Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” John 11:25-27
Dear God, what would you like to make sure I believe? For example, the Jewish people at the time were supposed to believe in the future coming of the Messiah. Jesus wanted Martha to believe he was that person. I guess the equivalent of that today would be the second coming. But since that won’t be a vague event, but something that will knock me over the head with Jesus appearing in the east, trumpets, and all of that, I don’t know that that will be left up to my interpretation. So is there any part of theology that you want to make sure I believe?
Actually, now that I read this a little closer, Jesus is also asking if she believes in the peace of knowing she and those she loves will endure into the next life. I actually believe this, I think pretty soundly. Probably since I was taught it from an early age. I wonder what death would be like if I didn’t believe it.
I spoke with a woman yesterday who just lost her mom from a long illness. I’ve seen my wife go through the loss of both of her parents. I know we’ve talked a lot about their current existence together with you. Those losses have been very hard for her, but there’s a foundation of peace as well thanks to this good news. We can be reconciled to you and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Father, open my eyes so I can see. Help me to not only learn and know what you want me to know but also share that with others. Help me to be in Christian community to the point where I am learning from you through others. I pray that you will raise up voices in the lives of those I love, like my children, who will be your presence and words to them. Do the same for me as well. Help me to be everything you want and need me to be for your glory’s sake. And thank you for the peace of knowing I get to physically be with you and those most precious to me for all eternity.
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:1-14
Dear God, sometimes I just need to get back to the basics. We layer a lot of theology onto things, but with Jesus it. One back to some simple things. Jesus is part of you come to earth. Essentially, you sent a piece of yourself to do something remarkable. What did you do? You simultaneously gave us instruction and reconciled all of us to you.
I’ve told people before that when I get to heaven I am going to learn that a lot of my theology is wrong. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just that theology is complicated and a lot can get innocently skewed over the years. That said, I think the Jesus part is important. The redemption part. Ah, there’s the word redemption again. You purchased me back through Jesus. Everything else is just me figuring out how you want me to use the rest of my days.
Father, help me to major in the majors. Help me to die to myself, take up my cross and follow you. Help me to know how to parent my children. Help me to know how to be a member of my extended family. Help me to know how to do my job, engage with my community and husband my wife. Break me, melt me, mold me, and fill me. Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. 2 Peter 3:8-10
Dear God, I was talking with my wife recently about Christians’ conflicted relationship with the end times. On the one hand we say, “Come on back Jesus.” On the other hand we see something that we interpret as a sign of the tribulation or whatever and we freak out. For example, if we see someone we perceive to be the anti-Christ, shouldn’t that excite us? Doesn’t that mean you’re getting closer?
It came up because she told me she had talked earlier that day with a friend who was freaked out by the recent lunar eclipse. It was the biggest one or whatever for 600 years and it will be another 600 years before it will repeat. So why does that thought cause fear and trepidation in the hearts of the faithful?
My theory is that we aren’t scared that we are losing our window to evangelize or make a difference. What is at stake is our comfort. Tell a slave or a suffering person that the end is near and they will be grateful. Tell a comfortable, fat and happy American Christian the end is near and there is resistance. There is fear of the unknown.
Father, the best thing I know to do with all of this is to take my eyes off of it and put them on you. I can’t get caught up in the future because it distracts me from this moment. Show me what you want me to do in this moment. Show me the work you have for me to do today. And help me to be what you need me to be for your kingdom so that it might come and you will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.” Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour. Matthew 8:5-13
Dear God, so faith is more important than sinlessness. I find this story interesting because we are talking about a sick slave here and Jesus doesn’t seem to care about the slave part. He had a goal and a mission. He had a limited amount of time. T
here were all kinds of societal issues of the day he didn’t address. I guess it is significant to examine what his priorities seemed to be: Faith, love, no hypocrisy, repentance, caring for poor, etc. He didn’t seem to even notice Rome or its power over everyone. He was grassroots, bottom-up, not top-down.
Father, help me to start with the basics Jesus taught and then build everything else in my life upon those things. Help me to create a foundation of repentance, faith, love, caring food the poor and no hypocrisy. Then I can put up walls that includes loving my family and those around me. I can put on a roof that sees me serving my community. And ultimately I will have a house that represents you to the world and invites them in to build the same for themselves—from the ground up.
14 My own people laugh at me. All day long they sing their mocking songs. 15 He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink.
16 He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. 17 Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”
19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.[a] 20 I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. 21 Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![b] His mercies never cease. 23 Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Dear God, I think I have journaled about this passage and its associated image before, but I ran across it today and it reminds me a bit of my attitude towards this Thanksgiving. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like we have much to be grateful for. Our health is a mess with the pandemic. I talked with a woman yesterday who has known 7 people who have died from COVID-19. I stopped counting a year ago at 10. Our politics are a mess. The new COVID-19 vaccine mandates are causing pain. Inflation is rising. People cannot find housing. Businesses and other employers cannot find enough employees. Other than a solid stock market that seems to be divorced from the reality on the ground, causing the rich to just get richer while the gap between the haves and have-nots grows, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of good news. Even in my personal life, there are some tragic circumstances for which I am not grateful.
Then I remembered earlier today the first U.S. Presidential Proclamation for a National Day of Thanksgiving. It was October 1863. Written by Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln released this proclamation, establishing the last Thursday in November to be set aside for Thanksgiving:
Washington, D.C. October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State
It’s really quite remarkable. The proclamation above and Prince’s depiction of the passage in Lamentations bear a striking resemblance. Of the image, Bustard writes:
This image shows a couple walking through a storm, which is symbolic of the suffering, pain, and destruction documented in the book of Lamentations. The husband clings to his wife as they move in faith through the storm. In the midst of the raindrops three elongated figural forms (alluding to the Trinity/Holy Spirit) create a covering over the couple. The woman clutching her abdomen is a symbol of hope and renewal as it represents the imminent arrival of a child. The presence of the Cross is created by the subtle placement of the woman’s finger overlapping the rod of the umbrella. It is by faith they walk, and the Holy Spirit amplifies their love through the storms of life.
Father, the passage in Lamentations ends with the words that have been made into a praise chorus. I sing them in my heart now, to you: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, never every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord. Great is thy faithfulness.” Your faithfulness is great. Thank you for being my rock and my shelter. Thank you for everything you have given to me. Thank you for your mercy.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
Dear God, what do I do about this? You know I have love in my heart. You know I have forgiveness even. I have mercy for how someone is and the lens through which they enter the world. But there is a group of people in various areas of my life where the relationships are broken. And they fall into different categories. Well, maybe they don’t. I’ve told each of them why I’ve done what I’ve done and why I feel the way I do. Some are defensive and don’t want to even consider they’ve done something wrong. Others simply see the situation differently than I do, probably because we are each working from different pieces of information and using what we know as the basis of our viewpoint. For my part, I’m willing (at least I think I am) to hear what I’ve done wrong and have an opportunity to apologize.
So what do I do from here? Where do I go with your peace filling my heart? Maybe I go to hope and the hope you offer me. Our small town does an annual church-to-church walk Christmas service in December, and I’ve been given a speaking assignment at one of the spots this year. I was assigned “Celebrating Hope in Christ.” The three other stops are “Celebrating Peace in Christ,” “Celebrating Love in Christ,” and “Celebrating Joy in Christ.” I received the assignment this morning and it immediately stumped me. Hope in Christ? What do I have to say about that? But maybe this situation lends itself to that hope. I have hope that you will move the world in the direction you want to move it regardless of how wrong or right I am. I have a hope that you will provide for my situation beyond anything I can imagine working. When I think now about Zechariah’s (John the Baptist’s dad) prophecy after he is allowed to speak again, it is all about hope. When I think of Mary’s song, “The Magnificat,” it is layered with tons of hope. Simeon and Anna, at the temple when Jesus was circumcised, had hope. There is a hope that this is all worth it. All of this pain counts. You are using it. You are redeeming it. You are breaking us, melting us, molding us, and filling us. We just have to press into you and worship you, and the hope will start to flow because we will stop looking at our own lives and be only about your will. To quote another song, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of your glory and grace.
Father, thank you for my hope. Thank you for giving me hope through all of this. I trust in you. I believe in you. I love you. I worship you.
Dear God, this is such an interesting story, and the artist’s interpretation of it is something I would not have considered. It really is a bit like a plot you’d see in a movie. In this case, Stander is comparing Eglon to Jabba the Hut. Ehud is James Bond. There’s a toilet. A lock and key. A watch to indicate the amount of time the servants waited for Eglon to finish what they thought he was doing. There is the line, “Lefties have rights too.” I’m not exactly sure what the device on the left is, but it looks like some sort of press. And then there is the 007 with the gun logo on the bottom left. Yeah, I guess it’s all there.
So what else is in this story that’s not in the artwork? Howa bout the Israelites crying out. They also sent a tribute to Eglon through Ehud. They have a gun instead of a sword. And the artist doesn’t show the violence done to Eglon. It tells the parts of the story around the violence. And then the story in Bustard’s book stops before it gets to the part where Ehud leads them to freedom from and dominance over the Moabites. It doesn’t mention the 80 years of peace or the fact that after Ehud died the Israelites went back to their old ways.
In this case, I wonder what their old ways looked like. Worshiping physical idols? Not worshiping you? Not loving the poor? It’s a little vague, but I am, once again, reminded that we read these stories quickly, but they last over the course of a lifetime. People lived and died during this 80-year period.
Father, I’m not sure where they application is for me, but I do know that Stander’s art here made me think of the secret agent-style tale that this is. There is everything from clandestine attacks to snarky comedy. It’s amazing what’s in the Bible. I guess my request from you as I conclude this time is to ask that you please show me how I am like the Israelites without Ehud and make me like an Israelite who lived under Ehud’s leadership.
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Dear God, it’s interesting that Jesus wasn’t pitying Jerusalem because of any great sin. He wasn’t pitying them for debauchery or anything like that. He was pitying them because they didn’t recognize you when he came. And who was it who didn’t recognize him? Was it the godless? No, it was the religious leaders.
I’m going to a ministerial association meeting later this morning. There are some really good people in there. And I don’t want to cast any stones because I am chief among sinners. What does concern me, however, are the leaders who have mixed political concerns (not even power, but just anger over the decisions politicians are making) with theology. It feels like we are just getting all of this mixed up when Jesus didn’t seem to care at all about what Rome was up to. Unfair taxes? Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Cruel executions through crucifixion? Crucify me too. Centurions who are slave owners? Help them out and heal their slave. And those are just the examples off of the top of my head.
However, there was plenty of venom in Jesus for the religious leaders, and the foremost sin that seemed to disgust him was hypocrisy. Do what I say and not what I do. Love others while I ignore others. Live up to the letter of the law while I disobey the spirit of the law. The fact that they judged others so harshly really, really bothered him.
I’ll admit that it is hard for me to know where to draw the line. I mentioned a couple of days ago a conversation I recently had with a man. He is a good man who is trying to be moral, but he has a venom towards Christianity. But I don’t think it is the Christianity that is about Jesus. I don’t think he is talking about being angry with Jesus. I think, when it comes down to it, he is probably as angry with the church as Jesus was. I wonder how angry you are with the American Christian church now. If you were dictating Revelation to John today, what would you have to say about the church in America?
Father, I admit that I get too easily distracted from really worshiping you by other things. Frankly, the fall can be hard for me because, for whatever reason, I really enjoy college football, and it can really take a lot of my time and energy. But I want to be found faithful. I want you to live through me. I want to be in relationship with you and worship you. I want you to be my God. Thank you for loving me so much.
I have wandered away like a lost sheep; come and find me, for I have not forgotten your commands. Psalm 119:176
Dear God, this psalm seems to have the same spirit behind it as the song “Come Thou Fount.” It’s longer, to be sure, but this very last verse referencing wandering away makes me think about the last words of “Come Thou Fount:” “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take a seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
Going back to the man I spoke with this weekend that I mentioned yesterday. He was talking about shame he felt when he was younger for things he had done that, frankly, nearly everyone does. That conversation and this connection between the psalmist and Robert Robinson in the 1750s (not to mention the popularity of the hymn today) just reminds me how similar we all are. I’m very grateful you hug us and love us through all of this. I’m grateful for the comfort of your Holy Spirit. I’m grateful for a God who can cut through the knots I create and help me to move forward, asking only that I try to do better for my own sake and that I forgive others.
Father, there is truly new under the sun as far as the thoughts and desires of our hearts. Technology and the changes over the last 20 years has been a little scary. The temptations are much more accessible now than they’ve ever been before. It seems it’s easier to be evil (whether it’s lusting or as simple as slandering and gossiping). So I ask the when (not if) I wander away like a lost sheep you will come and find me. I know that in your presence is where peace is. Thank you for that.
Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions. Psalm 119:18
Dear God, how many times have I asked you to open my eyes? Open my eyes to see your plan. Open my eyes so I can see suffering around me that you want me to help address. Open my eyes so I can see parts of myself that need to change. There is so much I cannot see. Please open my eyes.
But the psalmist here has an interesting request. Help me to see the truths (NLT) behind what you want me to do. Most other translations use the words things (NASB, NIV, ESV) which still represents the same idea: what is it in your law, plan for me, actions for me, or instruction for me that is good and wonderful for me, whether I realize it or not? Is this suffering a wonderful truth? Is the pain I see someone else experiencing something necessary that will lead to something wonderful?
Father, help me to have the attitude of the psalmist here. I don’t only want to see what is happening around me better. I want to see the wonder of you working in it. Also, help me to see your why. I was talking with someone the other day about pornography and masturbation and the guilt that one carries because we haven’t lived up to a pure standard. The why that a young person doesn’t realize is that it infiltrates and impacts the marital sexual relationship if it’s allowed to fester. That’s what I’m talking about here. Help me get to the why, the truth, and the good things about your law.