“O God of Love, O King of Peace,”

"O God of Love, O King of Peace," ELW 749

O God of love, O King of peace,
make wars throughout the world to cease;
our greed and sinful wrath restrain.
Give peace, O God, give peace again.

Remember, Lord, your works of old,
the wonders that our elders told;
remember not our sins' deep stain.
Give peace, O God, give peace again.

Whom shall we trust but you, O Lord?
Where rest but on your faithful word?
None ever called on you in vain.
Give peace, O God, give peace again.

Where saints and angels dwell above
all hearts are knit in holy love;
oh, bind us in that heav'nly chain.
Give peace, O God, give peace again.

How we have messed up God's vineyard. Justice and righteousness were planted and a harvest anticipated. Instead war, greed and sinful wrath have choked out the better fruit. If Isaiah is right, the vineyard is a disappointment to the one who planted it.

Yet that one will not forget the plan and purpose of creation. The one who planted the vineyard and placed you and me in it will remember the ideas, the sketches, the promise that was so life giving. As the vineyard is restored, we are not rejected. Instead we are given the grace to trust in the one who restores the vineyard, the garden, the church, the creation. We are even given a task--to call upon the one who will make all things new, knowing that such prayers are never offered in vain.

The news stories occurring while I  am writing these devotions have been filled with stories of war, of violent death, of terror and of fear. Has it improved the week you are reading these words? Together, let us trust and pray.

Give peace, O God, give peace again. Amen.

Heaven in the Here and Now

Heaven in the Here and Now
by Joni

"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven."
Hebrews 12:22-23

Do you notice anything odd about that verse? It's the verb tense. The writer of Hebrews says we "have already come" to heaven. Resurrection promises are never written for the far and distant future but rather for the here and now.

God wants us to have a present-tense excitement, a right-around-the-corner anticipation of heaven. He wants us to believe that we have already come to the heavenly Jerusalem. He wants us to realize that we are already seated with Christ in heavenly places, "having our conversation in heaven." As far as God is concerned, the coming of the Lord is at hand, ready to explode on the world's stage at any moment.

The resurrection throbs with present-tense excitement when we learn to invest our days in eternity. When we sit close to self-scrutiny, when we examine our motives, words, and actions to make certain we are building for eternal glory, then heaven will seem as close as a heartbeat. The future, the distant, and the vague will appear as the present, the near, and the real. The kingdom of God is within you, Jesus said, and it whets our appetite for kingdom fulfillment at any day, any moment.

A lively hope of heaven will bring forward the things that most believers call invisible and distant. Such a hope will disclose to you the heavenly mansions, the happy courts, the adoring multitudes. It opens your ears to hear heavenly melodies, to catch the very words of angels' anthems.

Lord, help me to see heaven so that I might live today for eternal glory.

Blessings,

Matthew 21: 33-46

Matthew 21: 33-46
 
Builders look, if not for a perfect fit at least an easy fit. Building with stones of uneven sizes requires some imagination or vision to find the right stone for the right spot in the wall. The Lord chose a cornerstone rejected by us who build, because for us that stone just wasn't good enough. We would have chosen a stone more promising of success, more projecting of power, more certain to conquer, not one that was broken, bleeding, wounded and dying.
 
Such is the Lord's way and the power of suffering, of sacrifice. When offered as a gift it becomes a grace which transforms. Such is the love of God, the grace of God. Let the whole world reject the imperfections of the crucified one, and still the crucified one will embrace the world. The one will catch us when we fail and fall, even when we try to build our own lives, reject the cross. Let any one among us think we know better than service and sacrifice and still the rejected stone will hold us up.
 
Perfect stone, amaze me again with your brokenness. Forgive my eagerness to reject you for a stone I see as better. Convert me to your vision to see more clearly your vineyard built of grace. Amen.
 
 
Matthew 21: 33-46 (NRSV)
 
33 "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.
34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.
35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.
37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, "They will respect my son.'
38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.'
39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"
41 They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time."
42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

A Long Obedience

A Long Obedience
by Joni
 
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
Galatians 6:9
When Ken and I drive north from Los Angeles to visit his relatives in Stockton, we take the interstate highway, a long, straight road through the central valley of California. Once when we were driving through Illinois, we took another long highway straight through miles and miles of cornfields. And once when I drove across Texas, I squinted to see the horizon many miles far down another long, flat road across the Texas plains.
When I think of the word boring, I think of those highways. One straight stretch in the same direction. No matter if it's a road, someone's two-hour lecture, or waiting in a line that stretches for blocks, it's hard not to become weary. It's hard just keeping your mind awake, your senses sharp, and your eyes focused on what's ahead.
We balk at developing a long obedience in the same direction. A marriage that is forever struggling, a church that seems to produce little results, or housekeeping routines that never vary from week to week. Caring for an elderly parent or a disabled child can be a long obedience in the same direction.
If I've described you, then you need to pay attention to the grace of God, finding daily renewal from His storehouse of fresh strength and hope. So be alert and be on guard. If you're tempted to feel that your life is like a long, boring stretch of highway, don't you dare fall asleep at the wheel! Don't be weary in doing good, because your heavenly destination will be worth the long obedience
Please, Lord, give me Your grace today. Help me not to become weary at what needs to be done. Help me to obey!
 
Blessings,

Matthew 21: 33-46

Matthew 21: 33-46
 
In the days of Jesus the purpose of God's vineyard had been rationalized away. The righteously religious had replaced the intent of God's covenant promises with nationalistic pride, self-interest and self-justifying traditions.
 
How long does it take to develop such theological blinders? The historian Phyllis Tickle, in her book, "The Great Emergence", observes that it takes around 500 years for religious communities to lose their spiritual way. It's just 500 years since the time of the Reformation. Perhaps we are sitting at the juncture of another moment when the tenants of the vineyard are likely to kill those sent to collect it's valuable produce.
 
In today's parable Jesus does not suggest God will withdraw the covenant promise, but he does warn his hearers: "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom." Does any part of that warning ring true for the congregation of which you are a part of? Does any ring true for the larger church with which you are in association? With whom in your circle of faith can you ask humbly and honestly, "What is our purpose for being here, and how does it relate to the cross and empty tomb of Jesus?"
 
God of the covenant promise, renew in us a clarity of identity and purpose. Grow in our lives and in our communities a rich harvest of faith, hope and love. Amen.
 
 
Matthew 21: 33-46 (NRSV)
 
33 "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.
34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.
35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.
37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, "They will respect my son.'
38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.'
39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"
41 They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time."
42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Freedom

Freedom
by Joni
 
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
2 Corinthians 3:17
Jesus never said to His disciples, "Obey my rules." Instead, He told His followers to "Obey me." And because the Lord did not leave us with a long list of "Thou shalt nots," we have freedom.
Jesus stripped the fear and intimidation away from obedience when He wrapped His life around His Word. What liberty! The Lord made obedience something that you would desire to do because He gave His life that you might be free. What a brilliant motivation for us to trust and obey!
Sometimes I wish that God would give me less freedom and force me to do the right things--make me obey. It would be easier that way. This "freedom stuff" carries with it a heavy weight of responsibility. I am required to discern between white and black, light and dark, good and evil. I am required to make choices. I am required to be free (Swindoll).
But that's the beauty of the freedom of the Lord. And it is His love that makes me want to obey.
This is why Jesus said His commandments were not burdensome. Obeying God was never meant to be a chore or a duty, but a joyous response to His love.
Lord of Liberty, thank You for setting me free from the bondage of sin, death, and the law. Yours is the law of liberty, the law of love. May I never abuse this precious freedom or use it as an excuse to sin. And may I obey You with a joyful spirit, knowing that Your love is all the motivation I need.
 
Blessings,

Philippians 3: 4b-14

Philippians 3: 4b-14
 
We've all heard the saying, "You can't take it with you." Yet many of us perhaps live as though we don't quite believe it. Even for those in the church the temptation to accumulate material things plagues our society. But I'm guessing none of us has ever seen an armored car riding low on it's suspension from the weight of the gold inside?
 
So what does remain? Only our relationships. However even here, the one who spends a life chasing things may on his or her deathbed; find those relationships somewhat "thin", like Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas future from Charles Dickens,"A Christmas Carol".
 
The Apostle Paul knew that the heart of relationships was love. The bonds of love forged with family and friends remain. The love of God in Christ remains. Those who love us will mourn when we die. Christ who loves us will love us still in death, and through death to life anew. It is that life, that love, that hope that drove the apostle forward, pressing toward that goal which is promised also to you in Christ Jesus. Press on!
 
Jesus, be my goal. Deepen this day my love for you. Fill my cup with a love that sustains, a love I can share with family, with friends and even with my enemy. Amen.
 
 
Philippians 3: 4b-14 (NRSV)
 
4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:
5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,
11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Cisterns and Springs

Cisterns and Springs
by Joni
 
"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."
Jeremiah 2:13
Jesus said that rivers of living water would flow out of the lives of those who believe in Him. His living water would brim over from the wellspring of the Spirit within us, quenching our thirst and touching the parched lives of those around us. The life of the Lord Jesus is a constantly flowing stream, a river even, keeping us fresh, filled, and satisfied.
We stop the flow, however, when we try to reservoir God's spring of living water in our lives. We become cisterns--holding tanks for past victories or other people's ideas. At that point, we have forsaken the spring of living water. We have tried to store that which cannot be saved, we have tried to keep that which must keep flowing. The result? Our lives lack freshness and freedom, and we become stagnant pools reflecting old experiences and tired testimonies.
God says that these cisterns of our own making will break. What we try to save, we will lose. The warning is clear: Throw out the broken cisterns and get in the glow of God's spring of living water.
If you know anything about springs and cisterns, this warning in Jeremiah 2:13 should be easy to grasp. A spring is a flow of water from the ground, often a source of a stream. A cistern is a large receptacle for storing water. Don't rely on yesterday's experiences or last month's victories. God wants to give you fresh, thirst-quenching life each new day. So start with this prayer...
Jesus, the Living Water, I thirst after You. May Your life in me not be a trickle, or even a small stream, but a river. I confess my sin, clearing away any obstruction that might hinder Your flow in my life.
 
Blessings,

Psalm 80: 7-15

Psalm 80: 7-15
 
In our neighborhood an apartment building is going up intended for a mix of young "getting started" adults and empty nesters. Right now it's just four walls with holes for doors and windows, but when finished the foundation and walls will have to stand against the winds, here off Lake Erie just as on the northern Great Plains of my childhood. The walls will support their own weight, and the weight of everything we humans will put inside those walls. Even if well built, if left untended those walls will one day fall to the forces of nature.
 
The psalmist reminds us that God provided a well-built community. Brought out of Egypt, planted in good soil, protected and nourished. But the community did not attend to itself. It was distracted by lesser priorities. Eventually the irresistible forces of time and sin worked for its destruction. Some might see the church in this metaphor today. It too might seem broken, as if it's been moved off its foundation by neglect and spiritual inattention. Like the psalmist our prayer also might be, "Restore us O God of hosts; let your face shine that we might be saved!"
 
Restore us O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we might be saved! Amen.
 
Sherman
 
Psalm 80: 7-15 (NRSV)
 
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.

Stop and Listen

Stop and Listen
by Joni
 
"A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered."
Proverbs 17:27
It happens all the time. You get together with a friend, or someone you haven't seen in a while, and before you know it, you've filled the air with a lot of talk about ... you. You realize in embarrassment that you're rambling on about yourself and have nearly forgotten to include your friend or even God in the conversation. Oh, to be able to use words with restraint.
That's why I love traveling with my husband or my best friends. We are able to relax and be silent in each other's presence. No forced conversations. No filling the air with empty words. What a blessing it is to be able to sit with someone you love, smile at each other occasionally, and enjoy the quiet together. Friendships, whether with others or with God, are deepened in silence.
When you stop talking long enough to listen, you learn something--only in silence can what you hear filter from your head into your heart. Only in silence can you hear the heartbeat of God and His still, small voice. In quiet, you realize spiritual insights that reach far beyond words.
If you meet with a friend today, make a concerted effort to talk less and listen more. It may do wonders for your friendship. And this evening when you retire, say less in your prayer time and devote more moments to simply listening to God.
Father, I desire to be a person of knowledge and understanding. That means I must use words with restraint. Forgive me when I fail to even think about what I say to You, and to others, as well. I don't want to fill my prayers with petitions so much as with wordless worship today. Thank You for what You will teach me in silence.
Blessings,