Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Our Own Path

Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-4

Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.
-Psalm 34:3 (NIV)

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado. Near my home, a canyon road begins as a single highway and then splits into two roads that appear to go in different directions. However, the roads actually encircle a mountain and then re-join in a state park. Although they end in the same place, the routes are unique in beauty, terrain, and history.

In a similar way, early believers in Corinth were divided. They were quarreling over whom they should follow. Some said, "I follow Paul," while others said, "I follow Apollos." However, Paul stressed that he and Apollos were only servants, saying, "Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3:7, nrsv).

A common temptation among believers is to talk more about a particular church or leader than about Christ. Perhaps we think our journey in faith is the best way to Christ. The two routes to the state park remind me that although we journey with other believers to a common destination, we are individually unique creations of God with our own stories and our own path to walk. Some day our paths will converge and we will discover that we were each on the right path.

by Barbara Gail Bliss (Colorado, USA)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Letters of Christ

Read 2 Corinthians 2:17–3:4

You are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
-2 Corinthians 3:3 (NRSV)

SEVERAL years ago, my husband and I went to Haiti on a building mission from our local church. There were 13 of us on the team, and we lived in some rooms behind the church. We decided to ask each team member to lead a devotion for one morning after breakfast. In searching for something to use, I read from 2 Corinthians, "You are a letter from Christ." After reading several other verses, those six words kept coming back to me. I wondered if our friends in Haiti thought of us in that way. They were also letters from Christ to us as they extended hospitality to us by being so generous with what little they had.

Then I realized that no matter where we are, we are letters from Christ to our families, friends, and neighbors in the communities where we live. We can be letters of encouragement and letters of love whether we are at home or in some other part of the world. Perhaps we may at some time in our lives be "letters of introduction" about Christ for someone who doesn't know him.

by Annette Kinney (North Carolina, USA)

Friday, June 26, 2009

work our land

Proverbs 12:11
He who works his land will have abundant food,
but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.

I love this one. We all have land. Opportunities that we are given and asked to work. And when we do, they yield abundant food. But how often do we ignore the land we have? The jobs we have? The friends we have? The situations we have and chase fantasies in far off lands with far off people instead? I struggle with this every time I visit a really interactive blog. I immediately think, “I need to be doing more with video and live chat and graphics and and and.” Suddenly, the land I have, writing, becomes really small and unimportant as I chase fantasies.

What land do you have that you are taking for granted right now?

What fantasies are you chasing?

by Prodigal Jon

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fully Ripe

Read Isaiah 40:27-31

No one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
-Isaiah 64:4 (NIV)

EVERY year it happens. I wait and keep checking my blackberry vines to see the white flowers turn from green berries to red and then finally to a delicious black.

I'm so impatient that I usually pick that first blackberry too soon. It's never sweet enough. Eventually I remember the art of just gently touching the darkest one. If fully ripe, it will fall into my hand.

My blackberry vines remind me that God knows the right time for everything that will happen in my life. Recently I sensed this when I felt frustrated about my job. I was tempted to complain or quit. I wanted relief because I felt powerless. But waiting for God's timing meant learning patience with unreasonable coworkers. Waiting meant believing God could stretch my paychecks. And as I waited, I saw God use these frustrating circumstances to bring forth fruit in my life.

Trying to force things to be a certain way is like pulling fruit off the vine prematurely. Instead, if we patiently persevere, we can become less consumed with our wanting and more focused on the sweet fruit that will come in God's time.

by Dolly Dickinson (North Carolina, USA)

Monday, June 22, 2009

No Substitute

Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

The psalmist wrote, "Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long."
-Psalm 119:97 (NRSV)

MY dentist's office is full of very expensive and sophisticated equipment. The high-tech gadgetry helps him to monitor possible problems with my teeth and treat whatever problems may arise with greater precision and less pain for me.

But there's one dental-health issue that all the fancy equipment can't address: the results of not flossing daily. Standing in the middle of all that equipment, my dentist told me, "There's no substitute for running that piece of floss between your teeth." It's hard to believe that an action so simple can have such great effect.

Sometimes in the pursuit of good spiritual health, we try to substitute complicated and advanced methods for the simple ones we have readily at hand. We may go to conferences or seminars to deepen our spirituality but neglect daily meditation and Bible study.

There's no substitute for flossing, and there's no substitute for praying and reading scripture daily.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Giants in the Road

Read Numbers 13:25–14:9

The people who live [in Canaan] are powerful, and their cities are very large and well fortified. Even worse, we saw the descendants of the giants there.
-Numbers 13:28 (TEV)

A tiny, orange salamander rested at the edge of the expansive black road. From the other side of the road, the waters of a mountain stream beckoned. The creature crept forward, but froze as we "giants" blocked its path.

At the same time, my friend and I stared at the small animal on the road. Just a few feet from the safety of the stream, it stopped, seemingly paralyzed by fear. I realized that often my life mirrors this. At times, I am eager to reach a goal but afraid to face the "giants," just like the Israelites who lost courage even with the Promised Land in sight. Joshua and Caleb's response to the people's fear reminds me: "The Lord is with us . . . so don't be afraid" (Num. 14:9).

We all face giants such as financial difficulties, temptations of the flesh, and selfish desires. One of my scariest giants appeared when I had to decide whether or not to leave my dream job to move closer to my wife's family. I made the move, and in my new location I found the abundant love of family and friends who helped me to grow closer to Christ. Once I acted on my trust in the Lord, I discovered that I had entered my "promised land."

by Jesse F. Stewart (South Carolina, USA)

Answering God's Call

Read 1 Samuel 10:17-24

[The people] inquired again of the Lord, "Did the man come here?" and the Lord said, "See, he has hidden himself among the baggage."
-1 Samuel 10:22 (NRSV)

THE date of our church's annual meeting was drawing near. My wife and I were praying to discern God's will because I had received an invitation to join the governing board of our church. I could think of many good reasons to decline the invitation. However, I wasn't sure.

Just before departing for the meeting, I read that day's meditation in El Aposento Alto (the Spanish edition of The Upper Room). It cited the scripture above, which told about Saul trying to hide from God's call. I knew I had been trying to hide "among the baggage," but I felt God was clearly asking more of me. I was left with no doubt in my mind: I should take on the challenge. I was elected to serve the church in a position of great responsibility.

We all have gifts and talents to offer. If we place them at God's disposal, in God's time and plan, the Holy Spirit will give us power to serve God and God's people.

by Antonio Mario Schar (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Watered Rose

Read Ephesians 4:31–5:2

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
-Isaiah 58:11 (NRSV)

HAVE you ever stood still, looked into the head of a rose, and marveled at its beauty? Days before, such a beautiful rose was a small, tight bud. Who could imagine that within a few days this would become a beauty so large it seemed impossible that it ever fit into that bud? What's more, the rose can overwhelm with the pleasure of its exquisite fragrance.

Becoming a Christian is like this. Without Christ, we "are limited and small" but once we have been "united with Christ," (Phil. 2:1, niv) our loving Savior, we unfold and expand like that rose. In Christ we can become full and rich in compassion, spreading the fragrance of love.

by Alison Mason (Victoria, Australia)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Running the Race

Read Philippians 3:10-16

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
-Isaiah 40:31 (NRSV)

MY brother, Art, often took part in Colorado's annual Pike's Peak run, which is 14 miles. One year Art's 13-year-old daughter, Ruth, decided to enter. But about a quarter-mile into the race, Ruth called, "Daddy, I'm dropping out. I can't do it." "Can you run if I run with you?" Art asked.

"Well, I can try," came Ruth's answer. So as the other runners raced up the mountain, Art and Ruth plodded along. At miles 5, 10, 12 and 13 they were still going. When they finally crossed the finish line, Ruth fell to the ground, exhausted but elated, and said, "Daddy, I think this is the closest I've ever felt to you."

Art died after a two-year battle with injuries sustained in a major fall. But I know that he did not run that last race alone. God ran with him as he struggled "up the hill," and I know that Art was truly close to our heavenly Father at the finish line.

At times when we are struggling with life and think we can't go on, we discover that God is "running the race" with us. God can give us the strength to do what we had believed was impossible.

by Walter H. Everett (Pennsylvania, USA)

A Patient's Prayer

Psalm 28:6-9 (NRSV)
Blessed be the LORD, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings. The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts;so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

In all thy ways acknowledge [God], and he shall direct thy paths.
-Proverbs 3:6 (KJV)

A patient came to my office seeking a hip replacement. His former cardiologist believed that the man's heart was too weak for him to survive a major operation. However, a new cardiologist had stated that while the man faced risks in undergoing surgery, his condition appeared stable. Therefore, he gave his permission to proceed.

Our patient soon passed all preliminary tests. Still, on surgery day I could sense tension in the room among the nurses, anesthesiologist, and me. Our patient could likely sense this as well. He said, "Doctor, I know this is a busy time, but I would like to ask you for one moment to pray." In my 20 years of medical practice, no patient had ever made such a request. All chatter ceased. With his heart monitor beeping in the background, our patient prayed for God to take care of him and all of us in the room who were trying to help him. He thanked God for the opportunity to get better, acknowledging the human limitations of the staff in trying to repair his fragile body.

A sense of calm filled the room. The surgery was a success. In all my professional experience, I never have felt more strongly than on that day the presence of God sent through my patient to me.

by Thomas S. Woo (Indiana, USA)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Arm of the Lord

Read Romans 8:35-39

Cast all your anxiety on [God], because he cares for you.
-1 Peter 5:7 (NRSV)

EVERYWHERE I looked, I saw problems in my family. My mother, living at the other end of the country, had been admitted into the hospital in an emergency. My sister, her caregiver, had been diagnosed with the same infection. My husband feared losing his job; my younger daughter was having difficulties in her student accommodations, and my working hours had been cut from 28 to eight hours a week. Having broken my ankle, I felt overwhelmed, helpless, and as if I were a liability rather than an asset to my family. I could see no solutions. I needed to be in two places at once, and I could barely cope with the situation in one place.

Then I felt God say in my heart, "Come to me." Walking to a nearby window, I looked out at the vast expanse of sky. I relaxed and slowly exhaled a deep breath. The inward voice spoke again, "Am I too small?"

With sky illuminated from horizon to horizon, what could I say? "No, Lord!" I breathed.

"Then give me all your cares."

A tiny silver speck of an airplane emerged from between the vast, billowing clouds. My problems must seem like that to God. I realized then that knowing God is with me is enough.

by M. S. Foster (England)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More than Money

Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
-Hebrews 13:16 (NRSV)

WHEN I arrived in the city where I now live, I saw a beautiful place, where many people vacation. To show God how I appreciated being able to live in such a city, I engaged in social work. For 15 years, as a volunteer I have managed a Christian organization that meets the needs of almost five hundred impoverished children.

Recently, I was surprised when a skeptical friend expressed doubt that I would work for free. The friend thought I am crazy to work without pay.

While meditating on what my friend had said, I received a call from my mother, who is 82, lucid, and healthy. She told me how beautiful Sunday worship had been. When we hung up, the phone rang again. My six-year-old grandson, filling my heart with joy, asked if we could go to the beach that week. Of course I said we could.

I don't work for money, but I am rich. My mother's good health, a hug from my grandson, the beauty of the city, a walk on the cool sand on summer mornings, a family dinner, laughter in the living room - what blessings! They are immeasurable, and more valuable than anything money can buy.

Orlando Lima Coutinho (Santa Catarina, Brazil)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pray! Pray!

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:11-21

Be very careful . . . how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity. . . . do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.
-Ephesians 5:1517 (NIV)

MY two-year-old daughter often repeats one word as many as six or seven times before moving on to the next. I admit that I tune her out sometimes, especially if I am attempting to have an adult conversation.

Our next-door neighbor came over one day just as we were sitting down to lunch. Feeling a little inconvenienced, I nonetheless invited her to sit with us. The neighbor began to pour out her heart about a serious medical condition she was facing. She was very worried. I could hear the Lord speaking in my heart, nudging me, "Don't just say you're going to pray for her. Do it now. Pray in her presence." I tried to disregard the Spirit.

Suddenly, I heard the word my daughter was repeating. "Pray! Pray!" she was saying, waiting for me to give thanks for her food. I grabbed her hand, and as she held the neighbor's, we gave thanks for our food and prayed for this woman we both love. As I closed the prayer "in Jesus' name," I saw that my neighbor's eyes had filled with tears. I blinked back a few tears of my own, hoping that this would be one of many opportunities to share my faith.

by Sarah Beth Snook (South Carolina, USA)

Power and Responsibility

Read Acts 2:1-11

Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
-Matthew 28:19 (NIV

ONE of the most memorable lines from the first of the recent Spiderman movies is when Peter (Spiderman) Parker's uncle Ben tells him, "With great power comes great responsibility." Ben didn't know how powerful his nephew had become, but those words were to remain with Peter as he faced many challenges.

At Pentecost, Jesus' disciples experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which equipped them to follow Christ with the almighty power of God. But with this new power came a responsibility to others, for they were commissioned to go into the world and tell everyone of God's love.

God's power, through the Holy Spirit, is available to Christ's followers in every age, yet often we forget it is offered. We may not travel to all the ends of the earth, but most of us meet people who need to hear about Christ as we go to work, the gym, the school, neighborhood spots. How wonderful that with our responsibility to share God's message comes the Spirit's great power!

by Rosemary Gemmell (Renfrewshire, Scotland)
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