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A “Beautiful” Life

focus photography of yellow and red petaled flower
And Jesus opened up his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:2,10]

People want things to look good. Maybe it goes back to the Garden, when Eve thought that the tree from the knowledge of good and evil looked pretty, or maybe it comes from being made in the image of our Creator God – or maybe both. Whatever the case, we value beauty.

Beautiful clothes, cars, people, possessions. Beautiful lawns, gardens, houses. As Solomon noted, “God has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3). But God has not meant for it merely to be a worldly ideal, or merely about physical things. God has designed the life, or daily actions, of a Christian to be beautiful. 

We are called to live beautiful lives. But it doesn’t look at all like humans are wired to think. A “beautiful” life, as Jesus defined it in the Beatitudes, is in many ways the inverse of what we would humanly expect. It’s not about bigger or nicer things. It’s not about accumulating anything actually. The beautiful life of a Christian looks more like having mercy, doing what is right no matter the cost. A life of beauty looks like tears of mourning and yearning for God’s kingdom. A life of beauty looks like suffering and being persecuted. 

No one ever would have said a man dying painfully on a cross was beautiful. And it wasn’t. It was tragic, painful, treacherous, wrong. But Jesus’ act of selfless love, his act of giving himself for us was the clearest display of beauty. 

Sure, keep a great garden. Have a clean house. Invest in things that look nice and work well. Join in with the Creator God who built us to be creative. But remember this: Beauty is actually seen in following Jesus every day, in the little ways. It can’t always be captured in a picture. Just as Jesus made clear in the Beatitudes, go live a blessed, truly beautiful life.

Prayer: Lord God, you created us. You sustain us and inspire us to live in your image. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, you have saved us and taught us to see beauty in selfless love. Empower us by your Holy Spirit to live a life of beauty. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


What “Day” Is It Today? (Part 3)

woman in brown coat and black pants sitting on brown wooden bench

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:30-31

Has it been a busy week? Have you had more things to do than time to do it? Then this is the day you need:  World Unplugging Day.  What a great idea. Today is the day to step away from at least some of our electronics. Of course, finish reading this devotion!  But then maybe it would be good to spend a little less time online.  That could be maybe fewer emails, less time on social media, and less time checking on your favorite websites.

This time away has always been a good idea. The disciples had the same idea when they found themselves and Jesus surrounded by too many people. What a wonderful invitation Jesus gave when he invited them to go away to a quiet place to rest. Wouldn’t that be a perfect day:  a quiet place, no crowd, just you and Jesus.

The good news is that we can still have that time. Oh, we won’t get in a boat and sail away with Jesus. But we can take that slice of time that might have been used up online and spend it with Jesus in hearing his word and prayer. At the heart of that time is forgiveness which means that we can be at peace with Jesus. Romans 5:1 reminds us that having been justified by grace, we have peace with God.  So, our quiet time with Jesus can be truly quiet, a peaceful time to hear his promises and the reassurance of being forgiven. What a great way to spend even 5 minutes away from the computer or phone. Hear again the promises of forgiveness, perhaps by reading Psalm 23 and Psalm 103, and enjoying the reassurance of peace by forgiveness. Take the time, unplug the phone and computer and rest in the forgiveness that brings us peace.

Our Heavenly Father, take us to a quiet place, away from the endless media and information of our world. Help us to hear only your words and let them be words of peace and forgiveness. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


What “Day” Is It Today? (Part 2)

smiley ball

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:4-5

It’s another day, an ordinary looking day, nice enough for the first Wednesday of March. But, in keeping with our observance of the National Days calendar, it’s something more. My three young friends tell me that today, March 3, is “I Want You to be Happy Day.”  Now that’s a great goal and certainly fitting after our Monday of “World Compliment Day.”

These two days flow together pretty well. First, I turn my attention to compliment you. If I do that Monday, and Tuesday also since there was nothing especially interesting on the National Day calendar for Tuesday. If I give you compliments for two days, what else would I conclude but that I want you to be happy? 

Of course, maybe I could come up with a deeper reason for your happiness than just my complimenting you on your shoes and your new haircut. That’s the great news of our faith. We have real reasons for wishing happiness on each other. We are together the forgiven children of the same Father. He has washed us clean and our sins are completely gone from his sight. Every one of us can dare to look at our lives again, not covered in fear, but knowing that he has changed his view of us. Though our sins were like scarlet, in God’s view, they are now white as snow. 

So, I hope that you have this as your central reason to be happy. Oh, the other things are still there:  your shoes look good, this is the best haircut you’ve had in a long time, and National Cream-Filled Donut Day should be coming soon (I don’t know if that day exists, but it certainly should be there, right next to National Coffee Day.) But the lasting good news is that we are the washed and clean children of our forgiving Father.

Our Heavenly Father, you give us one central reason to be happy—we are forgiven. You have cleansed us completely with your mercy and through Jesus’ blood.  We can only give you thanks through Jesus’ name, Amen.


What “Day” Is It Today? (Part 1)

brown wicker basket on white table
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4
Do you know what day it is?  No, not just Monday, March 1.  I mean what day in the national calendar of days it is.  I have three wonderful students who keep me informed on what each day is.  I sadly missed National Flannel Shirt Day a week or so ago, but my three students were proudly wearing their finest flannel, of course. All in all, this National Day idea sounds good–I am all for National Donut Day and National Pie Day and National Chocolate Cake Day—I don’t know if these actually exist, but, if so,  I think they should be strictly enforced.

So, there’s clearly an abundance of National Days—oh, and my three students tell me there are competing calendars, so be prepared for conflict.  Let’s use three of these days this week for themes that work very well with our days of Lent and our overall theme of forgiveness this year.

Today, March 1, is World Compliment Day.  Compliment someone, praise them, speak well of them without worrying about yourself. Of course, we would like this to be true everyday and I’m sure that you do make every day Compliment Day. But consider Paul’s words in our text and see his focus and encouragement. If we focus on others, we can step away from fearfully or selfishly guarding our own reputation. Rather than counting up the compliments that we get, we can count the compliments that we give to others. Maybe on Compliment Day, we could count words of kindness like we count steps. You don’t need 10,000 Compliments like you need 10,000 steps. But 10 sounds like a good number for a start.

Of course, the real source of our compliments come because God has already spoken the best and richest words to us. We’ve already taken in the news that we are forgiven children welcomed back to our Father’s home. We’re already been called his friends. We have been assured that we’re in his hand and nothing will separate us from him. Given all these words given to us, we’re full. We can compliment others when God has already filled us so well. So, here’s to World Compliment Day, a great way to start the week.
Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, help us to focus more on others than ourselves. Thank you for the good words you’ve already given us and help us to speak them to others. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


My Mighty Rock

woman sitting on brown ledge while holding book
They take pleasure in falsehood.  They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. . .  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.  Trust in him at all times, O people.  Psalm 62:4-8  (ESV)
If you’ve ever tried to cross a mountain stream, you know to look for rocks in the water that will keep your feet dry and prevent something worse than wet feet.  That’s the image David used in Psalm 40: “He drew me up out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”  The metaphor pictures God providing a safe path for our life-walk amid the muck of falsehood and rushing streams of deception.

It’s hard to know what to believe these days.  “Fake news” is the term used to discredit biased reporting and questionable claims.  Fact checking finds most conspiracy theories false.  We’re told to “trust the science,” but the science keeps changing.  Competing and contradictory blogs vie for your attention. There’s no truth filter on the internet, and we suspect that foreign enemies are sowing discord with their lies.  And then there are the countless religious arguments to sort through in the pursuit of truth.  Do you get confused, frustrated, even angry?

There is a rock-solid source of truth you can count on.  Jesus called himself the way and the truth: the way through life and into eternal life with him, the truth that makes sense of life and keeps you from fatal missteps. David, like others in Scripture, teaches us to expect falsehood coming at us from many directions, cursed lies masked by friendly faces.  But that’s not a reason to throw up our hands and join the chorus echoing Pontius Pilate’s cynical “what is truth.” Though you can’t always trust politicians and reporters, authors and professors, you can “trust in God at all times,” as David urges.  God is your Rock.  His Word is a “light for your path.” (Psalm 119:105)  The Bible lays out rocks of truth to provide a path across the streams of information rushing at you.

Spend more time with your Bible and less time with your phone or tablet, and watch your anxiety levels decrease.  Distinguish what is God’s truth from what sounds “truthy” in editorials, and spiritual perspective will keep you from getting carried away. Guard your heart by remembering what’s important and what lasts beyond here and now, and you’ll be a force for reason in conversations verging on the crazy.  Let God’s love for you blossom into love for those around you, and we can counter the polarizing disruption troubling our nation.  And pray for wisdom from God, for you and for those who lead and decide.  God and his truth are the rock on which you safely stand.
PRAYER: Lord, this life gets confusing, and so I ask for your clear direction.  People easily get carried away by ideas and passions, so please continue to show me what is true and right.  In the midst of contradictory messages, I worry about my loved ones and my country; answer my fears with your promises and touch the lives of those I love with your truth.  Take your people repeatedly back to Jesus and the forgiveness and love you gave us in him.  Amen.