To Wander or To Dwell

Philippians 4

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Our minds wander. We can’t help it. Our brain is processing hundreds or even thousands of stimuli a minute through our fantastic five senses. In the midst of a great conversation, a beautifully delivered sermon, the most engaging of lessons, or important advice, we can be interrupted by a stimulus that snowballs into full-blown distraction.  It begins with the slightest tinge of pain, a quick movement entering peripherals, a muted rapping, a whiff of a smoke, or an unexpected bitter flavor rolling across our tongue.  Our mind goes into troubleshooting mode.  It begins to play out all of the possible threads to a perceived threat and searches for the worst case scenario, so it can prepare the nervous system to react.  We place much trust in our senses but in turn, we create narratives that do not exist in order to protect our bodies from ill-perceived observation.

When we allow the responses to take over, we are experiencing, on some level, psychosis. The lines between what is fact and fiction begin to blur.  We begin to believe lies and have adulterated perceptions.  We begin to live in the dark and the undesirable.  We begin to worship terrible and disgraceful moments we have self-induced.  We think about such things, and replay them over and over again, fiction becoming “our” truth.   I know it because I have been there. On my darkest days, I contort and twist every action into a gospel of fear, pain, and anxiety.  Wandering minds, when not properly anchored to Christ, can be our undoing.  First, and foremost, if we are in this place, we must pray for God to guard our hearts and quiet our minds.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” 1 Philippians 4:7-9

Don’t take the bait.  Don’t respond to the stimulus.  Instead, plant your feet even deeper into the foundation of Jesus Christ and stay.  Dwell here, rent free.  What is true? You are first and foremost loved by God.  The Creator of the heavens and the earth is the Creator of your very life.  You declare God with your very existence because he has fearfully and wonderfully made YOU (Psalm 139:14).  What is pure? The blood of Christ has sanctified you.  While there may be sin in your life, you are washed white as snow through repentance.  There is no sin greater than the Lamb of God’s sacrifice.  (Romans 3:23-24)  What is noble? You have an inheritance that makes you a royal priesthood.  You are from an adopted bloodline that will reign alongside Christ. (Revelation 5:10)  What is lovely? How beautiful are your feet when you bring Good News, proclaiming that your God reigns and brings living peace in the midst of the tumult of life (Isaiah 52:7) What is admirable?  You have not laid your eyes on Jesus, and therefore, you are greatly blessed for your belief (John 20:29)  What is excellent and worthy of praise? On my worst days, God confronts me.  He loves and comforts me.  He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.  He doesn’t take His promises from me.  I can walk through the darkest valley.  Hit rock bottom.  And guess who’s there?  My God.  (Psalm 23) He doesn’t see me for my shortcomings. He loves the faithful, but equally loves the prodigal (Luke 15:22-24).  He is the shepherd to the ninety-nine and the one (Matt 18:12).  Do not be deceived by your senses or your wanderings.  Let your mind dwell only on these things.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. When has being led by your thoughts and feelings and senses led you into a troubled place? Do you often tend toward anxious thoughts? What has helped you in the past?
  2. How do you rate at bringing every situation before God in prayer and petition and with thanksgiving?
  3. What do you let your mind dwell on?
  4. What does the world say is the secret to peace? What does God say?

Peter was Sleeping!

Acts 12

April 30

Acts 12:6 – The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.

Have you ever been so excited about something that is scheduled for the next day that you couldn’t sleep? Or something that you were dreading that made sleep impossible?

Imagine for a moment that you were scheduled to be executed in the morning for a crime that you didn’t commit. Do you think that sleep would come easily?

I would probably not sleep a wink and yet, we read in Acts chapter twelve that this is exactly what Peter was doing. And to make the situation even more uncomfortable, he was sleeping bound with chains, to a man on his right and another man on his left. 

How was Peter able to rest so soundly the night before his scheduled death that an angel of the Lord had to strike him to wake him up?!?

This is what trusting in the Lord looks like. This is what peace that passes all understanding looks like. This is what believing in God beyond your current circumstances looks like. 

Peter had every reason to believe that he was going to be next on Herod’s list of disciples put to the sword. But Peter also had every reason to believe that the same God who rescued Daniel from the lions’ den was more than capable of rescuing him from barracks guarded by four sentries. 

The next time you are facing circumstances that appear beyond your control, remember that you serve a God who positioned a young shepherd boy to slay a giant with a slingshot, who parted the waters of the Red Sea and closed them back up again, who caused the lame to walk and the blind to see. And if God is capable of doing that…He is capable of seeing you through your trials too. 

Believe and do not doubt.

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1 Is there a time when you were in a super stressful situation, but you were able to experience peace beyond understanding that comes from God? Thank God for His peace and presence. How can this be a part of your testimony of God’s greatness?

2. When sleep doesn’t come and you feel anxious or worried or stressed – what would God, or Peter, suggest you fill your mind with?

3. What happened to Herod? Why?

Give Thanks to the LORD!

Psalm 107

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His mercy is everlasting. The redeemed of the LORD shall say so…” (Psalm 107:1, 2a NASB2020)

We, the redeemed of the LORD, are to give praise to our God! This seems obvious when we think of the good things He has done for us. However, when we think of the struggles of life we tend to forget about the many blessings we have from above. It can be easy to get caught up in the stress of a job, the race of paying off debt, the chaos that is a college campus, the extra-curricular activities of high school, or even the pleasures of pet ownership. Some of these are good, some are not so good, and others depend on the day and context; but we find that anything that takes our eyes away from the LORD is a problem. The Psalmist here tells us that we need to give thanks in all situations. 

We will see that if we turn from the ways of the world and walk in the ways of God we will find peace and reason to give thanks! First, he says we are redeemed from the hands of our enemy and gathered from foreign lands. Although it is not as common now, in ancient culture it was quite common for citizens of defeated nations to be carried off and scattered to prevent the nation from rebuilding. This happened to Israel many times in the Old Testament; time and time again God promised he would gather His people and He did just exactly that. For this His people would give thanks to the LORD!

God also delivers His people from hunger, thirst, unjust imprisonment, foolishness, and even illness. This is not to say that we will always be delivered from these situations but we do find that God takes pleasure in caring for us. When we are in these scenarios we need to call to Him to deliver us and give thanks to Him for His goodness. 

There are certainly times that we can feel like we are tossed here and there as if by the waves of the sea during a storm. Your waves may come from any number of areas of life but what we hold in common in these times is that we can be found at our wits’ end as it says in the 2020 NASB. The Psalmist says that when we find ourselves here we can cry out to Him and He can cause the storm to be still and bring us to the end of our distresses. Once the wind and waves stop we must not be tempted to just think, oh the storm died down. We must acknowledge and give thanks to God for stopping the storm. 

In the last 5 verses of Psalm 107 we read of a concept that Jesus taught his disciples. Jesus said the first shall be last and the last shall be first, while here the proud will be humbled and the humble will be exalted. I find this to be encouraging because even when the world punishes us for doing what God has called us to do, we can have faith that God will raise us beyond the judgment of the world. For that we should alway give thanks to the LORD!

-Bill Dunn

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 15-16 and Psalm 107

In God’s Flow Zone

Lamentations 3-5

Accomplished athletes, musicians and artists alike are often asked what it means to be “in the zone”. In psychology circles, being “in the zone” is referred to a state of flow – when an individual is completely absorbed in doing a challenging, yet doable, task. They are somehow able to shut out all of the external noise and distraction to focus on the very present moment to do one thing. 

Performers and entertainers are not the only ones who are able to find their flow. Scientists and mathematicians; emergency responders; and everyday average Joes like you and me are able to concentrate so intently on a task that time just seems to slip away and we find ourselves doing something extraordinary.

As I meditated on Lamentations chapters three through five, I couldn’t help but be bombarded with how devastated the author was over losing their home, being held in captivity, and witnessing depravity all around him.

And yet, right in the middle of all those laments, there are these verses that stand out, that give hope and encouragement.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore

I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him;

it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:21-26

How is it that the author, in the midst of all the calamity, is able to break out these words of great expectation?

Maybe, the author was just for a moment, able to quiet his thoughts and instead of focusing on the turmoil he and the other captives were facing, meditated on God’s character. As he penned these words, he found himself in a state of flow of sorts.

Whenever we find ourselves in difficult situations, it is so easy to concentrate on all that is wrong; all that pains us; all that is overwhelming. 

But what if, instead, we were able to quiet our minds, to completely block out all of the negativity, and just simply rest in the quietness of God’s character: his love, his compassion, his grace and mercy, his forgiveness, his holiness, his faithfulness. 

This is the space where we are able to renew our hope, to find the strength to dig deep and do the hard things, to press on through the challenge having complete confidence that God is ultimately on our side; that He is bigger, greater, higher than anyone or anything that we may be facing. 

If you are in the middle of a difficult circumstance, you may be tempted to lament all day long to anyone who is willing to listen. Instead, I urge you to refocus your thoughts and “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”. (Colossians 3:2) Find yourself in God’s flow zone. Here you will experience the peace that passes all understanding.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Lamentations 3-5 and 1 Peter 1

Overcoming Fear with Trust

Reading for Today:

Ezra 1-2 … 1 Corinthians 2

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Here’s a bit of a set-up for the book of Ezra:

Assyria conquered Babylon, then the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

But then Assyria got conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire who went back and conquered Jerusalem.

Then Babylon got conquered by Cyrus of Persia.

Lots of leaders doing lots of conquering, making lots of decisions that affected lots of people.

Let’s talk about that a little.

This story has great implications for us today. In a world that can seem out of control, we can rest assured that God can move the hearts of leaders.

“A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand:
He directs it wherever He chooses.”
Proverbs 21:1

The book of Ezra begins…

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia…”

We know that Cyrus reigned from 559-530 B.C. and so can accurately date this book historically.

The book continues…

“the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing:

This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build Him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever is among His people, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. Let every survivor, wherever he lives, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.’”

Jeremiah had prophesied that Judah would be cut off from its land for 70 years (see Jeremiah 25:1-12 & 29:10), and here we see this prophecy being fulfilled.

Many people like to keep the Bible solely in the ‘religious book’ category. But today’s reading reminds us that it is far more than that. Scripture is an historically accurate account that we can rely upon. It is also an accurate prophetic tool (albeit one that we may wrestle to interpret at times.)

Trusting that God is in control brings a peace that no amount of managing things on our own can muster.

Trust doesn’t mean that we can see everything clearly. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning describes what I mean when he says,

“Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God…We often presume that trust will dispel the confusion, illuminate the darkness, vanquish the uncertainty, and redeem the times. But the crowd of witnesses in Hebrews 11 testifies that this is not the case.”

The youth at FUEL today are considering the idea of overcoming anxiety with peace, and focusing on Isaiah 41:10 which says,

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Do not fear…why?

Do not be dismayed…why?

No matter the circumstances of our private lives or our entire civilization, we can trust that God is with us, and that he is our God.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 2

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Daily reading: Philippians 1-4

What’s that series of movies called? Mission difficult? Mission easy-peasy?

Ahhh…Mission Impossible.

Not possible. Can’t be done.

But somehow Tom Cruise always manages to complete the mission, doesn’t he? Somehow, with his resume of spy skills and his team to support him, he always gets the win.

Philippians gives us a few ‘Missions Impossible’… are you ready? Here they are:

-Consider others above yourself.

-Consider loss what you used to consider gain.

-Rejoice always.

-Don’t be anxious.

Before you turn the missions down because they are clearly impossible to accomplish, take a look at what’s in our arsenal:

I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

All of these missions, at their core, are a matter of perspective. And isn’t the best part of every spy movie the part where you go, “Ahhh! That’s what’s really been going on the whole time!”

That is what Paul is offering us here with this credo.

[Consider others above yourself.] Seeing ourselves through the lens of the one who gives us strength changes the way we see others and therefore can change the way we treat them.

[Consider loss what you used to consider gain.] Considering the value of what success really is from Christ’s perspective will likely equal a shift in our priorities.

[Rejoice always.] Viewing our everyday with the eyes of him who conquered the cross and is coming to reign can give us strength to find joy in the mundane and even a glimmer of hope in our pain.

[Don’t be anxious.] Looking in the eyes of the Prince of Peace as he takes our burdens and walks with us through our trials reminds us that we are not alone.

That is how we complete our mission. That is how we, like Paul, are able to do all things through him who gives us strength.

Tom Cruise may do all his own stunts, but Jesus can do all of everything…so, yeah…go ahead and take that mission. You’ve got a good team.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Philippians 1-4

Tomorrow we will read 1 Timothy.

God’s Way Wins

Proverbs 19-21

Proverbs 21 30 NIV sgl

I encourage you to read these chapters focusing again on what stands out to you.  Depending on where you are at in life right now, different words of wisdom might stick.  Here are some that stuck out to me:

19:11 – A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

I’m someone who tends to hold grudges.  Especially if I wasn’t asked for forgiveness.  When someone asks, I am usually willing to offer it, but the thing is, people don’t always ask.  And sometimes I perceived I was wronged when the other person doesn’t see it that way.  This proverb reminds me that it is better to forgive and move past an offense than to let it sit and weigh me down.

19:20 Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

Accepting correction isn’t easy.  I tend to bristle at it (especially when I know it is something I did wrong, or need to change).  It puts my defenses up, and I imagine many others feel the same.  But when we accept proper discipline, we come out better.  We learn and grow, and don’t continue to make the same mistakes.  It is an important part of life to heed Godly advice and discipline, even when we don’t like it.

21:30 There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.

This one is an encouraging one to end today’s thoughts.  Sometimes it can feel like in this world, evil is winning.  That people have made their plans, and they are succeeding despite it being contrary to God’s ways.  So here is your reminder: they won’t win out in the end.  Nothing can succeed if it is against the LORD.  We might feel weighed down and defeated when we see evil prevail, but we know how it ends.  We know who wins.  And it isn’t evil.

I’m writing this while life is weird.  We are stuck at home, not going to church (I don’t think I have ever not been to church on Easter Sunday), many people not going to jobs, not having dinner with families, not enjoying a dinner out.  But we can have peace when we remember that no matter what is happening now, God has a plan, it will come to be, and we can look forward to eternal life.

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+19-21&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 22-24 as we continue seeking and growing in God’s way during our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

A Time-Out

Psalm 43-45, 49, 84-85 & 87

Psalm 85 8c NIV

Sometimes when I am reading through the Psalms I just get this weird feeling that someone must have copy and pasted a new verse into my Bible while I was sleeping – and there it is for me in the morning.  It is so relevant and timely and hits me where my heart is.  Surely this wasn’t written 3,000 years ago, was it?  Just think of all the differences from their society to ours: architecture, technology, transportation, languages, clothing, careers, and entertainment, just to name a few.  How could that ancient book speak to me today in 2020?  And yet, the most important things have not changed at all.  God – and human nature.  He is still the Almighty.  And we are not.  But as His created beings, even thousands of years later, we still have all the same emotions, fears, desires, weaknesses, hopes, pride, and insecurities.  So thus, these ancient words, were written for me, today.

One such verse that stuck out to me in today’s reading is Psalm 85:8.  Read it a few times.

“I will listen to what God the Lord will say;

he promises peace to his people, his saints —

but let them not return to folly”

So much in this verse:  The importance of listening to God – He is talking but am I listening?

God promises peace.  We know trouble comes, expect it, deal with it, knowing that God gives His Son – and peace – to his people.  (John 16:33)

Be His people – His saints.  Strive for righteousness – it’s what His kids do.  Be His people – His saints – to get the peace (see above).

And – today’s kicker – “But let them not return to folly.

As we sit today in Covid-19 isolation and everyone is chomping at the bit to return to “normal”,  I wonder, how much of “normal” would God call folly?

I checked the dictionary to see what exactly is the definition of folly.  Lexico.com defines folly as “lack of good sense; foolishness; a foolish act, idea, or practice.”  Sounds like a good thing to avoid.  There was another definition for folly that I found interesting and perhaps strangely fitting: “A costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, especially a tower or mock-Gothic ruin built in a large garden or park.”  What type of structure was our previous  “normal” building?  What are the dangers of spending our time and finances and priorities on a life/building that looks really good on the outside, but lacks any “practical purpose”? That would be folly, indeed.  What practical purposes would God want us to pursue?  Where did our priorities lie?  What did we always want to do – but never had time for?  What did we do with the majority of our time?  What about our finances?  What role did the pursuit of wealth play in our old normal?  A lot is said about that in another one of today’s passages, Psalm 49.  Make sure you give it a read and see what it says about “riches without understanding”.  How much of our life was a beautiful outside,  but lacking a purpose – folly – foolishness.  

I pray we don’t go back to “normal”.  I pray I don’t return to folly.  I pray through this time we evaluate our purpose, even better yet, God’s purpose.

As a parent and day-care provider for over 20 years I have sat many a cute little behind in the all-powerful time-out chair.  And it is always with the hope that when the time of isolation and consideration is past the offender will walk free – but not to return to their former folly.  The purpose of the time-out chair is to ponder – what is my real purpose?  Do I want to get that prized toy, regardless of how it might hurt my friend?  Will anger, sulking and a bad attitude make my day better?  Are my wants and wishes the only ones I should consider?  And, so often, the preschool time-out chair shows its worth in returning a child, not to normal or to folly, but to a fresh purpose – be the best I can be.

We have been given a little time-out.  Let us use our time-out wisely.  Consider our past folly.  In what ways are we beautiful outsides – with no practical purpose?  What part of “normal” will you work to avoid?  What can we do today, and how can we plan for tomorrow, to concentrate on seeking God, His purposes and His peace.

With Much Love and Prayers,

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+43-45%2C49%2C+84-85%2C87&version=NIV

Tomorrow we read some more of the family reunion genealogies from 1 Chronicles 3-5 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Seek.   Grow.   Love.   

Over and over and over

Monday – Judges 3-5

Judges Devotions (1)

Judges reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day”—the one where Bill Murray, the local weatherman, relives the same day over and over and over. While not a single groundhog makes an appearance in Judges, the book does repeat itself over and over and over. You see, the Israelites are in a downward spiral, stuck in a vicious cycle of sin. In the reading for today, Judges 3-5, we see this cycle play out three times, once under Othniel, again under Ehud, and finally under Deborah. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this cycle using the example of Othniel:

1. SIN – “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs” (Judges 3:7). The Israelites neglected to kick out all the bad people from the Promised Land, and they often find themselves tempted by the Canaanite’s sinful ways. Their temptation leads to habitual sin, tearing themselves further from God.

2. OPPRESSION – “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathain king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years” (Judges 3:8). I think, perhaps, God uses oppression as a tool to bring His people to their knees. His people become so desperate with no other choice but to turn to Him.

3. REPENTANCE – “But when they cried out to the LORD…” (Judges 3:9a) In their newly humbled position, the Israelites cry out to God. They recognize their sin and run from it, towards a God whose arms are always open.

4. DELIVERANCE – “He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war” (Judges 3:9b & 10a). God works for His people through His people. He fills people with His Holy Spirit to accomplish His work.

5. PEACE – “So the land had peace for forty years” (Judges 3:11a). With a newfound trust in God and a godly leader to follow, the Israelites find peace. Unfortunately, after Othniel passes, this peace leads to complacency which leads right back to sin.

As a soon-to-be English teacher, this literary structure of the book of Judges is impressive. As a follower of God, this repetition is alarming. Why do the Israelites keep finding themselves back in a stage of sin? Why am I a repeat offender of the same sins?

Temptation and habit.

First, just like the Israelites were tempted by the corrupt and wicked ways of the Canaanites dwelling in the Promised Land, we, too, are surrounded by temptation. Set healthy boundaries from whatever may be luring you towards sin because the more distance we give between ourselves and temptation, the less likely we are to fall into sin.

Second, the Israelites were caught sinning over and over and over—their sin became their habit. Recognize the power of your habits and work diligently to set healthy rhythms that honor God. Ever since I read this quote, I’ve been convicted of the power of my own habits: “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures” -F.M. Alexander

Let the boundaries and habits you set lead you away from sin and towards God.

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+3-5&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Judges 6-7 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.  Reading God’s Word daily is one healthy habit to pursue.  Keep at it!  It has the power to determine your future.

Agents of Hope

Psalm 37 37

Happy Saturday!  Some of you have been walking with me on this slow and steady journey through Psalm 37.

We started reading and chewing on and praying and resting with God in these verses on Sunday.  Hopefully you have found times when you were able to delight in God.

Today we come to the final portion of this magnificent Psalm.

Once again, let us read it Lectio Divina Style: Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.

1.  Read through verses 35-40 slowly, at least 3 times.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man

flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,

36 but he soon passed away and was no more;

though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;

a future awaits those who seek peace.

38 But all sinners will be destroyed;

there will be no future for the wicked.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;

he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,

because they take refuge in him.

2.  Meditate.  Choose a word or phrase and spend some time thinking deeply about what it says and what it means.

For me, two contrasting phrases stand out and speak loudest to me.  “A future awaits those who seek peace” and “there will be no future for the wicked.”

I have spent a considerable amount of time in recent months studying the phenomena of despair and the state of depression.  Life expectancy in the United States has declined for three consecutive years.  More younger people are dying from what has been labeled “deaths of despair.”  These are deaths that result from drug addiction, alcohol related deaths and suicide.  The rate of deaths of despair is massively increasing.  Despair can kill a person.

In the story, The Inferno, Dante has the gates of hell have a sign over it that says “abandon hope all ye who enter.”  Dante wasn’t really talking about an afterlife here, but more likely a state of being.  Hell is where people find themselves when they are living without hope.  The absence of hope is despair.  When a person lives without a meaningful hope for the future it is soul destroying.  As I see it, as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be agents of hope who are called to share that hope with a world of people who are in despair.

In a world in despair and hopelessness we bring with us a message of hope and with that, the opportunity to bring people into a state of shalom or peace.  People need not live in alienation from God, from others or from themselves.  People can be reconciled to God, to others and selves.  They can be made whole.  They can experience salvation/wholeness from God which results in healing and hope.  The Psalmist rightly says “the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord.”  Only God can save us, heal us, make us whole and bring an end to our existential despair.

God, I want to continue to be one who lives life with a hopeful future.  I want to be one who seeks peace/shalom.  Jesus was probably thinking about this Psalm when he spoke in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (See Matthew 5:9).

3.  Pray.  Whatever your meditation brings up, bring that to God in prayer.  For me I pray- “God, am I living as a peacemaker?  Am I acting as an agent of your shalom/healing/wholeness/salvation in this world.  Am I living life out of the deep well of hope?  In what ways do you still want me to seek peace in my home, in my church, in my workplace, in my neighborhood and community, in my country and in this world?

4.  Rest in God.  Living as a peacemaker and an agent of hope in this divided and despair filled world can be spiritually and emotionally (as well as physically) exhausting at times.  We need to draw our strength from the deep well of God’s love and mercy.  As you prepare for whatever the day may bring you as you prepare to be a peacemaker, spend a few moments resting in God’s love.

This concludes our slow and deep reading of Psalm 37.  We have divided the 40 verse Psalm into 7 smaller sections and, within each section we have read, meditated, prayed and rested in God.  I hope that you have come to appreciate how this form of reading and praying the Bible can deeply enrich your spiritual life as you seek to serve God.  I encourage you to practice Lectio Divina prayer/scripture reading on a regular basis and note how it helps strengthen your life of prayer with God.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

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