Daily Devotionals

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Today’s Scripture: I Corinthians 1:10-13

10 I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. 11 For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. 12 Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”

13 Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! 

Today’s Devotional

“Let there be no divisions in the church.” I’ve always struggled with this verse – because I’ve never seen this verse fully lived out. How can it be? Is there seriously a church on the planet that is filled with more than three people where there is no division? I guess there may be churches that are led by authoritarian pastors that look like there is no division – because it’s covered up. But the fact is when humans get together for any period of time there is going to be division.

The real issue – and I think the one that Paul is getting at here – is how we deal with division. I’ve not been at Westwood long but I can tell that we are a church that handles division very well – especially compared with other churches I’ve been in. We should celebrate that!

But what about the larger “church”? What about divisions that exist within the body of Christ as a whole? Well, that is a different issue. We’ve not done so well on that front. For example, just look at how many kinds of Baptists there are! And right now in the US we are seeing some serious division in the wider church: divisions based on political preference, divisions based on the role of the church and state, divisions concerning authoritarianism and nationalism, divisions about marriage, divisions about race and supremacy. And that list could go on! It’s enough to make you want to not call yourself Christian at all.

But I’m still calling myself Christian. And I think that’s where the answer to division lies. Not in a name – but in a person. As Paul said, Christ as not been divided into factions. It’s Christ that will unify. Always has been – and always will be.

So when I find myself angry and frustrated with other Christians’ actions or words – I will try and look for Christ. Yes, in some cases this will be very hard. In fact it may be impossible – especially when the Christ they claim to follow is unrecognizable to me. But I will try.

What can we do this week to find a common ground? What can we do to bring unity instead of division? The answer starts with seeking Christ alone.

Today’s Prayer

God help us to be unifiers in this world. Help us to promote peace and reconciliation. Help us to be the ones who start the process of healing.

Amen

This Week’s Immerse Passages:

Day 11 pp. 125-135 1 Cor 1:1-6:20 

Day 12 pp. 135-148 1 Cor 7:1-16:24 

Day 13 pp. 149-164 2 Cor 1:1-13:14 

Day 14 pp. 165-175 Gal 1:1-6:18 

Day 15 pp. 177-190 Rom 1:1-8:30 

Today’s Scripture: I Thessalonians 5:9-11

 For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

Today’s Devotional

I remember sitting in a seminary class once and the professor was talking about… well, he was talking about theology – about what God is like. And as he went on and on, I began thinking to myself “wow – your God is really angry.” And of course, there are plenty of Old Testament Bible verses that seem to back up this version of God.

There are people who live their lives convinced that this version of God is the true version – that God is mad and taking it out on them. They use words like “punishment”, and “retribution”, and “God’s justice” or “God’s holiness”. But whatever words they use the concept is the same: God is angry and is pouring that anger out on us. In this view every natural disaster, every car crash, every global pandemic, could well be God’s way of expressing anger and getting back at us.

And I have to admit that I find myself struggling with this version of God sometimes. That seminary professor was wrong. But I still hear his words ringing in my ears sometimes. Maybe you hear little voices like that too – telling you that God is going to get you or that God is so angry with you that something bad might happen. Or, when something does happen you start to wonder what you did to “deserve it”.

That’s why passages like this one in Thessalonians are so important. Paul reminds us that God does not pour out his anger on us – no matter what a seminary professor says.

As we start to move through the letters of Paul, we need to remember the Jesus of Luke. Jesus never “poured out anger” on anyone. And Jesus shows us God.

So when you are tempted today or this weekend to assign blame for your troubles (or someone else’s troubles) to “angry God” – take a moment and remember that God’s love is what drives God’s actions – not anger. Look for love. That’s where you’ll find God.

Today’s Prayer

God thank you for sending Jesus to show us your love.

Amen

This Week’s Immerse Passages:

Day 6   61-70 Acts 1:1-6:7 

Day 7   70-82 Acts 6:8-12:25 

Day 8   82-94 Acts 13:1-19-:20 

Day 9    95-110 Acts 19:21-28:30 

Day 10   111-123 1Th 1:1-2Th 3:18 

Today’s Scripture: Acts 14:19-20

 Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. 20 But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.

Today’s Devotional

I’m not sure why this particular passage stood out to me in today’s Immerse readings. I could have easily rushed right past it. We learn today about Paul’s pattern of visiting a new town: 1) preach in the synagogue about Jesus, 2) make the Jews in the city jealous and angry, 3) get thrown out of the city.

In the city of Lystra the people at first thought Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes. The citizens even tried to offer sacrifices to them! But some Jews from Antioch and Iconium had followed Paul and Barnabas to Lystra in order to convince the crowd that Paul and Barnabas were in the wrong. The crowd was persuaded to turn against them and got so worked up that Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city.

But here is where things get interesting. The text says that even though the Lystryians thought he was dead, “as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town”! Seriously?

Couple of things to remember today. First, when you get attacked by life – it’s good to have people gather around you. That’s what the church should be – a place where we can gather around each other when one of us has been hurt by life. The second thing we should remember from this passage is this: when we are attacked by life – when we have stones thrown at us – when the world seems dark, we need to get up and head back into town.

We may have to “get up” off the ground several times a day! But that’s OK. Just keep getting up. Rely on the people around you to help – and get up and walk back into town.

Who knows what God has in store for you next.

Today’s Prayer

God sometimes we get so worn down by life that it seems impossible to get up and walk back into down. Give us strength. Give us individuals around us who will help us. Give us courage to stand.

Amen

This Week’s Immerse Passages:

Day 6   61-70 Acts 1:1-6:7 

Day 7   70-82 Acts 6:8-12:25 

Day 8   82-94 Acts 13:1-19-:20 

Day 9    95-110 Acts 19:21-28:30 

Day 10   111-123 1Th 1:1-2Th 3:18 

Today’s Scripture: Acts 1:9-11

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Today’s Devotional

Our son Evan has autism and one of the ways it expresses itself is by him getting “stuck”. For example, sometimes we will tell him to go and wash his hands before dinner. He will walk to the sink and just stand there – not moving an inch – looking at the faucet. He’s stuck. Something in his head is preventing him from moving on. We will tell him again to wash his hands but often we have to physically touch him – tap him on the back, move his hands towards the water, kick him in the bottom (just kidding!) Only after we touch him will he move on.

I see this passage in the first chapter of Acts as the two angels trying to get the disciples to move on and not get stuck. I wonder if they had to physically push some of them down the road and back towards Jerusalem? The angels remind us that God does not want us to just stare into heaven. There is work to be done.

As we move through this pandemic, I have often found myself stuck. Some days I even find myself staring up into the sky just like the disciples. It’s almost as if I am hoping that things will magically return to normal. It’s like we are standing between a life we knew and loved and a life we don’t know anything about. All we know is that it’s going to be different. I think the disciples were feeling the same way.

The angels’ action allowed the disciples to become un-stuck and move on. They were able to honor the past by moving into the future. That’s what we are going to need to do as well – honor the past, but move into the future.

I have no idea what that future is going to look like. But I do know that there will be a temptation to get stuck. But if the disciples had stayed there, looking up into heaven, we would not be here today following the one who ascended. You and I are followers of Christ because the disciples moved on.

I wonder what amazing things God has planned for a post-pandemic world? The only way to find out is to not get stuck and move into that future – no matter what.

Today’s Prayer

God we admit that there are times we would rather just stare into the sky. But you are calling us to move forward on the journey. Help us to not get stuck but to move on with faith that you have us in your hands.

Amen

This Week’s Immerse Passages:

Day 6   61-70 Acts 1:1-6:7 

Day 7   70-82 Acts 6:8-12:25 

Day 8   82-94 Acts 13:1-19-:20 

Day 9    95-110 Acts 19:21-28:30 

Day 10   111-123 1Th 1:1-2Th 3:18 

Today’s Scripture: Luke 11:5-10

Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Today’s Devotional

If we were to list all of the attributes of our society, I don’t think persistence would be at or near the top of the list. Sure, there are one-off stories about athletes or students who persist until they reach their goal. But as a whole, I’m not sure we are that “persistent.” If anything, I think we lean towards the “just give up” side of things – or at least I do!

I think that’s why these words from Jesus seem so strange in our ears. Is Jesus really telling us to act with “shameless persistence”. Yes. Yes he is.

When I think about this passage my first response is to see it as a commentary on God – that for some reason God does not want to give us what we need but gets annoyed easily and eventually just gives in. Kind of like a parent of a three-year-old who just keeps begging for one more French-fry. In this way of looking at things we are the three-year-old and Jesus is telling us to just keep bugging God until God finally breaks. But is that really what is going here? I don’t think so.

Instead, I think this passage is about us – the asker – the knocker – the seeker. Jesus seems to know that we tend to come down on the “just give up” side instead of the “shameless persistence” side. But with prayer it’s important to keep going. Why?

Well, I don’t think it’s because there is some magic line out there that once we cross we get what we pray for. No, I think it’s because Jesus knows that prayer changes us and our relationship to God. Prayer forms us into disciples, so we have to keep at it.

The more we pray – the closer we are to God. The more we share with God what we are going through and what we are feeling and what our desires are – the closer we are to God. The more we lift up the needs of others and pray God’s best for them – the closer we are to God. And the closer we are to God – the deeper our discipleship. And the deeper our discipleship the closer the Kingdom of God. God wants us to keep knocking and keep asking and keep seeking because doing so brings about God’s Kingdom. It’s that simple.

Whatever you are praying for today – keep going. For everyone who knocks has the door opened. Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who seeks will find.

Today’s Prayer

God help us to be persistent in prayer and draw us closer to you through our persistence.

Amen

This Week’s Immerse Passages:

Monday: Pages 1-12 (Luke 1 – 4:13)

Tuesday: Pages 13-27 (Luke 4:14-9:50)

Wednesday: Pages 28-37 (Luke 9:51-13:20)

Thursday: Pages 37-47 (Luke 13:21-19:27)

Friday: Pages 47-59 (Luke 19:28-24:53)

Today’s Scripture: Luke 6:16-49

46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Today’s Devotional

I have found myself getting angry lately about something and I hope you will allow me a little indulgence to express it to you today. I have found myself getting angry – like really angry –  at people who claim to be followers of Christ but do things that contradict the teachings of Christ. I’m not going to list example for you – not only do I not have the space but I’m pretty sure that’s not the best way to handle my anger. And in fact, I’m sure this has happened since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Based on today’s scripture passage, I KNOW it’s been happening since the beginning. But for some reason I’ve become more aware of it lately and it has produced some anger in me. So that’s my confession to you today!

Jesus gets to the point right there in verse 46. Why do you keep calling Jesus Lord if you don’t do what he says? Why do you call yourself a Christ follower if you live your life in direct opposition to his teachings?

In the next verse Jesus lays out the steps toward discipleship: come to Jesus, listen to his teachings, follow those teachings. That’s how ANY of us become disciples. We must first make a decision to COME to Jesus – to devote ourselves to him – to turn our lives over to him. Then we must LISTEN to his teachings. We have to make an effort to find out what it is Jesus says about life and how we should live it. Then we have to FOLLOW those teachings. I think this last part is where most people get caught – especially those who have been making me angry lately. It’s one thing to commit to Jesus. It’s another thing to listen and learn from him. But it is an ENTIRELY OTHER THING to actually follow his teachings in our everyday lives.

Now that I think about it. I’m not so sure I do a good job of this myself. Maybe my anger is displaced and should be focused on myself. How well do I follow the teachings of the one I claim to follow? I guess that’s the question every disciple must answer – everyday.

Jesus ends this passage by telling us that if we strive to follow his teachings we will begin to build a house with a strong foundation. When the wind and floods come it will stand, because the foundation is firm and dug deep – placed on solid rock. Are we building firm foundations? Are we following what we are learning?

Today’s Prayer

God help us to be better disciples. Help us to not only hear the words of Jesus but to follow them. Show us even this day how we can better live as followers of Christ.

Amen

This Week’s Immerse Passages:

Monday: Pages 1-12 (Luke 1 – 4:13)

Tuesday: Pages 13-27 (Luke 4:14-9:50)

Wednesday: Pages 28-37 (Luke 9:51-13:20)

Thursday: Pages 37-47 (Luke 13:21-19:27)

Friday: Pages 47-59 (Luke 19:28-24:53)

Today’s Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.

Today’s Devotional

As humans we know what temptation is. We understand that feeling of being drawn to do something we know, deep down, is either very wrong or very bad for us. And yet we want it anyway. Temptation is powerful. VERY powerful. Some of us don’t recognize the power that it has.

I’m not sure exactly why Jesus was tempted the way he was in this passage. But my gut tells me that it was so he could fully understand what it is like to be human. And temptation is a big part of being human. Maybe this passage also serves to remind US of the power of temptation in our own life.

Also, I think we learn that evil (Satan, the devil, whatever name you want to use) knows all about temptation. If you really want to get at a human – throw some temptation in front of them. They rarely pass it up. (Or maybe I’m just speaking about myself? – Nope, didn’t think so.)

But this passage shows us that not only does Jesus know what it feels like to face temptation. He also knows how to combat it. Notice that Jesus has a response ready for each temptation – and it all involves reminding the devil (and himself?) of the bigger picture.

That’s how to fight temptation – to remember the bigger picture. Falling for temptation might seem like a win in the short term – and often it is. But there are bigger issues at play. If we can remind ourselves of those – if we can remind ourselves of the long-term vs. the short-term – then maybe we have a chance against temptation. Notice also that Jesus uses scripture to fight temptation – another reason to immerse ourselves in God’s Word.

What is tempting you today? How can you set that temptation aside and focus on the bigger issues – issues of love, justice, and relationship?

Today’s Prayer

God thank you that Jesus knows all about our temptations. This week help us to first identify our temptations – but also help us to see the big picture. Help us to focus on the things that are bigger than what we want in the moment.

Amen

This Week’s Immerse Passages:

Monday: Pages 1-12 (Luke 1 – 4:13)

Tuesday: Pages 13-27 (Luke 4:14-9:50)

Wednesday: Pages 28-37 (Luke 9:51-13:20)

Thursday: Pages 37-47 (Luke 13:21-19:27)

Friday: Pages 47-59 (Luke 19:28-24:53)

For our Advent devotionals we are looking deeper at some of our favorite carols.

Today’s Scripture: John 3:16-17

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Today’s Carol: O Holy Night

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
   Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
   O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
   O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
   He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
   Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
   Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

   Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
   His power and glory evermore proclaim.
   His power and glory evermore proclaim

Today’s Devotional

Before we get to today’s carol, I wanted to let you know that today will be the last daily devotional until January 4, 2021. To be honest with you I had not intended to write these as long as I have. But what started as a need to connect with all of you during our Spring lock-down has turned into a sort of spiritual practice for me. So, with your permission, I would like to continue writing the daily devotionals after the new year. However, I would also like to take a break for the next few days. 🙂

Today’s carol is a favorite of mine. For some reason it’s not in our hymnal – which is a shame. There are so many great phrases in it.

For example: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” Notice that the answer for sin and error is not punishment from God but rather feeling our worth – knowing that God loves us so much he was willing to send his only son.

Another phrase is in verse two: “In all our trials born to be our friend. He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger.” Christmas is not just a birthday celebration but also a recognition of the fact that the one in the manger is with us still. And more than that – understands what we are going through! Sometimes I think we forget just how powerful it is to have Jesus be our friend in all our circumstances.

And of course verse three is filled with phrases that are important in understanding what God is like and why Jesus came. Truly He taught us to love one another and in His name all oppression shall cease.

And what is our response to all of this? The only thing we can do is fall on our knees and hear the angel voices. May these next few days before Christmas remind us of our worth. May they remind us that Jesus is our friend in all things. May they remind us that God law is love and God’s gospel is peace. And may we fall on our knees in response.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Today’s Prayer

God thank you for Christmas. Thank you for your son. Thank you for your love.

Amen

For our Advent devotionals we are looking deeper at some of our favorite carols.

Today’s Scripture: John 3:16-17

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Today’s Carol: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega; he the source, the ending he,

Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,

Evermore and evermore!

O, that birth forever blessed when the Virgin, full of grace.

By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race,

And the babe, the world’s Redeemer, first revealed his sacred face,

Evermore and evermore!

This is he whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord,

Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word.

Now he shines, the long expected. Let created praise its Lord.

Evermore and evermore!

Today’s Devotional

This text of this hymn was written in the 5th Century and has been placed in a Medieval Era tune. I encourage you to listen to it here if you are not familiar with it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOF9JLJkPis

We see right away that this is a hymn about love – much like “Love Came Down at Christmas that we talked about last week. The hymn reminds us in almost creed-like fashion that all of creation – it’s source – it’s ending – things that are and things that future years will see – everything comes from God’s love.

I think it’s hard for us to fully embrace that love as the motivation for EVERYTHING God does. For some reason we think that there are times that God is motivated by anger or revenge or a need for blood. Sometimes, when we speak of God’s justice, we put it in terms of vengeance instead of wrapped in love. But the longer I am alive and think about these things, the more I am convinced that everything that comes from God is love. We are the ones who put all the extras on it.

The best example of this is of course – Christmas.

Maybe this Christmas we can internalize that God is love – and everything God does is love. I think if we fully understood that – our lives would change forever. Keep an eye out for love today.

Today’s Prayer

God help us to see love this week. Help us to understand that you are all about love and that everything in creation – including us – is here because of your love.

Amen

Monday December 21, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 2:11

11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Today’s Carol: In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan;

Earth stood had as iron. Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign:

In the bleak mid-winter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a wise man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

Today’s Devotional

I don’t consider myself a good Christmas gift-giver. In fact, my gift giving game was raised considerably after I married Robin and we started giving gifts together! Of course, this does not help me with HER gift. I struggled with it for years. Finally, after some spectacular failures, I started to get her to write down three or four specific ideas that I could choose from. She even provides links!

Gifts are such an important part of Christmas. Some of us agonize of the perfect thing to give – while others of us just want to cross the name off the list and be done. But either way – we want to give gifts at Christmas. Gift giving feels good.

Our carol today speaks about giving gifts. What exactly does one give to Jesus? If we were shepherds – then maybe a lamb. If we were wise, rich, people then sure, we would do our part. But what can we give him?

The answer of course is the only thing we CAN give him – our heart.

In these closing days before Christmas, as we are thinking about the final gifts we need to get and to wrap, don’t neglect thinking about your gift to Jesus. What can you give him? Give him your heart.

Today’s Prayer

God thank you for the gift of your son. Thank you for the new life he brings. We dedicate ourselves this day to giving him our best – by giving him our hearts.

Amen