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.
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There may be no need greater at this moment than the need for patience.
The pandemic has lasted longer than any of us could have expected and despite the presence of a vaccine, infection rates continue to climb. Whereas the desire to return to our normal life’s pre-pandemic is great, we should not have a return to the normal at the cost of public health and the greater good.
Patience is more than a call to wait, to pause, to stand still. Patience is a distinguished Christian value. Patience asks of us to wait upon God to act as opposed to acting ourselves. Patience asks of us to think about the impact of our action upon others and not be hurried into unpruned responses to life situations. We often associate patience with a sign of maturity and indication that persons have learned lessons in life that equip them to better respond to their current reality.
When patience is mentioned in this text, it is spoken in relationship to believers having to endure some difficulty. In this case some form of suffering. In a world that is pain adverse, we can miss the benefit that struggle brings and what it means to have to wait upon God.
There are limits in our humanity and we cannot always do all the things we want to do as soon as we would like to do them. There are some things in life that can only be known through the experience of patience whether it is a farmer waiting on the rain or the world waiting for a pandemic to past.
During the season of waiting, if we wait patiently God will strengthen our hearts and give us what we need to endure until the end. Remember that even while we wait, we do not wait alone for God has promised to be with us no matter the hardship or difficulty. Never alone tells us whatever He brings us to He will bring us through.
The pandemic may be our Red Sea moment when we see God act in ways that can only be known when we are patient.
The prophet speaks of what will be in contrast to what is. Exile and difficulty may be the current reality but another reality is certain and it is a reality filled with hope.
A highway--not a path nor a road--is the metaphor used to describe what will be. The highway is what makes room for many. It is a broad way that leads to a particular place of an expected blessing when one arrives.
Already the prophet is speaking words of hope that engages those who hear them to anticipate even more what God will make possible. However, the highway comes with conditions and restrictions. It is reserved for the holy, those who have been set apart for God by God. It is a restrictive passage that requires something of the traveler. But at the same time God guides and keeps those who travel it so that not even a fool is lost.
The highway is free from danger of the things or people that could threaten the traveler. The safety and security of the highway make singing possible and the travelers are filled with joy. This is what will be, says the prophet, and it will come to pass not by our efforts but because of a way that God will make. How God will do it, the prophet does not tell the community. He only tells them that God will do it. The Lord will make a way somehow.
I do not know how long the pandemic will cause us to re-order our lives in ways that are strange. I miss public worship. I miss the sights, sounds and surroundings of a community in worship. Virtual worship has been different and doing ministry in a pandemic is a challenge.
But I know this--there is a highway called the holy way. The unclean shall not travel on it but it shall be for God’s people. Let us keep marching up the king’s highway.
There are some decisions in life that are born out of struggle. They are the decisions that did not come easy and often involved some level of hurt. Not every decision in life is easy. Not every decision is based upon logic, information nor popular acceptance.
In our verses, Joshua has fulfilled his mission. He has brought Israel into the land of promise. He has put down all enemies and ushered in the long-awaited day of peace and security. He is one of only a few that left Egypt for the Promised Land and has seen from beginning to end what it took to gain possession of the Promised Land. The mantel of leadership had passed from Moses the lawgiver to him and now he provides his parting words to the people.
Joshua recalls for them the journey they have been on, and the mistakes made along the way. He does not deny the frequent inability of the people to remain loyal to God despite all that the Lord had done. He makes one final plea to them to remain faithful to God, to put away the influence of idolatry that had been a part of their past. Neither were they to give in to the influence of new temptations toward idolatry in the present because of the influence of those near them.
Then he made a bold declaration that is part of a decision he had personally made when he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua was committed to being a leader who would provide an example of faithfulness to God. Joshua used his position and influence not to serve himself but to serve God. He served not only as an example to the community what it means to serve God, he also mirrored it for his family as well. He taught his family what it meant to serve God.
We need examples in the moments we live to see what it means to serve God and remain faithful to him in the midst the pressures of life.
As young people prepare to return to school, too many leaders are using a public health crisis to garner political points. Wearing masks to prevent the spread of a virus that has killed millions should not have to be debated. Police reform does not mean eliminating the police. A new stadium should not have to come at the expense of affordable housing for those who live with no shelter.
If we are to be a nation that takes the demands of Christian faith seriously, we will have to make a decision about who we will serve and what interest will we serve--God’s or some other?
This particular psalm is classified as a royal psalm. It is a psalm offered by the king on behalf of the nation. There is an unspoken difficulty that the nation is encountering and the king offers this psalm as a means of both appealing to God and reminding the people of their faith.
Trouble may be the current state but the Lord answers in the day of trouble. God does not abandon us when trouble comes our way. God does not ignore the trouble that threatens us. God will show up for us in the day of trouble.
To remind the people of this truth, the psalmist makes reference to the patriarch Jacob. Of all the patriarchs the psalmist could have mentioned, he mentions the one known for his deception. He mentions the one who has to flee from home with nothing. He mentions the one who is a victim of deception. He mentions the one who is concerned about his brothers pledge to take out his vengeance on him if he gets the chance.
If there was ever a person who needed protection it was Jacob. God protected Jacob, provided for Jacob and blessed Jacob in the midst of his trouble. The same God that protected Jacob would protect Israel.
The psalm goes on to indicate how God will protect in the day of trouble.
He will send help from the sanctuary. God’s help is connected to the people’s worship of God. The help that comes from the sanctuary demonstrates what worship can make possible. When we worship God, we acknowledge our trust of him and our willingness to follow in the ways he leads.
God will give support from Zion.
Zion is an elevated place and the support that God will provide comes from above. God will remember all offerings and sacrifices. What has been offered prior to the moment of trouble will not be forgotten when trouble arises. Finally, God knows what you desire and is able to fulfill all your plans. We may make plans but we are dependent upon the help of God to see them come to past.
Our nation is clearly in a time of trouble and we need God to answer us in this moment. As the pandemic rages, Afghanistan collapses and the political divide grows wider, the church cannot be concerned about only individual needs. We need a sense of community that seeks God’s guidance for all of us.
Now is the time for us to look beyond our own affairs and to see how God might use us in this moment to be a part of the answer that comes when the church is salt and light. Our world needs both.
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.