Talking with God

Talking with God
by Joni
 
"Moses said to the Lord, 'O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.'"
Exodus 4:10
Talking to God could be intimidating. Talking with God could strike even greater fear in your heart. Little wonder that Moses, when approaching God, became a nervous wreck. He stammered. He stuttered. He excused himself as ineloquent, unable to put two sentences together without stumbling.
Some Christians find it easier to talk to God than with Him. But prayer is cultivating a relationship with the Lord of the universe. Prayer is holding a conversation with Him, sharing your hopes, dreams, and affections, as well as listening to His hopes and affections. That we can talk with God is truly astounding.
If you have a desire to talk with God, you are already halfway there, because if you pay attention to those desires, your prayer life will be a conversation with your Savior and Lord. Talking with God is not first and foremost petitioning, or finding answers or getting things...talking with Him is a new level of listening to the voice of your Lord.
 
When you talk with someone, you share your thoughts and ideas and then listen. You listen to what your friend has to say. The same is true when we talk with God. Pause during your praise and intercession for long moments just to...listen. Wait on the Lord to hear what Scriptures He places on your mind. Focus the ears of your heart on Him, keeping distractions at bay and your wandering mind in check. This is listening. This is talking with the Lord.
How I praise You, Lord, that You desire a two-way communication with me. Forgive me when I talk at You... and fail to speak to You and then listen. May my prayer life grow in this way.
 
Blessings,

Psalm 145

Psalm 145
 
A seminary professor I once had was known for asking the question, "What will you do when there's nothing to do?" He was referring to our gift of salvation. The answer involves transferring the energy we are tempted to use to earn God's salvation into loving our neighbor. Martin Luther stressed this over and over. Another result of the new life God creates in us is the desire to thank God together with others in worship. God draws us into a deep relationship of love, more so than our spouses or significant others. When that happens, we don't analyze that love, or even fully understand it. We just want to thank that person. "Every day I will bless you and praise your name for ever and ever."
 
God, you have loved me and drawn me into your love. I praise you for this almost inexpressible gift and will share this gratitude with others as I live my life in you. Amen.
 
 
Psalm 145 (NRSV)
 
1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

Crazy Moments

Crazy Moments
by Joni
 
"Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar. In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror."
Isaiah 33:17-18
It's easy to lose sight of God. You get home late, you put on a casserole, but the phone rings and you forget about turning off the oven. Exasperated, you dump the casserole in the garbage. So you whip up something quickly only to have three out of five around the dinner table turn it down. And for dessert? How about refereeing a fight over who gets the last of the chocolate-chip ice cream?
God barely gets noticed during times like that. If we're thinking, we may quickly fire off a prayer for help. But we need more than that. We need to be driven to our knees by the overwhelming conviction that we have absolutely nowhere else to turn.
It takes crazy moments, times when you almost border on mental collapse, to force you to your knees to seek Jesus. Maybe you sing a hymn as tears splatter on the hymnal pages. Maybe you pray the Twenty-third Psalm over and over until your nerves quit jangling. Then, oh, the delicious calm that sweeps over you when all you see is the King in His beauty and an uncluttered landscape of peace. When your focus is fixed so on the Lord, those crazy moments fade into the background, just as today's reading assures.
Ah, but what about that late dinner and the failed casserole and the fight that spilled over into the evening? It hasn't changed. But your focus has. Be driven to your knees by the overwhelming conviction that you have absolutely nowhere else to go.
You are the Lord of my crazy moments, and I thank You, God, for allowing those nerve-wracking times. When they happen, it's Your way of reminding me to look to You, my King.
 
Blessings,

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Jonah 3:10-4:11
 
Jonah found out God has plans, plans to bless the whole world--no exceptions. These plans included Jonah's involvement and he found out he couldn't get out of it. While he was having his "pout fest" because God's love included folks he didn't like, God continued to work with him. I once had a person tell me that there comes a time and place when God gives up on us and puts us on a shelf. I don't believe that. There is no "shelf" but only a persistent grace that keeps calling us back into God's dream for the world.
 
God chose you too. You are precious and God doesn't wait for you to love everyone or sign up for a life of piety or spirituality. "You did not choose me, but I chose you," Jesus said. We who are joined to Jesus' death and resurrection in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism (Romans 6) have been joined to his work and given the Spirit. We can pout all we want, but we are caught in God's call and love--forever!
 
Thank you God, for your determined call in my life. Thank you for being persistent when I am not so much. Create in me new ears to hear your call to bless the whole world, no exceptions. Amen.
 
 
Jonah 3:10-4:11 (NRSV)
 
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it...
1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.
2 He prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
4 And the Lord said, "Is it right for you to be angry?"
5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.
7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.
8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, "It is better for me to die than to live."
9 But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?" And he said, "Yes, angry enough to die."
10 Then the Lord said, "You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.
11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?"

Obligated to Be Like Us

Obligated to Be Like Us
by Joni
 
"For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
Hebrews 2:17-18
Jesus Christ was obligated to be like us.
That was cruel, don't you think? The Son of God was obligated to step into cumbersome time from endless eternity. Obligated to put on finite flesh and disrobe deathless radiance. Obligated to endure the playground of Satan when He had the throne of God.
What could have obligated Him to such a thing? God always has a reason. Hebrews 2:17-18 tell us why.
Why was He obligated? So that He could be merciful and faithful and so that He could come to the aid of those who are tempted.
Christ fulfilled His obligation because it is incumbent upon every high priest to know why he is doing what he is doing. Reverently speaking, had Christ not been tempted in every way, I doubt that the Garden of Gethsemane would have had much of a chance of seeing Christ stick around. Why die for something when you don't know the nature of that for which you are dying? The firsthand knowledge of the depth of our temptations kept Christ's face toward God so that He could utter "Not my will, but yours."
Lord, my flesh is weak and You know it well. I thank You that You know what it is like to live in such flesh. And I thank You that this knowledge channels Your mercy toward me, a sinner saved by grace.
 
Blessings,

“Love Consecrates the Humblest Act”

"Love Consecrates the Humblest Act", ELW 360

Love consecrates the humblest act
and haloes mercy's deeds;
it sheds a benediction sweet
and hallows human needs.

When in the shadow of the cross
Christ knelt and washed the feet
of his disciples, he gave us
a sign of love complete.

Love serves and willing stoops to serve;
what Christ in love so true
has freely done for one and all,
let us now gladly do!

In yesterday's reflection we acknowledged our sin and gave thanks for God's steadfast love. Today, we are invited to join in the response of those who have been forgiven. Joseph's brothers came with one more lie even after their father's death. Yet he forgave them through the power of God's mercy and grace to turn vengeance to love and to restore a broken relationship.

In a world torn asunder by divisions--politics, religion, race, geography, economics, etc.--the witness of scripture is clear. The disciple of Jesus lives because Christ is the lord of the living and the dead. The disciple of Jesus understands, by the gift of faith given by the Holy Spirit, that now we are called to freely do for one and all what Christ has done for us--to tear down walls of division, work for justice and peace, renounce privilege and most of all, serve our neighbor. Let us now gladly do!

Loving God, you freed us so that we might free others. Help us to respond to your freely given grace with lives of discipleship, service and love. Strengthen our resolve to work against forces that might divide us and make enemies of our neighbors, so that we might better love you and serve all in the name of the one who is lord of all, Jesus Christ, Amen.

God’s Anger

God's Anger
by Joni
 
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
2 Corinthians 5:21
All of the Father's white-hot wrath against our sin was hurled at Christ as He hung on the cross. All of the Father's anger and indignation was heaped on the shoulders of His Son, as if saying, "Jesus, how could you have lied and murdered? I'm furious at you for stealing and raping! I'm punishing you for dealing drugs, for cheating on your wife, for abusing those children!"
"Why that's blasphemy to say Jesus did those things," some would say. True, Jesus never committed one of those sins. But you and I did. And God made Jesus to be sin for us. "Not to that extent," some would add. "Those are terrible crimes committed by wicked people. My sin isn't in that category."
Ah, but..."You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself. Do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" (Romans 2:1, 3-4).
All of our sin caused all of the Father's fury. And all of God's wrath against you for your rebellion was poured out on Jesus. That means God has no more anger left for you. Only kindness, tolerance, and patience.
Jesus bore the crushing pain of having His Father forsake Him. That's why your Savior can now say to you, "I will never leave you or forsake you."
Lord Jesus, before Your cross I kneel and see my sin that caused You to be made a curse. I am deeply humbled, Lord. Thank You for becoming sin for me that I might become the righteousness of God.
Blessings,

“Love Consecrates the Humblest Act”,

"Love Consecrates the Humblest Act", ELW 360

Love consecrates the humblest act
and haloes mercy's deeds;
it sheds a benediction sweet
and hallows human needs.

When in the shadow of the cross
Christ knelt and washed the feet
of his disciples, he gave us
a sign of love complete.

Love serves and willing stoops to serve;
what Christ in love so true
has freely done for one and all,
let us now gladly do!

Today and tomorrow's devotions are connected--like law and gospel, cross and resurrection, death and life. In this beloved hymn we are taken again to the upper room, where Christ once more demonstrates his humility. The shadow of the cross is near as he sets aside his privileged position as teacher and leader and takes up the towel to wash his disciples' feet. Unjustified suffering, pain and loss await him. Yet, he lives now to impart to his disciples the steadfast love of God that Psalm 103 proclaimed to us earlier this week. God's love is made manifest in love for others and in forgiveness for our transgressions, even when we have often not followed Christ's example. And as Martin Luther reminds us, where forgiveness of sins occurs there is also life and salvation. This forgiveness comes freely; about our response, we will say more tomorrow.

Forgiving God, you are so ready for us to be reunited with you. Your son knelt in humility at his disciples'  feet as he prepared to die so we might live. Strengthen us in repentance; by the gift of your law, make us aware of our sin so we may be made grateful for your steadfast love and forgiveness. In the name of the crucified one, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Salt

Salt
by Joni
 
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men."
Matthew 5:13
Last night, I telephoned the family farm back in Maryland to see how my sister Jay was doing. She was up to her elbows in pickles! Cucumbers are ripe off the vine from Jay's garden so she's spending her evenings boiling and blanching, straining and sealing. I love my sister's pickles, and I think her secret is... salt. She adds a lot of salt and tells me that it's the best way to preserve a pickle at its crunchiest, tastiest best.
Those words go well together -- salt and preserve. As Christians, we act as a salty preservative in this world, infusing godly values into a life around us. We have the work of restraining evil and advancing good. And just as salt brings out flavor in food, we can "season to taste" our words when the world asks us for the reason for the hope that is within us.
"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6).
Preserving good in the world. Flavoring your words with the Gospel. These are big responsibilities. And remember that God did not say that you should be the salt of the earth, but that you are. So don't lose your saltiness, whatever you do today.
Lord of the Harvest, You have chosen me for a special task in this world. Thank You for the privilege of being salt in order to make people around me thirsty for You. Show me today how I can preserve all that is good around me and how I can flavor my conversation to make people long for You and look for You.
Blessings,

Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew 18:21-35
 
Systems of privilege based on debt, patronage and power inevitably create resentment and aggression. Jesus' teaching turns this all upside down. Jesus' words threaten those who crave forgiveness yet would be unlikely to give that same forgiveness to another. That threat comes as the law and the law kills. It reminds us of our own lack of forgiveness, even when we have been so richly forgiven. Only the gospel can bring life to this story. As the old gospel hymn reminds us, God gave God's very self to this world of pain and violence, so that the world might have life and be freed from debt and death. In response to this free gift we are called to break these systems of oppression and privilege--to forgive and be forgiven remembering that the free gift of Christ that has paid any debt we owe.
 
God of life, you have settled the old accounts in your victory over death and the grave. Enliven our hearts to be generous and gracious to others, remembering our own forgiveness. Challenge us to be people of life. In the name of the Lord of life, your son, Jesus Christ, Amen.
 
 
Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)
 
21 Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
23 "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;
25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.
26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'
27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, "Pay what you owe.'
29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'
30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, "You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?'
34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."