Philippians 4:4 (Day 18/50)

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

Always is a big word. One way to look at this verse is with suspicion. Those with the proverbial “half-empty” mindset will say that Paul doesn’t really know what he’s talking about and that it’s not really possible to be joyful always. These will point out all the problems of this world and identify the challenge of this verse, and that most of us will never live up to its standard. They’re probably right. The standard of the Law of God is always too high for us to reach. You won’t be joyful always. You’re a sinner. You will curse and complain and commiserate with the curmudgeons.

There is another way to hear this verse and live it out joyfully in your life.

Always is a big word. The other way to look at this verse is with wonder. Those with the proverbial “half-full” mindset will say that Paul has an important perspective for us, and he really knows the power of God which can bring joy to each and every situation. These will point out all of the problems in this world and identify that none of these are strong enough to damper the joy of living as God’s child, and that most of us could use to experience that joy more often. They’re definitely right. The Gospel of God is impervious to the problems of this world! There is always joy in spite of the sinful condition of this world. You can exude exuberant exclamations of excitement at all times and in all places.

One perspective looks at Joy as a demand from God that we’re supposed to attain. The other sees Joy as the gift of God given to those He loves. When the Gospel is lived out we realize that there is ALWAYS room for JOY!

Dear Jesus, Thank you for your gift of JOY. Fill my days with Joy in you. Amen.

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Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (Day 17/50)

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5

One of the banners that occasionally hangs at Messiah Lutheran Church in Lynnfield, MA says, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” Like Deuteronomy 6, this phrase is easy to say, but hard to do. It’s hard to keep God FIRST above all else.

I was reminded of this verse tonight when I went grocery shopping. I went to buy baby food. My new foster daughters have started with sweet potatoes, and we needed another jar for breakfast. So, I decided to run out tonight to make sure we would be ready for breakfast.

I grabbed a cart and headed into the store. I stopped by the produce to grab some bananas and strawberries that were on sale. I always check to see what meats are on sale and try to buy low for our growing family. I traveled up and down the aisles picking out some items that caught my attention even though I only went to the store for one thing, the baby food.

When I got to the dairy aisle I knew I was about finished and started to think about what else I needed to get done tonight before bed. I grabbed some eggs, cheese, and yogurt, and checked the ice cream case for sales. Dessert in hand, I headed through the check out and out to the car. Unloading the car I thought about the job well done. I picked up enough groceries to get the family through the weekend well fed with healthy and tasty meals starting with breakfast tomorrow…Breakfast tomorrow!!! Oh no, I forgot the baby food! I went to the store for ONE THING, and I left without it. I got distracted by the fruit, the sales, and of course the ice cream. I got a lot of good things. Healthy food and food my family loves were purchased, bagged, and carried out to the car. But, I was distracted by all those good things, and forgot to keep the main thing the main thing. I failed to keep the most important thing in view, and was led astray by other good, but not as important things.

Life can be like this. We can get distracted by many things. Even good and healthy things can take our focus off of God. When we lose focus God becomes second, or third, or last; and other pieces of life move ahead. What are those things in your life that have gotten in the way of God being first?

Deuteronomy 6 gives us a healthy reminder to keep the main thing the main thing, to keep God first. When we don’t God is always there to remind us that He’s not just the most important thing in our life, but the most forgiving thing too! God’s abundant love is poured out in Jesus for you. Even though you put other things ahead of God, He always puts you first in Jesus!

Dear Jesus, Help me to love you first! Amen

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Joshua 24:15b (Day 16/50)

One of my favorite times as a pastor is connected to our congregation’s tradition of Confirmation. Every Spring we provide an opportunity for our youth to publicly confess their relationship with Jesus. The purpose is to announce that the faith given to them by their parents is no longer mom and dad’s faith; it’s MY faith. One tradition connected to the experience of Confirmation is to give a specific Bible Verse to each young person.

The Bible verse might be a verse that exemplifies them in some way, or could be a prophetic look at their future, or it might provide a challenge for them in some way. Sometimes the family works with the child to pick a verse, but often they ask the pastors to help select the right verse for them. I take this very seriously, and spend many hours praying and reading to get just the right verse for each person.

I think this is such an important process to me because of my own experience in confirmation as an 8th grader. It was up to us to pick our verse that spoke to us. Our pastors gave us a long list of verses that would be good to use, and from it I chose Joshua 24:25b “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” My dad was a pastor, and my older brother always knew that he was going to be a pastor. Being a pastor was the last thing I wanted to do when I was an 8th grader, but I also knew that I wanted a verse that was going to say something important about my future. Little did I know at that time that being a pastor was in my future, or even that I would have a family in the future. I was really just thinking about the present and wanted to take the opportunity to let my dad and brother know that Jesus was just as important to me as He was to them.

This year I will pick a verse for my oldest son as he confirms his faith in Jesus. I’ve got a long list of verses, and I’m doing a lot of praying. I hope that the Word of God works powerfully in his life as it has in mine. I’m glad that my Confirmation verse has become true for me and my family. I hope his verse will do the same.

Do you have a verse that has become part of who you are? Some people call that a “life verse.” Do you have a verse that guides you, that excites you, that gives you hope, and reminds you of your identity in Jesus? Take some time today to consider your favorite Bible verses, and see if there is one that speaks clearly into your life. Memorize it, and live it out boldly!

Dear Jesus, your Word is living and active and speaks directly into our lives. Shape us by your Word. Amen.

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I Corinthians 12:24-27 (Day 15/50)

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” I Corinthians 12:24-27

I had one job. Get the babies’ bottles ready for a day out. Two babies x 3 feedings = six bottles. One baby gets the purple formula. One baby gets the yellow formula. Pour the special baby water (I never knew there was such a thing!) into the clean and sterilized bottles. Put the bottles of water in the cooler bag for the day. Put the pouches of already measured powder into the bag. Half purple, half yellow. Six bottles of water: check. Six pouches of powdered formula check. One bag to carry it all check. I got my job done, and loaded the kids into the car with the special bottle bag, the diaper bag, the stroller, and everything else we might need for a morning out with two babies.

I had everybody and everything in the car, with the car running waiting for my wife to join us. Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the ceiling” was playing on the radio, the windows were down, and it was going to be a great day.

My wife gets in the car, and I give her the customary glance at the clock and my casually miffed tone, “Nice of you to join us.” She looks at me and says back, “You got everything?” Yep! Six bottles filled with special water. Six pouches of pre-measured formula powder: half purple/half yellow. One special bottle bag. One diaper bag. One stroller. Two babies. One radio now playing Kool n the Gang. Four windows down and one car running waiting for you.

“You SURE you got everything?” Now, I’ve been around this relationship long enough to know that even if I’m sure I’ve got it all, there must be something I’m missing. Sure enough, my wife pulls out a little bag and shows me the one thing I had forgotten that would be critical to a successful morning out with the twins: the nipples for the bottles. What would have been a wonderful day out could have been destroyed by two hungry babies and a very upset wife, but fortunately she’s been around this relationship long enough to look around the prep area to see if I forgot anything. And, of course I did, and of course she found it before it became a problem.

She and I belong together, and often make up for each others’ weaknesses. (Yes, she makes up for more of mine than I do hers!) Each of us is necessary to the other.

So it is with the Body of Christ. Like a marriage needing both parts, the Body of Christ needs all the parts to function. Every part is necessary. If I left behind one little piece of the bottle system I would’ve endangered the entire mission for the day. Every part is necessary!

That means YOU are necessary. No matter how small or insignificant you might feel, your presence is vital. The Body of Christ cannot function without you. Be present. Learn your role. Live out your calling in the Church. We need you! You are important.

Dear Jesus, thank you for making us a part of you. Amen.

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Psalm 30:11-12 (Day 14/50)

You turned my mourning into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 

that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.

    Lord my God, I will praise you forever. Psalm 30:11-12

If the Bible is true, then we should be able to find evidence of people’s lives changed by God. Look around you. Do you know of people whose mourning has been turned to dancing?

I saw the video of a young woman who had her leg amputated 6 months ago as a result of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Yesterday she ran on a prosthetic across the finish line on Boylston wearing a Boston Strong shirt! Her emotion was evident, and the smiles of the crowd were electrifying!

I know of many kids who have been rescued from orphanages and dangerous home situations. What used to be fear and crying has been turned to smiles and laughter!

I’ve seen people lose loved ones go through a time of mourning. And, while the loss never goes away, and won’t until we’re reunited in heaven; they’ve come through with a new sense of joy for the time they shared and the person they loved.

Speaking of being reunited in heaven. Sometimes the Scriptures will be totally fulfilled at a future date. Psalm 30:11-12 is one of those. I get to experience God’s love in Jesus TODAY as he turns my mourning to dancing, or works in the lives of my kids to bring hope, or as He works in lives of members of my congregation to see JOY, or as He transforms an entire city from one of terror to one of STRENGTH! These are only an appetizer to the celebration that will take place when Jesus comes to take us home. Mourning to Dancing! I better start working on my dance moves TODAY!

Dear Jesus, you alone turn our mourning into dancing. Bring us Hope and Joy! Amen.

 

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Galatians 5:22-23 (Day 13/50)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control…” Galatians 5:22-23

Before we can be people of kindness, we must first receive kindness. Before we can be people who share peace, we must first receive peace. Before we can be people who are loving, we must first receive love. On our own, by our human nature we’ll never be all these things, but by the Spirit of God we can!

Today I spent some time in the Medical Tent at the Boston Marathon with our team of Comfort Dogs. Lydia Comfort Dog spent time encouraging the EMT’s, nurses, doctors, and medical staff who are present to help injured or sick runners. It takes a lot of people to care for the potential issues that come about when 30,000+ people run 26.2 miles in 37 degree wind chills and rain! The leader in the medical tent was sharing directions to all of the volunteer staff throughout the time we spent there. The number one advice from the leader to the medical teams was, “Take care of yourself so that you can take care of those in need.” Get some water. Get your lunch. Take time to rest. Stretch or sit to help your body during this long day. Take care of yourself so that you’ll be able to take care of others.

It’s a vital message, and one that the Church cannot forget. If we want to be forgiving, loving, kind, patient, good, and faithful then we’re got to receive those things first from Jesus. His Spirit will grow those fruit in YOU. Let Him grow those things in you, so you can in turn share them with others. Take care of yourself so that when the time comes you’re ready to share!

Dear Jesus, grow the Fruit of your Spirit in me, and help me to share them with others. Amen.

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Hebrews 4:12 (Day 12/50)

“The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

Looking for a spiritual experience? Want to see God at work in your life? Read the Bible. The author of Hebrews reminds us of a vital truth: God’s Word is living and active. There is nothing more amazing than to open the Bible and read something that was written three thousand years ago that speaks right into your life today.

God uses His Word to reach directly into our lives today. Like a surgeon’s scalpel that can cut to the heart, God’s Word can take out the pain and hurt and offer healing to your soul. God speaks to you through those written words. He can guide and direct, love and care for you through His Word.

If you’re looking for God to do something amazing then grab your Bible and start reading. Pray first, asking God to speak, then listen to what He’s got to say. Be careful though because what He shows in His word might mean a big change for you. There was a period of time when it seemed like everything I read in the Bible talked about living by faith, being bold, and caring for children. Today I’m a foster dad for two beautiful little girls. When God speaks, be ready to listen. It’s an amazing experience and you’ll see Him work powerfully in your life through the Bible.

God is still speaking today, and He’s using the Bible to do it. An old prayer says it this way: “Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark learn, and inwardly digest them that, by the patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” Make that Word a part of your experience today!

Dear Jesus, Speak to me today through your Word. Amen.

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