God’s instruction was a combination of compassion and justice. The people were to live out their lives demonstrating concern for one another so they were not to fully harvest the land once they arrived but leave the edges for the widows, strangers and those in need.
In this passage, the people were to establish cities of refuge. The city of refuge existed to provide a safe place for persons to flee in the event of the accidental death of another. The law provided that the next of kin of the victim could take the life of the murderer whether the murder was accidental or deliberate.
However, if the person could flee to one of the six cities of refuge, they would be free of harm. The person would have to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the priest. If they left the city of refuge they were no longer under protection and could suffer death at the hands of the avenging family member of the victim. The cities of refuge were safe spaces in what could be a dangerous world.
We need such places of refuge in our day, safe space in a dangerous world. The church has often been viewed as just such a place of safe space. The guilt of those who make up the church is not in question because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, by grace through faith, we have found the safety that comes from being under His wings.
On a visit that I once had with Sister Kat Crosby before she moved away, she went to her piano and played and sang “Under His wings, I am safely abiding.” She was reminding me that no matter where she was, she had a refuge. I am glad that we all have one as well.