Devotional Day 43 – Life is a Masterpiece

Psalm 139:13-18 – “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Devotion:  The graduate students straggled into the lecture hall carrying their cups of coffee, laptop computers, books, and a host of muffins for breakfast.  None of them seemed awake.  It was too early for another day of lectures.  They had stayed up too late the previous night reading until midnight, preparing for presentations, laughing in the lounge, and calling home. Now, it was time to focus, again. 

The students set up their work area around the table – plugging in cords, turning on computers, arranging note pads and books, reminding one another when the next assignment was due; all except Sue.  She pulled out of her bag an old fashion note pad, pen, and her knitting needles. Hidden deep in her tweed bag was a well-wound ball of yarn and a small knitting project.

As the professor began to lecture and students started frantically taking notes, Sue’s fingers began their meticulous work.  Tug. Spin. Loop.  She was able to twirl the yarn around each needle without looking at it, like a modern industrial knitting machine.  Sue did not need to count the stitches under her breath, which is more common from a beginning piano student. Periodically she would pause from her handiwork to scribble a few notes on her pad, and then she would return to her systematic pattern of knitting, like the English World War II lady who was knitting for Victory.  At the end of the week-long lectures, the students had intricate notes which they probably would never read again, but Sue had a new pair of warm, wool winter socks for her children.

We need to remember in a world overwhelmed with low-cost made mechanical socks that human life is priceless.  Each person is a masterpiece! The Christmas sweater Aunt Jenny made, with one longer arm than another, is wonderful because it was fearfully handmade.  You are precious become you are God-made. Let us pause daily to ponder – with hands and hearts – the intentionality of our Triune God who knits each person together in the secret place.  God made us unique, special, and more precious than the alpaca Argyle socks with Spandex lining.

Prayer: Loving God, you created me in Christ, inside-out and outside-in, so your Spirit knows me more intimately than I know myself.  Help me become the person you envisioned when you knit me together in my mother’s womb, for the glory of your name and good of the your kingdom.  In Christ, I pray.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Body Prayer,” page  238, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

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Devotional Day 42 – Always Being Reformed

Revelation 14:6-7 – “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Devotion:  Reformation Sunday is coming.  It is the annual day Protestants commemorate the audacity of a local believer to question – and even challenge – the church’s religious practices. The day before, All Saints Day, the Rev. Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis (objections) on the chapel door in Wittenberg 494 years ago.  Scholars agree that Luther did not intend to start a new church (and thereby succumb to the heresy of schism; fracturing the Body of Christ) but desired to start a dialogue among Christians about returning the faithful to the Word of God.

Luther was inspired by Revelation 14, where the Word acted as God’s reforming agent through three angels.  The angels, each representing the triune God-head, were commissioned to: first, announce the Gospel proclaimed to all who live on the earth; second, announce the fall of Babylon (and all counterfeit gods); and, third, to call for the patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.[1] The people of God knew dark times would come when persons would question the presence of the Lord on earth.  However, the faithful heard the Word of the Lord spoken through the Prophet Isaiah: “my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”[2]  No person or power prevents God from accomplishing the Divine will of world-wide-evangelism and the restoration of all of creation. 

The slogan, ecclesia semper reformanda (“the church always being reformed”), became the rally cry of the Reformers to remain faithful to the Holy Spirit’s renewing work.  This reforming of the church was not aimed at cultural accommodation to the latest fades and fancies, or musical preference.  Instead, as Karl Barth accurately noted, the phrase, “always reforming,” was connected to the rest of the slogan, “according to the Word of God.”  The Word of God was the standard for measuring and motivating reformation, not the changing sea of societies. 

The Reformation rejects the assumptions of other movements (i.e., the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement) that deny the providential work of the Holy Spirit throughout the centuries. How can the church be restored to the first century without passing through the reforming work of God in every succeeding century? The historical revelation of God proves the Lord was not making something new (i.e., distinct) but reforming the old into something anew.

As we prepare to celebrate Reformation Sunday, let us lay ourselves before the reforming Word and Spirit, again.  What thesis would God nail to the door of the contemporary church?  What 95 objections would God nail to the door of our hearts?  Let us hear anew the Word of the Lord!

Prayer: God our Father, you have spoken through prophets, priests and saints, but most assuredly through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Reforming Spirit, speak to us again.  Make your church anew! Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Tongsung Kido,” page 204, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] Revelation 14:12

[2] Isaiah 55:11

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Devotional Day 41 – I will Bless Them!

Numbers 6:24-26 – “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

Devotion:  The congregation gathered their coats, gloves, bulletins, and children in a hurry.  The Christmas Eve service went longer than most planned.  Worshippers rushed to get out the door as they wondered if their roasts were burning in the oven, if they had run out of time to open presents, and if family were still waiting on them to arrive for the party.  As the saints squeezed by one another, as politely as possible, the minister shouted, “Don’t leave without a blessing!”  It was too late.  Only a handful of people stopped, bowed their heads, and received the name of the Lord.  Most hurried out of the building to their cars which were covered in snow. 

The benediction, or final blessing, is more than the announced end of the service.  It is the final act of worship: God places the Divine name on the People of God.  This act is both an express of adoption, affection and protection.[1]   A few churches have given up this sacred act.  Yet, it is important for the People of God because God instructed religious leaders to invoke the name of God upon worshippers as they depart the presence of the Almighty One. 

God instructed Moses to tell Aaron, the High Priest, to bless the people at the close of worship services – a reoccurring act of faith.  The words of blessing were specific: “The Lord bless…the Lord make his face to shine upon you…The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, etc.”  The naming of God brought distinct blessing: the divine presence of God’s shining face,[2] the gracious concern of God for the People of God in compassion and favor,[3] the lifting up of God’s countenance (i.e., face, look of approval, etc. ) signifying affection,[4] and the granting of peaceful wellbeing.

God promised: if Aaron and his descendants were obedient to put God’s name on the Israelites, God would bless them.  God guaranteed the People significant divine favor.  Who wants to miss a blessing from God, today? 

Aaron was instructed by God to use the name, “The Lord,” three times in his Aaronic (priestly) blessing.  Is this a coincidence for Trinitarian Christians?  Not at all!  God revealed the divine self in these instructions: All of God blessing all of the People of God.  God held nothing back in reserve for those who worship in Spirit and Truth. 

Today, is it appropriate for orthodox Christians to insert the revealed name of God into Aaron’s priestly blessing to make it’s Trinitarian nature more obvious:  The Creator bless you and keep you; the Savior make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Holy Spirit lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace”?  Don’t miss God’s blessing!

Prayer: God our Father, Son and Spirit, we bless your name for you have not withheld yourself to us through your name and blessings.  Bless every person who worships you in the Spirit of truth as we lift high the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Benediction and Blessing,” page 123, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] Genesis 32:27

[2] Exodus 33:14

[3] Psalm 4:4, Psalm 31:16, and Psalm 80:3

[4] Psalm 44:3, Psalm 89:15

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Devotional Day 40 – I Will Remember You

Ruth 1:14 – Then the three women wept aloud again.  Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

Devotion:  The fall leaves crackled as the small band of mourners crushed them under their feet.  It was a beautiful autumn day for a picnic, a walk in the park, or a scenic drive, but today we gathered in the cemetery for a private graveside service.   A friend had died, so the congregation gathered to eulogize the deceased, to worship God, and to lament.

She was a single woman in her sixties.  There were people who called her pejorative names, like spinster or old maid, since she was an unmarried woman beyond a certain age.  They considered her a woman without a future, forsaken by God, and forgotten since no child would remember her name.  None of those people came to her funeral.  Her friends called her, Ruth.[1]

In a tight-knit circle, the company of grievers offered condolences to one another.  Friends cried, hugged one another, and shared stories about times of intimacy.  Then God spoke these words through the minister, “Ruth may not have parents, siblings, a spouse, or a child to remember her after today, but she is not to be forgotten forever.  I will remember her.”  All who die in Christ, whether single, married, separated, or divorced, are remembered for eternity.  God our Father preserves them through the Holy Spirit, for God will “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.”[2] God, the Triune One, remembers long after generations have gone past. 

There was a noticeable relief of anxiety among those present at the service.  After the minister concluded the committal rite, one of the older women exclaimed, “I’m glad he said those words.  I’ve always worried no one would remember me when I died.  Now, I can die in peace knowing that God will remember me.”  Praise God that His memory is unsearchable, infinite, and incorruptible.

Dear reader, do not build memorial endowments, granite monuments, or Mecca’s to your name.  Lift high the name of Jesus!  God will remember you – your life, witness, and faith as a Christ follower.  No one who trusts in the Lord will ever be forgotten for the Word of the Lord endures forever![3]

Prayer: God our Father, your name will endure forever, revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  Help me be less concerned about building my name upon the earth, and more concerned about being your humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord.  Remember my faith, and not my trespasses.  I pray in the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Praying for the Dead,” page 92, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] Name changed to protect her identity.

[2] Psalm 82:3

[3] 1 Peter 1;25

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Devotional Day 39 – Quiet Enough to Hear

1 Kings 19:13 – When Elijah heard it [sheer silence], he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Devotion: My first few trips for a Day of Silence at the Kings House Retreat Center in Belleville, Illinois, were disastrous.  Sr. Joan Marie Voss recommended I begin my spiritual journey by sitting in silence for an entire day.  She gave me the same instructions at each visit: “be still and know He is God.”[1]  The sheer silence was deafening.

All I could think about was the work waiting on my desk at church, the unfinished chores at home, the families who needed visited, the people in the hospital, the upcoming Bible studies, sermon topics needing preached, and my failures to be a great minister. The longer I sat in silence the faster time seemed to stagnate. The seconds ticked past like the slow march of death.  I sat like an elementary school child waiting for the recess bell to rescue me from boredom.  There was a constant nagging voice, “What are you doing here?  Go back to work.  Go do something.”  I stayed because I knew there was transformative value in the spiritual discipline of contemplation. 

I made lists of next action steps, people to visit, projects to finish, prayer concerns, and creative new ideas for revitalizing a congregation.  Personal thoughts, Bible reflections, philosophical ideas, and psychological insights filled my journals until I reached the point that there was nothing left to write or say (if you can believe it).   I walked the grounds, sat in the sun, prayed prostrate in the chapel, and sometimes fell asleep.

Nevertheless, I persevered because great spiritual writers talked about the need for sheer silence to hear God.   Then, one day, like the prophet Elijah, God whispered.  The Spirit revealed the Word beyond my expectation.  Days of Silence became a regular part of my spiritual practices.

We do not always hear God in the great and powerful wind of words, in the thundering earth moving below our feet, or in fiery Pentecostal enthusiastic outbursts.  God can speak in sheer silence – in whispering tomes – if we will sit, be still, and listen.  The Spirit hovers over us, like the Spirit hovered over the waters of chaos on the First Day of Creation, to move at the Father’s Word to bring us the radical change of New Life. Then, in the presence of God, we too need to pull our cloak over our faces and stand at the mouth of our caves.

Prayer: God our Father, I confess that I say too many words, I speak when I should be silent, I walk when I should sit, and I am busy when I should be resting.  Forgive me.  Give me moments of sheer silence so I can hear your whispered Word.  In Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Tallith: The Prayer Shawl,” page 128, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] Psalm 46:10

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Devotional Day 38 – Warning!

Exodus 9:16: But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth.

Devotion: God gives fair warning before destruction comes upon people, their livestock, and livelihoods.  God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier does not strike people unawares with bolts of lightning like Zeus; but calls people to repentance.  For God desires that no person should perish but that all should come to repentance.[1] 

Consider the calamity that fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah: Did God not given warning to the cities’ inhabitants?[2]  Consider the predicted destruction of Nineveh: Did God not send the prophet Jonah to preach, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned”? [3] Consider the warning in the desert during Jesus’ day: Did God not send John the Baptizer to warn the “brood of vipers” to repent before the coming day of the Lord?[4]  God warns the people of the earth before God judges.  Fire, hail stones, earthquakes, calamity all precede the great and terrible day of the Lord as warning signs to call people to repentance.[5]  Our Lord desires repentance, not retaliation; restoration rather than revenge; reformation instead of annihilation.  God is full of compassion and kindness, for God’s mercy is new every day.   

God warned Pharaoh to repent of his oppressive dominance of the Hebrew people.  God warned the leader of Egypt with progressive pleas and plagues.  Nevertheless, Pharaoh refused to heed God’s warning, and paid a hefty price for rejecting the revealed will of God.  Our stubborn refusal to cry out for mercy to the Compassionate One who has shown kindness in Christ is often our own destruction. 

Moses told us, “Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place.  Those who did not regard the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the open field.”  The consequences for our disobedient decision and indecision will be disastrous.  Those who heed God’s warning of impending judgment receive mercy and grace.  God is full of tenderness but God’s sovereignty will not be thwarted.  The Creator of the World offers redemption through the Son by the Power of the Spirit.  Receive it before it is too late. 

Prayer: God our Father, we praise you for showing compassion and kindness in Christ. Open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to the impending judgment so all people can claim Christ’s compassionate tenderness, generous grace, and insurmountable mercy; so your name resounds through all the earth. Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “The Jesus Prayer: Prayer of the Heart,” page 119, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] 2 Peter 3:9

[2] Genesis 19 and 2 Peter 2:6

[3] Jonah 3:4

[4] Matthew 3:7

[5] Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:14-41, and Revelation 16:17

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Devotional Day 37 – Charity for the Common Good

Acts 4:32: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

Devotion:  Congregationalism is not a political ideology like communism, socialism, capitalism, or cultism.  The early church’s practice of autonomous communities who governed themselves in unity (of one heart and soul) was not a counter social agenda, but a basic faith practice that reflected their experience in Jesus Christ.  The Christian Triune God lives in eternal fellowship as the Three-in-One.  God the Father, Son, and Spirit give and reciprocate self-giving love which bears witness to their unity and harmony.  The Father unconditionally loves the Son through the Holy Spirit with the confidence this love will be freely returned to Him.  It is not commanded but complementary. 

The multitude of believers modeled this congregational pattern after the life of God.  The congregations were communal, not because of a governing authority that confiscated personal property for the community or made membership conditioned on financial contributions.  Individual believers surrendered their possessions to the community because they trusted the reciprocating character of the common good.  Having experienced a radical reforming relationship with the Risen Son through the unifying Spirit, the first Christians shared their goods with their friends in need. This was social action at its best – local, charitable, and missional!

It’s undeniable that early Christians reaped the benefits of commerce having sold their private possessions they amassed through trade and inheritance.  The act of charity reflected a measure of maturity – even if this type of communal living was practiced in Jerusalem only for a time.  Christians were able and willing to give because of the witness of God in Jesus Christ. 

I have witnessed the power of congregational charity (i.e., love): a widow, living on a limited income, received support to replace her roof before winter; a church leader received hearing aids so he could continue his ministry with the mentally and physically challenged; the single mother received help with food; community members received utility, rent and medical assistance; an unemployed man received inconspicuous financial help; the underemployed wife received extra food; and so on.  All of these acts of charity were completed confidentially and compassionately. These acts of charity were practiced without a mandate or memorandum. 

The greatest challenge to our society is isolated individualism.  People can become indifferent when they are no longer connected to a community of care.  The answer to the overwhelming greed of capitalism and entitlement of socialism is not policy or politics but voluntary Christian communities practicing charity (self-giving love for the common good).  The solution to society’s problems is, once again, individuals modeling their attitude, behavior, and character after our Triune God.   

Prayer: God our Father, Son and Spirit, you have set before us the perfect pattern of our lives in your communal love.  Grant to us the riches of heaven for the good of all of your creatures.  For we ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Anointing for Healing,” page 150, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

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Devotional Day 36 – Only Mostly Dead

Numbers 17:8: When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted.  It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds.

Devotion: My favorite movie is Rob Reiner’s film, “The Princess Bride,” (1987).  In the scene at Miracle Max’s cottage (Billy Crystal), the farm hand Westley’s (Cary Elwes) lifeless body is placed on the table by his friends, Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and the Spanish fencer, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin).  Westley (a.k.a. The Dread Pirate Roberts) is feared to be dead after the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Saradon) tortured him because Westley confessed true love for the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright).  Upon examining the corpse, Miracle Max shared a stunning revelation that Westley was not dead, but “only mostly dead.” Miracle Max revived Westley’s body to a semi-paralyzed state.  With the help of his friends, Westley eventually defeated the evil prince, liberated the kingdom, and won the heart of his true love.  It was the best romantic comedy of the twentieth century because it reminded us that outward appearances were not always what they seem.

To prove that Moses and Aaron were God’s chosen leaders among the Israelites, God instructed Moses to secure a staff – made from dead wood, of course – from each of the twelve tribes.  The staff of the man God caused to sprout was the chosen leader; thus putting “a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you” (v. 5).  Miraculously, God caused an entire growing season to elapse in one evening – the rod of Aaron not only sprouted but “put forth buds, produced blooms, and bore ripe almonds.”  God brought life from dead wood.  What appeared dead on the outside had the life force of God on the inside.  The opposite happened when Jesus cursed the fig tree.[1] The tree’s leaves gave the impression that it was alive, but its lack of fruit proved it was dead.  Only God sees the inward life available through faith! 

Child of faith, do not give up hope or complain against the Lord.  What appears dead on the outside may have the life-giving Spirit of the Lord.  The dead-end job, the fruitless marriage, the waning friendship, the wayward child, the deserted home, and the lifeless body may not be dead, or even “only mostly dead,” but may be waiting for the season of New Life.  God has the all-surpassing power to make life sprout from dead things, which the Father showed through the Holy Spirit by raising Jesus Christ from the absolute dead.

Prayer: God our Father, you give life through the Spirit of your Son by the power of the resurrection.  Bring forth the spring of new life to all you have created to show the world the glory of your name.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Prayers for the Dead,” page 92, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] Mark 11:12-25.

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Devotional Day 35 – Not Tomorrow, Today!

Exodus 8:10-11:  And Pharaoh said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “As you say! So that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God, the frogs shall leave you and your houses and your officials and your people; they shall be left only in the Nile.”

Devotion:  Would you wait one more night to call the exterminator if your house was full of frogs?  If your son or daughter brought a frog into the house, hidden in his or her shirt or pants pocket, would you invite them in for tea or hurry them outside? My brother tried to sneak a toad into our house, in his Fisher Price school-house, so he could “wash his hair.” My mother gave a firm command, “Outside with that thing!”  Yet, some people treat their sinful behavior like the frogs in Pharaoh’s house. We’ll take care of it tomorrow!

I was visiting a daughter of a church member.  Her mother and sisters were Christians but she remained outside the fellowship of God.  I asked her if she would like to receive God’s forever forgiveness in Jesus.  She replied, “Maybe tomorrow.”  She said she did not want to stop smoking, drinking, or partying with her friends.  “Someday I will join the church,” she stated, “after I’m done being wild.”

The plague of frogs was a warning sign for the Egyptians to heed the Word of the Lord or face dire consequences.  The appearance of massive amounts of frogs was not new to the land near the Nile for the fertile soil along the banks of the river was a natural place for frogs to congregate.  The timing of the plague was the unique work of the Lord.  Moses’ words to the leader of the land were undeniable: “So that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God” (v. 10). The Egyptian pantheon of gods – Atum, Amen-Ra, Ptah and Thoth (the moon god symbolized by the head of the frog-eating bird, the ibis) – was incapable and inferior to the liberating work of the Hebrew God. 

For the first time in the showdown between the King of Egypt and the King of the Universe, Pharaoh condescended to the existence and strength of Israel’s God.  He asked Moses to pray to the God of Israel (v. 8). Moses assured Pharaoh the answer would not be a coincidence by promising to pray at a designated time.  However, when the prayers were not answered as Pharaoh expected, he hardened his heart (v. 15).  Pharaoh was probably hoping the outcome of his actions would vanish instead of being “gathered into heaps” and causing the land to stink (v. 14).  Pharaoh had to learn that there are always consequences for our sinful actions!

Dear friend, do not harden your heart like Pharaoh because your prayers are not answered they way you planned.  Do not stop listening to the Father because the consequences of your sins pile up and cause the land to stink. God said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”[1] When the Spirit of the Lord offers you an opportunity to repent, make the most of Christ’s plea, today!  Do not say, “Tomorrow!” 

Prayer: God our Father, thank you for your forgiving love offered in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Help me to heed the Spirit’s calling to repent of my sins, today. Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Prayer of Examen,” page 181, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] Isaiah 55:8-9.

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Devotional Day 34 – The Mystery of Faith

1 Timothy 3:8-13: Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 

Devotion: Grandpa Taylor loved puzzles.  He had unfinished puzzles on a folding table in his living room.  Grandpa gave guests permission to help finish the puzzles if we were careful to place the right piece in the right place.  Interested puzzle players would walk to the pile, pick up a piece, twist it right and then left, ponder it, look intently at possible placements, and place it in the puzzle or back on the table.  This was a regular ritual at grandpa’s house that few could explain.

There was only one puzzle that remained unfinished: a Christmas gift that had 500 pieces.  It pictured gold coins scattered on a black background.  The challenge was all the pieces had an identical cut pattern.  It was a difficult puzzle to master.  Each piece had to be carefully scrutinized for perfect placement.  The puzzle remained unfinished at Easter, and was eventually put back in the box, unfinished.  It was a mystery!

Paul, the master Bible teacher, wrote to his pastoral apprentice this advice: when selecting men and women to serve the Table of the Lord, make sure to select persons who hold to the mystery of the faith.  What is this mystery of the faith?  This “mystery” (Greek: musterion) was the religious secrets God revealed to the followers of Jesus Christ through the Spirit of faith.  God disclosed the secret of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus and his victory over death through the power of the resurrection.  This secret was revealed to those who believed but kept hidden from the ungodly.  Trusting God’s goodness and all surpassing power in Jesus Christ, revealed by the Holy Spirit, was the key to understanding the mysterious plan! 

Paul used the word “mystery” three more times to explain the convictions that were revealed but not fully explained.  First, he wrote the mystery of salvation came from the Jews because of “a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”[1] Second, he wrote of the mystery of the radical transformation of our bodies at the Second Coming of Christ.[2]  Third, Paul referred to the conversion of the Gentiles as a mystery because they “have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”[3]  These were spiritual convictions Paul confessed with a clear conscience, yet he could not fully explain. Like the mystery of the Trinity, orthodox Christians known God has revealed the divine self to be Triune.  This is a reality we accept, but we cannot fully explain.  God will explain it to us when all things are put in their proper place. 

Prayer: God the Father, Son, and Spirit, we confess that we do not fully understand how you are Three in One and One in Three.  Help us hold fast to the faith with a clear conscience and conviction that you are good, Jesus Christ is Lord, and the Spirit will teach of us all things, in your perfect timing and place.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Palms Up, Palms Down Prayer,” page 235, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] Romans 11:25

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

[3] Ephesians 3:2-6

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