Join us here for a daily Scripture reading, devotional and prayer as we find ways to fulfill the message of Philippians 4:7 - "It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."
Devotional for Thursday, March 26
by Rev. Jennifer Gros
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-4
Being set apart and physically distanced from our friends and extended family, can be isolating and difficult. As humans, we crave community.
However, this situation of isolation can provide us with unique opportunities to reach out to others, including those under our roof and those outside of our homes.
For inspiration today, we look at the words of Paul in his letters to the people in Ephesus. Paul was a prisoner at the time, locked away and isolated.
Even though Paul was a prisoner, he found a way, through his letters, to encourage his friends and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He wrote letters to inspire unity, like the one we read today in Ephesians chapter 4, verse 1-4:
1 Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God.
2 Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3 and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.
4 You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope.
Even from isolation, Paul is encouraging his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to live as people worthy of the calling they have received from God.
What does this mean for us today, to live worthy of our calling? I believe the answer lies in verse two. We should be conducting ourselves with humility, gentleness and patience, accepting each other with love.
This seems all the more interesting when the roles have been reversed, and WE are now the ones in isolation. Of course we cannot compare our situation to a first century Roman prison, but we can stop and think about how we are “living” in our isolating situation.
Are we conducting ourselves with humility, gentleness and patience with regard to the people around us? With regard to our messages on social media? With our children? With our older parents? With our spouse?
I believe that the next line of this scripture is of utmost importance. Are we “accepting each other with love?”
Accepting each other with love when we are “sheltering in faith” in small and crowded spaces can be a challenge. Or if we are alone, the isolation can be difficult without anyone to talk to.
This is where Paul’s words can be a light in the darkness - we are to “make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.”
Because we have the Holy Spirit, there is a unity of peace that ties each of us together. This not only includes the people living under our roof, but there is a unity of peace that ties all of us together. Are we reaching out to others through letters, messages, phone calls, or a simple note scribbled on a driveway in chalk?
How can we preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties us together?
Are you reaching out to your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Even though we are trying to distance ourselves physically from others, Paul tells us that we are called to be unified in the “one body and one spirit” called together in “one hope.”
Now is the time to be unified, even though we must be apart. Now is the time to reach out and to stay connected to our friends and family, in loving and peaceful ways. We can encourage one another and inspire one another.
Let us pray.
Dear God, we know that you are with us, even in isolation. You hear our prayers and you love us. Our world is hurting, and we are called to love others. We pray for the humility, gentleness and patience to live our lives worthy of our calling. Help us to accept one another in love, and to preserve the unity in the Body of Christ.
Let us be unified in the Holy Spirit with peace, and called together in one hope.
Lord, hear our prayers.
Devotional for Monday, March 24
by Rev. Jennifer Gros
Scripture: Isaiah 49: 13-16
One of the most beautiful trends that I have seen as a result of physically distancing ourselves from each other, is the creativity in song that has been spreading via social media! For me it began with beautiful videos of Italians singing together from their balconies.
First, a video was posted of Italians singing from their windows at night, a few lone voices connecting with each other in a beautiful melody. Then more videos began circulating, with entire Italian apartment complexes singing together from their balconies. There were people playing pianos, saxophones, and tambourines.
Here in the U.S. people have been posting videos of their children singing, of themselves singing, and even professional singers like Phillip Phillips have been giving small, free concerts from the comfort of their living rooms.
Singing has always been a natural way of connecting emotionally with others, and it seems that this is magnified when people are separated by a distance. We are all craving an emotional connection! Thank goodness for technology, so that we can more easily share our songs of praise!
Even in quarantine, even in the midst of suffering, people are finding ways to share the gift of song — songs that uplift, songs that praise God, and songs that comfort.
Today we look at Isaiah, chapter 49 verses 13-16:
“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”
We are called to sing for joy, universal joy, along with the heavens, the earth and the mountains! We sing because the Lord has comforted his people in the past, and because of this, we have the assurance that God will have compassion on those who are suffering today.
Even in our suffering, we can sing with confidence that the Lord hears our prayers, and has compassion and comfort for us.
Even when we feel abandoned, forgotten or forsaken, God tells us “I will not forget you.” God has a tender affection for us and does not want us to be discouraged. God loves us like a nursing mother loves her child, or loves the child in her womb. Even if a woman could forget her nursing child, or not show compassion for the child in her womb, the Lord will not forget us.
We can be assured of this, because our names have been inscribed on the palms of God’s hands. He is ever mindful of us, and will never abandon us.
Let’s pray: Dear God, you have said that you will never forget us. There are times when we may feel forgotten, scared, and out of control. Life can be challenging during this difficult time in our lives. Thank you for the assurance of your care, your compassion, and your motherly love. You will never forget or abandon us, and for that, we are so grateful.
Let us rejoice with song in the hope and glory of Your love!
In Jesus name, may all of God’s children say Amen.
Devotional for Monday, March 23
by Rev. Harry Vein
Scripture: James 1:3
"Your faith will be tested. You know that when this happens, it will produce in you the strength to continue."
Right now, as much as each day seems the same, each day is also different. Each day seems the same as many of us don't even really know what day it is. How many times has that happened to you in the past few weeks?
But every day is different as news and events continue to change. Last night, I began to see friends from up in the Dallas area posting that this evening at midnight, they will have in place a Shelter-at-home order. And many are believing that will travel down I-45 in the very near future and that we will be doing the same.
So I began to think...what if we think of this time as a Shelter-in-faith order? (Please note that I said "in" and not "@"). In the letter of James, he begins by writing into the fact that we will face all kinds of trouble in life. In verse 2, he writes "My brothers and sisters, you will face all kinds of trouble." Those words sound much like the words I spoke into yesterday morning in worship when Jesus said "In this world, you will have troubles".
James uses this as a chance to challenge people regarding their faith. There was no such thing as a "Shelter-in faith" order given, although there were times that some were imprisoned and their faith was tested.
As we move forward during this week, think about what your days would look like if you thought of them as a time to "Shelter-in-faith". What will you do with your time? When times begin to feel anxious, how will you move towards faith and away from fear? How will you build up that strength that James was writing about?
We will do all that we can on this end to help you along the way. If that time comes, I am going to think of these words of David: "He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul." May all of these days be used to continue to "awaken us to God's presence" and transform us more and more into all that God wants us to be.
Let's pray: Dear God, you have been our shelter time and time again. We have especially found you to be our shelter during those times when life has challenged us the most. May we feel your presence, hear your call, and find ourselves sheltering in your presence throughout these days.
In Jesus name, may all of God's children say AMEN!
Scripture Reading - Isaiah 26
Devotional for Saturday, March 21
by Rev. Harry Vein
This morning, I made a quick run to church and was amazed how many people were already out running and walking. I probably saw at least 40-50 just driving through our neighborhood.
As one who loves to get out every morning and get those steps, it was good to see so many during these stressful times taking care of themselves. This is definitely one of those times that we need to be taking care of our body, soul, and mind. All of that brought this thought to mind...what are we doing to firm up our faith?
There is a verse in Isaiah 26 that speaks into that in ways we need to hear today. In what is known as this Song of Victory, Isaiah 26:3 says "The Lord gives perfect peace to those whose faith is firm."
Of late, it is as if I hear God reminding me that this is not going to be a sprint. I guess God knows that I am hoping that this is like a 100 yard dash and then life will be back to "normal". But this is seeming more like a marathon. And as we train for it, it is more imperative that our faith is firm as we are going to need the Lord's perfect peace to sustain us through it all.
That is part of the reason that I am taking time every morning to send out these words to you. And I think you know, doing this each morning has been good for my soul. But don't let it stop here. Let this just be the starting point for your today. Keep that faith workout going so that our faith will be firm and we will have that perfect peace that we will need each and everyday.
Let's pray: God of the ages, this morning we celebrate the love that you have for us. It is a love that sustains us and strengthens us. From the time that some of us were young children, you have told us that when we are weak, you are strong. Lord God, strengthen our faith each and every day so that we might experience Your peace, Your perfect peace, that will sustain us in the days and weeks that are ahead of us.
In Jesus name we pray, and may all of God's children say ... Amen!
Scripture Reading - Joshua 1:9
Devotional for Friday, March 20
by Rev. Harry Vein
"I've commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't ever be afraid or discouraged. I am the Lord your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go."
Those words seem personal for all of us right now. But today, I'm going to ask you to stretch out the personal side of those words. I want us to stretch them out to cover those who are going to work everyday in hospitals, medical clinics, and all other places where they are coming into contact with those who are sick.
We have always been good in thinking about and praying for first responders. I just want to make sure that we know that right now, first responders includes some that you may not have considered in the past.
I've been reading so many stories of families who have a husband or wife working long shifts at hospitals. Some of those families have been put in a situation where they are having to practice social distancing from them, once they come home, to protect others within their family. I read stories from some of my friends on Facebook who are there and I think of these words from Joshua..."I will be there to help you wherever you go."
So take this in personally, but don't let it just stop there today. Extend these words to those that are out there offering people healing and hope during these days. And pray for them everyday! And if you know someone who is out there and could use some encouragement today, pass this along to them!
Let's pray...Mighty God, we thank you today for those that are caring for the sick that are around us. Thank you for all of those who are continually putting others before themselves. Give them strength. Cast out fear. And remind them that you are with them wherever they go! May we all keep these words in our hearts and minds during these uncertain times to remind us of what is still certain today...and that is You. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.
Scripture Reading - Mark 12:28-31
Devotional for Thursday, March 19
by Rev. Harry Vein
I know these are familiar words. But don't allow the familiarity of them to keep us from hearing what I believe they are saying to us today...at this moment when it comes to "love our neighbor".
As we have been talking into throughout our Faith community, there are times when loving our neighbor calls us to love them from a distance. Let's be real...we haven't been prepared for such a time as this! But out of our love and concern for each other, we are learning.
So here is a short lesson and exercise for today's session on Loving Your Neighbour From a Distance.
Thankfully, we live in a day and age where we can still be connected to each other from a distance. As hard as I sometimes am regarding social media, it has been good seeing so many connect with each other. And some of you have even helped me live into this "time to laugh" as I've read your posts about your "co-workers" (these are posts people are sharing about their children as if they are their co-workers).
And here is a gift that I have been experiencing that I would love for you to participate in. I've been calling at least 4-5 people each day. There's no plan or methodology in doing so. But as people come to mind and as I'm in a place and time to do so, I've been calling to let people know I'm thinking of them. I know other members of our staff have been doing the same. And just imagine if each of us did that today! How many people would we connect with that would know that they were being thought of and loved? 100? 500? More?
Don't let this time keep us from loving our neighbor!
Let's pray...God of us all, we thank you today for all of those persons we have come to know and love. You have brought us together in ways that we never imagined. And even though we are apart, you are reminding us that we are still together. Help us to use this time to reach out to each other. As people come to mind, nudge us to call them, to check on them and let them know we have them in our thoughts and prayers. Let us love even more generously and passionately during this time. And thank you for reminding us of your love during these times too! In Jesus name, Amen!
Scripture Reading - Ecclesiastes 3:1-7
Devotional for Wednesday, March 18
by Rev. Harry Vein
Surprised? There are many times/seasons that are listed in this passage. And with everything going on, are you surprised that I want to write into a "time to laugh"?
Have you ever looked at laughter in scripture? It's there and it's in places you might not expect, like Job. That tells me God knows what's good for us and that includes laughter in times such as this. In fact, years ago I used to have a picture of Jesus in my office. It wasn't the one by Warren Sallman that seemed to be placed in every Sunday School room I remember as a child. It was one of what is known as The Laughing Christ.
It would be so easy for us to look at this as a time to do many other things than laugh. But I believe it would be good for our soul to find ways to laugh from time to time.
That happened with Susan and I the other day. As we have said we would not sit and watch the news throughout the day, we were looking on one of the movie channels and came across one of our favorites, Patch Adams. As we found ourselves laughing, we also talked about Robin Williams, having learned so much more about his life and struggles since when we first watched that movie.
We are all different when it comes to humor and what can make us laugh. For me, I'll be sitting down to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the very near future. And maybe even some of the first seasons of Saturday Night Live.
And remember, one of Job's friends said to him, "He will fill your mouth with laughter." (Job 8:21)
Live into these challenging times embracing all of the times that God gives to us. (And who knows...I might be writing about A Time to Dance before you know it.)
God of Joy, thank you for reminding us that as people have gone through challenging times in the past, they have done so with faith, hope and even laughter. Help us to take care of our souls with all that you have created within us. We thank you for the smiles and laughter that we have already discovered in the past few days. Help us to be more intentional in living into all of the times that you gift to us. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
Scripture Reading: Psalm 46
Devotional for Tuesday, March 17
by Rev. Harry Vein
There are so many good and comforting words found in this Psalm, but I want to take a moment to dwell on verse 10: "Be still and know that I am God."
I think of the past when it has been such a challenge for people to "be still" with everything we have had going on. But now...that has all changed. Even the most extroverted of you are finding yourself having to be still. And I know that can be a challenge!
But I want us to get past the "still" part of this since right now we are living into that whether that has been our desire or not, and realize why we are being still... "to know that I (God) is God". How does that happen within our stillness? What can we do as we are being still and having plenty of downtime to recognize God's presence and in so doing, come to better understand who God truly is?
Some of this goes back to some of what I said on Sunday as we try in live into Intentional Hope. But I'll give you some more detailed ideas:
* Practice the Presence of God - that might sound familiar to some of you as it is a book by Brother Lawerence that was written back in 1691. My copy is barely 100 pages and yet, it is packed full of what I believe the writer of Psalm 46 had in mind. One small piece within the book I hope will stay with you as it does with me: "Above all, make thinking about God your number one habit." Can you think about ways that can happen for you? Can you get into the habit that before you look at your messages or emails or social media or news in the morning that you spend time with the One who is going to be our number One habit?
* Read in ways that connect you with the presence of God - OK, Scripture still is primary! That is why I am sending you scripture each day to take in. ButI said I would give you some suggestions on Sunday, so here they are:
(1) If you have not read The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer yet, now is the time! This one is short too...120 pages. But the pages and knowledge is deep. You have time on your hands, so dig in!
(2) If you are struggling with being overly anxious right now, order or download a copy of Adam Hamilton's Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times. I can't recommend it enough during these "uncertain times".
(3) If you like to read novels, but want something right now that is touching and moving, almost anything by Charles Martin. My favorites of his have been Long Way Gone and When Crickets Cry. And if you read those, you will understand why they are some of my favorites.
(4) Anything by C. S. Lewis. I always find myself being more aware of God's presence when reading Lewis.
* And finally, pray. Be open to praying in a way that you may never have prayed before. And it you find it difficult to pray for an extended period of time, offer up what is sometimes called "breath prayers" or "arrow prayers". In fact, I do those so often during the day. And when I do, yes... I sense God's presence and experience what God is longing for me to experience in those still moments.
So, while you are still...know! Know like you have never known before! And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, be with you!
God, in the stillness of these days, help me to know you more. And as I know you more, help me to experience your peace, your comfort, and most of all, your presence. Be not only with me, but all of those that I carry in my heart today. May they unexplainably experience your presence in whatever they are doing at this moment and throughout this day. Help me to acknowledge your presence in all that I do and all that I think. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen!
Scripture Reading: Psalm 121
Devotional for Monday, March 16
by Rev. Harry Vein
I lift up my eyes to the hills - from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1)
I remember taking vacations back in the day when we had to navigate where we were going with the assistance of either a map that you were unfolding and trying to read while perilously driving down the road or you would pull into a gas station and ask for directions. (I know...I'm really showing my age now!) Today, it is different and so much easier as I simply plug the destination into my phone navigation and I am literally told how to go, which lane to drive in and how long it will take.
All of this has come to my mind as I am trying to grasp how to navigate life during these days and times. It is definitely a new way to navigate and it is no longer business as usual! And I know my phone navigation system is not going to be of any help. But I did have these words from the 121st Psalm come into my head the other day.
I think we all know where our help comes from, don't we? We don't know who wrote this Psalm, but there are some things that I think I know about this person. I believe they were at a place in their life that was troubling and maybe even causing them to feel anxious. You see...I think they were feeling some of what some of us are feeling today.
That is why I want you to be reminded of the "help" that comes from the Lord. That help may not come with all of the instructions lined out as you and I might like, but that help can come in the form of a nudge, a presence, or a "still, small voice" that is telling us how to take care of life right now. As I have been seeking that help to navigate life and in leading a faith community at this time, I am thankful for all the ways God has been providing that help. I have found it in all of the ways that God has asked us to care for one another and protect each other. I have found it in doing worship in a way that we have never had to worship before. And I found it this morning in meeting with some of our ministry staff as we are coming up with ways to make that experience even more personal for you and your loved ones at home.
Join me in finding help from where it really comes from...not only during these challenging times, but also in the years still to come!
Let us pray:
O God, who is truly our help at all times and in all places, we praise you and thank you for being there for us and with us! Continue to be our help in these uncertain times as we try to make our way through it all. Remind us of your presence that is watching over us. And may we be mindful that you are here with us...now and forevermore. We pray all of this is Jesus' name, Amen.