Daily Devotion

OCT. 3-4 – Restoring Our Community

Isaiah 58:12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

Over the last year and a half, we have seen the cracks and brokenness of our society more than we have in a long time. God calls us to take action during the struggles that our cities and communities have had in this time. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and either ignore the struggles, to point fingers at others, to be angry, or to just run away. But God has called Christians to not only be a light on a hill that can’t be hidden, but to actually “repair the breach.” In our scripture, God is calling us as His people to participate in his kingdom-building process. We can’t ignore the plight of the downtrodden or the people who are different from us, but to rebuild the “ruins”, to look for the needs of our communities, families, and churches.

God’s call has always been active and not passive. Some people only hear the passive part, and they forget to take Jesus out in the world with them as they serve and lead others. Some Christians only preach salvation and forget that it is hard to hear the message of hope when your belly is empty and you don’t see hope in your life. It is passages like this and others in our prayer guide that point to our having to bring both the gospel of hope and outreach to help serve and uplift people. Our passage from Isaiah calls us to raise up the “foundations of many generations.” Jesus himself is our foundation. When we call on the Holy Spirit to help us with restoration, it will be successful because we will be focused on Jesus and not ourselves or our desires. It is through Him alone that true rebuilding will happen, and we will be partaking in a glorious Kingdom-building movement. 

Prayer:

Lord God, help us to rely on you to rebuild our communities. After such a year as we have had, help us to seek to ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in how we rebuild and who we seek to serve. Help us to focus first on you as the source of all restoration, both for our souls and for those around us. Gracious Spirit, move in your church to mobilize it in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

SEPT. 30-OCT. 2 – Who is Invited?

Matthew 22:8-10 8 Then he said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

The wedding feast was one of the most important festivities of the time. It makes perfect sense Jesus would use the celebration in a parable. To have such an important event rejected so harshly by those invited, would have surely disappointed and even enraged the king. The people hearing this story were able to understand the significance that after this rejection, the king was opening the wedding to anyone that would come.

So, imagine this: You are hanging out with friends or family, nothing much exciting is going on. You might be shopping for food or clothes, killing time in the town square, or you might be wondering where your next meal will come from. You might even be about to commit a crime. Then one of the king’s servants comes up to you and all the other people on the streets and says, “you are all invited to the wedding celebration for the king’s son!” Can you imagine how that would make you feel? The king invited YOU. Not only you, but all around you. The rich, the poor, the beggar, and the thief. No matter where you came from, what your background was or what you looked like, EVERYONE was invited. I imagine this would have been the perfect vision of what God, our King, wants Heaven to look like. I imagine this is what He wants our churches and our communities to be like today. 

Prayer:

Father, thank you for loving us, for who we are, who you have created us to be. Thank you for opening the feast to all of us, so we can all have a seat at your table. Help us to continually seek to reach others to bring into your kingdom, to celebrate in the beauty of your salvation.

Amen.

SEPT. 28-29 – Love in Deed and Truth

1 John 3:16-18 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

When the disciple John wrote his pastoral letters to several congregations, he was encouraging the church and followers of Christ to grow in love for all people. Even in the 1st century, there were divisions and walls that separated people based on ethnicity, culture, economics, and sex. In this passage, John defines what love is when he says, ‘By this we know love’. The this he speaks of is then defined as ‘that He (Christ) laid down His life for us’. Jesus didn’t just talk the talk; He took action by walking the walk! His message of love was clearly defined when Jesus willingly hung on the cross as a sacrifice for each of us.

The passage continues by saying we should do the same thing, ‘lay down our lives for the brothers (others)’. John isn’t suggesting we hang on that cross, but that we do sacrifice for others who are in need, keeping our hearts tender to those needs, regardless of how the individuals might be different from us. Can we look at others through the eyes of Christ, blind to the differences between us, seeing only our commonalities as children of the Father? This is how we show love and justice in a broken world.

John ends by calling us all, ‘Little children’. As children, we learned a phrase that speaks simply and clearly to the heart of this passage, Actions speak louder than words! It is through our actions, not our words, that we live out Your sacrifice, showing God’s love living in us. It is through our actions that we live out the belief that we are all brothers and sisters, children of God, all part of one family! 

Prayer:

Lord, thank You for the sacrifice You made for us all. Help us to understand how to live out Your sacrifice in this broken, challenging world so that we are an example of You and Your love. Guard our hearts, our words, our actions.

Amen.

SEPT. 26-27 – Doing for Him

Matthew 25:37-40 (NLT)  37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’   

Several years ago, I read ”The Nine Arts of Spiritual Conversations.” One concept that keeps coming up in my life is the art of ”noticing.” Years ago, a friend lovingly confronted me for ignoring her as we passed each other in the school hallway. ”Karen, you walked right by me, and didn’t even notice me.” There was hurt in her voice in being overlooked, even by someone walking by her in the hallway.  

Each day, we ”walk” by people. Whether it is someone pushing another grocery cart, or waiting in line, or even passing by in the hallway, we encounter people with real needs. In our neighborhoods, we walk by homes with people who may not have slept last night due to a crying baby, or a couple that is not speaking to each other, or a teen who has been isolated by his or her peers.

But what about the one who is dressed differently in your workplace? The one who may wear the same clothes day after day? The one who moved in down the street and no one has greeted yet? How about the woman who sits alone at the coffee shop?  

If we ”notice” those around us, we may see differences. And if we look beyond the differences, we may see; their needs, their emotional hurt and pain, the economic challenges, the accent from another country, or the wondering where the next rent or mortgage payment is going to come from.  

Jesus was telling the disciples that when we do ”one of these things” to someone, to the ”least of these”, we do it to Him! They sound relatively simple: feeding, giving drink, hospitality to a stranger, clothing, visiting the sick or imprisoned. Physical needs. Noticing. Responding.  

Where do we start? Right where we are, in our neighborhoods, in our workplace, in our school, in our church, with those around us. The ones we notice if we look beyond ourselves. Who are the ”least of these” in your life?

Prayer:

Loving Father, open my eyes. Let me see the needs of those around me. May I look beyond our differences, and see, really see, their needs. Help me to respond in love, as the Holy Spirit prompts me. May I be a noticer in my community, and then a first responder.

Amen.

SEPT. 23-25 – From Every Nation 

Acts 2: 5-12 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

“What does this mean?” That is the real question as we look at this passage and what God’s desire is for us. In this passage, all these different nations, languages, and people are mentioned. Some of them are natural enemies, different colors of skin, different beliefs about God, and certainly different cultural traditions, but they have one thing in common. They are hearing the word of God preached to them in their language. They are hearing about who Jesus is because of the power of the Holy Spirit. What does it mean that everyone can know Jesus and have a relationship with Him? It means that we are all one in Christ, that a relationship with Him is open to everyone.

“What does this mean?” It means that as we seek to be better neighbors and to seek out healing and relationships, all are welcome at the table. As we look at this list, we see the world is gathered, waiting to hear and be lifted. The same Jesus comes to each person and nation in His way. In vs. 11 we hear the writer say they were declaring the wonders of God in each group’s language. That is how we seek to be – helping each group hear the word of God and how wonderful it is, how it will transform their lives, their communities, and the way they see each other. As we work through this time to build neighborliness, let’s work to reach out to those who speak different languages, who have different customs or cultural contexts, calling on the Holy Spirit to give us the power to cross those often difficult lines in the name of Jesus.

Prayer:

Holy Spirit Come! Come and break down the barriers of culture and language. Answer for us “What does this mean?” Help us to hear your call to be the first that brings in, not just different languages and cultures, but people who are different from us. Thank you, Lord, for being one, but coming to every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Amen.

SEPT. 21-22 – Turning the World Upside Down

Matthew 5:3–12 He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

What is the difference between a peacekeeper and a peacemaker? God calls us to more than peacekeeping, which is passive. He calls us to peacemaking, which is active. God does not call us to maintain the status quo, to accept what has always been. God calls us to peacemaking, to the bringing of heaven to earth. In order to make peace, we have to challenge any belief, system, idea, thought or practice that leads to disunity. In order to make peace, we have to do the deep inner work of trusting Christ to lead us into self-reflection, growth, and conversations with others that may be uncomfortable. 

In order to make true peace, we have to examine who in our world is marginalized, and we have to elevate their needs in order to create unity and harmony. This type of peacemaking is kingdom work. God ordains this peacemaking, and He tells us that in this work, we are blessed. To paraphrase Maya Angelou’s work Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, peace is not just the absence of war but rather a harmony among all spirits. When have you felt true harmony in a place? Imagine if the Church was full of harmonious spirits, committed to deeply understanding one another and advocating for one another! 

In endeavoring to make peace and create harmony, we will face challenges both within ourselves and among others. Peacemaking turns what the world values upside down. In peacemaking, we challenge old patterns of behavior and thinking, and we challenge ideas and systems that give some people more power and more value than other people. In the same passage that God calls us to peacemaking, He also tells us that we are blessed when we mourn, blessed when we are meek, blessed when we are merciful, blessed when we are pure-hearted, and blessed when we have broken spirits.

In the same way that peacemaking turns the world upside down, so does God’s teaching that we are blessed when we embody these postures. God knows we will experience many difficulties in peacemaking and harmony creation, but He promises to be with us in creating this shalom.

Prayer:

Lord, Prince of Peace, please guide me in the way of peacemaking, not peacekeeping. Give me clarity and help me discern in what areas of life I am just accepting the status quo. Reveal to me opportunities for deeper learning and engagement with people who are different from me. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Help me to make peace daily, even when it’s uncomfortable and even when my spirit is broken. Teach our church body how to make true peace in our community of Southwest Charlotte and beyond. Guide our church body into true reconciliation and true harmony. Thank you for your goodness and mercy, every day of our lives.

Amen.

SEPT. 19-20 – Breaking Walls 

Ephesians 2:14-16 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

We have walls around us in our society, not physical walls so much, as walls that separate us and divide us as people. Walls can be based on ethnic backgrounds, education, economic status, politics, religion, and any other thing people can disagree on. We have let the divisions overwhelm us – breaking down families, friends, and communities. Christ calls us to be in unity of Spirit as Christians. For this to happen, we must break down the walls that divide us. Where can we find common ground and break down walls? In our passage Eph. 2:14, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” It is Jesus that breaks down the walls and barriers.

We can’t do this under our own power – this passage even says “our flesh” can’t break down barriers. It is only Jesus that can break down the barriers. We can try, but we will fail. When we submit our lives to Jesus and seek His way and not ours, walls will fall – we will stop seeing people as “others” and start seeing people as the children of God they were created to be, even if there are disagreements. As we dive deeper into neighborliness, we start seeing people as fellow travelers and less as projects to be fixed. We will see them more as people on a journey, and that we can work together to help raise up all and solve the problems and issues that divide us.

Ultimately in Eph. 2:15, it is through him that one new humanity is created and divisions are erased, thus making peace. God’s peace is not just the absence of conflict, but it is the biblical principle of completeness, of having enough. It is only through the reconciliation power of Jesus that this can happen.

Prayer:

Lord help me to submit to you daily in prayer, scripture, worship and community. It is only through this submission that my will be broken and I will see others as fellow children. Help me bring Jesus into every conversation, every meeting and every decision I make as I seek to know my neighbor.

Amen.

SEPT. 16-18 – Entertaining Angels

Hebrews 13:1-2 1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  

Today’s verses give us two very simple and direct commands; continue loving one another as brothers and sisters and show hospitality to strangers. It is a practical reminder to show kindness to people who are far from like us. It is a reminder that we are all obligated to humbly love one another because God first loved us.  

It is often so easy for us to get caught up in our very busy lives that we don’t take the time to show hospitality to strangers. We feel we can’t be bothered. We see it as a distraction to what is important to us. Instead of seeing these times as distractions, we should see them as Jesus saw them in his ministry; as divine opportunities to show the love and care of God. Sometimes God might be interrupting your life for a good reason. Don’t miss the chance to focus on the people that God has brought to you for help.  

This doesn’t mean that you have to give every homeless person you see money or food, but you could give them a word of encouragement. You can show hospitality to the strangers you pass at work or on the street with a simple good morning or God bless you. The point is you may never know the blessing you might be to them. If you miss the opportunity to show those strangers around you hospitality, you might be denying angels and the blessings that God might be sending you through them.   

Have I ever talked to an angel without knowing it? What a wonderful question to ponder. I wonder if by showing kindness to a stranger, I could actually have been showing kindness to a messenger of God. I have found that hospitality not only allows me the privilege of blessings others, it is also God’s gift of blessing to me.  

If the people of the world were to truly apply today’s verses in their lives, imagine the change it would make in our culture.  

Prayer:  

Heavenly Father I come to you today with a grateful heart for all the blessings you have bestowed on me this day. Help me to share the generosity and love you have shown to me with all those I meet. Help me to see my neighbors and the strangers I meet with the eyes of Jesus. In Jesus holy and precious name.

Amen.  

Sept 14-15 – Who is My Neighbor

Luke: 10:29–37 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Who is my neighbor? We know the correct answer is everyone! And yes, that is biblically correct but is that practically correct? Can I be a good neighbor to everyone? In some ways yes, by cutting back on pollution, caring for the environment, donating to charities, etc. But what about the people on my street or neighborhood? Do I really care enough for the people I come into contact with daily? Is it easier to send money or clothes off to some faraway place where I don’t have to interact with them? God calls us to neighborliness, and for that to be real, we must care for the family across the street, the people who are caught in endless poverty in my city, the struggles of the kids who aren’t “mine” in the school system. I must ask God to show me the neighbors with whom I need to be in more intimate contact.

True neighborliness in this passage is just not the stranger, but anyone God places in my path. In this story, even the community leader passed by the injured person. Too often we are also the one passing people by when we could do something. This story also shows that helping others will cost us something. The Samaritan had to spend some of his own money to help and heal his neighbor. What are we willing to give up, what are we willing to spend to help others be healed? We cannot just send money far off, but we need to look closer for the neighbors in our own lives. God has planted us where we are for a reason. As we enter our communities, help us to see those people he has planted in front of us that we normally wouldn’t reach out to or might even ignore.

Prayer:

Lord help me not to step over others but, to see them, to hear them, and get to know them. Too often Lord, we only see those overseas or far off. Help all of us to see the neighbors who need help and support in our own backyards. Help us realize being a good neighbor will cost us something and be willing to serve others.

In your Holy Name, Amen.

SEPT 12 & 13 – Love of a neighbor

Mark 12:29-31 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

As this verse in Mark states so clearly this is God’s GREATEST commandment. We can’t call ourselves Christians without loving God and loving people. I think often of how intentional Jesus was to hang out with those people that were NOT like him. He didn’t just gravitate to his friend’s or his families’ homes. I am so guilty of just “hitting the easy button” and hanging out with those that are like me – Christian moms, the same socioeconomic group, and those that basically line up with my belief system. It naturally takes more energy to do what Jesus calls us to do – love others – that means everyone!!!! 

For me, the struggle is to be vulnerable with others so that they see that God is the one that I lean on for my identity and guidance. I get those walls up with “it’s fine” and find it very hard to open up to others. But I have been so profoundly changed by other people’s honesty and struggles and how they have overcome them by leaning on God. So, I try now to very intentionally meet people where they are. I dare say not one of us hasn’t been hurt, betrayed, or just struggled with daily life at one time or another. But we tend to hide those struggles and act like we have it all together when I hear God saying, “be honest and more open so others can learn from your struggles.”

I strive for the “. . . all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to turn from the worldliness that trips me up constantly!! Jesus took it ALL for us on the cross, He is enough, and we want to show that to others. Literally being His hands and feet to everyone we meet, co-laboring with Jesus day in and day out.  

Prayer:

Lord, may we all put this command at the forefront of all that we do. May it truly be our motivation throughout our days, to shine Your light into people’s lives. Thank you so much for what Jesus did for us on the cross! Show us how to love you and to love people well, in your precious son’s name.

Amen.