June 2

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever!”  That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say, the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies,  the ones God gathered from various countries, from east and west, north and south.  Some of the redeemed had wandered into the desert, into the wasteland. They couldn’t find their way to a city or town.  They were hungry and thirsty; their lives were slipping away.  So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
and God delivered them from their desperate circumstances. Psalm 107:1-6 CEB

Sound familiar?

Do you have powerful enemies?  Do you experience life as exile, banishment, wandering in a desert, and living in a wasteland?  Are you lost, afraid you can’t find your way back home – and if, on the outside chance you do, no one will let you in the house if you knock?  Do you hunger, thirst, crave things that aren’t good for you?  Is life slipping away?

Here’s what others who have gone before us have done:  They cried out to the Lord in their distress.

And guess what?  God delivered them from their desperate circumstances.

Today, cry out.  Beg.  Plead.  Grovel.  And if God chooses to act on your behalf (because God is love whether we deserve it and believe it or not), if we find that eventually we are redeemed (our faults and mistakes atoned for…), THEN do this:

  • Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever!

How might we give thanks?  Well, last month, when we moved into our space, a member of our community who was once lost but ended up redeemed – in spite of his best efforts to NOT be redeemed –  washed all our windows at our new location so that others might see.

And another guy, who has just started a new job and isn’t even going to be employed on our team in our community any longer…well, he did a LOT of the heavy lifting, bringing chairs, tables, file cabinets, armoires, sofas and assorted materials to the new site on his trailer.

And another friend got busy at her computer sending out ideas for yummy wall colors (even as I type I hear her sanding walls in preparation for new peppy paint).  Why?  Because God is love and so is she.  No beige for our community…we live in color.

Someone else brought dinner, so that others can work up until the last minute before classes launch on the second night in the new place.  Tables and chairs appeared out of sheds and storage so some might sit.

And yes, someone else cleaned up the most disgusting refrigerator you have ever seen…and redeemed it.  Made it new.  (We wanted to throw it away, but in the end, we loved.)

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.  AESOP

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June 1

June is month six; in our community we like to focus our attention on the step that matches the number.  This means that in June, I pay attention to the sixth step – We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

I have plenty to be entirely ready over.

But nowhere are my defects more obvious than when I try to love God, others and even myself (which I call respect because self-love just feels kind of creepy and not helpful).  My personal focus this month is on love, so guess what?  That’s what we’re going to talk about in the devotionals!

Knowing my need for God to remove my defects isn’t the same thing as accurately, clearly, specifically understanding (and willingly acknowledging) my defective state.  I have developed a mostly daily habit of studying scripture (and other resources) to learn new ways and figure my “stuff” out.  Sometimes learning what God says about a particular topic provides me with clarity and insights I won’t get just by sitting around staring into a mirror and thinking stuff up to shame myself over.  Join me?  Let’s talk love….

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever!”
That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say,
the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies,
 the ones God gathered from various countries,
from east and west, north and south. Psalm 107:1-3 CEB

I just got off the phone with a lady who clearly loves her children and her drink.  It is impossible for her to acknowledge (today) that craving liquor is hurting her love relationship with her children.  She’s angry and wants me to help her out – evidently Social Services removed her children from her care.  She  needs redemption (redemption – atoning for a fault or mistake).  At this moment, this gal and I have something in common:  we know we’ve got…issues, but neither of us is sure we really understand our faults, shortcomings, and character defects.  She’s too discombobulated to speak about her shortcomings just yet in the recovery process, but I was willing to sit and listen as she shared her suffering with me.  I am not too patient, as a general rule, with parents who neglect, abuse and abandon their kids.  That’s not okay, we need to protect vulnerable children.  But I also kept in mind, as I listened to her lamenting, that God historically has loved people, redeeming those who are scattered, homeless, and losing a battle at the hands of powerful enemies.  This is who God is, and this is how God acts.  So therefore I hope for the redemption of us all – even mothers who are unfit…today.  Tomorrow is another day, they may get fit, with God’s help.  How can we help be part of the solution?

Day 30

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  Psalm 34:1 NRSV

If you take time and read the entire 34th Psalm, it’s a gem.

Upon reading, you’ll notice that God’s features – his eyes, ears and face – are mentioned starting in verse 15.  I love imagining the nearness of a God who can see and hear and listen and whose face looks directly at and in opposition to evildoers.

But I can also imagine that on bad days – days when shame and guilt fill my heart – the fact that God sees, hears and opposes evil makes me feel nervous…what if he doesn’t approve of me?  It is at moments like this when I must DECIDE to trust God with all of me.  I cannot allow my feelings to rule and dominate my believing. 

I am not suggesting that my feelings should be stuffed, ignored, or denied.  I have a responsibility to pay attention to my feelings – and examine them for insights.  But it is reckless of me to just accept them as the authority over all things in life.

Trusting God with all of me requires me to examine the beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and intentions that stir my emotions. 

Part of readiness is willingness – willingness to re-examine my long held and largely unexamined beliefs about God, self and others.  This can be an awesome journey.  May we travel well!

Day 29

Psalm 34

As we near the end of the month, take Psalm 34 and use these words as a prayer today.  The Psalms are prayers, and if you feel like you don’t know how to pray, just borrow these words and speak them to God until you get the confidence to find your own words.  Even then, sometimes it is refreshing to pray the Psalms.  When you’re done, try to reflect on what this prayer has to say about step 12.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be in my mouth.
praise the Lord—
    let the suffering listen and rejoice.
Magnify the Lord with me!
    Together let us lift his name up high!
I sought the Lord and he answered me.
    He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to God will shine;
    their faces are never ashamed.
This suffering person cried out:
    the Lord listened and saved him from every trouble.
On every side, the Lord’s messenger protects those who honor God; and he delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!
You who are the Lord’s holy ones, honor him,
    because those who honor him don’t lack a thing.
10 Even strong young lions go without and get hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

11 Come, children, listen to me.
    Let me teach you how to honor the Lord:
12 Do you love life;
    do you relish the chance to enjoy good things?
13 Then you must keep your tongue from evil
     and keep your lips from speaking lies!
14 Turn away from evil! Do good!
    Seek peace and go after it!

15 The Lord’s eyes watch the righteous,
    his ears listen to their cries for help.
16 But the Lord’s face is set against those who do evil,
    to eliminate even the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he saves those whose spirits are crushed.

19 The righteous have many problems,
    but the Lord delivers them from every one.
20 He protects all their bones;
    not even one will be broken.
21 But just one problem will kill the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be held responsible.
22 The Lord saves his servants’ lives;
    all those who take refuge in him
    won’t be held responsible for anything.

Day 28

…because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions.  No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.  Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son;  because 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. Hebrews 4:12-16 CEB

We read Luke 4 in previous devotionals.  If you had a chance to read it, maybe the context for Hebrews 4 will feel very alive as we read it today.  Jesus, God’s Son, spent 40 days in the desert being tempted by the Enemy.  He was tempted in every way.  He was without sin.

Step five isn’t promising us a sin-less life.  But it is holding out hope for a life free from the bondage, the stuck-in-the-mud captivity of sin unaddressed, denied, ignored.

I love how Hebrews uses surgical terms to promise hope and healing. 

A few years ago I had a series of surgical events, kind of close together, including two cataract operations and one hernia repair. I went to a lot of trouble to “vet” the surgeons and make sure I was in capable hands.  I appreciated having surgeons with sharp “swords” and steady hands.

Hebrews reminds me that God brings a surgeon’s skill to the restoration process.  That makes me think that the work is serious, and requires expert hands and the right tools.

I went to a lot of trouble to find two good surgeons for my surgeries. 

For our spiritual sufferings, scripture teaches that we can trust God for the task of soul repair.

Day 27

Hebrews 4:12-16

…because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.  Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son; because 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.

As you continue to work through step 6, or whatever step you’re on, I would encourage you to think about what it means to “draw near the throne of favor” so that you can “receive mercy and find grace when” you need help.  I suspect that this is exactly what we are doing when we start working through the steps generally.  We have gotten to a point where we need help, where we need God’s grace and mercy.  In submitting to him we are also drawing near him humbly, yet with the confidence this passage speaks of to offer us help, grace, and mercy. 

But do we really have “confidence”?  When I think of the times when I approach God, asking for help, I rarely do it with much confidence.  Instead I have some sort of distant hope that he will intervene but generally very much expect that he won’t.  The Bible seems pretty clear on the fact that we can approach him confidently, even that we should approach him confidently, if we are to receive his help. 

I wonder two things about this.  I wonder how we get that kind of confidence, first, and then I wonder where the line is between confidence and entitlement.  I want to be able to approach him confidently without arrogantly expecting him to do my bidding.  Wherever that line is, confidence seems like a struggle even though it would probably help us out if we could find some of it.

Day 26

Reading Galatians 5:16-26 will give you context for today’s devotional.

I wonder if these verses were easier to understand back in the day – when most people had to pick fruit off the trees themselves, back before the day when transportation and refrigeration made it possible to enjoy fruit fromChilewhile sitting in your backyard in Columbus,Ohio.

In verses 22 and 23 we read about those very often repeated “fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Yummy.

But prior to the fruit verses, there are those defects no one much wants to think about.  Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these… fertile soil for flourishing defects of character.

When we move towards readiness in character defect removal – what we are agreeing to is a life lived in contrast.  Things will have to change.  A fruit of the Spirit life must ultimately prove distinctively different from the life lived, as this passage says, “of the flesh”. 

Are you ready?