Fire Within

Read Luke 24:31-33

The temperatures are rising outside as we transition from spring into summer. The increase in temperatures have drawn my thoughts toward heat and fire. My thoughts have also been focusing on the upcoming celebration of Pentecost in the Church. In the telling of events which occurred at Pentecost shortly after Jesus returning to the spiritual realms, we see the portrayal of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire on the shoulders of the disciples. Fire plays an important role throughout many Scripture accounts.

Today’s focus passage comes at the end of one of Luke’s stories about the appearances of Jesus post-resurrection. This story is often referred to at the “walk to Emmaus” because two disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus as they walk to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They discuss with  Jesus the events of his death without recognizing him. He explains to them how the Hebrew Scriptures indicated these things had to happen. It was not until they reached Emmaus and were breaking bread with the Lord that they realized who they had been talking with during this time. This is where we join the story today.

The idea of their hearts burning within them drew my attention. Having the Lord open the Scriptures to them created this sensation. Clearly a glow or an overpowering sensation overcame  the core of their being. This sensation is spiritual and not physical. It is unique and very specific. Imagine a fire burning within a person’s spirit.

This passage links well with all the occurrences of fire throughout the Bible. Whether it be the call of Moses at the “burning bush,” the galvanizing of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faith in the furnace, or the telling of tongues of fire on disciple shoulders, the link between the Spirit and fire is clear. What these two disciples experienced as they listened to Jesus was the Spirit changing their hearts and perspectives.

Have you felt the burning of the Spirit in your being? I have had such a sensation at times in my life. The transforming by the Spirit is the basis. Each sensation is different and unique because the reason or need for transformation is different. The reason may be an altering of perspective such as in today’s story. Or maybe the need is to take our words and/or actions from the ordinary to the spiritual. Or possibly the situation calls for a cleansing of ourselves. Whatever the case, we come away recalling the sensation and being transformed.  Be open to the sensation and transformation of the Spirit.

Sheep Astray

Read Isaiah 53:1-6

Have you ever tried to corral sheep? I had a friend who had a small flock of sheep. One day I assisted him in attempting to move the sheep from a small pasture into a building so they would be ready for the shearers. The task was a monumental one. Each time we would get a majority of the sheep headed in the correct direction, one or two of them would break away to go their own direction. When you tried to bring those back to the flock, the flock would scatter because your attention was in another direction. Quickly I understood the value of one or two sheep dogs.

The writer of Isaiah clearly understood the nature of sheep. He uses the imagery of scattering sheep to describe the state of our being. We have gone astray and the Servant has paid the price for our going our own way. This passage is part of a whole section usually entitled the Suffering Servant portion of Scripture. Many biblical interpreters link what is described here with the experience of Jesus Christ.

The realization that out of great love forus, Jesus was willing to endure suffering and even death to ensure we are brought back to God’s flock is humbling. Our desire to go our own way is a strong one. We frequently convince ourselves that we know what is best for us. Instead of being guided by the Spirit into the safety of the Lord’s way, we break out in a different direction, endangering ourselves and potentially others. Jesus brings us back through his suffering and obedience to God. He shows us the way home.

A Different Peace

Read John 14:25-27

In light of recent events in our world, Russia’s attack and invasion of Ukraine, I went to Scripture for guidance. The desire of most people throughout the world is to live a life in peace and fulfillment. While we have different understandings of what those words mean or look like, the general desire is to have what we need to survive without concern for our safety. This seems to be something which should be easily attainable. The problem is that human sin is a part of life. Greed, deception, hatred, and selfishness inject themselves into daily living. These sins lead to actions which do not ensure the peace and safety of all people.

The passage which I was drawn to today is a portion of a conversation which Jesus is having with his closest disciples. In John’s version of the gospel, Jesus is always trying to prepare his disciples for his death. He seeks to assure them and provide them comfort. Here Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit. He also tells them that he will leave them a peace far different than the world’s peace. This peace is enduring unlike the fleeting peace we experience in our lives. This peace is not just an absence of conflict and physical violence  but a calmness of spirit even in the midst of conflict and violence. The peace which Jesus provides, and the Holy Spirit reminds us about, is one which overcomes worry and fear.

While world leaders attempt to bring the latest eruption of violence and death under control, we are mindful that our Lord overcomes all violence and death. We are offered a peace of spirit and reassurance that transcends our earthly experience. It is wise, and our duty, to continue to pray for Ukraine’s people in the midst of these events. We also pray for the overcoming of human sin and its impact upon us and all people. Even as we pray, we know that what the world offers is fleeting but what the Lord offes is eternal. The peace which Jesus gives to us provides us comfort and reassurance because it reminds us that he has already overcome the sin of this world.

By the Spirit

Read 2 Timothy 1:6-7

After an extended hiatus due to moving and complications related to the move, I am back. The difficulties which we experienced easily could have defeated my spirit. I have even considered whether I would resume my writing of online devotionals. What gave me the strength to push through the challenges, and also return to writing, has been the Spirit of the Lord. Through frequent and earnest prayer, I was able to be enveloped in the Spirit. The spirit gave me strength when I was emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted. This same Spirit has nudged me to resume writing devotionals.

In our focus passage for today, Paul is giving instruction to one of his proteges, Timothy. He writes in his letter to Timothy that he must fan the gift he has received from God until it becomes a burning flame. Paul reminds Timothy that God has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline, not one of timidity. Paul’s words are intended to urge Timothy to boldly develop and use the gift which comes from  God.

Each of us have moments when we do not think we can push forward. We have times of doubt in which we may not find value in a gift, or gifts, God has given to us. Giving up, quitting, may seem appealing. We may even attempt to convince ourselves that ceasing our efforts is the best course of action. These periods in our lives is  when Paul’s words speak to us the strongest. Being reminded of the importance to expand and use God’s gifts is the prompt which we need. Receiving the assurance that God has not placed a spirit of timidity in us but one of boldness in power, love, and discipline encourages us. I know it does me. Maybe it does you as well.

Do Not Stop

Read Acts 5:27-32

One of the challenging lessons for parents to teach their children is not to succumb to peer pressure. This is a lesson which must be learned because throughout our entire life we will encounter people who try to pressure us into a variety of actions and situations. There are also times when we pressure ourselves to conform to the desires and priorities of others. A person needs to learn to stand for their own convictions and beliefs while being open to learning from the perceptions of others and possibly adjusting when appropriate.

The followers of Jesus are trying to understand what it means to continue to follow even though Jesus is no longer physically present. Meanwhile, The Jewish leadership is trying to eliminate any further following of Jesus. The leaders in Jerusalem had instructed the apostles to cease doing acts in Jesus’s name or share his teachings with others. Yet the apostles continued to do as Jesus had told them to do. In today’s passage the apostles are brought before the leadership to answer for their disobedience. The apostles tell the leaders that they cannot and will not succumb to the pressure of the leadership. They declare that they must do what Jesus, who spoke God’s instructions, told them. The Holy Spirit has affirmed this to them.

We are to be like the apostles in what we read here. There are people who tell us to not speak of Jesus. We are told to no longer share the stories of Jesus and how Jesus has worked in our lives. Some mock us when we attribute the works of compassion, mercy and grace which we perform in the name of the Lord. Our faith, beliefs, and understandings of the Lord should be kept private so we make no one uncomfortable is what we are told. The apostles tell us in this passage not to let peer pressure stop us from doing as God instructs. We are to have the courage to stand by our convictions and beliefs. Let us pray that we will follow the example of the apostles. 

In Christ

Read Colossians 2:6-8

Some passages from the Bible can appear fairly simple on the surface but when examined closely, they can contain some valuable insights. For today’s passage we will do some mining to see what insights we may glean.

The passage begins with a reminder that those hearing this message have received Christ as Lord. The concept of receiving has been viewed in a variety of ways. First, there is the image of receiving Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This image has associated with it the understanding of allowing the Spirit to enter our lives and our hearts as a guide and support. Second, by adding the phrase, “as Lord,” the concept of receiving includes an acknowledgement, maybe even a declaration, that Christ is the Lord of our lives.

The next portion of the passage comes with the instruction to “continue to live your lives in him.” This is a curious and complex thought. What does it mean to live “in” Christ? The idea that the source of our life is Christ comes to mind. Seeing our life enveloped in Christ would mean how we respond to people and aspects of our lives should be from a Christ-like perspective.

Then the writer expands upon the instruction by defining some of what this might look like. Our anchor is to be in Christ. We grow by being securely planted in Christ, his teachings and his expressions of love. This allows us to withstand the challenging times of life as we mature into being followers of Christ.

Next, the writer tells us to become stronger in the beliefs which we have been taught. Here we are reminded that our learning does not have an ending point, on earth there is no graduation as a believer. Instead, we continue to study God’s word, listen to the messengers God places in our lives, and explore with fellow believers how to live out the grace and love which we receive from the Lord.

The final phrase of this section tells us to overflow with thankfulness. There are a variety of ways we can express our thanks. The easiest is by using words to speak of our gratitude to the Lord. The expression which brings the greatest joy to God is by living out our thankfulness. Through the ways we give to and interact with others, we can demonstrate how thankful we are for what we receive. A combination of these approaches will allow others to see our lives of gratitude.

The remaining section of today’s passage is a warning. The warning is for us to not be led by human understanding but solely by Christ. Human interpretation of life and how to live it, void of Christ’s instruction and guidance, lacks substance and accuracy. Human teachings must always be viewed through Christ-given lenses.

May we take these pieces of wisdom and strive to live according to them.

Gift Discernment

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

When a teenager is in high school, often they will experience taking some form of an aptitude test at least once. The purpose behind such a test is to assist the teenager in identifying what type of employment may best suit their personality, skills, and interests. With this information, the student can be guided in what subjects they should take while in high school. This also provides an opportunity for looking toward the future in regard to what post-secondary education or training would be helpful for the student to move toward them toward employment goals. The generally accepted view is that after identifying the personality, skills and interests, preparing for a future where these are easily applied is the best route. What this approach fails to take into account is the changes which can, and do, occur in those three areas as a person matures. Also, the changes in employment types and opportunities as society advances does not factor into this approach. However, a short-term plan can be established for the time being as long as taking other aptitude tests occurs frequently throughout the person’s life.

Paul speaks about a person’s aptitude in his letter to the Corinthians. He uses the words “spiritual gifts” instead of aptitude. Paul tells the people that everyone receives personalities, skills, and interests from the Spirit. These are intended to be used by the individual to serve others. Each person’s gifts are different from another but are expected to work in harmony with others to achieve the benefit of everyone.

You have been given your own unique personality, set of skills, and interests by the Spirit. Identifying those unique aspects is important so that you are able to exercise them for the good of all. This identification usually requires the assistance of others which is one of the purposes of active engagement in the fellowship of the Church. It is also very important to remember that discerning these items is not a one-time event but should be done frequently since changes occur. Each time after discernment, identifying how to apply these gifts for the good of others is the next step.

When did you last take inventory of what you received from the Spirit? Is it time to repeat this discernment? How are you using your gifts?

Cry For Help

Read Psalm 143

Life is not always easy. There are periods when everything seems to be going smoothly; work, relationships, health, finances, and leisure time seem to be in sync and have positive outlooks. Then there are events which impact one or more of these and life can seem topsy turvy. All of us experience some level of this during the pandemic. During these times of challenge it may appear that we are all alone, having to face whatever situation on our own. We may even feel God has abandoned us. Hope may be fading for us.

This description of a life situation is exactly how the author of Psalm 143 is feeling. In a period of desperation and fading hope the author writes this song to be sung to the Lord. It is a plea, a prayer. The request is simple. The song calls on the Lord for hope. A desire to be led out of the current, difficult times is placed before God. There is urgency in the plea. The individual acknowledges the loss of hope and the crushing of the spirit. Yet, clearly there still exists confidence in the Lord.

This psalm is one which each of us could probably sing at different points in our lives. We may experience times of desperation. Our view may be that we are facing challenges alone. While we still believe in God, God can seem to be so distant from us. Hope can be fading in our lives. The weight of our situation is overwhelming and brings us to the point where our spirit feels crushed under it. However, we are not alone. The Spirit of the Lord is always present with us. Our prayers and cries for help are heard. We are being led to something better even though we are unable to see it at the present time. Our confidence does not rest in us but in the hope from our Lord.

Watch the Words

Read James 1:19-21

A cornerstone to a healthy relationship is communication. Whether the relationship is an intimate one or more casual in nature, communication is significant. Whenever we interact with another human being, we have initiated a relationship, brief or in length. The relationship might be between two people on a sidewalk, between a customer and clerk, or between two people on a date. The setting can be a rally event, in our home, in a store, or on the commuter train. Anytime we interact with one another, some form of relationship occurs. In all of these situations, how we communicate influences the relationship and the outcome of the encounter.

As we read the passage today, we engage in advice regarding communication. The words were written to a group of believers in the first century but have value even today. First piece of advice is to be quick to listen. This indicates to us the importance of listening before beginning to speak. Defer to the other person to hear their information and/or perspective. Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said,” We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This is echoed in the advice from James which continues by saying we should be slow to speak.

The third piece of advice is to be slow to become angry. Anger does not fit what God wishes to see in human relationships. The usual outcome of anger is the expression of damaging words. Anger does not build up a relationship. While the emotion of anger is unavoidable at times, managing and controlling it is a valuable skill. Many difficult situations can be avoided if we do not rush to anger and the harsh words it produces.

Finally, the advice states to remove moral filth and evil from our thoughts and communication. Instead, we are to focus on the words planted in us by the Spirit. These are words which build one another up. These are words which communicate the love of God into our relationships. By focusing on and using these words, we save ourselves from destructive communication which destroys relationships.

Temptation

Read Matthew 4:1-11

All types of temptations confront us in life. When a person is on a diet, there seems to be endless opportunities to eat foods which are packed with unhealthy calories. If you are trying to conserve or save money, advertisements on social media surface attempting to entice you to buy something you want badly. When in college, the availability of credit cards tempted me to spend money which I did not have. Temptation comes in a variety of forms from a variety of sources. How a person responds to temptation has a strong impact on one’s ability to overcome the temptation.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s version of the gospel, we witness Jesus going to the arid area near the Jordan River. Prior to this passage we hear of Jesus being baptized by John. This is the starting point of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The transition from growing up while working with Joseph and his mobile ministry of healing and teaching is marked with these two stories. While in this barren area without resources of food and water, Jesus is tempted by the tempter, or devil. The three mentioned temptations are taking care of the physical needs of food and water, testing if the Father’s protection is real, and obtaining controlling power by worshiping someone other than God. Jesus’s response is always to rely on his understanding and following of God’s directions. This response allowed Jesus to overcome the temptation.

Each of us encounter the same types of temptations as presented here. There are times when we are tempted to place our perceived needs ahead of everything else. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands to satisfy our need instead of trusting in God to provide.

The temptation to want to challenge God to see if the promises are real can surface occasionally. We may make reckless choices and say to ourselves, “if God truly loves me, I will be kept safe.” The expectation that God will get us out of perilous situations is best illustrated with the moral story of the man who drowned in a flood because he kept refusing the help God was sending.

A hunger for power and authority along with all the earthly benefits associated with them can easily creep into our everyday life. We place people and objects in the center of our lives to obtain that power, authority and benefits. These items take the place of God who deserves to always be in the center of our lives.

Jesus again provides a way to respond when these, and other temptations, confront us. Relying on the directions of the Lord is the way to overcome temptation. We can obtain this direction by understanding and applying Scripture. The fellow believers and faith leaders which God places in our lives can assist in providing God’s direction for us. Being in communication with the Lord through the Spirit also opens this direction to us. Temptation will always come our way but if we seek God’s direction as our response when it does, we will overcome it.