Beckoning Love

Devotional – Wednesday, July 1, 2020

I am thankful that these daily devotions have been a source of inspiration during this very difficult time in all of our lives. I thank God for making the room in my life to write these daily devotions, yet I hear God clearly calling me to a season of rest at this time.  Starting today, I will be sending by email the devotions once a week on Wednesdays. They will also be posted to Facebook and our website. The next edition will be sent and posted on July 8, 2020. The devotions will focus on the upcoming text for worship and preaching. Thank you for your words of encouragement these past three months as God gave me insights to share with you daily.

How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful! …Until the day breathes and the shadows flees, I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” [Song of Solomon 4:1a, 6-7]

 This coming Sunday our main text will be from The Song of Solomon or The Song of Songs, as some translations title this short book sandwiched between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah. The text is an ongoing conversation between of two lovers, although this song is not only understood as human love poetry, but perhaps, primarily as a description of the love relationship between God and Israel. Interpreters identify one lover as God and the other lover as Israel, with the poetry a description of Israel’s ongoing history of redemption by God.  God’s unconditional love beholds Israel’s loveliness even when it spurns God’s love. We, too, spurn God’s love. We turn away or even push away and worship idols of our own making. As Professor Allie Utley writes, “Anytime we take some thing or idea and make it solid and immovable, we create an idol.”  As we prepare for Sunday’s worship, we are asked to consider those solid and immovable things or ideas or even experiences of God that stand between ourselves and the continual outpouring of God’s beckoning love, “How beautiful you are, my beloved child, how very beautiful!”

Prayer

O Great Lover, your love never runs dry. Your love continually beckons me to come, to be embraced by the fullness of your mystery. I confess that I am shy at times in the face of your overwhelming love, but at times I am also downright rebellious. Help me to trust ever more fully that I am your beloved and that your love will never forsake me. Amen.

In Wisdom

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.” [Psalm 104:24-25]

The psalmist sings, “In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” In wisdom…really? I don’t know about you, but there are few creatures I could do without! Like mosquitoes and gnats to name a few from my perspective. Yet, through science we have learned that God’s diversity has a purpose. When a predator is eliminated in a natural environment, over population occurs and land is laid bare. When we consolidate farming and only grow one crop, the mono crop is overrun by pests for which we have created pesticides. Although, most of us do not want active beehives in our backyard, this pesky, yet absolutely necessary creature of God pollinates $15 billion worth of U.S. crops every year that make it to our tables. Without the diverse population of bees that pollinate food producing plants, our food chain would be severely damaged. Diversity is by design, yet we humans forget God’s wisdom in the bountiful creation we often take for granted. How might we be better stewards of God’s diverse creation, by nurturing our understanding of the interconnections of all of creation? Indeed, how manifold are your works, O God!

Prayer

Ever creating God, help me to better understand my impact on the natural environment. You love your creation, every beautifully diverse creature big and small.  Help me to love all of creation ever more deeply, as you do. Help me to understand your wisdom so beautifully displayed in the wonder of the natural world. Amen.

Beyond Description

“Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment.” [Psalm 104:1-2a]

The image of “wrapped in light” caught my attention as I read this passage.  Jesus’ transfiguration immediately came to mind, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” I also found myself in a darkened room draw to a solitary candle flame. The God whom we worship is beyond description, even as the psalmist attempts to paint a word picture of God’s indescribable luminosity. What is the most majestic thing your eyes have ever beheld? When your breath was taken away and your heart skipped a beat?  Was it the grandeur of the roaring cascades of Niagara Falls or delicate blossoms with sparkling dew drops dancing as rain clouds parted? Was it the first time you saw the Milky Way spread across the pitch-black sky or when you held a precious new life for the first time. Words at times fail us. The only adequate response to the majesty is sheer awe. I wonder if our 24/7 wired world has reduced our capacity for awe? What will it take for us to be awed into silence? “O Lord my God, you are very great!”

Prayer

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Bless God’s holy name. Your transcendence is more than words can describe. Yet, you are also immanent, as close as my breath.  I marvel at your majesty as well as your gift of intimacy. Thank you for being mindful of me this day. Receive my offering of blessings and praise. Amen.

Many Names

“Alleluia! God is good! Sing praise to God’s name because it is beautiful.” [Psalm135:3 Inclusive Bible Translation]

 Sing praise to God’s name because it is beautiful! Have you ever done a word study on God’s name? We actually a worship a God of many names and many metaphors according to our holy texts. In Hebrew we find Elohim, Adonai, YHWH, El, and El Shaddai. We also find many images such as shepherd, birthing rock, vine, father and light. Jonathan Peters writes, “The Bible’s inclusion of so many figures for God is both an invitation and a caution. The invitation is to discovery: discovery of who God is, and what our friendship with God might become. The caution is against assuming that any one image of God, whatever truth it holds, adequately describes God.” You have heard me say before, “the mystery we call God.”  We cannot contain the fullness of God in any one name and this good news frees us to experience God in a variety of ways. As a finite fallible human being, I realize that God’s many names invites me and you to stand in awe of the mystery of the Divine Goodness

Prayer

Holy One, like the psalmist I wonder, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them.” I marvel that you know the numbers of hair on my head. It never ceases to amaze me that you invite me to participate in your work of compassion and justice. Your many names are indeed beautiful. Amen.

Want for More

“[The idols] have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths. Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.” [Psalm 135:16-18]

I find the psalmist’s description of idols haunting.  Idols have mouths to consume us. Idols have eyes to shame us. Idols have ears to make us worry. Idols have power and yet no breath. They lure us into believing that we cannot live without them and trick us into serving them to be successful in our endeavors.  Have you ever been lured by an idol? Advertisers know how to appeal to our national idols and our nation’s notion of success.  If you buy this, you will be more youthful. If you invest in this, your portfolio will grow exponentially. If you do this, you will be more powerful. And then the psalmist says, “All who trust in idols shall become like them.” I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to become an inanimate object that lures others to a false sense of self. As Augustine of Hippo said of God and us,“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” We will never find rest in idols, we will only want for more. We will be restless until we rest in God alone.

Prayer

Holy One, I am thankful that you do not abandon me to the idols so prevalent in our society. Your steadfast love and grace are ready to guide me. Give me the courage to name and denounce the idols that vie for my allegiance. Help me to trust and rest in you alone. Amen.

What Do Your Worship?

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.” [Psalm 135:15]

The psalmist spends four verses extolling God and then begins to recount the wonders of what God has done for the people of God.  Through all their trials and tribulations, God vindicates them and has compassion on them. Then the psalmist turns to the words found in verse fifteen, which focus on what draws our attention away from God.  Idols come in all shapes and sizes, although the psalmist focuses on silver and gold, the work of human hands.  We can idolize our possessions, being driven by always wanting more. We can idolize wealth and work ourselves to death increasing our portfolios.  We can even idolize ourselves, being driven by our egos. The definition of idol is simply something that we worship other than God. On a national level it is easy to see what our nation worships – individual choice, youth, money and power. But, on a personal level discerning our idols is not so easy. What we worship, other than God, will reveal its self though, if we dare to ask God to show us. Do you remember what Jesus said to the rich young man who had everything? “Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. The young man went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Spend some time asking this day for God to reveal to you what you worship, at times, other than God.

 Prayer

Gracious God, it is hard to admit that I might worship silver and gold or anything else other than you. You alone deserve my worship and praise. Yet, I fall prey to the wiles of the world. Forgive me and renew within me a humble spirit that worships only you. Amen.

Punctuate with Praise

“Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.” [Psalm 135:1]

As a new day dawns, I always know that it will be greeted by birdsong. When I venture into my backyard to attend to the hungry Koi that fill my pond, I know that a variety of birds with punctuate the cool air with singing. Their voices remind me to punctuate my day with praise. Praise the Lord, for I have been given this new day. Praise the Lord, for the cool of the morning and the beauty of this dawn. Praise the Lord, for the warmth of the sun as it begins its trek across the sky. Praise the Lord, for the seed and soil, sun and water and those who labored so that I could enjoy the bounty of fresh berries for breakfast.  Praise the Lord, for listening to my chatter, for holding my dreams, for caring for my family and for providing for needs. Our morning litany of praise could last for days and maybe even longer. Yes, how good it is to sing praises to our God. As you begin this day, start a litany of praise, for it fitting for us to praise God.

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, I praise you this morning. I give thanks for breath that animates my being this day. I give thanks for the renewal of rest and for the energy I have to enter this day. I give thanks for the love of my family. I join the chorus of creation saying, “Praise the Lord!” Amen.

Braving Silence

“When Elijah heard [the sound of sheer silence], he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” [1 Kings 18:13a]

I love the image painted by this verse. The world outside of the safety of Elijah’s cave has been thunderous and tumultuous. He hasn’t dared to leave his safe abode. But, then something surprising happens, because there is no sound and no movement. It is as if the world has stood still. This intrigues Elijah and he dares to move towards the entrance of the cave. Notice though that he has wrapped his face in his mantle. He is prepared for a second wave of thunderous tumult and pelting sands. He protects himself.  That is often our stance before God as well. We gird ourselves with protective gear and then dip our toes in the water of silence, ready to retreat at a moments notice of the silence is too demanding. I have shared in the past about my first experience on a retreat the had silence from evening prayer until after breakfast, which meant we ate together in silence. It was a difficult experience for me, for meals had always meant conversation for as long as I could remember. Yet, as the week wore on, the silence opened new insights that I would never had if conversation had been our morning diet. How might braving silence, that includes your inner dialogue or monkey brain as it is called, be a gateway to the voice of God?

Prayer

God of sheer silence, it is so hard for me to quiet my thoughts. If when I am in silence my thoughts continue to demand my attention. Help me to learn to let go and just be in your presence, so that I might hear anew a word from you. Amen.

Silence as First Language

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. [1 Kings 18:11b-12]

 The winds of change all around us are strong. It feels like mountains are splitting and rocks are being broken into pieces. The earth is shaking and even fires are raging.  Yet, our passage tells us that God is not in the noise and commotion outside of the cave where Elijah is hiding out. God is present in the resulting sound of sheer silence when everything else stops.  Often the noise in our lives and in our world drown out the voice of God. We babble on and on thinking that we know what is right and good, all the while never stopping to really listen to the mystery we claim as God. In the midst of this pandemic, I know have had to be very intentional in my stopping. When overwhelmed by the noise and commotion spewing from all our media sources, I had to turn them off and quiet my racing mind and just listen. I also had to stop all my doing. It is not easy to stop the internal dialogue pulsating through our beings that say we must be productive. Yet, saints throughout the ages have said, “God’s first language is silence.” For in silence, we begin to hear the true hunger of our souls to be one with God and with others.

Prayer

Speaking God, I admit that sheer silence scares me. If I stop my doing, I fear that I might actually hear you. I admit that I may not want to hear what you have to say to me and how that might change me. Even so, give me the courage this day to spend time in silence so that I might better hear your voice. Amen.

Too Risky?

“The word of the Lord came to Elijah and said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’” [1 Kings 18:11a]

Elijah has fled for his life, for Jezebel wants to kill him. The Israelites had forsaken God’s covenant, destroyed their altars and killed many prophets. Elijah had also slain the Baal prophets, which is why Jezebel is out to kill him. Even though escaped with his life, he was done with being a prophet and he told God he just wanted to die. Elijah didn’t wanted death or a new job description. I don’t blame him. Being a prophet puts one life at risk because prophets challenge what is with what could be.  It is difficult work and sometimes deadly. But, God doesn’t answer Elijah’s plea. Instead, God gives him yet another command, “Go out and stand on the mountain…for the Lord is about to pass by.” What is interesting is although Elijah is in a mountain, he has found a comfortable cave!  I’ll listen, but I am going to hedge my bet and stay safe inside. Safety personally and communally is huge factor as we walk through life. We don’t want to be in harms way, hence why our lives were turned upside down and inside out by pandemic protocols. Yet, safety first in our walk of faith will hamper our ability to partner with God. At times, like Elijah, we are called out of the safety of our caves to listen to the voice of God and then to willingly respond, even if it is risky.

Prayer

Calling God, I admit I prefer safety and security for the living of my days. I don’t want to be a voice that calls others to the vision of your kin-dom. It is just too risky most days. Forgive my reluctance and instill within me an openness to your voice and the courage to respond to your voice. Amen.