Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lectionary Devotions - Ordinary 17C, Proper C12

The following devotions, which have been previously written, all have connections to this week's lectionary readings.

Lectionary Readings:     Hosea 1:2-10, Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15, Luke 11:1-13

Hosea 1:9 Then the LORD said, "Call him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God. (NIV)

There’s a saying in Scotland which goes like this: “That’s a rotten trick to play on a wean.” A ‘wean’ is a Scots word for child and the saying is usually applied when someone does something that is unfair or taking advantage of someone else who is weaker. You also hear it when someone gives a trendy or peculiar name to a child. The rotten trick is sticking the child with a name that he or she will absolutely hate.

I feel sorry for Lo-Ruhamah (No mercy is given) and Lo-Ammi (Not my people). They were given names that would remind the people around them of the miserable and godless times they were living under. I can imagine both of them being taunted by other kids in the community and shunned by adults. Those two unfortunate children must have undergone their own miserable times, and even although it was instigated by God, I still think it was a rotten trick to play on Gomer’s weans. Thankfully, when things got better, God promised Hosea that their names would be changed to Ruhamah (Mercy is given) and Ammi (My People)

Children are a precious gift from the Lord and priceless as far as the Church is concerned. Remember when Jesus was talking to the disciples about the Kingdom of God? He brought a child into the midst of them and said, “Whoever would enter God’s Kingdom needs to be like a child.” In other words, a simple uncomplicated faith goes a long way towards finding salvation in Christ.

Today, let’s all become child-like in faith and remember that simple devotion from the heart is what draws us nearer to God.

Prayer:                 Lord Jesus, thank You for receiving us into God’s Kingdom through the power of Your mercy and grace. We want to be Your people and disciples, Your followers and servants. Enable us to trust and love You as true children of God. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Genesis 18:32                    Finally, Abraham said, "Lord, please don't be angry with me if I speak one more time. Suppose only ten are found there?"
And the Lord replied, "Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten." (NIV)

It’s called a ‘minyan’ in Judaism and it means ‘ten righteous men.’ In any nation or community across the world where Jews live together, a synagogue can be established when ten God-fearing faithful men are resident in the locality. It’s the minimum requirement and it traces its roots back to this moment in Abraham’s life when he pleads to God on behalf of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. If ten righteous men are found in those communities, then they will be spared and not suffer the wrath of God.

In the Christian community, we call them ‘charter members’ or elders or deacons. A certain number of men and women are required to be the spiritual leaders of the local church. Their faithful prayers and Christ-centered focus keep the congregation that they represent alive, relevant, and vital. Their decisions and commitment, loyalty to God and humility before Christ become the driving force of the church that they lead. Without their leadership, the people can perish and congregations will fail. They are the backbone of the church and their ‘righteousness’ in Christ, even though they are human and imperfect, blesses both the local congregation and community.

So let’s take time today to give thanks to God for those leaders, elders, and deacons who uphold God’s Word in their churches by their example, dedication, and devotion to Christ in worship, in prayer, in meetings, and in their daily lives.

Questions for personal reflection

Who are the local Christian leaders in my life who continue to spiritually encourage me? How can I support them?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your ministry continues throughout the world and Your people continually praise Your Name. You have called and chosen ordinary people to take on the roles of leadership in every church and congregation on Earth. Bless them with vision and commitment, reliability and encouragement, so that they may attract others to spiritually grow closer to You. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Psalm 138:3        When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted. (NIV)

                As you all know, one of my favorite books is "Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan. I think I first read it when I was about twelve, so the characters, episodes, and events were impressed upon my heart and mind. As I read the psalm this morning, the old-fashioned word 'stouthearted' reminded of a character called "Greatheart" in the book.

                Greatheart is the one who leads the hero Christian's family to salvation. If you don't know it, the book is divided into two parts. The first part concerns Christian's personal journey to heaven. The second part describes the rescue of his family and their exploits as they follow in Christian's footsteps. Greatheart's role is to defend and guide them to the Promised Land. He's a bit like Aragon in Lord of the Rings. His bravery in the book, which involves killing giants and defeating demons, eventually brings the family to the shores of heaven. Greatheart then returns to go back into the world, to lead more pilgrims to God.

Prayer:                 Lord Jesus let me be stouthearted and greathearted today. Let my words and deeds encourage others to come to You. May my faith bear fruit in the lives of all those that I meet and encounter this day. In Your Name, I pray. Amen.

Psalm 138:6    Though the Lord is exalted, He looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, He sees them from afar.

                Every day, I look at my Facebook page. Because most of my family live 3000 miles away in Scotland, it’s about the only regular contact I have with them. I like to read their comments and see what they are doing. I like to share a few jokes with them and look at their photos. I’ve not seen my family in person for over 11 years, so Facebook gives me the ideal opportunity to interact with them from afar.

                In today’s psalm reading, we are told that God kindly watches us from afar. He is really interested in who we are, what we do, and wherever we are situated. Even though God is in the highest halls of divine holiness, He is still focused on what is happening in the lowest levels of human lives. We are His created people; He is our wonderful God.

                So wherever we find ourselves today and whatever we set out to do, let’s be assured that God is always with us and that the presence of Jesus Christ our Savior abides with us each day through the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit in our lowly lives.

Questions for discussion

What am I hoping to accomplish this day? How will I know that God is with me?

Prayer:                 Ever present and Almighty God, thank You for being lovingly interested in our personal lives. Thank You for Your constant watching of what we do, where we go, and whatever we complete. Continue to be with us and bless us with the presence of Your Son Jesus throughout our lives. In His Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Colossians 2:6-7               So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (NIV)

Last night, I received the sad news that one of my pastor friends, Chuck, had died. I'd only known him for ten years, but during that time his friendship and gentleness, his enthusiasm and thankfulness were all great encouragers to me.

Chuck had a great way of bringing peace to any situation. In the group of ministers that met each fortnight, Chuck could disarm anyone who was belligerent (usually me!) with a smile and some charm. He was a peacemaker by nature and as solid as a rock. Whenever anyone in the group had a complaint or underwent a crisis, Chuck's kind words ministered to them in heart, mind, and soul.

His great enthusiasm was for the circus. He traveled all over the States to go and see circus performances. We all marveled as he told us of new acts and wonderful feats that he saw. He was an old man and yet, when he spoke about the circus, you could see in his eyes a young boy's excitement.

I'll miss Chuck, but I won't forget how much he meant to me. I may never be a peacemaker like him, but I know that through the years he has strengthened my faith and given me attitude of gratitude. One glorious day, we'll get together again in the Elysian fields, sharing faith and having fun.

Prayer:                 Lord Jesus, thank you for pastors like Chuck Book, whose kindness and gentleness touches the heart and minds of those around them. Raise up more of these peacemaking pioneers, for our troubled world and broken church needs so many more of pastors like him. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Luke 11:3             Give us each day our daily bread. (NIV)

I like bread. I like it a lot. Whether it’s the bread that I toast in the morning, the sandwich that I eat for lunch or in the roll that I may have with dinner, my conclusion is the same: Bread Rules! When I was growing as a teenager, I could sometimes eat half a loaf at night with butter and jam. I don’t know how my folks afforded it, but there was always bread in the pantry for all of us hungry Stuart kids.

In Scotland, there is something called a plain loaf which is a doughy loaf of sliced white bread. At each end of the loaf is a thick slice which is either called the ‘heel’ or the ‘outsider’. In our house, getting the outsider was an extra helping, so we took it turns to receive it. Whenever it was toasted, covered in butter, and put on a plate, I felt as though I was feasting like a king. As I am writing this, I can still experience crunching through the dark crust and tasting the texture of the bread. As a poor kid, from a large family, living in a deprived area, white bread was my staple diet. Eating the thick crunchy heel was a wonderful blessing that meant a lot to me.

When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, He instructs them to ask God to give them their daily bread before they ask Him to forgive their sins. He wants them to rely on God to sustain them first and then forgive them second. It’s not that forgiveness is less important than meeting their needs; it’s just that Jesus wants them to be grateful first and then seek God’s mercy.

Sometimes I need to remember that lesson. Frequently I feel guilty about my mistakes, so that when I talk to God in prayer, I reel off a list of sins in order to seek His mercy first. I forget to be grateful and thank God for His daily goodness; instead, I focus on being forgiven in order to make me feel good. Perhaps if I changed my prayers to concentrate on thanking God first, then I would not dwell upon how much I disappointed Him again.

Questions for personal reflection

What are the daily gifts in my life for which I should be grateful to God? Are my prayers more about me or God?

Prayer:                 Lord Jesus, thank You for teaching us how to pray and for drawing our attention to the daily blessings and needs that God provides. Keep us from being self-centered or ungrateful. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

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