DEVOTIONS @ 205.825.9633
Senior Minister Ricky A. Woods
@ 8:15am & 7:15pm
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One of the great deceptions of life is thinking that we have control, are in control and are capable of bringing things under our control.
The reality is there is very little we have control over--if anything at all. Our infatuation with control grows from our desire to be independent and on our own. We may quote Invictus but Henley was wrong. We are not the masters of our fate nor the captains of our souls.
The story of the demon-possessed man at Gerasene provides a lesson about our inability to be in control. The story starts with a man who has no control of his life. He lives in a place that only gives the witness of death in the tombs. He participates in self-mutilation and cries uncontrollably in anguish because of his condition.
The community attempts to address his problem by controlling him since he cannot control himself. Their efforts are reflected in the chains they used to subdue him. Binding him is their best solution so they put chains on his hands and feet. However, the chains were no match for the source of his problem. Thus, the chains were broken over and over again.
The demons that tormented the man thought they were in control but discovered that when Jesus appeared they had no control at all. Even the demons had to ask permission of Jesus to be banished into another living thing, swine, as opposed to being cast into nothingness.
The only person with control in the story who had the power to order affairs and events was Jesus. Jesus used the power that he had of control not to bind but to liberate and set free.
Whenever control is seen as a power that we hold over or use against others, we do damage to divine intent. The work of liberation is to be our focus because each time we do the work of liberation we are tearing down the images that the powers that work against us would have us to bow down and worship. Control is never to be our aim but using the power that God has given us to tear down the strongholds that would have us to live beneath divine intent.
The pandemic has taught us a lot and the variations of the virus keeps telling us we are not in control. But we can do the work of liberation by addressing the disparities the pandemic has highlighted. We can look for new ways to work together in collaboration that uplift the entire community and not just segments.
There are still lessons for us to learn and I pray that we will learn them and not try to control what cannot be controlled but do the work of liberation.
This section of Ephesians provides Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus.
Paul’s prayer is insightful on many fronts and provides insights to his theology. Particular attention should be given to what Paul does not pray for the Ephesians. Paul does not pray for health and prosperity because he is aware of the temporal nature of our bodies and the fleeting position of riches. Paul does not pray for success in their personal endeavors. Nor does Paul pray for the avoidance of persecution because of their faith in Christ.
Paul makes the focus of his prayer what the Ephesians will come to understand about God. What Paul desires most for the church to understand is the power of God.
Living in a world of Roman domination where the seal of Rome represented the world’s strongest power, Paul wants the church at Ephesus to know there is a power greater than Caesar. Rome does not have the last word in the affairs of human history. God’s power is greater than the power of Rome. Paul says three things about God’s power that he wants the church to always remember and know.
First--God’s power is at work for those who believe in hHm. God’s power is not just some abstract principle of physics. God’s power is at work manifesting itself to those who believe in Him. God’s power is working on behalf of the church doing for us what would be impossible to do without His power. The angel’s words to Mary are still true for with God nothing is impossible.
Second--God’s power is stronger than the power of death because God’s power raised Jesus from the dead. Understanding that God’s power is stronger than death takes the fear out of death and robs the grave of its victory. We are free to live out the meaning of our faith even in times of persecution because if we fall in battle living for Christ, God will raise us up again because he did it before for his son Jesus.
Third--God’s power has placed all things in subjection to Jesus Christ and has given Him this authority for the benefit of the church. The church is the representation of God’s authority in the world to provide a moral and spiritual compass that will point all persons to God. The church is to use this authority for the glory of God. It is God’s glory that is to be our aim and desire. The desires and visions of humanity are to take a backseat to what God desires that we may do using His authority to accomplish what He wills.
When we understand the place, the role and the function of God’s power we are different and prepared to yield to whatever claims God may make upon us--even if it means doing ministry in a pandemic--because we are not without power.
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.
2 Kings 4:38-41
There are times when operating under the best of intentions, we can harm ourselves and others.
A community is threatened by a famine and in the famine has become dependent upon resources they are. not fully accustomed to for survivalo. In a famine there is a limited food supply, the lack of rain makes it impossible for most vegetables to survive. Livestock can also become victims of a famine and die because of the lack of water. However, there are some things that can survive in a famine--wild plants that do not need much water, wild berries that grow even in extreme heat and even insects that can serve as a food source when necessary.
Elisha has gone to visit the school of the prophets, a sort of seminary, if you will, to prepare persons for ministry. What becomes clear to Elisha is that students have not been eating and needed food. Elisha instructs one of the servants to make some stew for the students. The servant goes out and collects wild gourds that are similar to squash or small melons but possess an extremely bitter taste. The servant collected the gourds to use for the stew not knowing what they were. The servant seeking to provide a meal for the company of prophets and Elisha did so unware of what he was using for the meal.
Once the people tasted the stew they declared that there was death in the pot. The bitter taste of the stew led the prophets to believe that it was dangerous.
We always put ourselves and others at risk when we are willing to use things that we have no knowledge whether they are good or bad. Even when trying to help others, our intentions should be mixed with discernment. We should always be careful not to put others at risk by our efforts to help them.
Elisha took some flour and placed it in the stew and the flour helped to purify the stew and no harm came to the people. Unlike the servant, Elisha knew what to do and the effects of the flour on the stew.
We need not just good intentions but wisdom and discernment to match our intentions in order to have an outcome that benefits everyone.
Dr Gardner Taylor once told me to never forget that the Lord is in love with his people. He is so much in love with them that He has called us to serve them. In essence, as clergy we are the embodiment of God’s faithfulness to His people by always sending someone to serve them, care for them and lead them in His name.
It has been more than thirty years since Dr. Taylor and I had that conversation on a Detroit street after dinner. It came at a critical time in my ministry as I pondered the possibility of leaving the church I was currently serving. I was frustrated by my perceived lack of progress and wondered if the grass could be greener in other pastures.
Dr Taylor’s wise words took the focus off ministry serving the preacher’s interest instead of the interest of the people and God.
Jeremiah’s ministry was anything but productive by the standards of his day or ours. He did not have a growing congregation, and his words were often met with ridicule and rebuke more than affirmation and acceptance.
Although Jeremiah’s sermons often spoke of pending judgment because of rebellion, idolatry and oppression, his words were always delivered with the hope of repentance and change because Jeremiah had a heart for the people.
In today’s passage God contrasted the shepherds that serve their own interest versus the shepherds that serve God’s interest. Self -serving shepherds scatter the sheep and refuse to care for them, they see the sheep as the means to an end. The shepherds that God rises up will tend to the sheep in ways that the sheep will feel secure.
When I have counseled churches that were searching for a pastor, I have told them the most important question is not training, education or experience in ministry. The most important question is will he/she love the congregation? Do they have the ability to look beyond your flaws as well as their own desires and love you?
To be the shepherd that Jeremiah speaks of in this passage that God will use requires not only a love for God but a love for God’s people as well. Besides, it is the only reason we pastors have a job because God is in love with his people.