After so many days of heat, the rain was all blessing. I watched the steam rising up from the pavement, it was as if the whole of creation was sighing with relief. The grass and trees must have been shouting “thank you” as water dripped from their dry, exhausted foliage.
Tonight the sunset seemed to announce the joy we feel. I will not attempt to add to its beauty with words. I offer glimpses and a prayer. Whether it is for tonight or the morning coming, may our confidence in our Creator be strengthened. May our joy be ever present.
Lord, we see your creativity in the ordinary rhythms of nature and we are overwhelmed with your beauty. The skies dance at your hand! The sunset follows its path, a practice set in place by You that unfolds every day. Nothing is out of place. And yet, every setting of the sun is for that moment in history; it will never occur again in exactly this way. You, LORD, amaze us! Help us to trust you with our days. Allow us the gift of witnessing your presence in our lives and in our world. Please continue the redeeming work of equipping and maturing us for your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We are in awe of you, Lord, and we are grateful. Please grant peace to those who sleep; and inspiration to those waking. We welcome you into the spaces of this night that leave us wanting. We welcome your joy as the morning breaks fully open. You, Lord, are the only One who holds this night. You are the only One who holds the dawning of a new day. Help us to honor you by living it fully, with gratitude and joy. We trust you, Father, and we love you. Thank you for the gift of this dance. Amen.
“I am weary, God, but I can prevail. Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding.”
“I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.“
“Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!“
“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” – Proverbs 30:1-6
It turns out that even though we humans can engage in the intimacy of relationship with our Creator, there remains so much we do not know.
I find myself truly dependent on the wisdom of the Lord to guide me in all things. Without divine help, my own steps lead me where grace is illusive, and burdens pile up without reason. There is a lot of freedom in knowing how much God can do, when we can do nothing!
Listening to these Proverbs as I walk this morning, I hear Jesus speaking too: Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:4
Lord, where your people are weary, please provide hope and strength today. Where sorrow has interrupted the best of plans, give your peace that refuses to abandon. Be our refuge and shield; our joy and strength. Our hope is in you, and it is good; we trust you completely! Amen.
A prudent man sees danger and seeks refuge but the simple keep going and suffer for it. – Proverbs 22:3
There are signs to see and choices to make early on that make a difference on how things go with us. Whether in times of success or challenge, celebration or sorrow; paying attention is important. This wisdom of seeing the sign of danger and taking refuge is welcomed counsel.
Jesus and Peter have an interesting encounter with each other that comes to mind. The story is in Matthew 16:21-28. Peter has accepted and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 16:15-16); he believes! But as soon as Jesus starts sharing what is about to happen to him, Peter refuses to accept it. Jesus mentions suffering and Peter baulks.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:21-22
The rebuke from Jesus is clear: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block for me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” – Matthew 16:23
Jesus recognizes the danger of this moment and he seeks refuge in God’s plan. There’s a danger for Jesus. Avoiding the suffering that is between this moment and the resurrection would change everything. There is a danger for Peter; his faith journey is at risk. If Peter begins to think he knows how things should go better than Jesus, he will never experience the miracles of God on earth. His faith journey will be stunted by the refusal to surrender to God’s way in any situation.
Jesus sees the danger and immediately makes a choice. His refuge is not hiding; his refuge is in God. He turns away from Peter’s enticing plan to avoid the whole mess. He turns toward what God has revealed to him and the path he must walk. Christ’s response in this moment also prevents Peter’s faith journey from being wrecked and sidelined.
What are you seeing?
God of wisdom and mercy, please give us wisdom to see, even when our eyes fail us. Your wisdom and discernment are the guardrails that guide and protect us from paths of destruction. Thank you for the many ways you show up beside us and shine light on our path! We need you and we welcome you to direct our paths. Amen.
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly.” – Proverbs 14:29
Perhaps one of the blessings that comes with time is patience. Whether in seasons of success or suffering, this virtue seems to never fail. It is like a muscle that develops over years of training. You can’t get there quickly; you just have to take one step at a time.
It is also a total act of trust for me. To be patient now means that I trust God. In training or healing; in work that takes years to reach completion; even muddling my way through the unknown with confidence that God is working all things out…patience is gained through living it.
In a season of difficulty many years ago I came upon this quote by Mother Teresa. It was written on a card where I could keep it visible in my daily routine. Over time the words lodged deep within me. And lodging there, this became a prayer of trust and patience for me. I’m still receiving blessings from that wisdom…poured into me by someone who knew well the path.
Let nothing trouble you, Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who possesses God lacks nothing. God alone suffices. – Mother Teresa
God of patience and mercy, thank you for never giving up on us. Help us to trust you in moments we want to act too quickly or walk away too soon. We need never to give up on what you are doing in our lives and in the world. Thank you for your faithfulness and love. We trust you completely. Amen.
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything. – James 1:4
I encountered this bird on Amelia Island last year. I have never forgotten the moment. He stood there for the longest time. The wind blowing in his face. His feathers all ruffled and worn. He was shaking. Every few seconds I thought he would blow over or give up and fly away. To my untrained eye he seemed determined to stand in the wind and gather up courage and focus for the day. I wondered if this was his morning prayer.
When I think of what it takes to stay the course when we are tired or frustrated or feeling like what we’re doing is not making a difference, I think of the way James teaches about challenges and trials. It frames my attitude and thought process. If there is something waiting for us after a season of perseverance, James reminds us that it is worth the waiting. It is worth the patience, diligence and whatever else you are mustering up to walk through each day. Something more than eye can see is happening. Perseverance comes with a blessing. It is something we trust and hold on to when the days are hard. Hold on today; prayers are all around you.
Lord, thank you for being with us when we are living through seasons of challenge. Please bring patience enough for today, and hope that fills the spirit and offers peace. Protect and guide, as you have promised to do; your wisdom is our greatest source of help. We trust you completely, Father, and we love you. Thank you for your faithfulness! Amen.
She was an artist and a poet. But more than anything she was a friend. Her art began with trees reaching high into the sky. They are all praising God at the move of her paintbrush. I marveled at her creative process. I am so grateful for every painting and every poem. She left us with such beauty, and it never stops blessing my days.
It is Susie’s art and poetry that I saw when we were by the river yesterday. A tree had fallen. A big rip from an old trunk still standing on the bank of the river. A hard fall, based on the jagged edges of the trunk. It must have been loud in falling; it must have shaken the ground. The tall, strong and beautiful tree lay quietly in the flow of the river’s current. Ah…the tall tree is resting.
Today we celebrate the life of another friend. Nothing will be able to contain her life. No words or prayers. No song or Scripture. But everything will point to the Creator who gave her to us for a little while. Everything will praise the One who placed the Holy Spirit within her and created a channel of intentional love. Every breath we breathe is mingled with the same breath God breathed into her. She is a tall tree resting now. So deeply loved. I do wonder if Susie is talking with her; welcoming her friend into the eternal peace, eternal joy, eternal rest.
the roots of tall trees go deep search crumble granite penetrate core impelled by the knowledge that they are the linchpins that hold this entirety together – Susie Sims Irvin, The Tall Trees
Lord, for all who mourn today, please bring peace and comfort. For all who need healing, place your hand on their eyes and bodies, restore gently and completely. For the one who is searching, may your spirit guide them clearly to discover you. Let no one who needs a friend remain alone today. Please keep us growing, Lord. Keep us reaching tall to find you; digging deep with roots that sustain us in the long journey. And for all you hold in your arms today, Jesus, thank you for the gift of their presence. Thank you for the tall trees in our lives. Amen.
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:4-5.
Jesus gives some last instructions and words of wisdom to his disciples before he is arrested. He reminds them that the time they have shared together and all that he has been teaching them has prepared them for all that is to come. There is a caveat to the work ahead. If the disciples want to be involved in what God is doing on earth, they must abide in Christ. They must stay as close to Christ as a branch is with a vine. That’s pretty close.
Abiding doesn’t mean performing for approval. A branch does not perform and then look back to see if the vine approves or not. Nor does a branch disconnect from the vine and do anything that replaces the nutrients, power, and life that the vine gives. When a branch disconnects from its vine, it eventually dies. Abiding in Christ means living in and with that connection. It is life itself, breathing in and breathing out moment by moment. It is not a program or mandate; it is a way of being alive.
There is freedom abiding in Christ. We are not alone. We do not have the world resting on our shoulders. We are in this life with Christ. We are drawing from the strength and love of the one who came to earth for us! Not to harm us, but to show us what it looks like when the love of God is fully in human form.
Jesus, our trusted teacher, came to help us experience a different way. Our trusted teacher came to save us from distorted truths and a hijacked religious hierarchy that had lost connection with God’s loving intention for our lives on earth. Jesus came to redeem all these things and to fulfill the kingdom of God on earth. What a gift our Creator gave the world – and continues to give us every day.
The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 10:10
We seem be in a constant stream of focusing on a group of people and literally tearing them apart with our opinions, judgements, and disappointments. We’ve seen it happen with law enforcement, teachers, doctors, nurses, and numerous other groups. A mistake by one person becomes a condemnation of everyone. An error that needs forgiveness and justice becomes a pass to never trust anyone again.
It may be that the noise of it all begins to make us think there are no trusted sources in a world that really needs wisdom to navigate through the circumstances of daily life. Hear the good news: Jesus is a trusted teacher. Jesus is the son of God; the Messiah the prophets said would come; the resurrected Christ that is with us even now. The teaching he shared while he was on earth is trustworthy. It is a teaching that sets us free. The way God continues to teach and guide us through the Holy Spirit is trustworthy. Abiding in Christ helps us remain tethered to that stream of wisdom.
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:11
Three simple ways to practice “abiding” in Christ right now:
Read from the Gospels several times a week or even daily. Start small. Ready for five minutes. Read a chapter. When you finish all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), start back and begin again. We need to be reminded daily of these teachings. It provides focus and food for our spirit.
Ask God to hold you close to the vine of Christ. Simple & powerful prayers: “God, please keep me close to Christ today”. “Lord, help me to walk faithfully through this day.” “Jesus, come right away; I need help!” “Christ, you are my vine; I am your branch; let it be.”
Do one small act of kindness for someone. It can be as simple as saying, “I love you” to people in your household; taking a bouquet of spring flowers to a friend or stranger; thanking someone for their service (waiter; store attendant; co-worker; teacher; etc.); listen to the one who needs to simply say their things. Anonymous kindness strengthens the spirit. Known kindness strengthens relationships. It’s always good to intentionally be kind to others. How can you be kind to someone today?
Lord, when your ways are so different from ours, it is probably going to be hard for us to see. Please draw each of us and all of us near to you so when you teach us, we are able to comprehend. We want to abide in you, and we need you. We love you, Lord, and we trust you completely. You are our trusted teacher; our Savior; our friend. Amen.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:34-38
Jesus says these words right after he and Peter have a very tense moment. They exchange some heated words. Jesus is giving his disciples a heads up about what he is soon to face: arrest and crucifixion. It sounds like pure evil and failure to Peter; he disagrees with the approach Jesus is taking. After an immediate response that rebukes Peter, Jesus pauses to offer this word…this teaching. Just so we know – the way we enter the abundant life involves surrender.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
God works in our lives and in the world differently than we often expect. Part of following Christ is humbling ourselves enough to listen, to watch, and to discern how God is guiding us. It often means receiving teaching or instruction that is beyond our understanding – but that we choose to accept and trust God with it. In truth, the teaching of Jesus is often over our heads! It rubs up against what we want to hold onto, or even what makes sense in the world. It causes us to squirm a bit and hope no one notices how much he shows us that we simply ignore.
Denying ourselves can be giant steps of bold surrender. It can also be tiny steps of faithfulness for today. It can be a step. Today. We all have different things in our lives that could use some surrendering. For Peter (see Mark 8:31-33), it is surrendering his attitude and confidence that he can adequately judge what Jesus needs to do. Peter is basically telling Jesus, “You have this wrong…let me tell you how we’re going to handle this situation.”
We do kind of have a problem with thinking we know what God needs to do and how it needs to be done. Surrendering is not placing our brains on pause or acting recklessly with our resources. It is, however, being fully aware that we need to listen for God’s guidance and to follow it with humbleness and trust. Surrendering – or yielding – means we make space in our lives for God to speak.
What does that look like? What it looks like for you is probably different than it looks like for someone else. How are you providing space for God to speak into your daily life? What wisdom are you reaching for to give you guidance? Is it the wisdom of God or the loudest voices that are pushing their way into your vulnerable moments?
Denying ourselves during the season of Lent is intended to develop spiritual muscle for the journey of faith. That muscle serves us in times of vulnerability. It helps us realign our minds and spirits; it sets our feet on solid ground. Whether the practice of surrender comes in denying ourselves a food we crave or spending 15 minutes a day being quiet and unplugged from technology, every step we take toward God is a way of saying, “I yield my way to your way, Jesus.”
God, we are all in different situations, but we share a deep need for you. We get caught up in our ways of handling life’s challenges and we often miss how you are moving among us. When we seek you today, please reveal yourself in whatever way each person needs to experience you to know that you are right here, walking with us. Strengthen us for the journey. We yield our lives to you. We love you, Lord, and we trust you completely.
My grandfather always said to wait until after Easter before counting on winter weather to be finished. Like any good farmer, he held even that with open hands, often reminding us that God is the one who created the world, and we don’t control the sun and the rain. A farmer works on faith and prayer in all efforts. A good approach for a Monday morning!
Was this winter’s last dance? I don’t know, but it was beautiful.
I am always fascinated by how quickly nature adapts to changing conditions. I don’t see resistance or hear complaint. Life persists fully and confidently forward.
Monday Prayer Lord, you are our dwelling place. Wherever we are and whatever the conditions of the day, we need you to order our steps. Give us courage to walk into the week with confidence of your presence, and trusting that in your presence there is fullness of joy and life everlasting. We believe in YOU. Where life is overwhelming, please come quickly Lord to assist. Thank you for your faithfulness in all seasons. We pray in the name of the resurrected Christ, Amen.
You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11
People make such profound marks on our lives. We are changed by those relationships, often pruned into stronger and more beautiful persons. Last year, on Feb 23rd, one of those people in my life made the transition from earth to eternity. His name is Cesar Muñoz, of Quetzaltenango in Guatemala. He is the wife of Sonia; the father of Mariairene, Lucia and David.
It was during a difficult time of the pandemic. I could not go to be with the family. I was not able to mourn with them in all the ways I wanted to share in their grief. When the celebration of his life was held and a community gathered, though limited because of COVID, I celebrated from a very long distance – about 2300 miles away. I shared this experience with thousands of people across the world who were burying and celebrating the lives of people they loved that ceased to be present on earth during this pandemic.
Recently I was able to return to Guatemala and be with my family and friends who are still grieving the absence of husband, father, and friend. We told stories and cried tears. We went to the place where he was buried (an important ritual for me) and I was able to touch the place where he and other family members’ bodies rest in the earth. The time was sacred for all of us.
We are people of faith, so we speak words of hope at the site where these bodies lay. We speak of the fruit that remains from Cesar’s life and the anticipation of a joyful reunion that will one day come for us. The stories we share here are blessings. Our spirits are strengthened.
Cesar was a friend and mentor. He was a partner in the work our church has the honor of being involved with @ ACD Guatemala. He spoke wisdom into my life on numerous occasions and we shared many joys at his table. And totally unexpectedly, we became family when my cousin married his daughter. At that time, the “family” we had been becoming through our shared work with God, became “officially” a family that united all of us forever.
Today I give thanks for Cesar’s life on earth and the impact he made on all of our lives. Every day we see the fruit that lasts from his time here. For all who have experienced death, grief and celebration of life during the time of this pandemic, I pray that you know that time and distance is nothing in the eyes of God. As you pray, as you mourn, as you laugh and cry and celebrate – it is all in perfect timing when our hearts and spirits are one in Christ. I pray this brings you peace.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:16
God, thank you for the lives that so deeply touch ours and bless us. May your peace be with all who grieve, and may you continue to grant us all glimpses of eternity, so our hope remains steadfast and strong. Thank you for the life of your people on earth! Give us humility and courage to serve in ways that bear the fruit that lasts…for your glory and not our own. Amen.