May this Christmas season renew the seeker in you!
Psalm 63:5-9 (NRSV) My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
By John Grimm
We are ready! We have our minds set on turkey and fixings. We are looking forward to the pie—whether it be pumpkin, pecan, apple, or mincemeat! We are glad it is time to feast.
Why are we ready to feast? God has been providing for us! We are satisfied by God in our waking—whatever time we are awake. For when we awaken in the middle of the night and can not get back to sleep, it is prime time to concentrate on the Lord. This time is when we have a rich feast, and our mouths are full of praise.
I believe the hymn title is: “Count Your Blessings.” God shelters us, and that’s a blessing we can count multiple times! We cling to God by noticing how much the Lord does for us. There is nothing like knowing God’s right hand upholds us!
Lord God, thank you satisfying our souls. Lying in bed, thinking of you and your work in our lives brings joy to us. As we know you, may our friends and family notice our contentment in you. May we have more reasons to be thankful as friends and family find satisfaction in you. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray for joy for our friends and family this Thanksgiving. Amen.
By Chuck Griffin
In this season of Thanksgiving—this coming long weekend where we count our blessings and look toward God in gratitude—we Americans find ourselves in a good land.
Some would call such an assertion debatable, citing a pandemic, inflation, a strange job market, and social unrest as their evidence. And these problems do exist, causing suffering.
We still live in a good land, however. If for no other reason, it is good because it remains a place where we can freely remember and worship God. I also think there are many other reasons it remains a good land. Despite the current gloom, I’m an optimist, and I’m mindful that we’ve faced much worse as a nation.
To me, the parallels between our situation and the situation the Israelites were in as they prepared to enter the Promised Land are striking. The book of Deuteronomy largely is Moses reminding the people of their history and their relationship with God, preparing them for Moses’ imminent death and their first steps into a long-anticipated future.
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper,” Moses told them, his words recorded in the eighth chapter. “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.”
With a few modifications to the types of crops and some additions to the minerals, this could serve as a description of North America.
There also is a warning: “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God,” Moses said. After reminding them once again of all the perils God had brought them through, Moses added, “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ “
I would not go so far as to describe the United States as some kind of new Promised Land. Our nation was not designed to relate to God through a direct covenant. It is, however, structured so that individuals can enter into any kind of covenant with God, assembling with those of like mind without fear of persecution. That freedom has allowed Christianity in all its variations to thrive here.
Yes, we debate loudly about politics, and the price of a Thanksgiving meal is up; yes, gas is once again over $3 a gallon where I live, and as high as $6 a gallon in other parts of the country. But this land remains a great blessing to its inhabitants and the world as long as our principles of freedom remain. Less stuff would not diminish our connection to God.
The lesson from Deuteronomy is simple, and as relevant to us as it was to those desert people longing for a little variety in their diets and a constant water supply. Remember God—remember the one you follow, the one you have declared to be above all creation.
Worshiping God in good times and bad is our primary task.
Dear Lord, your first blessing was to give us life; help us to use our lives as ongoing acts of thanksgiving and praise. Amen.
Today’s Bible passage:
Zechariah 14:9 (NRSV): And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one.
By Chuck Griffin
If your nation functions as nations should, love of nation can be a good thing. Christians know there are degrees of love, however, and love of nation has to be kept in perspective.
Those of us blessed to live in the United States and similarly free countries have much to love. We live in nations with open intellectual doors. We are free to go through them, explore the ideas we find inside, and convert those notions we judge best into the lifestyles that suit us.
Freedom for citizens of such nations should be limited only at the point where people’s choices clearly impede the rights of others. I’m talking about genuine interference, of course, not the thin-skinned, “I’ve been triggered” movement playing out now.
And yes, Christians should be the strongest supporters of such a system. Many of our democratic notions were born out of the persecution minority Christian groups faced under state-sanctioned religion. Christians in rigid, authoritarian nations still crave the kind of freedom that rapidly evolved in the 18th century.
As followers of Christ, we also keep a bigger picture in mind as we enjoy these freedoms. Something better lies ahead; this truth is at the core of how we live and what we preach and teach to others.
As we freely choose Christ as Savior, we ready ourselves for an eternal, uncorrupted kingdom, a place where God’s light and love illuminate every moment and every relationship. This kingdom is where our most important citizenship resides.
Once there, I have no doubt we will be thankful for the people who made it possible for us to freely choose eternal life. I suspect we also will be astonished at how powerfully God’s grace penetrated even the darkest, most authoritarian regimes, giving people hope.
Lord, thank you for the gift of freedom. May it continue to be guarded and used well in free nations, and extended to those needing relief. Amen.
Ephesians 1:3-6 (NRSV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
I want to be found in Jesus. I want to have my life filled with every blessing in Christ. I will only be found holy and blameless before God in love by being in Christ. I want to know the good pleasure of God.
There is good news for me. There is good news for all! God wants us to be found in Jesus. God wants us to be filled with every blessing in Christ. God wants us to be found holy and blameless before himself in love by being in Christ. God wants us to know the good pleasure of God himself.
It is by being in Christ that we are adopted as God’s children. The grace of God is working in our lives up to the point that we believe, so we may believe. The grace of God is working in our lives after we begin to believe so we can know we are children of God. God gives his grace to us so we can be his children!
Almighty God, thank you for your grace. Being your children is wonderful! Knowing you by our being in Christ is grace. We give you praise for thinking of us before we even thought of you. May our lives be found in Christ as we continue to believe in Jesus. Amen.
1 Peter 3:8-9 (NLT)
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.
You may have heard this St. Francis of Assissi quote: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
Nearly short enough to fit on a bumper sticker, the saying stays with us. And frankly, it sometimes is misused as an excuse to not speak the Good News when the opportunity arises, giving the quote more play than it might receive otherwise.
St. Francis did have a point, though, one rooted in what the Apostle Peter emphasized in his letter. Every day, Christians have the opportunity through attitude and behavior to inject a little of their faith into the world.
The secular world isn’t going to pay much more than lip service to Peter’s principles. Worldliness dictates that when push comes to shove, people had better be ready to demand their rights, defend their positions, and dish out more than they receive.
As Christians, we don’t want to be pushovers to the point of accommodating evil, but on the vast majority of our days on this earth, we have the opportunity to change hearts simply by injecting blessings in the midst of conflict.
Tenderheartedness and a humble attitude do much to create a fertile environment for the gospel, and a few words can then become very effective.
Lord, as we are confronted today by conflict, let us be the ones who bring calm and blessing to the situation. Amen.
2 Kings 4:8-17 (NRSV)
One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband, “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”
One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. He said to him, “Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?” She answered, “I live among my own people.” He said, “What then may be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood at the door. He said, “At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.” She replied, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.”
The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.
One of my favorite seminary classes was on the subject of hospitality. Hospitality is much more than setting out tea and cookies—it is a powerful theological concept.
Today’s story wonderfully illustrates scriptural hospitality. Simple acts of caring and concern tap into the ever-flowing grace of God, and lives are changed for the better.
And yes, “simple” is an important part of godly hospitality. Note that the wealthy woman didn’t build a house for Elisha after she saw him passing through her town regularly. She began by feeding him, and then she moved on to establishing for him a small rooftop shelter furnished with just a few basic items.
Keeping hospitality simple takes away the pressures that so often can keep us from being open and welcoming to others. Hospitality is much easier when we’re not worried about our stuff or how our actions will be judged.
Hospitality also makes possible new relationships where remarkable events can happen. There is no indication the wealthy Shunammite woman thought she might gain something from her hospitality, but out of it came a blessing money could not buy, the child she and her husband wanted.
The blessings from such encounters aren’t always so dramatic, but they can be uplifting. A few years ago, I was traveling alone to Indianapolis, and I checked the Airbnb listings. I wound up renting the most modest arrangement available—what was essentially a walk-in closet with a cot, and access to a bathroom, for $30 a night. I thought of Elisha’s little room as I lay there.
The room may have been tiny, but I got to know a couple of wonderful Indiana University grad students, one of whom owned the old house, which he was renovating. Both students were from other countries and wanted to know about me, and I got to hear about the research they were doing.
One was studying music’s effects on brain waves, with a possible benefit for autistic children, and I heard a miniature concert of the work he had done. The other was exploring third-world economic policies. I think I enjoyed my brief time with them more than the convention I attended. I felt I was in the presence of two young adults who could change the world for the better.
Hospitality is about new relationships and the hope they bring, and what church doesn’t want those? I’ve barely touched on the subject here. For those wanting to explore the concept further, a great place to start is Dr. Christine Pohl’s “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.“
Studying hospitality now will ready us for the day when the pandemic is behind us. People are craving simple, genuine relationships and the blessings that flow from them.
Lord, guide us in our understanding of how to reach out to others, making ourselves available through acts of kindness and openness. Amen.
For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Just before these verses, the political leaders, craftsmen and other fine minds of Jerusalem, living in captivity in their conqueror’s homeland, received bad news from the prophet Jeremiah. They were not going home from Babylon any time soon—they might as well build houses and gardens and settle down.
God’s chastisement of his chosen people, caught up in sin, would ultimately lead to restoration and the continuation of his plan to bring salvation to the world through them. We are reminded, however, that God’s plan plays out over generations, centuries, and even millennia. God plays a long game, one so long that even the devil cannot keep track of it all.
I am struck by how blessed most of us reading this are, living as we have lived. Alignment with God does not automatically mean having a comfortable life. Throughout history, it’s been common for people to have the opposite, forced to live according to the whims of powerful, ungodly people.
We particularly are blessed to live in the time after Christ, making a fully restored relationship with God individually possible through simple faith. On top of that, most of us are blessed to live in places where we have the freedom to worship as we want and live as we want.
Yes, this is another one of those “count your blessings” devotionals. As you make your way through the day, appreciate what you have, and remember how we are called to seek God with all our hearts, using our freedoms to play a part in God’s great plan to redeem all of creation.
Lord, help us through faithfulness and devotion to you to preserve the great gifts we have in this life. May exile never be our state, and may those who find themselves in it also find rescue by your hand. Amen.
Job 12:23-25 (NRSV) He makes nations great, then destroys them; he enlarges nations, then leads them away. He strips understanding from the leaders of the earth, and makes them wander in a pathless waste. They grope in the dark without light; he makes them stagger like a drunkard.
Having watched the news yesterday, all I can do is offer a lament and a prayer for this morning.
My lament is this:
Like Job, I believe God takes a very active hand in what happens to the nations of this earth. The world remains a broken, confusing place, and we can find God inscrutable at times. It is, however, better for a nation to be aligned with God than indifferent to God or against God. A nation made up of people seeking God’s will should, for the most part, experience blessings and peace.
We find ourselves far from feeling blessed or at peace. That alone should tell us something is wrong with our national relationship with God. Not all Americans are Christian, and being Christian is not a requirement to be an American. But enough of us call ourselves Christian that our beliefs should be having more of an impact on national events.
Deliberate efforts to manipulate people with misinformation have triggered anger and fear in a significant part of the population, driving yesterday’s events. Such tactics do not align with Jesus Christ’s teachings or with thoughtful Christianity, where truth and a desire for peace should reign.
Let’s never forget Jesus’ warnings regarding the danger of acting in anger, or his repeated post-resurrection statement, “Fear not.” What have we to fear, knowing Christ has died for us, knowing his power is within us?
I am convinced that current events are a result of declining Christian evangelism, combined with a lack of discipleship and spiritual depth in the American church. Too many of us are failing to look in our Bibles, absorb what we find and then apply those truths in daily life.
That’s my lament. I root my prayer in the light that has come into the world, a light to overcome the darkness and keep us from staggering through history like drunkards.
Lord Jesus Christ, speak to the hearts of all people so a desire for peace and righteousness fills us and overwhelms us as a nation. Give special power and understanding to the people who make up your church. Let us be the first and best examples of what it means to follow you. Amen.
Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
As we launch into the first work week of 2021, let’s think about what we plan to dedicate to the Lord this year, supporting the work of the church.
It’s good to start a new year deliberately praying about how we will participate through our tithes and offerings in the kingdom work that will happen. If we seek guidance from God, we will find clear answers, and from there we can make commitments satisfying to our souls.
In the Old Testament, a “tithe” usually is a reference to 10 percent of what a herd or field produces. That concept, of course, can apply to monetary income, too.
Mainly, I want us to understand the value of thinking in percentages—a percentage commitment can be made before we know for sure what we will receive. Wherever I have led as a pastor, I have encouraged people to write down a percentage commitment early in the year and post it where they will see it regularly, for example, on a bathroom or dresser mirror.
Once you’ve faithfully and bravely done all that, the rest is just a matter of following through.
I have to be careful with what I next say. The above proverb also promises abundance to those who make and keep such commitments. I don’t want to sound like a prosperity gospel televangelist, saying $10 will return to you for every dollar you contribute.
But simultaneously, I will always affirm that a life lived with God, a life where we conform our resources to God’s unselfish plan, is better than a life where we simply look out for ourselves. After all, we live as reflections of the God who rained manna where needed, who turned a few loaves and fishes into great abundance, and who gives us eternal life through the cross.
As we are blessed through our close walk with God, we may even find ourselves making offerings above our basic commitments, if for no other reason than to show gratitude.
Lord, guide us in regard to how we are to use our resources in 2021. We trust we will receive our daily bread; knowing that, we seek to better understand the purpose of any abundance we see. Amen.