Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 58 – From Pastor Joyce

Friday June 5, 2020

Psalm 25:4-10 New Living Translation (NLT)
4 Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
5 Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you.
6 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love,
which you have shown from long ages past.
7 Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.
Remember me in the light of your unfailing love,
for you are merciful, O Lord.
8 The Lord is good and does what is right;
he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
9 He leads the humble in doing right,
teaching them his way.
10 The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness
all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.


We all have felt lost at times. Sometimes it is because we have missed a signpost while travelling and ended up at some unknown and unfamiliar location. Maybe it was a time when a decision needed to be made and there seemed to be no answer to prayers for guidance and discernment. Or perhaps a decision was made by following what seemed to be God’s direction, but the outcome was not right and there seemed to be no way to remedy it.

Feeling lost is nothing new. David, the writer of this psalm, felt separated from God, lost in the wilderness, and without direction several times in his life. David’s life was filled with ups and downs. He went from being the youngest and least of several brothers, relegated to tending sheep, to being a bold and crucial fighter who felled an enemy champion, Goliath, with a slingshot and a stone. He went from that shepherd boy to being anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king over Israel. He went from being one of King Saul’s favorite companions to being hunted by this same king who wanted to kill him because God’s favor left Saul and was bestowed on David. He went from being a beloved king to being hunted by one of his sons.

And the list could go on – there is much, much more to his story. Trouble was a part of his family relationships and his reign throughout his life. David must have felt abandoned by his family, his companions, even his God at various times in his life. It must have been hard for David to remember that God had called him “a man after God’s own heart” even though this remained true. No other person in the Bible was ever referred to in this way. David was truly special to God.


Even with all of his difficulties, along with his many failures to do God’s will – those times he turned away from God’s leading – David never doubted God’s presence with him. David always knew that God would hear his prayers. He may have felt lost or abandoned, without direction, but that never made him feel that God was absent. David’s reliance on God is abundantly clear in this psalm. It is a confident prayer for forgiveness and guidance. David asks God to show him the right path, to point out the road he should follow. He desires to be led by God’s truth and teachings. He proclaims that God is the One who saves him and for this reason he can place his hope in God.

David reminds himself (and us) that our God is filled with compassion and unfailing love for us. And not just for us, but for all peoples in all times, past, present, and future. He asks God not to remember the wrong things he has done. He asks for forgiveness and believes this will happen because God is loving and merciful.

David continues to give honor to God, reminding himself (and us) that God is good and right and will show those who go astray the proper path. Then he makes and interesting comment – God will lead the humble in doing right. The word translated here as “humble” can also translated as meek. This brings to mind one of the beatitudes: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). It certainly sounds like it is a good thing to be meek and humble. Both of these words in today’s world are used to characterize someone who does not see themselves as important; they have a low estimate of themselves. In today’s world these words are words that express little power or significance.


However, in this psalm being humble or meek did not have this modern meaning. Instead, while their synonyms were then, as now – respectful and deferential – humble people then, not like now, could be very strong, both in body and in mind. It was a very good thing to be humble because such a person was teachable. In God’s eyes, humble people were willing to do things God’s way. In the beatitude about the meek, Jesus teaches that these folks are blessed. Blessed can be translated as “happy.” It can also be translated as “God will be good to.” By combining these two verses, we can conclude that God will be good to those who are willing to learn from God.

David reminds us in the final verse of today’s scripture that we are in a covenant relationship with God. This, too, is an important concept. Covenant is not a word often used today in everyday conversation. Yet we do hear this word at weddings – marriage is a covenant between two people. In general, covenant conveys the idea of two sides coming together in mutual understanding. Covenants are usually bilateral, meaning that the two sides are equal. That is why marriage can be characterized as a covenant while an employment agreement cannot be seen in this way.

Here though, the covenant David describes is a covenant initiated by God; it is God’s covenant with God’s people. This is not a bilateral agreement since the two sides are not equal; it is unilateral. God initiated this covenant, decided on the terms of the covenant, and chose to be part of such a covenant with us. We are the recipients of this agreement rather than contributors. We are called to accept this covenant as God offered it, to follow its terms, and then to receive the outcome – being blessed – “God will be good to.”

That never should be taken as insurance against bad things happening to us. If we look at David’s life, we can see that even someone as favored by God as David disappointed God at times and had a life that brought difficulties and pain to him. Throughout his life, however, David never doubted that God was with him, listening to his prayers. We have that same assurance. But with even more confidence since God has given us Jesus as teacher and Savior and the Holy Spirit as comforter and paraclete – one who has our back. In these difficult days, let us rely on God’s guidance and forgiveness, just as David did again and again. Thanks be to God!

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 34 – From Jon

Friday May 1, 2020

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)

In Christianity, the phrase “Born Again” is often used by Christians to describe what it was like after they had accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their life. Although the phrase may be new to some people, or it may make them think of the street preachers who harass people with signs saying that they must be born again, the phrase is actually a quote from Jesus as He was speaking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee who was a leader in the Temple. When Nicodemus came to Jesus in secret, for fear of being found out by his peers in the temple, Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again” – from John 3:3.

People don’t always like change. Change is an affront to a person’s current reality. When that change has to do with their thoughts on religion, or their way of life, the change that would be required to be “Born Again” is intimidating and it can be insulting.


One of my favorite and least favorite games to play is Monopoly. I like it because I love making contracts with my fellow players (that are written and signed) so that both of us could possibly avoid paying rent on each other’s property when we land on them. To me, this is a creative spin that I bring to the game to make it last longer, and to ensure that my money pile keeps growing. However, something that you can’t make a contract for is when you land on the space that sends you to jail. The only thing to save you from Jail is either paying a fine, rolling dice to try to get out, or by employing a “Get Out of Jail Free Card”.

When you have that card, either by chance, or by making it a condition of a contract between players, going to Jail is no big deal because the penalty of Jail is alleviated by the playing of that card.

But Monopoly is my least favorite when my contracts are up, when I have no Get out of Jail Free card, and when friends may turn against each other for the purpose of gaining property, money, and winning the game.


During Monopoly, players are tempted to fall into the trap of turning against each other (with genuine emotion) over a fictional game. I have certainly had my share of heated discussions over my fear of losing my properties and money that I worked so hard to earn.

But it’s just a game, right?

Although it is just a game, the emotions can become real, and while you may be a nice person outside of the game, the game can bring out qualities of yourself that are normally controlled.


But imagine if the anger and frustration that can take place during a game of monopoly began to become a part of your every day life. You might begin to seek out wealth and power whenever you could, even if it means stepping on other’s toes to get to where you want to be.

Thats what happens when we live according to what the Bible calls “flesh” and “sin”. It might not be wealth or power, it may be other things that you may seek out – like attention, addictions, etc., but whatever it is, we all have the capability to do wrong and even evil things when we only live according to our own desires and goals, without thinking about others, or what these desires may be doing to our character as we seek them out.


The passage today tells us that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior – we don’t have to be enslaved and tied to our selfish desires. When we are born again, we are servants instead to the Spirit of God to do God’s will.

And more than that, we recognize that we are no longer alone, but that we have become adopted as God’s own child. The message is so extreme that when we feel defeated, not good enough, or marked by our past mistakes, that God sees us as being covered by the righteousness and Grace of Jesus Christ. Because the penalty of our wrongs has already been paid by Christ, and the chains of our desires and addictions no longer hold us down for eternity because Christ broke those chains in the Cross and the Resurrection.

Yet the passage today also conveys the truth that though we are covered by the grace and protection of God, that we will also likely suffer on this earth at the hands of others who may be letting their lust for power, money, and their own desires get the best of them.

But we must remember that when it comes to our own life in the eyes of God, we have been Born again, and when we are confronted by our worries of how God sees us, or when our own desires tempt us to come back to seeking them out selfishly, we are no longer bound, and we have been made free. Its not because we did anything to deserve it – its a free gift that saves us from the result of our sinful pursuits. Like a Get Out of Jail Free card.


In times such as these when a calamity is striking our world, we can either follow our own selfish desires and buy all the toilet paper and supplies that we can find, or we can live according to the will of God by helping one another through this time by getting them supplies, praying for them, checking in on them, and by being kind and courteous to those we run across when we make our trips to the store.

And the best thing that we can do is to be a voice of the hope of our faith by following God’s will in our actions, and by telling those who are close to us that though we too are worried, that we have hope and peace through Jesus Christ.

-Jon Bauman

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 7

Wednesday March 25, 2020

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NRSV)

When I was 15 years old, God showed me in a profound way that my life had meaning and that I had a purpose.

I went with a friend’s youth group to a beach retreat that spanned a full weekend in the summer of 2007. It was an exciting thing for me because I had only been to the beach once before, and they were going to be camping near the beach in tents. On that saturday, we packed our beach gear and headed to the shore.

Our charismatic leader made it easy for all of us to have a lot of fun that day, but one thing that I didn’t know about before that day was how to swim if you get caught in a riptide. As my friend and I were out in the water, we started to notice the water looking rough near the jetty, and we saw two people about our age by the jetty who looked scared. We called out to ask if they needed help, and when they said yes, we swam over and attempted to get them to safety.

But I didn’t know how to swim in a riptide…I was able to pull one of the them away from the jetty, but I quickly got swept up in the riptide myself as I lost my grip. I remember trying to swim straight towards shore, but every time I made a little progress, it was instantly taken away as I got pulled back in the other direction.

Eventually, as I continued to gasp for air and got some saltwater in return, I looked up to the sky, thinking I was going to drown, and told God that I was ready to Go – that God could take me then (A bit dramatic, I admit, but when you are 15 years old, thats par for the course). Immediately after that, and I can’t stress that enough, I was actually able to swim to shore when I had not been able to do so previously. I walked on shore with only a few scratches on my ankle, and a story that would define my life from that point on.

When I was on the boardwalk that night, I bought a cross necklace that I still wear today to always remind me of that instance when God told me that my life had a meaning and a purpose. After that day, the faith that I always knew and believed in became real and tangible, and I was committed to following Christ in a whole new way.


But to other people, that story could be explained by coincidence – the riptide could have just happened to stop immediately after my prayer. Likewise, as we are all struggling with what this COVID-19 crisis will mean for the health and finances of ourselves, our families and friends, and nation, some may say that believing in God is foolish optimism.

This faith seems especially foolish if that belief includes believing that our God died on a torture device at the hands of a human government over 2000 years ago. For if you or I were going to make up a religion, a God who suffered and died is not a logically good start.

But I believe that it is precisely that reason why Christianity is relevant for us today – Jesus came to earth, lived a life of righteousness, performed miracles, and healed and defended the lowest members of society, and STILL died on a cross and rose again in order to show us that sin can be forgiven and that an earthly death is not the end of our core existence.

Christianity provides the world with a God who understands the suffering and pain that we go through in the most empathetic way, and it also shows the world that there is HOPE beyond what is right in front of us.

Pray to the Lord today for help and guidance; knowing that God understands you at your weakest moment, and has cleared the path before you, through the cross, that leads to Hope and Peace.


“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:

“What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 4)

After being sealed in the tomb, along with all of our questions and concerns for our world, Jesus rose again, and the stone was rolled away from His grave.

Our God Lives.

Everything that he had said before about His Father in heaven, the Kingdom of God, the temple being rebuilt, and all of his teachings were completely confirmed in his Resurrection.  He is who he said he was.

574672-Thomas-Aquinas-Quote-Christ-was-either-liar-lunatic-or-Lord.jpg


So where does that leave our largest looming question from Part 3 – How did the Crucifixion and the Resurrection change our world for the better?

The crucifixion was God, The Son, going to the logical end of our suffering, which is death.  This was the day that the “Revolution Began” as N.T. Wright says. Christ’s initial followers were in mourning over the great loss of losing a God that was also a friend.

The Resurrection was God overcoming all of the suffering, evil, sin, and death in the world in order to breathe life into His people.  The initial followers of Jesus, who were mourning his death, rejoice to see that Christ, their King, is Alive!

The crippling bondage of our suffering is gone through the listening and guiding of a friend who’s been there, and through the decree of a King that there WILL BE a resurrection from our earthly calamity. 

In these things, we realize that we are not alone in our suffering and that there is hope for the future, even in the moments when we can only see darkness.

a9567b09e071dba7053c224794ce804b.jpgWhen we go through trials:

  • It is liberating to have someone to talk to who has experienced something similar to you. That is Jesus.
  • It is empowering to hear the words of an authoritative figure saying, “this too shall pass; this is not the end”, when we can’t see the end of our affliction. That is Jesus.

When others go through trials:

  • The bondage of Humanity’s suffering loosens when followers of Jesus live in this world as citizens in a Kingdom that washes the feet of those that the world rejects.
    • The Church has a real message of understanding, empowerment, and hope to provide, and that message is made tangible through the love, care, service that we show others, and in the words we teach.

But Christians are not always perfect. In fact, we never are perfect.

Terrible things have been done in the name of Christ on a grand scale.

Shameful things have been done by Christ followers when they believe the doors are shut.

Hypocrisy is an unavoidable side-effect of a religion that calls flawed people to follow a flawless God. And more than that, human sins have a way of replacing our devotion to God by convincing us that what we are doing is okay – greed, pride, anger, and other things can all be justified in some way.

 

gottmituns

“God [is] with us”

 

That is why when we look back in human history, (which is cataloged by war, victory, and loss more than achievement, art, and compassionate acts) we find hypocrisy…

Hypocrisy makes it hard to see the good, and harder to see the Holy.


But Jesus Christ, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, shows us a consistency of character that is unparalleled; a character that is so completely devoted to the “other” that hypocrisy could have never been a charge made against Him.

We can’t be Jesus…but we can try to be more like Him each day, and part of this is through viewing the overlooked positive things about the past; it’s seeing the Christians fighting against Hitler and deciding, THEY are following the ways of Christ…the Nazis are just using the name. 

And we can also become more like Jesus when we begin to realize that a speck in another person’s eye doesn’t matter when we have a plank in our own…It’s harder to accuse others of sin when we realize our own sinfulness.

But when we view ourselves and others as equally in need of a God who redeems and restores, we are more willing to take part in that restoration by washing the feet of another.

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Theological Rabbit-Trail – Christians do not all agree as to what Christ dying actually accomplished:
  1. Some believe that Christ was the perfect sacrifice to the righteous Father for humanity’s sin (Penal Substitutionary Theory)
  2. Some believe that a payment had to be made to the powers of evil in order to free humanity from its grip which started after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Ransom Theory)
  3. Some believe his death and resurrection defeated the bondage of evil [sin, death, earthly governments, satan, demons] on the people of God (Christus Victor Theory)
  4. Some believe that Christ lived and died on this earth in order to restore humanity, and his death and resurrection are meant to be an inspiration for others to follow the ways of God (Moral Influence Theory)
The above popular theories of WHY Christ had to die, and WHAT that accomplished are called “Atonement Theories”, and not all of the atonement theories are present here.
I do not believe that ONE atonement theory, by itself, is completely satisfactory – I believe there is more nuance in the Bible than that in regards to these thoughts. Instead, I think that we should view the death and resurrection of Jesus with multiple theories in mind.
What do you think?

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 3)

Betrayal is something that many can never get over.

As Jesus prayed in the garden for his suffering to be over, his friend Judas was orchestrating for his suffering to increase.

After Christ was arrested, the same people who shouted Hosanna before, we’re now shouting “Crucify him!”.

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His own disciples, when asked if they were a friend or follower of Jesus, denied their connection to him out of fear.

Jesus was alone in captivity, alone is his torment, and the only ones calling him a King now were Roman soldiers as they portrayed him as a lunatic with a ragtag sceptre, and a painful crown…


He carried his cross to the place where he would die. He watched as nails were driven into his hands.

87674682.jpgAs he was lifted up, not on a throne, but on an execution device for criminals, he saw soldiers gambling over his clothes…he heard the mocking of the crowds…he heard the taunts of one of the other criminals on one side, and the confessions of another on the his other side.

Some saw him as a King of the World…some saw him as the scum of the earth.

On that day, the Jesus that rules over the Passionate Kingdom, died.


Before he died, he proclaimed, “IT IS FINISHED!”.

His life, ministry, and death ALL meant something for this world – every Christian will agree to this.

But what did it do that made the world quantitatively different?

Why do we still experience evil, torment, betrayal, and blood-thirsty crowds?


Jesus knew our pain, our sorrow…our hopeless and endless longing for something to change.

He knew the hurt from betrayal.

But He became a King at a Table amongst friends and a King on a cross amongst enemies.

And he died for both audiences.


But what was finished?


In this time of reflection upon the death of Christ, our questions linger inside of a sealed off tomb.jesus-sealed-tomb.jpg



Subscribe for part 4 after Easter

Sackcloth and Ashes

Within the last eight weeks, two of my friends, both in their 20s, have passed away.

One of them was named Zach.

Zach was not just a friend, he was my wife’s cousin who was just six months or so younger than her.  Zach welcomed me into the family with open arms, useless facts, and sarcasm. He always knew how to rile up the uncles at family gatherings to discuss politics, how to get along with the younger kids, and how to make a newcomer feel as though they were always a part of his life.

Zach was also a man who would be there for anyone in need.  He would drive an hour away after a full shift to help Courtney and I move our things into our house, and he even drove two or three hours to spend some time with the family as we fished off a pier in New Jersey.  Family was important to Zach.  Courtney was important to Zach.  I was important to Zach….

Unfortunately, Zach passed away in an accident while coming home from work.  The accident was not his fault as far as we know.  The whole family slowly found out through getting calls late in the night.  I held my wife as she shook, and it was the worst pain that I have ever felt for another human being.

His funeral was PACKED.

As the minister, who knew Zach personally, led us all in processing the loss of someone who made such large of an impact on our lives, something hit home: “Zach kept a journal by his bedside, and one of the last entries was him writing his goals in life: to ‘be a godly man, have a godly family'”.  Zach was FULLY committed to Jesus Christ, and his last message for us all was of his own commitment to Christ…and you knew that in that funeral room, Zach would have wanted for all who were present to join him someday in the presence of God.

I haven’t allowed myself to process his death in the fullest sense, I don’t think.  I always feel odd when there are others who need to grieve before I begin to let myself fully grieve. But that message of Zach’s hit home….


The second friend who passed away, I will leave out of this post out of respect for his family and his close friends who need time to mourn. His funeral was packed as well as a testament to how much of an impact he had on others.


And Here we are.

When you are in your teens, and your twenties, you feel invincible.  You expect your life to extend to your 80s, at least.  But I lost two friends in the last 8 weeks who were both under 30, and who both stayed away from drugs, and other harmful choices.

It makes you think….

Am I leading a life that is blessing others?

Am I leading a life that is remaining faithful to my God?

Will my funeral be a source of encouragement, oddly, to those gathered?

I hope so.

And I’ll see my two friends again.

A Poem – Based on Psalm 42

Oh, life was full of light and then
The Clouds became my smokey lens
Images became silhouettes
And hope, a lost memory
When all that is, is but despair
I doubt the very truth of prayer
Images become silhouettes
And hope, a lost memory
Oh, My soul… Awake!
Why are you in turmoil…Awake!
You once were soaring high enough
But now I’m calling on your bluff
Oh, My Soul… Awake!
I try to think on blessed times
On grace shown then, despite my crimes
On love displayed for all to see
Of hearts filled with great empathy
But now my heart has turned to cold
My apathy becomes more bold
And I am left down on my knees
With folded hands and desperate plees
Oh, My soul… Awake!
Why are you in turmoil…Awake!
You once were soaring high enough
But now I’m calling on your bluff
Oh, My Soul… Awake!
I will recall those blessed times
And thirst for Truth, wade past the lies
For I will again find the light
For this I am willing to fight
Awake!
Oh, My soul… Awake!
Why are you in turmoil…Awake!
Hope in God for I shall sing
Praises to the blessed King
Oh, My Soul… Awake!
——————————-
The Psalms are full of the ups and downs of life and faith, and sometimes life is so full of apathy, and anguish.  The Scriptures tell us that expressing ourselves with these feelings is okay, and in fact, it is in scripture where we find comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our turmoil.
Christ calls us to follow him, but sometimes we lack the strength to stand. It is then that we are perplexed by our own slumbering Soul that seems to lack the passion it once contained.  We need help that extends past what we can accomplish ourselves because the fight of faith and life is worth fighting.