Positive Focus

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)

There is a lot of negativity in our world. Some sociologists state that since the 1970s the population of the United States tends to view institutions such as the government and the church, as well as life in general, in a more negative way than the generations prior to the 1970s. The same sociologists view the 1960s as the turning point leading us to the negative turn. Events and experiences of the 1970s, and each decade since, have caused people to lose confidence and hope in ever receiving many beneficial influences from anything or anyone outside themselves.

Paul writes a letter to the believers of Jesus Christ in the area of Philippi. Toward the end of his letter, he gives them some final instructions to follow. Our passage today contains those instructions. He tells them to rejoice in all situations. Show their gentleness. Do not be anxious but let prayer be the manner in which they present their requests to God. God’s peace will guard each heart and mind. Their thoughts should focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Paul is directing the people to focus on the positive aspects of life with trust in the Lord.

The advice Paul gives to the Philippians can be solid advice for us today. We are quick to identify all the problems and negative aspects of life. Our ability to identify and articulate everything which is  wrong in the world around us overshadows our attempts to find the good aspects. A recommendation for all of us might be that we reread these verses every Monday morning before we start a new week as our way to help us accentuate the positive in our lives. Some of us may see a need to do this daily instead of weekly.  Whichever method you choose, the message here is to focus on life’s positives.

Praying Correctly

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:7-15 (NIV)

Understanding and participating in prayer can be a daunting experience for people. There usually is a great concern about “getting it right.” Prayer is much simpler than many people tend to make it. Prayer is a conversation, a conversation between a human person and a loving spirit we name God. When we engage in prayer we are verbalizing what is on our hearts and mind. Prayer should be spoken using words we would use if talking to our closest friend. There is no one way to pray, there is YOUR way to pray.

In the Gospel of Matthew, a scene is recorded where Jesus gives his disciples an idea of what they could talk with God about. Jesus uses language which was common during his lifetime. He also keeps it short and sweet. First he tells God how he views God and his hopes in relation to God and God’s kingdom. Then he speaks to God about his needs to be fed (physically and spiritually) and to be forgiven. Jesus concludes by asking for assistance from God to avoid life’s pitfalls. All of this prayer is said in a corporate manner so that the disciples understand this can be used by them in an individual sense and in a group sense. A simple conversation with God, using the language of the day and not saying words just to say them.

This prayer should alleviate any concerns which you may have about praying. This prayer shows us that there are no difficult rules to follow when praying. Just talk to God who loves you beyond human understanding. Share with God.

Faith

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Romans 4:1-12 (NIV)

What does it mean to have faith? The dictionary states “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Having faith does not come easily nor does it mean abandoning what common sense tells us. The key to faith is the trust which is necessary. Trust takes time to develop so it is natural that faith takes time to develop. When faith has been established, the confidence one has in someone or something will aid the person in following and/or believing.

In our reading today, Paul writes about the faith of Abraham. Reading Paul’s letters can at times feel like you are on rabbit chase. If you are able to keep on the trail with Paul, you will obtain great insights into faith, Jesus Christ, God’s love and how to live as redeemed children of God. Paul speaks about how Abraham became righteous, or right with God. Paul writes that Abraham was right with God not because of any actions which Abraham did but because he had faith in God. Paul then continues in what may seem a very complicated manner to show that this righteousness is available to Gentile and Jew alike.

For us today, Paul’s connection between Abraham’s faith and the faith of people in Paul’s time is easily transferable to us. Abraham’s faith was in God, our faith is in Christ, the revelation of God in humanity. Like Abraham and the Romans, we are not right with God because of anything we have done or will do but because we trust and have confidence in Jesus Christ. Faith is all we need to have confidence in living as a redeemed child of God.

Importance of Giving Thanks

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)

A dangerous occurrence in relationships is when one person assumes the other person knows what is being thought or felt. This happens far too often and frequently leads to hurt feelings. It is important for humans to make the effort to verbally express to one another feelings and appreciation. By expressing these items, confusion and doubt can be avoided. This helps to bring clarity into the relationship.

In our passage today, Jesus encounters ten lepers who cry out to him for assistance. Jesus responds by sending them to a priest. This is customary when a person appears to be healed from leprosy. The priest had to declare them clean before they could return to regular society. What seems different here is that they were healed on the way, not before they left. They must have believed Jesus would heal them before they arrived at the priest’s location. Then the account shares that only one of them returned to thank Jesus, a Samaritan whose nationality was despised by the Jews. Jesus declares that this man’s faith has made him well.

Here we are reminded of the value in expressing gratitude. Gratitude is one of those feelings that was referred to above. The other nine must have assumed Jesus would know how grateful they are for being healed. They probably wanted to return to their families and former life so quickly that they did not think to take the time to find Jesus and express thanks.

We can be guilty of the same assumptions and being too busy to stop long enough to offer thanks. We do this with one another. We do this even more often with the Lord. Our thoughts can be that others and the Lord obviously know we are thankful so keep moving forward with life’s activities. It can be an unspoken assumption.

Jesus tells us that the opposite is true. Jesus shows how much it means to be sought out and thanked. The expression of these assumed feelings make a significant difference. Take time to pause and give thanks when someone does something for you. Make the time to express your gratitude to the Lord. Afterall, the Lord gave you the air you just breathed and so much more.

The Anchor

Today’s devotion is based upon a song written by Ray Boltz. The song is entitled “The Anchor Holds.” It speaks to those times in our lives when we are facing and experiencing challenges. Times when we feel battered. Listen to it and read the words as you watch this video.

Ray Boltz captures the essence of our human struggle. It can be easy to lose faith and we may want to give up in such times. The waves and the storms can seem overwhelming. Yet our anchor, our faith in Jesus Christ, our knowledge of the love of God as expressed by Christ, can and will sustain us. The anchor will prevent us from being bashed against life’s rocks. We can survive the storms and sail on calmer seas once again.

What did you hear in Boltz’s lyrics?

How do you rely on your anchor?

The Lord wants to be your anchor. Will you let it happen?

An Oath

13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:13-20 (NIV)

There are a variety of situations in which a person takes an oath to seal a promise made. Elected officials take oaths, as do judges, military personnel, and non-elected government officials. The oath is to confirm their promise to fulfill their assigned duties and to support the Constitution of the United States of America. A witness in a court proceeding takes an oath confirming their promise to tell the truth as they answer questions. There are all types of oaths but they each exist for the one purpose to affirm the fulfillment of a promise made.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrew people talks about oaths and promises. Specifically, an oath made to Abraham and then a promise made to us. God promised Abraham that he would be blessed and have many offspring. The writer tells us that God swore an oath to God’s self to fulfill the promise to Abraham. God kept that oath. The writer continues by connecting the promise and oath God made to Abraham with the promise of our salvation. The writer indicates that knowing God’s previous fulfillment assures us of the promise made for us. This assurance becomes the anchor of our hope. 

We have been made the promise that if we believe in Jesus Christ as God’s son who gave us a way to salvation from ourselves, we would experience our eternal life in God’s presence. This promise was given many years ago so some wonder if it is still possible. What we read here is an answer to that question. The promise is real and can be trusted to be fulfilled as seen throught history. This history includes what has been recorded in Scripture but also through the testimony of people present and past. In trusting in the oath and promise of God, we find hope.

Leading the Way

 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:1-9 (NIV)

Being placed in a leadership role can be scary. Depending on the size and scope of the organization, there can be times when the role may be daunting. The health of the organization may add to the burden of leadership if there are issues of concern. Transitions within the organization and/or its direction can also create leadership challenges. Many times there is no playbook on how to navigate these situations. Insight from other leaders and the organization’s 

own governance documents and policies may be of some assistance. Leaders can often feel alone. Leaders can experience high levels of stress accompanied by a multitude of concerns. A sense of inadequacy for the leadership role to which the person has been called can enter her/his thoughts.

A leadership transition is occurring in today’s reading from Joshua. Moses has died and his assistant, Joshua, will become the new leader of the Israelites as they enter the promised land. The Lord is giving Joshua instructions as the new leader of the Israelites. The Lord tells Joshua as the people cross over the Jordan that they are to strictly follow the law Moses gave from God. Success will come by following what God has said. God reminds Joshua to be strong and courageous in his leadership. God promised Joshua to always be with him.

These words must have been important to Joshua because he was dealing with a multitude of issues at the time. Moses was Joshua’s leader and mentor. Joshua probably assumed that Moses would be the one to lead the Israelites into the new land and help them to become established but now Moses was dead. Joshua quickly goes from being an assistant to being the leader of a rather rebellious group of people. Even though Joshua had watched Moses as he led by God’s guidance, there was no handbook to follow outside of God’s commands. God gives Joshua the pep talk and assurance which Joshua needs to be a leader of people entering a new land.

We may not be called upon to lead people into a new land but the Lord’s words are still helpful to us. Whether we are called to  be a leader of a large or small organization, or to be the leader in our own house, these directions from the Lord apply to us. It is important that we use God’s commands and Jesus’s teachings as our guides in navigating life’s journey. Knowing that the Lord has promised to always be with us wherever we go provides the confidence we need to face whatever may lay ahead of us on our journey. So let us go boldly into each day whether that day we are leading or following. The Lord has given us guidelines to follow and a promise of being present with us wherever we journey.

Do Not Worry

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:22-34 (NIV)

Life can easily become filled with plenty of worries. The older a person gets, the more there seems to worry about. Some worries are practical such as having shelter, food, and warmth. Other worries are about people like our spouse, our children, and our friends. We can be concerned about financial matters. Our jobs can cause us to worry, things like are we performing well enough, how secure is our position, or will our company survive an economic downtown. All of these worries can cause us to lie awake at night in our beds. Then we worry about being too sleepy to be productive the next day.

Jesus had something to say about worrying. He tells his disciples not to worry because God provides what we need. Worrying does not add anything to our lives Jesus says. Afterall, we cannot do much about these things. Instead of worrying, what we can do is place our focus on God and God’s kingdom. If we place our focus on God and follow God’s direction, Jesus tells us that God will provide a way for us to receive what we need.

The advice Jesus gives here has two elements which are important to hold on to as we interpret his words. The first is the difference between wants and needs. Most of the time we worry about what we want and not what we need. God knows what we need and promises to have that covered. The other important element to keep in mind is that Jesus is not advocating laziness. God is not going to just drop everything in our laps. God will provide the way for us to receive but we must be willing to make the effort to follow that way and obtain what is being provided.

Being Fair

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22 (NIV)

Imagine attending an event where there are many vendors who have booths set up in an attempt to sell you their product or services. You might be at a fair, a convention, or a festival. The booths are side by side in multiple rows. There seems to be a variety of products to choose from and some vendors are selling similar products or services. Each vendor tries to entice you to stop so they can convince you why you need what they are offering. The noise and the endless amount of sales pitches can be mind-boggling.

Jesus enters the courts of the temple and witnesses a scene like described above. Added to the vendor booths are booths where the Jews can exchange their Roman money for Jewish denarii. There is a practical side to all of this. First, the Jews were required to use the coin of the occupying government, Romans, for transactions outside the temple. Inside the temple and among Jews, they needed to use denarii for offerings and transactions since that is the money of the Jews. Being able to make exchanges both ways was the job of the money changer. In regard to the animals mentioned here, they were needed to make the required sacrifices as prescribed by Jewish law. Since some Jews had to travel a long distance to the temple, it was often more practical to not bring animals along but instead to purchase them when arriving at the temple. The issue which Jesus raises is the corruption and greed which prevailed among the vendors. The vendors were taking advantage of the people and their needs.

Here we are given a warning and a call to action. The warning comes in how Jesus responds to the vendors. If we are providing necessary services in or out of the community of faith, we must avoid the temptation of allowing greed to enter our transactions with others. Attempts to get ahead or benefit beyond our own needs are not acceptable in the eyes of our Lord. The call to action is in the example Jesus sets here. When we witness greed, corruption, and injustice, we must speak up. We cannot be silent witnesses. We must engage in change. Our call and authority to act is found in the One who allowed the temple to be torn down and raised again in three days.

The Test

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspringall nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Genesis 22:1-19 (NIV)

This time of year can be dangerous for anyone choosing to venture out on a frozen body of water. As the weather warms up, melting and freezing takes place. This causes the ice to become thin and brittle. It can be difficult as we transition from winter to spring to know with any certainty how thick the ice is. This is why it is extremely important to test the ice before venturing out on it, or just stay completely off of it.

In the passage assigned for today, we discover a much different type of testing. This is a familiar story which can be very troubling to many. The request which God appears to make of Abraham seems extreme and does not fit our image of a loving God. There is clearly more to unpack here than this devotional can cover. Remember that we must read this passage through the contextual aspects in which it was written. The struggle for Abraham here is a question of being willing to give up the most precious item in his life to communicate his faith in God and be obedient. See this story is much more about Abraham than it is about God. God provides a substitute for Isaac. Here God is communicating that child sacrifice is not what is required. Abraham had faith that God would provide a solution to a difficult situation and God did.

There are times when life can really test us. During those times, we discover a lot about ourselves. Who is it that we turn to or rely on when we are tested? When what we are experiencing does not make sense, do we turn to the Lord? We may want to give up, and may even be justified in wanting to give up, but our faith tells us that God will provide a way. Trusting in the Lord to provide the right people, resources, or solutions demonstrates what we believe. As long as we are open to the possibilities which God creates, we can face the test no longer how short or long it exists.