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Senior Minister Ricky A. Woods
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Devotional Reflection -- February 27, 2024
1 Corinthians 1:18
The center piece to the Christian faith is the cross of Christ. God has saved us not by education, public reform, social service, nor by our good deeds. The cross was God’s answer to the sin predicament of humanity. God used an instrument of shame, torture and death to reconcile a lost world back to himself. The cross forces us to look at the messiness of salvation and what was required for us to receive forgiveness.
Each time we ask God for forgiveness we should do so knowing how the forgiveness we receive was made possible: it was through the cross of Christ. The cross should not be limited to our thinking only during the Easter season, but the cross should be thought of all year long because it is the instrument that tells us the most about God’s determination to win back a lost humanity. There was no cost too great for God to pay, not even the cost of his only son on a cross.
There were countless ways the Romans could have put Jesus to death, but they chose the cross because it was in the plan of God that the suffering of one man would redeem all men. The cross is always despised by the world and the world cannot understand its power because they do not know the God behind the cross. Yet, Paul was right for those of us being saved it is the power of God. Today we have the benefit of knowing what the earlier followers of Jesus did not know that there is power in the cross, the power to redeem, to reconcile, and to renew. Thank God for the cross and may we forever stay near the cross.
Dr. Ricky A. Woods
Devotional Reflection -- January 23, 2024
Jonah 2:1-3,10 and Jonah 3:1-2
There are times when what we need most in life is a second chance. Life is such that no one gets it right all the time no matter how good we are, how spiritual we are or how mature we are. We are all prone to following our own direction and not the direction God desires for us.
Second chances can come in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it comes through new opportunities, a new day, and even a new year. Second chances tell us there are those who are willing not to judge who we are or what we can become because of a bad day or a bad decision.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Jonah had refused to follow the word of the Lord the first time because of his own prejudices about a people he did not believe were worthy of a second chance. Jonah’s own racist ideas about who deserved a second chance and who did not make him conclude he would not be an instrument for the second chance Nineveh needed.
Refusing to help Nineveh gain the second chance God wanted to give them brought Jonah to a place where he needed a second chance after spending the night at sea in the belly of a fish. Jonah knows God to be in the business of providing second chances, so he prayed while in the belly of the fish and God heard his prayer and placed Jonah in a position to do the very thing God wanted him to do before Jonah fled-preach the word of the Lord to Nineveh.
Jonah’s second chance became Nineveh’s second chance, and the city was saved from the judgement God had planned to bring just as Jonah was saved when he prayed and received a second chance.
The grace we receive in second chances is to be shared with others so they too can know the power of a second chance.
Dr. Ricky A. Woods
Devotional Reflection -- January 16, 2024
There are times when as Christians we become confused about what to expect from the world. We sometimes complain about how bad things are and find it hard to believe some of the choice’s persons make that spread violence, hatred, and greed. As much as we like to see the world become a place of peace it just does not seem to be on the radar.
Jesus understood this reality and so before sending his disciples out into the world to do ministry he tells them I am sending you out like sheep into a midst of wolves. Wolves are predators and hunt in packs to take advantage of the vulnerable. Sheep are docile without a single defensive attribute. In order for the sheep to survive and not become prey Jesus gives them the characteristic to guide them to be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. Combine tough mindedness with a tender heart.
Dr. Martin Luther King preaching on this text says Jesus told the disciples to be tough minded because a tough-minded person is not easily persuaded to exchange the truth for a lie. A tough-minded person will not fall victim to what is popular or expedient. A tough-minded person knows how to investigate and discern what values have lasting power in life. A soft-minded person always fears change and constantly looks for simple solution in a complex world. It is to soft minded people so many politicians appeal to use the power given them to enrich themselves. King said we need the tough-mindedness of the serpent that has learned to survive in less than ideal conditions and as one of the most feared and despised creatures in creation.
It is not enough to be tough-minded but we need to be tender hearted as well. To quote King again:
“Jesus reminds us that the good life combines the toughness of the serpent and the tenderness of the dove. To have serpent like qualities devoid of the dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean and selfish.”
It is the tender heart that gives us compassion, empathy and concern that affirms not just our humanity but the humanity of others. We need the combination of both a tough mind and a tender heart to do the work that sheep are sent to do in our world of wolves. It is the combination of both a tough mind and a tender heart that keeps the flame of hope alive on the altar of our hearts.
This is why the world’s greatest hope is a Savior and his church that he has birthed by his own blood and send forward to be light in dark places. So, let your light shine with a tough mind and tender heart.
Dr. Ricky A. Woods
Devotional Reflection -- January 9, 2024
1 Samuel 3:1-18
Not every change in life is anticipated. There are some changes that catch us unaware even when we know things could not continue to go on in their current state.
It was unfortunate that Eli was unable to rein in his sons and stop their abusive treatment of the people. Abusive treatment of God’s people is not new. Eli’s sons saw their religious position as entitlement and a way to gain power as oppose to serving the people. Eli was aware of what his sons were doing but did nothing to stop it. Ignoring a problem is never a way to solve a problem.
The absence of accountability by human agents causes God to bring in his own form of accountability by speaking through a child that would become his agent of change. The news that Samuel gave Eli was not good news for Eli and his family, but it was good news for Israel. It is the news that says, God will not suffer the abuse of his people under the guise of religion.
God will rise up in unexpected times and through unexpected persons to bring change that will end the abuse and remind the people that our God is faithful even when those who represent him are not. The call of God of Samuel in Eli’s house tells us that God is able and willing to move to bring into account what and who needs to be reminded that this is my father’s world.
May we not be disheartened by all that we see when leaders fail the people they are called to serve. Hope in God and trust him for he will bring about the change we need often when we least expect it. May we join in with young Samuel in saying, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”
Dr. Ricky A. Woods
Devotional Reflection -- January 2, 2024
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus provided a new beginning for his life and the life of what will become known as the Christian church. Saul had spent a great portion of his life in opposition to what was called the Way-Followers of Jesus Christ. Saul saw the new religion as a threat to Judaism and its way of life. Therefore, he saw his role to stamp out its effect among the people through a campaign of terror and persecution.
It is unfortunate that so many see religion as a tool of control and make it an instrument of persecution, using their confessed religious beliefs as a basis to dehumanize those that are different and take fundamental freedoms away from others.
While planning further acts of terror in Damascus, Saul has an encounter with Jesus. Jesus immediately spoke to the issues of persecution and in doing so showed Saul that he had made the wrong choice. However, the encounter was not one of judgment but one of shift in direction. Saul was told to go where he was headed to Damascus but instead of doing what he was planning to do to wait in the city until he was told what he must do. In that moment, Saul was changed and later became known as Paul, the same man who wrote half of the New Testament. Saul’s conversion led to a change in direction that brought a new life for him and a new life for many others.
The New Year is a time to reflect and think about the direction of our lives, to test our choices against our professed faith and the Spirit’s revelation. Now is the time to think about the implications of the new start God makes possible for all of us and what it means to wait until we are told what we must do. For God is still speaking, may we still be able to hear him. Speak Lord for your servants are listening and grant us the new start that honors you most.
Dr. Ricky A. Woods
Devotional Reflection -- October 10, 2023
If there is a common mistake made in life that tempts everyone, it just might be the willingness to look for alternatives too soon.
Guided by a desire for comfort at best and the least trouble at worst, when people run into difficulty, it is tempting to look for an alternative, for some way around the issue or some way to avoid the problem. Now, no one should ride over a cliff. Yet, there is something to be said about the character, faith, and community that is built when we work together through whatever difficulty life brings our way as opposed to looking for an alternative.
There is no question that Israel was in a difficult position. They were moving a nation through a desert. Resources were limited, the hardships were real, and trust was fragile. Their leader was absent and the people were restless. All of these things help to build a situation that made the people look for an alternative. They had spoken of alternatives in the past about going back to the place of their bondage.
Now, they offered another alternative to build a god they could worship as opposed to the God who made them and called them to be a nation. They took what had value to them and shaped them into an image they claimed as their god and worshipped it. That image became their alternative, and they placed their hopes in their own hands and not in the hands of God.
Far too often we choose alternatives that are powerless to change our condition. Israel discovered that the hard way. The good news is that even though Israel made a bad choice they had a leader who intervened for them, and God changed his mind about the evil he intended to do to them. Israel’s leader not only intervened for them, but he also pointed them back to the God who called them, claimed them, and loved them.
The nation was able to continue the journey to the promised land because of the lesson they learned about worthless alternatives.
Do not be so quick to change and look for alternatives for you just might be in the place God desires for you to demonstrate his faithfulness.
Dr. Ricky A. Woods
Devotional Reflection -- October 3, 2023
Philippians 3: 4-11
There may be nothing more important to a life of stability than knowing your value. Because of confusion about value, some have a false sense of understanding of who they are, and they project that understanding upon others in ways that are harmful. Because of a confusion about their value, some view themselves in ways that lead to a life of self-destructive choices. Because of uncertainty concerning personal values, some have allowed themselves to be treated as objects for the passions of others.
Paul helps us to understand that there was a time when he was confused about his own value. He saw his value in his status, education, and job. Born of the tribe of Benjamin, a student of the law and a religious leader by occupation.
Yet, Paul says he has put all those things behind him counting them as useless in comparison to his life of service to the risen Christ. Knowing Jesus has given him not only a healthy understanding of his value but has given him a life of purpose. Knowing Jesus has brought him into a vibrant relationship with the living Lord. Because he has a healthy understanding of his value, he knows how much God loves him and how much God loves all of humanity.
Armed with a healthy understanding of his value Paul was willing to travel the Roman Empire with the message of the gospel that in Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the world back to himself. Paul was able tell others that there is cleansing from the past, courage for the present, and confidence for the future.
At the heart of knowing your value is to know that God loves you, God has a plan for you, and God is with you. May that knowledge bless you this day and give you peace as you move with purpose because you know your value. Counting all other things as loss is to know Christ and to be found in him.
Dr. Ricky A. Woods
Devotional Reflection -- June 13, 2023
If there is anything unreasonable in life that lacks logic it is hate. Hate does not appear in a vacuum but is fueled by envy, jealousy and prejudice. What makes hate so bad is the way it distracts us from the things that matter and forces us to only focus on what should not matter.
Haman was a man of influence and honor who the king placed in a special position. Haman was a man with power who could use that power to make his community better and the life of his family better. But because of hate he used his power to destroy a man and his people for one reason and one reason only, Mordecai would not bow down to him when he passed by.
Everyone but Mordecai bowed, and Haman was unable to celebrate the honor and respect that others gave him because he was so focused on the man who would not bow. Haman’s hatred for Mordecai grew to the point that he was willing to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom because Mordecai did not bow to him. There was no indication that there were other Jews that refused to bow when Haman passed by, but his hatred was so unreasonable that he sought to kill them all.
Haman was so filled with hatred that he could think of nothing else but a plan to kill all the Jews because a single Jew would not bow down to him as he passed by. Haman’s hatred did to him what hatred always does to a person; his hatred destroyed him because they hung Haman on the same gallows he built for Mordecai.
Today a former president is arraigned for possession of top-secret documents in his personal residence. A case that the country should be able to unite around to protect national security has divided the nation for one simple reason, hate. Because hate was the center piece of the former president’s mode of operating, countless other Americans have joined him on a journey of hate. Hate never wins because God reigns. That is the story from Haman to Hitler, from slavery to freedom. May we rest secure in the reality that our God reigns.
Devotional Reflection -- May 23, 2023
One of the things believers must be continually reminded of is that we do not do the work of ministry alone.
In a world that champions individualism, in a world of growing isolation, in a world of eroded trust, it is so easy to be tempted to live independent of others.
However, as great as Moses was, as an anointed leader of God’s people, he was not permitted to do the work alone. Moses had to be willing to trust others, work with others, see the gifts of God at work in others. God called Moses together along with seventy elders of the congregation and God took some of the spirit that was upon Moses and placed it on them. When the spirit rested upon them, they immediately began to speak about God’s goodness and God’s grace. The spirit gave them a different spirit, a different perspective and a different responsibility.
When the spirit is present empowering others, there can be well intended persons present who want to limit the work of the spirit to a single person.
Joshua was upset that there were others able to do what only Moses used to do. Joshua thought that he was protecting Moses when he was making an idol out of Moses because he would limit what God could do to only working with Moses.
We need to always be open to working with others and open to the spirit moving upon us in a way that we are equipped to do what we have never done before, just as the seventy elders did in this story. It is always the spirit that makes the difference, and the good news is that the spirit can use and often uses persons that are open to the things of God. So always be open because this may be the day that the spirit uses you in a special way.
Devotional Reflection -- May 16, 2023
1 Peter 5:6-11
There are common themes to the Christian faith that are passed down through the centuries. Themes such as joy, love and peace.
However, there are other themes not as celebrated in our times as the forementioned, they are humility, discipline and suffering.
It is the last three themes that Peter emphasizes at the close of his ministry. They are themes of the faith that he struggled to maintain in his youth, but years and maturity has brought him wisdom that humility, discipline and suffering are as important as joy, love and peace.
In fact, one may say that the presence of the later themes makes the other themes possible. Because life is not an even journey, we need a way to interpret suffering and hardship.
Peter informs us that hardship and suffering are normative for the Christian walk. They are not the things that happen to those who fall out of favor with God as Job’s friends suggested. They are things that can happen living in a world infected by sin and with an enemy that is always on the prowl looking for prey.
The good news is that we have one that will support us through our time of suffering. The good news is that suffering at best is always temporal. After you have suffered a little while, the God of grace, mercy and compassion, additional themes of the Christian faith will appear.
When he appears, he will restore, support, strengthen and establish. Peter is particular in the usage of the words of what God will do.
Restore, he will return whatever was lost during the time of suffering.
Support, he will establish a place for you to stand that will be secure no matter what.
Strengthen, he will lend his power in the fights of life to ensure victory.
Establish he will plant you so that the question of security is never in question no matter the season.
Like the flowers that bloom in the spring after being dormant during the winter. Peter’s words were words of hope and encouragement, and just as they encouraged early churches living in a difficult world, they can encourage us as well. Be encouraged for the chief Shepherd of your soul is near.
Devotional Reflection -- May 9, 2023
It is possible to forget that Christians are supposed to possess certain character traits given what we witness in our current culture.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are not to be driven by selfish interest and personal agendas. We are to be guided by principles that display compassion, humility, kindness and patience. We are to bear with one another, not condemn each other for different views on the world.
Our faith values patience and what God can accomplish through patience as we are all witnesses to God’s patience with us.
The church must rediscover the ability to teach and preach the values of the faith that place sacrifice, service and submission at the center of life.
We are not called to follow a crucified savior for the benefit of our comfort, but to follow so our lives might be changed and in the process the world may change.
We are to be the salt and the light that performs what cannot be done by public policy or political action.
We are called to be the change not just seek the change and the change is in how we conduct ourselves through acts of humility, meekness, compassion and patience.
Let’s show the world how to be different by the ways we are different with each other and allow the light of the gospel to shine bright. As dark as our world is we need the light so let it shine. This little light of mine, I am going let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.
Devotional Reflection -- May 2, 2023
There may be no greater need in life than the need for direction. It is the challenge in every stage of life: what am I to do, and which way am I to go?
What makes knowing what to do so difficult is our inability to be able to see. To see sometimes what is clear and obvious, and to see what is sometimes hidden that could cause us to stumble along the way.
The psalmist knows something about this problem and confesses that there have been moments when his way was dark. In those moments, the Lord was his light. He had to lean into the need to discern God’s movement in his life and the world to determine his direction. He had to avoid the temptation to lean solely upon his own understanding or even the counsel of others. He made God’s will a priority in his life, and God has been his guide and light to show him the way through the darkness.
Discernment comes through engagement with God through acts of devotion that include worship, prayer and meditation.
Discernment requires some understanding of the ways of God and his vision for creation.
Discernment requires resisting the temptation to want God to want what we want.
Discernment is all about following the direction he leads even when the way is unsure.
But through discernment we discover the light that lights our lamps on the path that God leads.
The darkness of life cannot be avoided, but we can rest assured in the darkness we have light that makes the path clear. God is the light to all who would chose him and he will lead us safely through every dark moment. It is you Lord who lights my lamp, the Lord my God lights up my darkness.
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 that 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 is not altogether clear but what is clear is that anytime we encounter the Divine it is an act of kindness on God’s part. Divine presence showed up to a cheater, liar and deceiver who had not demonstrated repentance. God’s kindness came in the form of one 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 what is always in the power of another to decide to give or 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 is Jacob’s struggle with what to do about the anticipated meeting with Esau. How would he survive and what steps did he need to take to secure his family?
Then there was the struggle with the divine presence that Jacob refused to let go of until receiving a blessing. This struggle left Jacob marked in ways no other struggle had left him. Jacob was physically impaired and walked the rest of his days with a limp.
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 but we will be like him. Amen.