Psalm 63:1-8 MSG
"God—you’re my God! I can’t get enough of you! I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts. So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in your strength and glory. In your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains. I bless you every time I take a breath; My arms wave like banners of praise to you. I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises! If I’m sleepless at midnight, I spend the hours in grateful reflection. Because you’ve always stood up for me, I’m free to run and play. I hold on to you for dear life, and you hold me steady as a post."
Driving down the road we pass light posts, telephone poles and many sign posts on our journeys. These posts are very important because they very serve as a way of keeping people safe and our cities well lighted. A pole must keep steady throughout the storms and winds of life. It does this because the pole is much larger than what we see. It is many feet long underground. God is much like these poles. God is steady, providing stability for us even when we do not see how.
God is also our horizon. When we see God and experience who God is we begin to live in a different way. The Psalmist writes about the hunger and thirst for God that has built up after such a time of traveling in deserts and wastelands. When life overwhelms us and we have lost our focus on God I believe it feels like this. We have lost our view of the horizon, yet the horizon is still there as God is always there, too.
However, when we come back home and worship our Almighty God together, opening our eyes and absorbing God's strength and glory into our bodies, it is like we are feeling our life-source flowing back to where it should be. God's Spirit wells up in us and we can see it! The prayers we pray and the songs and hymns we sing radiate out from us like fountains of praise to God. We realize how every breath we breathe is an opportunity to bless God. Our actions are a chance to praise God and we are so blessed.
We are a people who have so many things to pull us off balance. To be single-mindedly devoted to God can be very difficult. However, when we stay centered on God as our life- post or as our horizon, then we have a place to locate where we are. We no longer need to feel like we are walking this path alone, but we can look to God for direction and care. Through knowing and reading Scripture, reflecting and spending time with God in prayer, we begin to find our connection with God in a new way.
Prayer is not a one-way road, but it is a conversation with God. Prayer is more than us talking, but also us listening for the voice of God. During Lent, we ask ourselves how we are continuing to be single-mindedly devoted to God -- in word and in deed, in love and in service, in prayer and in action. May you find answers to the questions in your heart as you look to our life-post, Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Awesome and Abiding God, thank you for being the life-post for each of us and guiding us throughout our lives. Help us to find you and follow faithfully. May we keep centered upon you, living with single-minded devotion to you, our Lord and our God. Amen.
Isaiah 55:1-8 MSG
“Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway—buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money—everything’s free! Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest. Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words. I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you, the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love. I set him up as a witness to the nations, made him a prince and leader of the nations, And now I’m doing it to you: You’ll summon nations you’ve never heard of, and nations who’ve never heard of you will come running to you because of me, your God, because The Holy of Israel has honored you.” Seek God while he’s here to be found, pray to him while he’s close at hand. Let the wicked abandon their way of life and the evil their way of thinking. Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness. “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” God’s Decree.
Each Sunday, I wonder who will join in worship. There are many different reasons why people attend. Some are very simple and others quite complex. Some come out of obligation and others out of necessity, but all come because they were invited and felt welcomed.
Our Scripture for today is a Scripture of Invitation -- All who are thirsty, come to the Water. No money? Come anyway. Come buy and eat. What a refreshing message! Whoever we are we are welcomed by God. No matter how much life has warn us down, zapped us of our energy, tapped us out financially and spiritually, God has a place for us at the table. We will be fed, but we will not be fed the left-overs, but of the best of the best.
This Scripture reminds us of who has a place at God's table. Each one of us has a place and are part of God's plan. Originally, Jesus Christ came for the Jews. However, Christ also came to bring salvation to all of us. That same covenant God made to David now extends to us. We have been invited and God seeks each one of us. As a Father seeks after his children, God seeks after each one of us, seeking to bring us home.
We are reminded here that being welcomed back into the arms of God is not merely for the faithful but for each on of us, for we all sin and fall short and yet God keeps welcoming us back home. We are reminded that we worship a God who is merciful and forgives. We are the ones that find it difficult to forgive. Still, God keeps reaching out to us and reminding us that God thinks and works differently that we do. Understanding that we are a people that strives to do right and yet falls short, God keeps reaching out to us, bringing us the gift of God's love.
God's love is a promised gift that cannot be manipulated. It is offered freely and completely and all God asks is that we say yes. Yes we seek for follow God's plan. Yes we seek to claim God's promises for our lives. Yes we choose life with God forever. May we have a heart that is willing to be open for relationship with God in love.
Prayer: Almighty and Merciful God, we are humbled that you seek to live and be in relationship with us. Help us to choose You and to say yes to You our Loving God. May all that we do in this world show your abiding love. Amen.
Luke 6:43-45 MSG
“You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds."
Living in Florida brought with it a new learning curve. We learned all about roaches, worms, insects (both crawling and flying) and lizards (and geckos). I tended to jump mostly by the lizard and gecko variety, especially when one was jumping out of our mailbox or hiding under my keyboard. However, our son's more fearful encounters included what we tended to call oak worms (aka silkworms).
Oak worms liked the oak trees the best, particularly the ones with Spanish moss. In the spring, around February, they would migrate from tree to tree by falling from their descending silk onto people's shoulders. This caused great fear, as one would expect, in our son as a new Florida resident as well as many others. During this time of year, it wasn't uncommon for church attendees to pick the occasional worm off of one another's shoulders as it caught a ride across the lawn.
Our Scripture text for today reminds us that worms generally are not a sign of good health. In fact, typically wormy apples are not found on healthy trees. The reverse is also true. This example is a reminder that healthy living is epitomized by who a person is for who we are exudes through all of our pores and flows out in the choices we make.
Likewise, if we are not making life-giving decisions, then we are not speaking and living in a way that brings health and wholeness to others in our lives. When we bring hurt and brokenness with us into our relationships with others, we are filled with worms like those apples in that diseased orchard. However, when we make decisions to encourage right living and faithful decisions focused on God, then we are providing our tree with everything needed for protection to it bark, roots and pulp, promoting fruitful living.
In Scripture, when the gardner found disease on a tree or lack of fruit, they pruned that tree and fertilized it, to encourage new fruit. Lent in an excellent time to reflect upon the areas in our lives that need pruning and the areas that provide health and life-giving choices. May we be people who choose life and seek God's abundant blessings.
Prayer: Lord, help us choose life. Guide us as we seek to be healed and to be a people working to live into your Spirit and share your love and healing with others. May we promote health and wholeness for the people of God and for your world. Amen.
Grasping for God
Revelation 3:1-6 MSG
Write this to Sardis, to the Angel of the church. The One holding the Seven Spirits of God in one hand, a firm grip on the Seven Stars with the other, speaks: “I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you’re dead, stone-dead. “Up on your feet! Take a deep breath! Maybe there’s life in you yet. But I wouldn’t know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God’s work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the Message you heard with your ears—grasp it again and turn back to God. “If you pull the covers back over your head and sleep on, oblivious to God, I’ll return when you least expect it, break into your life like a thief in the night. “You still have a few followers of Jesus in Sardis who haven’t ruined themselves wallowing in the muck of the world’s ways. They’ll walk with me on parade! They’ve proved their worth! “Conquerors will march in the victory parade, their names indelible in the Book of Life. I’ll lead them up and present them by name to my Father and his Angels. “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”
Life seems much different now than when I was young. Then, children always seemed to have time for play. We climbed trees, played ball, and read in the evenings. We had responsibilities around the house but time to play was just as important. We lived for what they now call unstructured play.
Today rarely play is unstructured. Many neighborhoods are not safe to just let our children run free and many parents today highly structure each moment. Often our kids have multiple after school activities with few moments to just relax and be. It seems we are programming our children's lives, each and every moment.
We also seem to have capitalized on keeping ourselves busy. We move from getting the family around and ready for the day to work and then finally back home for our evening tasks, homework and then preparing for the next day's agenda. The cycle continues.
Sometimes it seems we are living for the cycle rather than having the cycle help us to remain focused on the task at hand. Today's Scripture reminds us that our busywork can get in the way of focusing on the plan God's has given for us to be busy with. God has given each one of us special gifts to serve God and participate in God's work in the world. We have seen how God works for good and brings healing to the world. The problem with seeing the needs around us is that we then must work for change in the world. We can't be oblivious and keep sleeping when we know God is calling us to do more, calling us to awake.
When we grasp for God we choose to follow and yearn to go where God leads. We will listen for the Spirit's call to follow God. When we come to a time where we have to choose a direction, we reflect upon what God seeks for us and listen for God's voice.
How can we grasp after God if we are not listening for the voice of God? How can we seek God's face, if we are not looking for the face of God in our community? How can we direct our bodies toward the presence of God, if we are not willing to live by the rules and ways of our Almighty Ever-Present God? May we seek, follow, look and be with God in body, mind and spirit today and every today.
Prayer: Almighty and Ever-Present God, guide our steps and help us grasp and seek your love, your peace, and your understanding. May we yearn to follow you and your ways. Help us to listen for your voice and live as followers of the One God as disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.
'Write this to Smyrna, to the Angel of the church. The Beginning and Ending, the First and Final One, the Once Dead and Then Come Alive, speaks: “I can see your pain and poverty—constant pain, dire poverty—but I also see your wealth. And I hear the lie in the claims of those who pretend to be good Jews, who in fact belong to Satan’s crowd. “Fear nothing in the things you’re about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won’t last forever. “Don’t quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you. “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. Christ-conquerors are safe from Devil-death.”'
There is nothing in life as adept as children to remind us that every action or inaction breeds consequences. Jesus knew this as he kept a single-minded focus throughout his ministry. We also experience this and today's Scripture reminds us of the importance of staying centered upon God's plan.
This passage from Revelation shows us that we live in a world that has its own way of making the wrong thing look right and the right thing look wrong. We see this as the writer notes that even in this person who was poor and in pain their wealth is seen. The wealth mentioned here is not one of money nor of things, but of belief in Jesus Christ as Savior.
This person is reminded to expect a time of testing to come, but in the face of jail time to not lose faith nor hope and to continue to listen to the direction of the Holy Spirit, especially during times like these.
We definitely understand this. We know that there are people in our lives whose agendas can convince us to go in ways opposite of where we want to go or believe is the right path. We become anxious and full of fear as we wonder what will happen to us if we follow an uncertain path. However, we may even realize that when we follow God's plan life together as faithful disciples of Christ allows us to live free. Free from the fears that hold us back. Free from all that binds us to the ways of the world instead of the ways of God.
Scripture tells us to listen to the Holy Spirit. What happens when we listen with an open heart, seeking to hear God's voice and to respond in peace? When we take time to pray to God and reflect upon God's will for us, then we are poised to live a life of faith without fear. May we indeed respond with faith, believing in our Triune God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- and seeking the right way to go despite any fear that is still within us. May God remove all disabling fear from us and give us a heart of courage as we experience God's abiding presence in our midst and throughout our lives.
Prayer: Triune God, we thank you for showing us your glory. Help us to remember with you on our side there is nothing fear. May we choose you and stand firm in faith as followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 13:31-35 MSG
Just then some Pharisees came up and said, “Run for your life! Herod’s on the hunt. He’s out to kill you!” Jesus said, “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick; the third day I’m wrapping things up. Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets, abuser of the messengers of God! How often I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, Her brood safe under her wings--but you refused and turned away! And now it’s too late: You won’t see me again until the day you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of God.’”
On a normal day in the office at First Presbyterian Church, there are many things that can distract. The phone rings. People stop in. The mail arrives. Our custodian and sexton come and do their work. Small groups come in and go out and various meetings take place. With each person at the church on a particular day comes the possibility for the day to be changed at a moment's notice.
I'm not saying I do not want folks coming by. On the contrary, I love it and I have learned that real ministry happens most during these unscripted moments. Still, during each of these moments the possibility increases for the staff or me to get off track.
Jesus also had many potential moments to get off course from God's plan for him. Sometimes, his ministry could potentially pull him off course. At other times it was fear causing anxiety in others. Or like today's Scripture, this Pharisees trying warn him.
Jesus is warned to get out of town because Herod wants to kill him. He doesn't seem nearly as worried about him as they were. Instead he reminds them of the plan from God. Jesus is on God's business-- he's busy clearing out demons, healing the sick and preparing for the wrap up (his cruxifion, death and resurrection.) In other words, Jesus tells these Pharisees that he has too much to do to worry about something that isn't going to happen right now. It's the wrong place and time for that to happen.
This text causes us to wonder how we need to also redirect folks and ourselves who are filled with worry and anxiety that can sabotage the end result or cause undo stress and fear. It happens all the time, except sometimes we call it procrastination and at others triangulation. Still, we are reminded by Jesus and others -- to keep focused on God's plan.
Prayer: Almighty God, help us to keep our focus on you. When the world seems to overwhelm us, recenter us and align us with your will. In the name of Jesus the Messiah we pray. Amen.
On the Same Side
Philippians 4:4-9 MSG
"Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies."
My favorite sport is basketball. There is nothing like watching it, being engaged with the many players and experiencing how it can be like a ballet of sorts as each player moves in-tune with the others, performing the perfect basket. When everyone is working together and on the same team, so to speak, it is perfection. However, when one person tries to make it all about him or her, the entire team will fail. We see opposing players left unguarded which seems to end with the basketball being stolen and a great and awesome lay-up shot ending in a beautiful dunk for all to see.
We are reminded in Philippians to make sure that folks know and understand that we are working together rather than at odds with one another, for being fellow Christians means that we will operate as a people united.
We need to all be about the team and the art of working together. Whether we are working together on a sport's team, in the workplace, at home, church or somewhere else, it is apparent we do much better when we check our egos at the door and concentrate to what is best for all.
There are times when life can make us anxious and our concerns can leave us unfocused and worried. However, God can change how we react even during times of when great uncertainty is expected. In those times we realize that through prayer we become changed. Scripture tells us that Christ displaces the worry in our lives. Through Christ's love and action, we realize that peace can come even in uncertainty, beauty can be realized in things the world calls ugly, and our best can be found in what others would label our worst. How Christ sees the world with all its imperfections as God's masterpiece reminds us that we are God's beloved masterpiece as well, worthy of God's love, comfort, peace and care. May we be mindful of God's good work in us and the beautiful dance we care to take part in with Jesus.
Prayer: O God, Creator of Masterpieces, we thank you for your love and care for each of us. Help us to dance in tandem with our brothers and sisters, sharing your love with others. May we celebrate the successes others achieve, as we experience the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Finding the Calm
"Light, space, zest— that’s God! So, with him on my side I’m fearless, afraid of no one and nothing. When vandal hordes ride down ready to eat me alive, those bullies and toughs fall flat on their faces. When besieged, I’m calm as a baby. When all hell breaks loose, I’m collected and cool. I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, the perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic. God holds me head and shoulders above all who try to pull me down. I’m headed for his place to offer anthems that will raise the roof! Already I’m singing God-songs; I’m making music to God. Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs: “Be good to me! Answer me!” When my heart whispered, “Seek God,” my whole being replied, “I’m seeking him!” Don’t hide from me now! You’ve always been right there for me; don’t turn your back on me now." – Psalm 27:1-9 MSG
When I was little it seemed that my father could do no wrong. Sitting on daddy's lap was a magical place where the world could not hurt me. Then one day my father was lighting his pipe. He got out his tobacco and matches and asked me to hold the match for him. Being a dutiful daughter and young I was happy to help. As the match got shorter and shorter, I just waited for him to blow it out or take it back. Instead it burnt my fingers.
In many ways we are still like those small children we once were There are times when we seek safety and security. However, we learn that to have perfect trust in another means that inevitably we will be hurt or disappointed, except with God. We worship a God that always seeks the best for us and is continually working with us to help good things happen. When people in our lives are working against us or trying to achieve success through the holding down of others, God reminds us of the differences between what is valuable to the world and what is valuable to God.
How does one find calm in the midst of conflict, doubt or fear? I believe it only comes through trusting in our God who welcomes us in and gives us a place to rest and reflect, to pray and hear. There are times when what we need most is a safe place to lay our heads, but there are other times when God is calling us to action. In both times we need a safe place to rest, reflect, pray, hear and respond.
Today, we wonder where we find the calm during the storms of our lives? How to we breathe in the Holy Spirit during those times? Lent is a wonderful time to reflect on what God calls us to as we share God's Spirit with others who are seeking peace.
Prayer: Abiding God, we seek security in your arms of love. Help us to breathe in your Holy Spirit as we are guided by your call to love and be loved. May we seek God and respond in hope, peace, joy and love. Amen.
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
'After all these things, this word of God came to Abram in a vision: “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I’m your shield. Your reward will be grand!” Abram said, “God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything?” Abram continued, “See, you’ve given me no children, and now a mere house servant is going to get it all.” Then God’s Message came: “Don’t worry, he won’t be your heir; a son from your body will be your heir.” Then he took him outside and said, “Look at the sky. Count the stars. Can you do it? Count your descendants! You’re going to have a big family, Abram!” And he believed! Believed God! God declared him “Set-Right-with-God.” God continued, “I’m the same God who brought you from Ur of the Chaldees and gave you this land to own.” ''
- Genesis 15:1-7 MSG
We have all been frustrated. Abram was tired of waiting on this particular day when he talked with God. He wanted an heir so bad he could taste it and yet God's plan hadn't yet come to fruition. Abram sought to be a father for so long, just as Sarai yearned for motherhood. Yet they lived for decades together without one child between the two of them. No one had to tell them what they lacked. They knew, and yet Abram and Sarai kept getting older.
However, with God anything is possible. Through looking at the skies on a starry night God brought a vision to Abram about his future, a future that was larger than he could even imagine. He was dreaming of an heir and God was showing him a great nation. God was showing him something that had to be impossible and claiming it was possible.... and Abram BELIEVED! He believed God.
We can have moments like that too. When our vision of our future is smaller than God's vision for each of us. On those days, let us remember Abram who became Abraham -- the father of a great nation, our father of the faith.
As we reflect on the deserts in our lives, let us listen for God as Abram did on that day when God's vision came. When our visions of the future come to us, may we trust God and believe. God seeks to do great things in and through us. What God gives us is so much greater than what we ask for. May Lent be our time to hope in the Lord, to dream new dreams, to listen for God's voice and be changed. May God put a fire in our belly for spreading the love we see between God and Abram. May we feel it. May we believe it. May it grow in our hearts and may we be a part of that spiritual growth and excitement as our desert hopes are realized.
Prayer: God of Abram and us all, help us to trust in you and believe. May our hearts be opened to your words to us. May your hope expand in our hearts, our lives and our world. Amen.
Sticking Together with Jesus
Philippians 3:17-21 MSG
"Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him."
I am not a gum chewer. I can't blow bubbles no matter how much I have tried and I have never enjoyed playing with my gum. Crazy, I know. However, many of my friends were active gum chewers then and now. It seems like every now and then one of my gum-chewing friends had a gum accident. They either had a particularly large bubble pop or fell asleep with gum in their mouths and discovered they were stuck. Gum chewers know the rules: Don't fall asleep with gum in your mouth. Don't blow too big of a bubble and don't leave it on the sidewalk where you may get stuck.
Christ's Church also has its own rules too. Stick together and keep track of those on the journey with you. Keep your eye on the goal, that is to follow Christ's lead. We get off track when we want it our way or aren't waiting for others to come along too. It's easy to forget where our allegiance lie. We are not citizens of this world but of high heaven. We are waiting for our Savior, Jesus Christ to return and with his return we look forward to all of the best blessings and those new spiritual bodies that are promised us with eternal life.
Sticking with Jesus can be a dangerous act as my Christian brothers and sisters in Pakistan know. However, when we gather with our fellow Christian brothers and sisters we remember that we are not alone in this but have the support of God and of our fellow Christians journeying with us. This is a larger greater plan than any of us know, which we experience in the love and hope we find in Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Redeeming God, we thank you for sticking with us. Help us to remember how far you have gone for the redeeming of your people and the saving of the world. Help us to remember this, as we love and support each other through our journey by the side of Jesus Christ. May we reach out in love and hope to each other and this hurting and broken world. Amen.
Rev. Laura C. Kelsey, Author
Rev. Kelsey is proud to pastor the First Presbyterian Church of Pontiac, MI. Together with the faithful and loving worshipping community at FPC. she enjoys sharing God's Word with others, working to help folks experience God's love and discern their direction in life, and lovingly reach out to the greater Pontiac community.