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From the High Calling.org – Sunday Devotional

Daily Reflection and Prayer
by Mark D. Roberts
Laity Lodge Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence

God’s Perspective on Human Goodness

READ Psalm 53:1-6

God looks down from heaven
on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
not a single one!

[Psalm 53:2-3]
If you have a sense of déjà vu when reading Psalm 53,  it’s because this psalm is virtually identical to Psalm 14.  Those who collected the psalms must have believed that the message contained in these ancient poems was so important that it was worth repeating, almost verbatim.

Psalm 53 begins by criticizing fools who deny God’s relevance to their lives and therefore commit all measure of evil. From our perspective, it would be easy to begin to think of people we know who fit this mold, people other than ourselves, of course.  But then we get to verses 2 and 3.  Here, God looks down upon all people and sees all of us to be lacking in goodness.  The divine conclusion: “No one does good, not a single one” (53:3).  With hyperbolic rhetoric and poetic intensity, the psalmist underscores the truth that all of us, to one extent or another, share in the folly of those who reject God and do what’s wrong.  Thus we mustn’t let the fact that some “fools” are more foolish than we are become an excuse for us to ignore our own failure to live according to God’s wisdom.

In Romans 3,  the Apostle Paul quotes this passage from Psalm 53 (or 14, see Rom. 3:10-12).  He concludes that all people have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (3:23).  This bad news of human folly sets up the good news of the Gospel:  “Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (3:24).   Thus we must not boast of our right-standing with God, since it’s nothing that we have earned.  Rather, we humbly and gratefully receive God’s grace and seek to share it with those who are still caught in their folly.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Do you ever look upon others in their folly as a way of building yourself up? How might Psalm 53 alter your perspective and practice?

PRAYER: O Lord, you know how easy it is for me to look upon the folly and evil of others in order to build myself up. I can think, “At least I’m better than them!” But this psalm reminds me of my own folly, even in thinking that somehow I am categorically better than others. Today I’m reminded of the fact that all have sinned, including me. Left to my own devices, there is no way I can cleanse myself of sin or be righteous in your sight.

Yet you have done what I cannot do. Through Christ, you have declared that I am righteous. You have drawn me into a right relationship with you, so that I might live in a new way, set free from folly. Help me, dear Lord, to live each day for you and by your power. Though I will continue to sin, may sin’s hold on my life diminish. May I flourish in goodness because of my relationship with you.

All praise be to you, gracious God, because, having seen the evil of humankind, you reach out in love to save us . . . including me! Amen.

Visit them online at http://www.TheHighCalling.org

I found in reading Mustang’s wonderful story about the natural bravery and selflessness of children, drove this devotional home for me.  You can read the short Sunday Reflection here on Social Sense – Giving When It Counts.

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July 12, 2009 Posted by | Commentaries, Daily Devotions, God / Jesus Christ | , , | 3 Comments

Let God Transform You

Daily Reflection and Prayer
by Mark D. Roberts
Laity Lodge Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence

Let God Transform You

READ Romans 12:1-2

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2].  If we are to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), we have a crucial role to play. We must choose to say “No” to the ways of the fallen world.

But that’s not the whole story. You will be able to discern and do God’s will only when you “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” The original Greek calls us to “be transformed,” not by our own efforts, but by the power of God.

The verb meaning “be transformed” utilizes a Greek mood that conveys an ongoing process.  Transformation doesn’t happen automatically,  once-and-for-all,  when we first put our faith in Christ.   Rather, it is a life-long process of opening ourselves to God’s renewing power.

Notice that God transforms you by “changing the way you think.” This renewed mind comes as you allow Scripture to teach you God’s truth.   It comes as you reflect upon the Bible,  using it as the basis for your daily prayers.   A new mind comes when you gather with other believers to study the Word,  to hear it proclaimed,  and to experience it in the sacraments.  Though we cannot transform ourselves,  we can participate in that which opens our minds to the Spirit.   As this happens,  we will be able to know God’s will so that we might desire it and do it.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How has God transformed you by changing the way you think?   What activities of your life help you to be available to God’s ongoing renewal?

PRAYER:   O Lord, I can see evidence of your transformation in my life,  and for this I give you thanks and praise.   But I am so aware of how much more transformation is needed.   I confess how much I still think as the world thinks,  valuing that which really doesn’t matter and devaluing that which does matter.   Forgive me,  Lord, for my worldly ways of thinking.

By your Word and the power of your Spirit,  I ask that you will continue to transform me.   Give me a new mind,  Lord, the mind of Christ!   May I think your thoughts after you.   May my heart beat in sync with yours.Help me, gracious God,  to know your will, to desire what you desire,  and to do it with gusto.   May I offer my whole self to you each day as a living sacrifice! I pray in the name of Jesus, who makes this possible.   Amen.

Visit The High Calling online

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Daily Devotions, God / Jesus Christ | , , , | 1 Comment

Sorrow for Those Who Do Not Know Christ

Daily Reflection and Prayer
by Mark D. Roberts
Laity Lodge Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence

Sorrow for Those Who Do Not Know Christ

READ Romans 9:1-5

My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ! —if that would save them. [Romans 9:2-3]

The transition from Romans 8 to Romans 9 is a sharp and surprising one.  Paul has just affirmed the incredible good news of God’s love for us, a love that will never be taken away from us.  But then he changes gears dramatically, admitting “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief.” Why?  Because so many of his Jewish brothers and sisters have not recognized what God has done in Jesus Christ.  God’s own “adopted children” (v. 4), those who had received his manifold gifts as his chosen people, did not see in Jesus the fulfillment of God’s plan for them.  And this fills Paul’s heart with grief because he cares so deeply for his fellow Jews.

As we make our way through Romans 9-11, we’ll reflect further on the playing out of God’s faithfulness to the Jews.  For now I want to focus on Paul’s grief for those who don’t know Christ.  This anguish comes, in part, from Paul’s compassion for the Jewish people.  It also stems from his experience of God’s love in Christ, that which is, for Paul, the most wonderful thing in all creation.  Thus Paul aches because he wants those he loves so much to know the inestimable love of God in Christ.

Many of us know this sort of sorrow.  It comes when dear friends or family members don’t know the love of God in Christ. Because we love them so much, we want them to experience the wondrous love of God.  I have spent many times as a pastor with parents weeping over their children who aren’t Christians, or with husbands aching because their wives don’t know Christ.  Paul’s example suggests that this kind of sorrow is not to be neglected.  Rather, it moves us to be faithful in praying that those we love will come to know the Lord.  It also encourages us to be a channel of God’s love to others, so that they might be drawn to Christ through us.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Are there people in your life for whom you have sorrow because they are far from the Lord?   What do you do with this sorrow?

PRAYER:   Dear Lord, when we experience the joy of knowing you, we want others to feel that same joy.  When we delight in the assurance of our salvation, we want those we love to have this same confidence.  Thus when our loved ones do not recognize you, our hearts are heavy.  Like Paul, we are filled with sorrow, wanting so very much for those we love to know your all-surpassing love for themselves.

I expect, Lord, that our sorrow is like your own sorrow in some small way.  You created us to be in relationship with you, to know your love and live our lives in service to you.  But we have wandered far away from your love.  And so many have never returned, like the Prodigal Son, to your forgiving embrace.  So as we feel sorrow for those who don’t know you, we are sharing a bit of your heart.

May this sorrow not leave us until those we love come to know you.  Instead, may it motivate us to prayer and to living in a way that your love is evident in us. O Lord, may those in our lives who don’t know you see your grace in us.  May they be drawn to you. Reach out to them, dear Lord, even today.   Amen.

February 24, 2009 Posted by | Daily Devotions, God / Jesus Christ | , | Leave a comment

God Is on Your Side

Daily Reflection and Prayer

by Mark D. Roberts
Laity Lodge Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence

God Is on Your Side

READ Romans 8:31-32

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these?   If God is for us, who can ever be against us? [Romans 8:31]

It’s hard to imagine better news than this:   God is for us! This means God is on your side.   God is there to help you when you need it. God is cheering you on. God is in your corner. God has your back. Now that’s great news, don’t you think?

The rhetoric of Romans 8:31 doesn’t mean that we literally have no enemies.   At times, people will oppose us. More profoundly, in this life, we are in a spiritual battle with sin and the powers of darkness.   So, yes, there are forces that are against us.   But, when we consider the fact that God is on our side, the power of our enemies shrinks in comparison.   We have no need to fear because the very Creator of the universe is backing us up.  Thanks be to God!

Of course, the fact that God is for us does not mean that he blesses everything we choose to do.   God is not some blind force that we yield for our purposes.   Rather, the Almighty seeks our very best.   When we get off the right path,  the God who is for us doesn’t send us on our merry way.   Rather, he leads us back to the right way.

When I try to understand God being for me, I think of how I feel about and am committed to my own children. I want the best for them.   I cheer them on.   When they go astray, I yearn to get them back on the straight and narrow.  When they suffer, my heart breaks.  I would give anything for my children to flourish in this life.

So it is with God,  my Heavenly Father,  only so much more.   God is for me—and you—in the most exquisite way.  This great news gives us confidence to live boldly for him each day.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you think of God as being on your side?  Or do you think of God as being against you?  How might the truth that God is for you transform your life?

PRAYER: O Lord, I’ve read Romans 8:31 a hundred times.  Maybe five hundred.  Yet whenever I stop and think about what it says, I am blown away.  Not only are you “for” humanity in general, but y ou are also “for” me.  You are on my side.  My side!  What a wonder!  It’s amazing enough that you even think about me, that I matter to you.  But the fact that you are for me in a profound way is truly astounding.

When I face opposition, may I have confidence in the fact that you are on my side.  May I turn to you for wisdom, for direction, for encouragement, for safety.  Help me, Lord, not to be afraid, but to trust in you each and every day.

Gracious God, even as you are for me, I pray that I might be for you.  May I live my life for your purposes and glory. May I seek to honor you in all that I do, at work and at play, at home and at church, in my private life and public life. In the name of Jesus, who proves that you are for me, Amen.

Hat tip to Mark Roberts and the High Calling

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Daily Devotions, God / Jesus Christ | , , | Leave a comment

From the Higher Calling this week – by L. L. Barket

It never ceases to amaze me how little understanding of exactly what faith is about,  is demonstrated by the non-believers who seem to feel so threatened by it, that they have to insult and persecute the believers.   It’s as if they believe the only way to not be labeled hypocrites is to totally remove the part of man’s nature that makes a man or woman human.   Being made a “new creature” does not mean you wake up perfect like Jesus,  you just have the connection, grace and hope.   But also the passion to get closer to God and his will.   I cannot tell you with scientific factoids and certainty why I have faith.   Faith is not based on things found on our worldly plain of existence, but rather on a personal inner experience.   Faith is believing in something you cannot prove with science, but your personal experience tells you it is there.   Jesus never said we would be perfect in our pursuit, only blessed with grace and forgiveness when we fall down or make mistakes in our chosen path to him.   This article written by Mr. Barket makes the point in a very special way, so I am posting it here to help further the understanding.

Just Plane Faith

1.18.09 BY L. L. Barkat

I despise flying. Sorry for the strong word, but it’s true. From the moment I step on a plane, I get this queasy feeling. When the aircraft rushes down the runway and shudders into the sky, I feel faint. The whole time we’re airborne, I feel weightless, but not in a good way. More like I’m being dangled over a pit of tigers—and the air between my toes and their teeth is far too thin for my liking.

Imagine the torture it is for me to fly to my annual business conferences. New York to Chicago is bad. New York to California? Unspeakable. All those hours suspended over the tiger pit. If only I could sleep, I could ignore my fears. But no. I fidget. I snack. I get up and go to the bathroom too many times. It’s all enough to make me want to stay on the ground.

That’s all in a year’s work. But there are days, weeks, even months when my faith also feels like a flight to California. I hurtle down some theological runway, and I’m sure this time I’ll crash. I fuss and fidget and worry that everyone is going to know I really can’t do this faith thing . . . I’ve got insurmountable spiritual problems, too many doubts to qualify as a Christian.

This is one reason I love the Bible so much. I love the honesty of the people who wrote about faith giants who seemed likely to be disqualified. This honesty makes it possible for me to go to Moses and hear him say, with chutzpah, “Enough already, God. You birthed this people. I don’t want to lead them anymore.” Or I can listen to Abraham accuse, “Are you really going to destroy the good people of Sodom and let everyone think you’re just a bully in the sky?” I can get out of the boat with Peter, having trusted Jesus, only to realize that in fact I’m about to drown. I love the Bible for giving me permission to be afraid or angry or doubtful about faith.

I say the Bible gives me permission, because it’s not silent on these matters. Rather it speaks plainly about people who didn’t want to get airborne, were afraid of tigers (both real and hypothetical), didn’t have enough courage to sit in the exit row and open the door in case of emergency. And I see that faith is not the complicated business I sometimes make it out to be. Instead, it simply requires that I take the trip, step in, stay on, listen for instructions.

Fidgeting is allowed.

Find the whole article and The High Calling Website here.

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Commentaries, Daily Devotions, God / Jesus Christ | , , , | Leave a comment

Daily Reflection and Prayer

Daily Reflection and Prayer
by Mark D. Roberts
Laity Lodge Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence

God’s Comfort

READ Isaiah 40:1-2

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the LORD has punished her twice over
for all her sins.” [Isaiah 40:1-2]

With occasional oases of hope, the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah are a desert of divine judgment. But then, beginning with Isaiah 40, the tone changes. Though the Lord is still a God of justice and judgment, emphasis is placed on renewal. Thus God calls Isaiah to bring a word of comfort for his people: the days of punishment are over; the time of pardon has begun.

The Hebrew verb translated as “comfort” (nacham) means to console or calm down someone. This same verb appears later in Isaiah as the Lord says: “I will comfort you there in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child” (66:13). For Judah, God’s comfort came especially in the good news of his new work of restoration.

God continues to comfort us today in a variety of ways. When we take our worries to him in prayer, God gives us the gift of his peace. When we remember his faithfulness in the past, we are calmed in the present. Often God’s comfort comes through his people, who care for us, suffer with us, pray for us, and share God’s love with us in tangible ways. Thus we have the chance, not only to receive divine comfort, but also to be instruments of this comfort to others.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
When have you experienced God’s comfort in the past?  Do you need his comfort today?  Who in your life needs to experience God’s comfort?  Are you willing to be a channel of his comfort?


PRAYER: Gracious Lord, how I thank you for your comfort. I think of times in my life when I was consumed by worry. When I opened my heart to you, holding nothing back, you granted me your peace. I realized once again that my life was in your hands, and therefore had no cause for worry.

Even as you have comforted me, may I share your comfort with others. Help me to be sensitive to those around me, to feel their worry and distress. Keep me from superficial platitudes that often make things worse rather than better. By your Spirit, may I feel along with others, and, at the same time, be a channel of your loving truth.

Amen.

http://www.TheHighCalling.org

October 26, 2008 Posted by | Daily Devotions, God / Jesus Christ | , , | 2 Comments