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Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church
February Daily Devotions 2023

 Daily Devotions February 1-21, 2023 Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church

For most of this month we continue to consider characteristics that mark one as a disciple of Jesus. These are qualities that are ours for the developing. Each day, I invite you to consider how this aspect of being a Christian is evident in your daily life. If you find it in abundance, rejoice! If you rarely notice it, take heart! Each day is a new day and the Spirit is working in you to develop these qualities even if you are not aware. Bringing awareness to them makes the Spirit’s work so much easier. The qualities of Christ’s body life are like muscles. You can lose nimbleness but you can also strengthen it with a little effort and attention. On the 22nd, Ash Wednesday, we will shift gears a bit. Each day during Lent, I invite you to consider something that you may need to release in your life or in your deep heart. If you do that work during Lent you will find that you are open and ready to receive new wonders on Easter and beyond.

 February 1 - Arise - Matthew1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

There are several words used in the New Testament that we translate as arise. None of them appear in today’s verse but the concept is certainly present. To arise is choose to stand up or change one’s position. It is usually used literally, but also metaphorically. In that case it means to arise and rebel against enemies without and within. In today’s verse Joseph has a lot to deal with. He is engaged to Mary, has not had physical relations with her, and she has told him she is pregnant, by the Holy Spirit no less. Of course he does not believe her. He has warm feelings for her and does not want her shamed, or executed, for the deed (which in his day was considered adultery and worthy of the death penalty.) Nor does he want to be shamed in the community and made a laughingstock. He has always prided himself in keeping the Law and now he is stuck between the letter of the Law and the desire for mercy. So he falls into a troubled sleep during which an angel speaks to him and tells him it will all be ok. Mary is not lying so he should go ahead and marry her as planned. God is up to something mighty in his life, but he has to get up and face it with all the pain and sacrifice that may come with it. God is up to something mighty in your life as well. Every day of your life you, too, are invited to bring Jesus to life in some way. Granted, you will be spared the literal birthing that Mary and Joseph went through, but your role is important too. Jesus comes to life in the world today through us, through you. You only need to arise and meet your moment with the love, justice and courage of Mary and Joseph. How might you stand up for Jesus today? How might you arise and change your position for Jesus today? As you go through your day today, if things get difficult, whisper to yourself, ‘Arise, shine!’ Listen for the Spirit’s whisper, ‘It is going to be ok. Just get up and move forward. You will not have to face anything alone.’

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for using me for your purposes today. Help me to choose mercy where I can and to rise up in your defense showing love wherever I go. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 2 - Ask - Matthew 7:7 Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.

Today’s verse is found in a section of Matthew in which Matthew has gathered together a number of Jesus’ teachings on subjects that affect daily living. Jesus has told us not to focus on money or the lack thereof. He has told us that we can’t serve God and wealth. He has told us not to worry because God is aware of what we are dealing with and moving to help. He has told us not to judge others because it will come right back on us. He has told us to be careful about holy things. Then comes today’s verse. There are two words we translate as ‘ask’ in the New Testament. They have to do with the position of the supplicant with regard to the one being asked. In this verse the word is used of a person who is in a lower position asking for something from someone who is in a higher position, such as a human asking of God, or a child of a parent. The other word for ask is of a request between equals. It is interesting that Jesus never uses the former word when he himself is praying or asking of the Father. The word for ‘search’ means to examine carefully. It is often used of examining the heart, looking at one’s motives, honestly facing one’s short comings. In this verse, Jesus is not saying that we can ask God for just anything, like wealth or even health and expect the answer we desire. He has just told us not to focus on those things as God is already on the job. Here he is talking about the deep things of the kingdom, the deep insights of the spiritual life, the big picture and the small graces of life with God. If we earnestly ask and carefully examine our hearts and motives, if we ask and keep on asking, then we can be assured that God as a loving parent will supply us with exactly what we need to live the lives for which we were created. Do you find that your spiritual life feels flat or stagnant? Take a moment today to search your heart about that. Ask the Spirit for insight. Ask God to give you today exactly what you need in order to live your life joyfully, righteously and bountifully.

Prayer: Gracious God, today with a humble heart I ask that you open the door to deeper relationship with you. Make me an instrument of your grace as I receive grace upon grace myself. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 3 - Believe - John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

It is interesting that the word ‘doubt’ does not appear in this verse in the original Greek. The verse literally reads, ‘do not be unbelieving, but believe.’ The word we translate as ‘believe’ is a relational word. It is not about deciding to accept some concept in one’s mind. It means to trust or to rely upon another. To ‘believe’ in Jesus is not just to accept that he lived, died and rose again, although that is the result of believing for most of us. To believe is to entrust our lives, every breath, every resource, every desire to Jesus’ care. To believe is to trust not only in Jesus as a person, but to trust in the way of life he modeled as the complete way of life of a disciple. To believe is to trust that what Jesus said, and what he did, is true and trustworthy. It is not possible to say we believe in Jesus and then live our lives in a way that is antithetical to what he teaches. That is the height of hypocrisy. In today’s passage we are not told that Thomas does indeed reach out and touch as Jesus offers. Perhaps the mere presence of Love offering what he needed was enough to drive him to his knees in wonder and trust. He could not begin to understand. But he could trust. Perhaps that is what you need today too: a gentle reminder that Jesus stands before you offering exactly what you need so that you can trust him with today’s challenges and with the future. Take a moment to close your eyes and see him in your imagination opening himself to you for inspection. What do you need from him today? Ask him and wait for a moment for him to offer what you really need most. Then join Thomas in the simple creed/prayer ‘My Lord and my God.’

Prayer: Gracious God, I trust that you are constantly present, waiting to offer me what I need. Help me to see the ways you stand with me. Help me to feel your love and majesty. Help me to proclaim with my lips and in my heart that you are my Lord and God. In Jesus’ holy name I pray.

 February 4 - Bless - Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

 This is an interesting and difficult verse! The word ‘bless’ that Paul uses here is not the same word used in the beatitudes to describe a happy or desirable condition. This word is the one from which we get our English word eulogy. It literally means to speak well of someone, to express good wishes for the person. The word for ‘curse’ means to wish evil upon a person.

When I read this verse in that light, all I can say is “Yikes!” Paul is writing this letter to the church in Rome as an introduction of himself and his theology to a prominent church that he did not found and has not yet visited. Today’s verse comes from a section of the letter in which he outlines the basic character and behavior of those who follow Jesus, those who are, as Paul puts it, ‘in Christ.’ Paul understood that no good ever comes to a soul by cursing and wishing evil upon even the worst enemy. Again and again in his letters, Paul tells us to return to no one evil for evil. He takes it literally, as I think it was intended, when Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:11) that we are not to curse those that curse us. Rather, we are to bless our enemies, speak well of them and express our hopes for good things for them. I confess that I find this very difficult. For the last year or so I have tried to practice saying nothing bad about those whose behavior I find most abhorrent and destructive. I have not been wildly successful with this. I have, however, noticed that when I stop, breathe, and take a moment to try to find something good to say, or even to understand their motives with compassion, I find that my heart opens a little. I feel a breath of freedom and expansiveness. The enemy does not take up as much energy or produce as much pain in me. Blessing and cursing cannot occupy the same second. They cannot inhabit the same energetic moment. We may feel like we are on a see-saw with this one, but every blessing we pronounce produces more for us to bless either in the enemy, or in the creativity to deal with that one. Blessing breeds blessing and cursing does nothing but use energy and focus us on more that we find appalling. Take a moment today to think about any ‘opponents’ in your life. Who angers you most? Who do you find that you nearly despise? Stop for a moment and wish that person well, whole, repaired, just as God desired in the moment of their creation. You might practice the breath prayer, “(Name), child of God, I wish you whole and well.” You might need to add, “And I forgive you,” depending on the circumstance.

Prayer: Gracious God, this is hard! We see in Jesus that he never cursed even those who lined up to kill him and it is nearly unbelievable. Help me today to bless my enemies, knowing that when they are well and whole, we all move closer to you. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 5 - Courage - Acts 28:15 And so we came to Rome. The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.

The word for ‘courage’ here means to be emboldened as a result of being in good cheer. Haven’t you noticed that when you are of ‘good cheer’ you are more full of confidence and bravery? Haven’t you noticed that when you are downcast, everything looms large and seems insurmountable? In one of my favorite books, Father Melancholy’s Daughter by Gail Godwin, when the daughter is young and her mother is no longer with the family, she gets frightened at night because she is sure there is a closet witch hiding among her clothes. When I am unhappy, confused or in pain, I know how to create a ‘closet witch’ of some sort myself.

Maybe it is about there being more month than money. Or maybe it is about a medical test or even anticipatory grieving. Whatever it is, I am certain that it is going to be awful and I won’t have the resources to deal with it. Paul and his friends certainly would have had every reason to assume that when they arrived in Rome after their perilous journey that there would be closet witches in centurion’s uniforms everywhere. And indeed there were. Still, he faces what is coming next with good cheer that made him brave. Even he, however, had to have some concrete help with that. How did that help arrive? It arrived in the form of other believers who came to stand along side him in whatever he was to face. Our believing friends in our congregations, families are often the conduit that God uses to make us optimistic and brave. Can you think of a time when just being with a Christian friend made you feel better and believe that you had what it took to face the future? Have you ever been honored with helping a friend, ‘clear the closet witches’ and feel more able to cope? Thank God for those moments and practice looking for opportunities to connect with other believers. You will find that you too have more courage than you thought.

Prayer: Gracious God, help me today to be brave and full of good cheer. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 6 - Praise - James 5:13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.

 The book of James is unique in many ways. We are not sure of the author. Was it Jesus’ brother? Was it another early church leader? We are not certain. In any case the author was a no nonsense believer who understood that you cannot say you believe one thing and live a different way. Faith in Jesus results in a specific way of life. James is not interested in what we say. He knows what we believe by what we do, not what we say. When we find this verse, James has just given a dire and caustic warning to rich oppressors. He is furious with them.

His church, for a number of reasons, is impoverished and many struggle under the weight of injustice. He is fed up with it and tells the rich oppressors that their priorities will eat them up like fire. He then goes on to tell his flock to be patient in oppression because God is on the move on their behalf. Today’s verse begins a section on the power of faithful prayer. What I love so much about this verse is it’s honesty. “Feel what you feel,” he seems to say. “If you are hurting ask for relief. If you are joyful, tell God about that too!! For many of us, if we count up the moments of our prayer, I bet we would find that we spend more time on the former than the later. We are quick to go to God when we are at the end of our ropes, and often forget to go to God when things are wonderful. We can even think that the good things that are happening are a result of our own labor, wits or perseverance rather than pure gifts from God who may or may not use us to bring about that which makes us happy. The words we translate as ‘praise’ in the New Testament have the connotation of telling a tale or narration. So when James tells us to give praise when we are cheerful, he is telling us to tell the story of our joy to God with thankful hearts, knowing that God is the worker of all good things in our lives. In my experience, narrating my praise and gratitude to God is the cornerstone of my spiritual life. In the Reformed tradition, all prayer is to be rooted in praise and thanksgiving. So today, take a moment to tell God the story of your praise. Identify everything for which you are grateful. Do more than say, I praise you God for my house or my health. Tell God what your house and your health do for you, the joy they bring.Tell God the story of your praise!

Prayer: Dear God, I praise and thank you today for……It has made my life full and joyful in these ways:…..Thank you God of graciousness and wonder! In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 7 - Commitment - Psalm 37:5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do it.

 This season of Epiphany we are focusing primarily on characteristics of disciples as found in the New Testament. I could not resist dipping into the Psalms for this one, however. It is just so wonderful! The word for commit means ‘to whirl, to roll, to turn, to roll together, or to be rolled in.’ The image is of a person rolling oneself up in God’s presence and values like a cocoon and trusting that, immersed completely in God, one will emerge just as God intends. I can’t but think of the image of our dog Bonnie rolling in a mud puddle until covered in mud then sitting in complete joy with her tongue hanging out because she has come up from the puddle exactly who she is. When we commit ourselves to God, we roll ourselves in God’s will, ways and loving presence and emerge exactly who we are created to be. I love that so much! Just as humans were created from mud, when we roll ourselves in Christ we are created anew with all the joy of God at our emerging. Commitment is, therefore, not a matter of will, steely determination or self-control. It is a matter of joyful immersion in God such that we could never want to be anywhere else or do anything else! Take a moment today to think about how you can immerse yourself in God’s love for you. How can you surround yourself with God’s will and values today? Can you make the joy of committing to God a priority today?

Prayer: Gracious God, help me today to see you surrounding me in every circumstance, in every person, in all aspects of your precious creation so that I can joyfully commit all of my life to you. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 8 - Confidence (boldness) - Hebrews 10:19-22 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is through his flesh), and since we have a great priest

 over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Words for confidence or boldness are used more than any others to describe the life of the early Christian community. Their confidence, or assurance, in their faith is what allows them to live with bold and fearless power. In this section of Hebrews the author has just made the case that with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the sacrificial system is no longer needed. Jesus has done all that is necessary. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we don’t need to keep atoning but we do need to live a new life of bold conviction and service. We can do that because, and only because, we have confidence in Christ that we have indeed been made whole. Our confidence does not come from our ability or diligence. Our confidence comes entirely from our trust in Christ and the salvation he has brought to the world. There is nothing left to fear. The best is always yet to come. Can you think of a time when you felt super confident? What were the circumstances? How did that feel? Have you felt that kind of bold confidence in your faith?

How did you show that? If not, what seems to block that confidence? Ask God to remove those blocks so that you can live confidently and with boldness every day.

Prayer: Gracious God, sometimes I feel more timid and unsure than I do bold and confident. Help me today to dip into your promises so that I can live with joyful confidence in all that I do. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 9 - Comfort - Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

The word used for ‘comfort’ in this snippet from Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount is a form of the word Paraclete. This is the word Jesus uses to describe the coming Spirit in John’s Gospel. It holds a variety of meanings all at the same time. It means to come along side someone bringing consolation, encouragement, to whisper tenderly and and to bring alleviation of grief. The word ‘blessed’ could be translated happy or joyful in the sense of the joy that comes from knowing one is actually safe in the stream of God’s love. Comfort as a quality of a disciple of Jesus is not something that we strive to master for ourselves. It is something that God does for us and, on many occasions, through us. Comfort is not something for which we long. Rather it is a steady and settled reality into which we open ourselves or to which we awaken. The promise is this: whenever we are hurting God will come along side, comfort, console, encourage and whisper tenderly to us. The consolation that God brings comes with the realization that we are never parted from God, nor in the ultimate sense, from those we love and grieve. Comfort does not deny the feeling of pain, or even seek to eradicate it. Comfort is what happens when we know that we are on a journey and that that journey is with God and to God. As disciples we live with that comfort so that we can share comfort with others when it is most needed. Can you think of a time when you were comforted? Try to remember that in detail and thank God for the comfort. Can you think of a time when God used you to comfort someone else? Thank God for the opportunity to serve in that way. Today, look for the small comforts that come to you all day long and be grateful.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you that you never fail to comfort and console me. I am grateful to my core for your tender whispers of grace. Help me to comfort others as you have comforted me. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 10 - Contribute - Romans 12:9-13 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

These beautiful verses are full of wise advise for everyday living. If you want a snapshot of the Christian life, this is it. Disciples are to love without hypocrisy, despise evil, cling to goodness, esteem one another and live ardently with hope, patience, prayer and perseverance. For our reflection today, I’d like you to focus on the last verse and the concept of contributing to the needs of others. We will consider hospitality tomorrow. A literal translation of the last sentence in today’s verses would be ‘to the needs of the saints contributing, hospitality seeking.’ The word ‘contributing’ used here means ‘to lay open to all.’ It has the connotation of opening and offering all that one has, and is, to another. The word ‘needs’ refers to that which is necessary for a person to live a full and complete life. The author’s point is that followers of Jesus live lives wide open, with open hearts, open hands, regarding all that we have as given by God to be used by those in need. This kind of contributing of our life’s energies and resources is not done, however, as a rule or grudgingly. Rather, we give because we love. It is all one action. Love gives. Giving loves. It is interesting to notice that we give not to excesses, but rather, to support those who do not have what is needed to live the life of dignity for with they were born. In other words, disciples of Jesus give to level the playing field in the world. We do not ask questions of worthiness, because every child of God is worthy. We do not give to those we like or with whom we agree. We give to all simply because they are children of the same Father. Can you think of a time when you felt the joy and closeness of helping another with important needs? What was that like? Remember, that our giving is not tied to the response of the one to whom we give. That is no longer giving. That is purchasing a reaction, or a feeling of self righteousness. When we give to those in need it comes from a deep love of the humanity of that person and an understanding of their incredible worth to God. Ask God today to show you how you can contribute to the needs of others and be thankful.

Prayer: Gracious God, I thank you for your incredible generosity to me in body, soul and spirit. Help me today to recognize need when I see it and to do what I can to meet that need. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 11 - Hospitality - Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

The words ‘hospitality to strangers’ are all one beautiful word in Greek. It means ‘to show warm genuine affection for strangers.’ The root of this word, philios, is one of the Greek words for love. It refers to the deep affection for those with whom we are closest, our families and dearest friends. That kind of love always seeks to lavish love on the beloved. It looks to do things just to bring joy and a sense of well being to the beloved. It is not shaken by circumstances and has much endurance. In this 13th chapter of Hebrews, a chapter than many believe was appended to the book by a local pastor to help the flock understand how to live out the themes in the book as a whole, the author is anxious that his hearers know what it means to live out their salvation day by day. One of the things that means, according to this chapter, is to rid ourselves of the notion of the other, the outsider for whom we have no responsibility or feelings. Every creature is worthy of love and care. Can you imagine what would happen if we took this verse to heart as we sought solutions to the problems we face at our border? There was an old tradition in Hebrew faith that God liked to trick people, or test their faith, by sending angels in disguise to see if people will actually act like what they claim to believe. “You say you love all people. Well, let’s see if you really do. What about this stranger who seems a little weird or different or is just interrupting your day? What about the family trying to cross the border to find a better life? Child of mine, do you love that one?” In the Bible, showing hospitality to a stranger is not about putting out the punch and cookies after worship. It is about growing a heart so wide and deep that the concept of stranger disappears all together, and everyone we see is either family or an angel. Can you think of a time when you welcomed a stranger and found that they were really messengers from God? Can you think of a time when you reached out to someone who was very different and a deep love grew up between you? Reflect on those times and thank God for all the angel messengers in your life.

Prayer: Gracious God, everyday you surround me with opportunities to love and go out of my way to assist and welcome your children into my life and world. Show me today exactly how I can love the ones you send to me with my whole heart. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 12 - Endurance - 2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities…

 This beautiful verse comes in the midst of a soaring passage (6:3-10) in which Paul is trying to help the church in Corinth understand what it means to live with integrity as Christ’s disciple through a sea of troubles. He begins this reflection with a Greek word that we should all learn, hupomone. We translate it into English as endurance, but it is almost untranslatable. It doesn’t describe a kind of passive putting up with hardship. Nor does it refer to a teeth gritted waiting it out. It refers to the ability to bear hardships in such a triumphant way that it transfigures the hardships themselves. St. Chrysostom calls hupomone the queen of virtues, the harbor that knows no storms, the foundation of right actions, peace in war, calm in tempest. William Barkley in his commentary on 2 Corinthians says that hupomone “is the courageous and triumphant ability to pass the breaking point and not to break and always to greet the unseen with cheer. It is the alchemy that transmutes tribulation into strength and glory.” This is a Spirit imbued quality that allows us to be so certain of the goodness of our own outcome that the pain of life is viewed through the lens of heaven because, since we live in Christ, we are living in heaven already. This kind of endurance doesn’t just allow us to survive. It changes the lens through which we see our trouble. That can change the trouble itself. Can you think of a time of trouble in which you experienced anything like this centered, peaceful endurance? Many of us may not have. If you have, take a moment today to reflect on that experience. Can you think of a time when you reached your breaking point and yet did not break? What happened as a result?

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for the strength of your grace that gives me the capacity to endure all things knowing that I am already safe at home with you. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 13 - Compassion - Hebrews 10:34 For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.

There are a number of words in Greek that we translate into English as compassion. One means to be moved inwardly to such a degree that we act to alleviate suffering. Another means to have pity on another person and their circumstances. Still another means to show kindness or benevolence. The word in today’s verse, however, is still another. It is the word from which we get our English word ‘sympathy or sympathize.’ In Greek this word means ‘to suffer along with another, to be personally affected by the pain of another.’ This is the word that the author of Hebrews uses to describe Christ as High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness (4:15) In today’s verse the author is telling the listeners that they have suffered along with those who were in prison and allowed their own goods to be used on behalf of the imprisoned. Of course, we know that it is possible in our lives to become lost and overwhelmed with this kind of compassion. There is no distance in it. Our hearts so identify with what is happening to another that we ourselves feel like it is happening to us. When you chop onions, my eyes water. This aspect of life in the body of Christ has to have boundaries sometimes. We have to be able to realize that not everything that is happening, is happening to us personally or we will be swamped and unable to function. Still, that tender sense of being able to ‘feel with’ another on the part of a friend or church member has gotten many of us through some times when we nearly sank. Compassion can be misused if our egos are weak and it all becomes about us. But, it can also be a powerful healing tool when it is loving, authentic and respectful. I once had a young doctor sit by my bedside all night long reading the psalms to me as we waited for what we both thought was my imminent death. I could tell that he felt deeply with and for me and yet it never became about him. He sat all night reading from his pocket Bible and in the morning as he left he told me it had been a privilege. I don’t know how I could have borne that night without his compassion. Can you think of a time when you were shown this kind of compassion? How did that affect you? Have you ever been honored to offer that kind of compassion to another? What was that like?

 Prayer: Gracious God, your compassion toward us is beyond words. So is our gratitude. We thank you for all who have shown us compassion and for the honor of sharing your compassion with others. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 14 - Giving - Acts 20:34 You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions, In al this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

These verses come in the midst of Paul’s farewell address to the elders in Ephesus as he is getting ready to set sail for Jerusalem to take the offerings he has received in his missionary journey to the impoverished church there. The quote he attributes to Jesus does not appear in any of the four gospels but, as we read in the Gospel of John, Jesus said many more things than the Gospel writers could ever write down. We don’t have to look very hard at Jesus’ life and character to see that he lived these words that Paul claims he spoke. Paul himself has learned the grace of these words as he worked his way across the lands earning his own living and preaching the gospel. Many of us have learned this too. The word ‘give’ here carries with it the connotation of showing honor. When we give to others we show them that they have an honored place in our lives. It is the word Jesus uses when he breaks the bread at the last supper and gives it to his friends. There is intimacy, honor and almost a sense of ecstasy or holiness in this kind of giving. It comes from the heart and has no strings attached. It is no longer giving if there are strings or expectations of return attached. Can you think of a time when you were able to give in this way? Did you experience a sense of joy and blessing? Remember that this teaching is NOT saying give so that you will receive. It is saying give and you will experience joy. Try it! You will like it!

Prayer: Gracious God, you have given so much to me. Thank you. Show me today the ways that I can give to others as an act of love and gratitude to you. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 15 - Goodness - Romans 15:14 I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

At this point in his letter to the Roman church, a church he does not know personally but needs to help support him in his dream of taking the gospel to France, Paul inserts a little bit of encouragement and sincere flattery. He has been very bold in what he has said to them and wants them to understand that he has spoken so plainly because he trusts their spiritual maturity. Most particularly, just prior to this verse he has urged the believers to put others’ needs ahead of their own and to welcome anyone, even Gentiles, into the fellowship of the church. Putting aside our own preferences and welcoming those we have been carefully taught to fear or disdain is both hard to hear and hard to do even in our day. Paul feels confident to tell them how importance service and welcome are because he has heard that this congregation is ‘full of goodness.’ Again the word choice (agathosune)is hard to translate. It means active goodness and is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22.) It is more than mellowness of character (christotes,) another word often translated as goodness. It is an energized character that constantly expresses itself in actively working for the greatest good for all. A unique quality of agathosune, as oppossed to the mellow christotes, includes a zeal for truth as the ultimate good. This zeal for goodness can be be expressed in direct words of correction or even rebuke when needed. Agathosune is not always gentle but it is always deeply moral. It is a quality of the believer’s life because it is a quality of the Spirit that lives within us. Courageous commitment to actively pursue the greatest good for all is both a moral imperative and an energetic necessity. We seek the good because we are compelled to do so from the deep Love that resides in us. Because Paul saw this quality in the Roman Christians he felt confident that even if his words had an element of rebuke, they would be received in a right Spirit and result in growth and joy. Have you ever felt fired up to work for the good of others or your community? Have you ever found yourself possessed of a courage you didn’t know you had in order to address issues that were just plain wrong and had to be dealt with? Think about those experiences. How did you grow through them?

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for your zealous goodness toward us. Help me today to share your zeal for the good in my life and community. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 16 - Holiness - 1 Peter 1:15 Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Peter’s imprint on the early church was immense. You can read about it in the first 12 chapters of the book of Acts. We have two New Testament letters that are attributed to him, although there is some scholarly debate as to their actual authorship and time frame. What is clear is that Peter’s world view and experience permeate these letters. They are called general epistles because they are not addressed to one particular church with particular problems that need solutions. They are addressed to a general audience in the five provinces of Rome in Asia Minor. The churches to which Peter is writing are not yet experiencing the wide spread persecution that is on the horizon. Still, there were pockets of local persecution that could be quite severe. In this letter, he in encouraging people to remain filled with hope and to let their faith transform their behavior so that they will look more and more like Christ, their lord. The word holy, hagios, means to be set apart, sanctified, consecrated or pure. The emphasis is on being set apart. In other words, their faith in Jesus must show in their behavior. They are not to behave just like non believers behave. It should be apparent to all that following Jesus makes a difference and makes them different. (The quote here is from Leviticus 11:44) Today, think for a moment about your behavior and priorities. Would they set you apart as a person who belongs to Christ? Is there anything distinctive about you that sets you apart from a good person who is not a believer? Perhaps the key for us comes from Peter’s earlier argument about living with hope in hard times. How is your hope obvious? Is that what sets you apart? Notice as you go about your day how your holiness shows.

Prayer: Gracious God, I am so grateful for your goodness to me and the good you long to do through me. Help me today to model my life and priorities on you so that your holiness can show in my life. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 17 - Humility - Acts 20:18b-19 When they came to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.

It is my suspicion that humility did not come easily to Paul. Here we return to his farewell speech to the elders in Ephesus as he prepares to head to Jerusalem and face the dangers he must know await him there. The word we translate as ‘humility’ is a doozy. It literally means lowliness of mind. In other words, it means not thinking that one is better than someone else. The humble person does not compare his or her life with others and make judgments either about whether the other deserves what they have, or why we don’t have what we think we deserve. To be frank the concept of ‘deserving’ is poison to humility in every instance. This word humility is the word that would be used for leveling off mountains or hills. It is used of the relinquishment of status and the lowering of one’s position in the world. As used in these verses, Paul is telling the elders that he has given up much. He has lost his status. He has wept over his low treatment and the trials he has undergone for the sake of the gospel.

And yet, for him none of that was of true significance. At least in this moment, he no longer needs to be the best, which by definition means that others are below him. He no longer needs to win for status. All he needs is to persuade from love, to walk the faith hand in hand on a level place. It is this kind of humility that we see in the incarnation where Jesus ‘came down’ to walk with us. And we see it’s results in the humiliation of the cross which was a perverse kind of lifting up by lowering completely. Can you think of a time when you were humbled? How do you experience humility in your daily life? Are there those with whom you compete in some way for a win or a leg up? Is that really who you are? Notice your motivations today and ask yourself: “Am I trying to rise above someone else? How can I accomplish my goals in a way that everyone benefits?”

Prayer: Gracious God, help me today to live a humble grateful life. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 18 - Righteous - Romans 4:4-5 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Many of us may understand righteousness more from an Old Testament perspective than a New Testament one. In the Hebrew Scriptures, righteousness has to do with the ability to stand before God as a result of living according to the law. It was right standing or even the right to stand, before God. We often think of it as solely talking about our salvation, our being justified to stand before God. That is all true. It is also a bit more nuanced in the New Testament. The word, dikaiosune means the ‘character or quality of being just.’ It was formerly translated as right-wiseness, the capacity for wise action according to God’s values. So to be made righteous is also to be fit for living justly. Here Paul is trying to help the Roman church understand that ‘right-wiseness’ is not a matter of doing the Law correctly or not having any debts in our ledger. There would be no grace there, only a transactional payment of some kind. In Christ, it is different. We are reckoned (counted) as having done right not because we have kept the Law perfectly but because Jesus did so on our behalf. So for Christians, righteousness becomes made-right-ness. It is a gift and not a payment for any behavior or commitment. Being made righteous by Christ then imbues us with the characteristic of living justly. Think of it this way: Christ gave us the gift of being able to live justly even though we have not been able to do that on our own. Righteousness or right living is a free gift of grace that we accept and allow to shape our actions and our perceptions. It is, of course about our relationship and standing with God. It is even more about what that relationship does through us in our lives, priorities and practices. To be made righteous by Christ is to be made over new into creatures who live and breathe justly. Take a moment now to confess any sin that may have come into your mind in this moment. Let it go. Then ask yourself how it is that you behave righteously, justly in your daily life. Are there times when you do not act according to the Law of Love? Ask God to help you in those situations to become better reflections of the righteousness that Christ has bought for you.

Prayer: Gracious God, we are grateful for Christ’s saving work in our lives. We thank you that we can rest in our relationship with you. And we thank you that in that relationship you give us the capacity to recognize and live justly. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 19 - Obedient - Philemon 1:21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

The tender little letter to Philemon gives a beautiful insight into the change that happens to people when they accept Christ and become immersed in the Christian faith. The story concerns two men: Philemon and Onesimus. The letter is actually addressed to Philemon, his sister Apphia and another man Archippus. These people are members of the church in Colossae. Apparently Onesimus is a slave who has run away from his master, Philemon. It is not clear whether Onesimus has stolen from Philemon or whether it is just that he had debt to work off before he could secure his freedom. Paul is writing from prison, perhaps his first imprisonment in Rome. He has met Onesimus and has mentored him in the faith such that he wants him to remain with him as a partner in the gospel. But he knows the law and knows that Onesimus must go back to Philemon or something worse will happen to him. So Paul writes to Philemon to receive Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as an equal, a brother in the Lord. He is so confident of the faith of Onesimus that he tells Philemon that he, Paul, will pay any debt still owing. We don’t know Philemon’s response, although Paul is certain he will be obedient to this request and receive Onesimus back on a new footing. The word for ‘obedience’ that Paul uses is unknown in classical Greek. Everywhere it is used in the New Testament it refers to obedience to God’s will in a special sense of willing subjection to divine revelation. Some argue that Paul overstepped himself in using this word since the request comes from him and not God. But is that really the case? I don’t think so. It seems to me that anytime a request is made for forgiveness and for the releasing of people from bondage that is clearly God’s will. Here we see that, while Paul does not flaunt unjust laws directly, he does what he can to undermine the travesty of slavery. As he says in Galatians, in Christ ‘there is neither slave nor free.’ Have you ever had an experience in which you saw things in a new way, a kind of revelation, and felt that you must act accordingly? Have you ever needed to forgive and release another’s “debt” to you? Take a moment today to reflect on those moments. What do you learn?

Prayer: Gracious God, show me your ways and help me to obey your calling, even if it is hard and costly to do so. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 20 - Repentant - Romans 2:4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Paul is concerned that the Romans are judging other people’s faults and then doing the very same things themselves. They seem to think that because they are assured of forgiveness in Christ, it doesn’t matter what they do. Paul recognizes that passing judgment on others spells the death of any community of faith, especially when excusing one’s own faults. Even if we manage to escape the pitfall of toxic judgmentalism (which most of us don’t,) there are certainly many other traps that we do not escape. Sin is a reality. Whether we think of it as single moralistic actions, or as the larger state of pride and ego blindness, we all know that we often miss the mark of the life into which Christ calls us. Sin will always lead us away from the live of love. It will always diminish us and others. Sin is real. We need to know that. And we need to address it. The word ‘repent’ means to turn around and go in an entirely new direction. It means not only to change behavior, but also to change worldview. When we repent, we are not just saying we are sorry for a wrong action. We are saying that we have changed fundamentally how we see that action and its effect on us and on the world. To repent is to exchange a self centered world view for an entirely different one. In a sense, this is what Jesus is talking about when he tells Nicodemus that he must be born again, and what Paul talks about when he says that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. To repent is to change, not to simply feel bad and hope to escape punishment. Can you think of anytime when you were sorry for your actions or their consequences but you wound up doing the same thing all over again? What were the results? Did you find that you eventually began to feel immune to the sorrow you felt at first and the things didn’t feel as bad the next time? Or the next? We can feel remorse for a long time before we truly repent and turn to go a different way. Are there areas of your life in which you need to repent? If so, offer those to God and ask how God can lead you in a new and Christlike direction.

Prayer: Gracious God, I am sorry for the harm I do and the excuses I make for it. Help me today to truly repent and live a new life. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

 February 21 - Empty - Philippians 2:5f Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

Here is a lesson that life in Christ teaches us: You cannot tell who is winning by the score. What seems so important in the eyes of the world, and even much of the time in our own eyes, is not all that important at all. Actually, it can get in the way of what truly is important. Basing our lives and emotions on what we accumulate, on what we can control, on the wins and the thank yous of our lives can fill our ears with the painful whispers of fear, regret or resentment. Sometimes we simply must empty ourselves of all of those things so that the real things can rise and occupy more of our hearts and energy. Paul, writing from horrible conditions in prison to friends he deeply loves, reminds them and us that even Jesus did cling to the trappings of divine power, or even worldly power. Rather, he laid all of that aside in order to be with us and care for us. Sometimes we too need to set all aside in order to be with him more deeply and to care for him and ourselves. Tomorrow we will begin the season of Lent. Traditionally Lent is a time of letting go, of fasting and of repentance. Throughout Lent this year we will focus on what we need to release, repent and relinquish in order to live faithfully and joyfully. For today, take a moment to think of the things that take up most of your mental, physical and emotionally energy. Are there any of those things that you are ready to relinquish, even for a moment? If so, take a deep breath and, as you breathe out, let the unneeded thing flow from you with your breath. Notice, for a split second the free and open space in your heart. You can rest assured that Jesus himself will fill that space with more of his presence and guidance.

Prayer: Gracious God, help me today to let go of unworthy or damaging goals, thoughts, or things. Make me an empty vessel waiting to be filled and used by you alone. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.