Does God really care?

LORD, how long will I call for help and you not listen? I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you don’t deliver us. Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish so that devastation and violence are before me? There is strife, and conflict abounds. ~Hab 1:2-3 (CEB)

Often I find myself wrestling with questions. In reading the book of Habakkuk I find he is wrestling with some of the same things. His primary question to God is “Why does the Lord permit the righteous to suffer while the wicked prosper?” He has a series of questions and as he continues to raise these questions, the Lord responds. Habakkuk seems to be most concerned with how wicked people can even play a role in God’s work.

The time frame for this book is during the time of Israel’s defeat by the Assyrians and Judah’s oppression of those same Assyrians. The Assyrian rule was being felt greatly. Alliances were being made with other nations instead of turning to God. Habakkuk’s vision declares that this practice of trusting in human power and strength would ultimately lead to defeat. Habakkuk reminds Judah that the righteous live by faith.

In the ensuing conversation that Habakkuk has with God, he learns that the question at stake is not how one is made righteous but rather how the righteous might face evil’s apparent domination. He begins to realize that the question at stake is rather how the righteous might face evils apparent domination. “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” (2:3-4) The prophet’s vision emphasizes trust in God despite circumstances. At an appropriate time, an answer will come; in the meantime, the righteous will continue to trust in God.

From Habakkuk’s honest dialog comes a hope based not on visible circumstances but in God, who ultimately triumphs over evil and all of its manifestations. I too can say despite not knowing what tomorrow holds, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.” (3:18-19)

Lord, help me find my security in You, not in my present circumstances. As long as my eyes are on You I have the faith needed to know that You will ultimately triumph over evil. Amen.

To do justice

He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. ~Micah 6:8 (CEB)

I can’t help but wonder what a strong movement against some injustices in this world would look like if we would take such offense to them as some of the things that have been in the news. Could we stamp out hunger, child exploitation, and abuse? Are we being blinded to the true issues that exist?

What if we put all that energy into stopping child abuse, from being sold into slavery, being raped, children starving, loving the orphaned, and helping the bullied? Would there even then be a need to argue politics, gun laws, gay rights, straight marriage, or free speech?

It saddens me as I read people’s opinions one side or the other. My heart hurts at their offense. But I can’t help seeing instead the people I know who are struggling to just make it through each day. They don’t care where “we” eat or where “we” shop. They don’t care about protesting funerals. There is a mother who wonders how to get food for her children tomorrow; a young girl who hopes that there isn’t another day; a man who sits with his hands shaking so hard and praying for strength to stay sober one more night; a family who wonders where they will live…

Are our energies misplaced? I don’t know. I can’t help wondering.

Heavenly Father, there are a lot of hurting people in this world. A lot of people are divided. Help guide us where You would have us place our energies. Show us the wrongs to right and the stands to take. May we be guided by You and not our own understandings. Amen.

Dangerous journey

When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.~ Matthew 2:13-15 (CEB)

“The Christian life is seldom described as a dangerous journey. We are reluctant to speak of the cost of seeking God and the danger of following Christ. It is so much easier and more appealing to speak of the rewards and benefits of the journey of faith. While we must never denigrate the incomparable gifts and rewards of a life of faith, we must also look straight in the eye the cost of every decision to seek God and to follow Jesus Christ.

Jesus experiences the marvelous embrace of God at his baptism. To hear the voice of the One who called all things into existence name Jesus the beloved is gift and reward without comparison. It is a wonderful moment of revelation and loving affirmation. However, the story does not end there, for almost immediately Jesus finds himself in the desert, alone and wrestling with the darkest and fiercest forces of evil.

The earliest of prophets and the saints of this millennium have all discovered that the way of faith is not always the way of ease and comfort. Determining to follow Jesus often leads us into paths we would not choose for ourselves. To say yes to God’s call requires saying no to our own voice and sometimes to the voices of persons and things we love.

For Jesus the call of God had the shadow of the cross upon it. Surely Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, made for us, makes our sacrifice on the cross unnecessary. Can we then expect to escape the shadow of the cross on our journey? Probably not. But we can pray for and receive guidance and strength that will take us safely and victoriously through the dangers and risks we encounter in saying yes to the call of God in our time.” ~From A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Rueben P. Job

I thank You Heavenly Father for this journey I am on. Though I find myself wrestling in the dark at times I know that ultimately this journey will bring me into Your light. I pray for guidance and strength that will take me safely and victoriously through all the dangers and risks I will encounter for I know that Your love and affirmation is what I ultimately seek. Amen.

Living out the good news

Who will harm you if you are zealous for good?  But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil. ~1 Peter 3:13-17 (CEB)

“Any serious attempt to practice a simple but radical discipleship is certain to bring opposition today. We, as Wesley before us and as the saints before him, also know the struggle of internal and external opposition. In a time when division, violence, lust, and greed are the acclaimed way of life, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the attempt to live out that gospel will stir up opposition within and without.” ~From A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader by Rueben P. Job

Help me this day O Lord, to stand against any opposition that might come my way. Especially bolster me if that opposition comes from within me. Help me to do good this day. Amen.

Power of Prayer

So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. Now when

Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. ~Acts 12:5-7 (CEB)

“It is an answered prayer which brings praying out of the realm of dry, dead things, and makes praying a thing of life and power. It is the answer to prayer which brings things to pass, changes the natural trend which brings things to pass, changes the natural trend of things, and orders all things according to the will of God. It is the answer to prayer which takes praying out of the regions of fanaticism, and saves it from being Utopian, or from being merely fanciful. It is the answer to prayer which makes praying real and divine.” ~From The possibilities of Prayer by Edward M. Bounds

Almighty God, I thank You for the power of prayer. I thank You for this sacred moment where I find myself in Your presence. May I take this moment with me and cherish throughout this day. May it help equip me to do Your work. May it help me to see with Your eyes and to love with Your heart. Amen.

Sower of peace

Dear friends, don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These are not strange happenings. Instead, rejoice as you share Christ’s suffering. You share his suffering now so that you may also have overwhelming joy when his glory is revealed. If you are mocked because of Christ’s name, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory—indeed, the Spirit of God—rests on you.

Now none of you should suffer as a murderer or thief or evildoer or rebel. But don’t be ashamed if you suffer as one who belongs to Christ. Rather, honor God as you bear Christ’s name. Give honor to God, because it’s time for judgment to begin with God’s own household. But if judgment starts with us, what will happen to those who refuse to believe God’s good newsIf the righteous are barely rescued, what will happen to the godless and sinful? So then, those who suffer because they follow God’s will should commit their lives to a trustworthy creator by doing what is right. ~1 Peter 4:12-19 (CEB)

“The more I see of conflict in the church, the more I am moved by persons who allow conflict to become the occasion of their growth. And wherever several persons allow personal growth to happen, their collective growth may begin to reshape the community of which they are a part. To say this is in no way to make light of the number of church and denominational conflicts that swirl about us. It is to say, though, that Jesus seeks to form us even in the places of greatest friction. In the midst of division and hurt, he can draw us toward maturity in fresh and formative ways. This formation can take place whether we happen to be the focal point of a conflict; its anguished observer; or in some formally defined role, are present to the situation as ‘conflict manager.’

In matters of conflict, Jesus shapes his community fundamentally by point it toward a healing intent. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus deny conflict. At no time, in his own actions or in his counsel to others, does he ignore its presence or imply that conflict itself is evil. However, Jesus unceasingly encourages his followers to reach after wholeness.” ~From Discovering Community by Stephen V. Doughty

Heavenly Father, may I be an instrument of peace for You this day. Where there is strife help me to sow comfort; where there is hurt let me sow understanding; where there is hate, help me to sow love. Help me this day to restore wholeness, in Jesus name I ask this. Amen.

The privilege of holding a hand

Jesus was throwing out a demon that causes muteness. When the demon was gone, the man who couldn’t speak began to talk. The crowds were amazed. But some of them said, “He throws out demons with the authority of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons.” Others were testing him, seeking a sign from heaven.

Because Jesus knew what they were thinking, he said to them, “Every kingdom involved in civil war becomes a wasteland, and a house torn apart by divisions will collapse. If Satan is at war with himself, how will his kingdom endure? I ask this because you say that I throw out demons by the authority of Beelzebul. If I throw out demons by the authority of Beelzebul, then by whose authority do your followers throw them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. But if I throw out demons by the powera of God, then God’s kingdom has already overtaken you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his possessions are secure. But as soon as a stronger one attacks and overpowers him, the stronger one takes away the armor he had trusted and divides the stolen goods.

“Whoever isn’t with me is against me, and whoever doesn’t gather with me, scatters. ~Luke 11:14-23 (CEB)

“The cup of suffering has many shapes and a variety of contents. In our tradition, the cup has special significance. It is a communal cup, meant for sharing. Abandonment at a time of suffering is the deepest of tragedies. Each time of suffering is the deepest of tragedies. Each time we pass the wine of the Eucharist, we are reminded of our communal relationships and our sharing is to continue in our picking up the burdens of the larger community.

Draining the cup of suffering is the final test of our sincerity in claiming discipleship. We can expect no right or left hand seats of honor, no prerogatives of power or monopoly on truth, no thrones, no outsiders. But we can have the privilege of holding one another, broken and bruised, in the embrace of our circle, of keeping watch with the dying or keeping vigil with the condemned, of walking alongside the exiled and the weary, of standing at the foot of the cross, not in despair or in bitterness, but open to the miracle of pending resurrection. And, finally, of waiting hopefully for our own welcome into life, wholeness at last!” ~From Seek Treasures in Small Fields by Joan Puls

Almighty God, as I go about my busy schedule today, let me not forget to hold the hands of the people You put in my path today. May I remember to take the time to foster and feed relationships, to embrace the weary, to stand with the saddened. Help me to help others to find joy in the moment so that in the present we will see Your face. Amen.

Words to be heard

When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this:

Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. ~Matt. 6:7-13 (CEB)

“The good news is that the scriptures, tradition, the experience of the saints, and our own experience tells us that it is possible to face the unknown and even to face opposition without fear and without defeat. To expect a life without struggle is unrealistic. But it is realistic to expect God’s help in living an authentic and joyful life as a Christian. To daily declare our love for God and neighbor, to give of ourselves as fully as we can to God, and to ask for God’s help in living an authentic life of faith is to be prepared to meet any and all opposition. Once and for all of life to God, we have nothing to lose. We have everything because, God has us. ~From A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader by Rueben P. Job

Heavenly Father, I thank You for the ways You have shown Your love for me in the big things and in the little things. You have met all my needs both big and small sometimes in ways that I would not have expected it. Help me to remember this day as the struggles come to remember all that You have done for me in the past. May those experiences give me the confidence to know that You will stand with me in the present and in the future. Amen.

Actions

For we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin. Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help. ~Heb. 4:15-16 (CEB)

The powers of this world do not want to see their authority and control usurped by another, even if that other is God. To preach a message and practice a life of authentic discipleship will make us uncomfortable and make others anxious and sometimes hostile. We are not above the struggle of what it means to follow Jesus. The complex issues of life do not lend themselves to easy answers. It is not easy to know with certainty the path we are to follow. And often, after careful discernment, the direction we hear is not the way we would have chosen. There is often resistance within us to the way we are convinced God is calling us to travel. It is a strenuous journey of faith that permits us to say with Mary, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38).

We should not expect instantly to be where Mary was in her witness. Neither should we think that there is something wrong with us because we struggle with internal or external opposition. Self-examination and the help of a faithful spiritual guide are ways to test our perceptions with reality” ~From A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader by Ruben P. Job

Almighty God, give me the strength this day to live out my witness. May my actions follow the words that I speak. May the path I take be the one You would have me travel today. Help me to do it with a happy heart and a willing spirit. Amen.

Authentic discipleship

The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” ~Acts 9:16-16

“A casual glimpse at the life of John Wesley may lead us to believe that life for him was without opposition. He knew where God was calling him to go, who God was calling him to be, and the rest was simple. In retrospect, we may think that he chose a difficult way of discipleship, but that once the decision was made, and in spite of personal hardship, there was little internal or external opposition.

A deeper gaze at his life and ministry as revealed through his writing and the testimony of those who wrote about him suggests that he faced real opposition from the beginning until the end. Life was not simple or easy. The struggle for faithful discipleship resulted in opposition within his own life and opposition from those who could not agree with the way he had chosen. The search for authentic discipleship led him to go far beyond the common understanding or practice of the Christian faith, and this going beyond the commonly accepted way often led to opposition.” ~From A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader by Rueben P. Job

Heavenly Father, give me the strength today to do the tasks laid out for me. There are times I feel torn this way or that and it is hard to see the path You have given me. This day I ask for the will to be Your disciple in everything I do and to see clearly, to give freely, and to love fully. Amen.

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