Marveling Tuesday, Apr 30 2013 

Psalm 104:24-33 (NIV)

How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number– living things both large and small. 26 There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. 27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. 31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works– 32 he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke. 33 I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Genesis 1:31 (NRSV)

God saw everything that had had made, and indeed, it was very good.

DEVOTION – Judith O. Jolly (North Carolina)

A retreat was held in a setting that offered mountains, forests, and a nearby lake – perfect places to explore and enjoy God’s marvelous creation.  Before we ate our first midday meal, our retreat leader suggested that we spend our early-afternoon break wandering and relaxing in the area surrounding our cabins.  “Go marveling,” she said.  “Find something in nature to bring back with you.”

That evening, we brought the items we had found during the afternoon: feathers, leaves, oddly-shaped limbs, seedpods, wildflowers, and rocks.  We told the stories of our discoveries and celebrated God’s gifts.  The gift of marveling at the words of our Creator energized us and brought us together.

From that experience, I learned that I can go marveling most anywhere.  When I see a brilliant red, orange, and gold sunset, I marvel.  When I hear a bird singing, I marvel.  When the air smells clean and the world grows still with the first snowfall of the season, I marvel.  When fluffy clouds billow in the afternoon sky, I marvel.  Sometimes I let the busyness of the day interfere with enjoying nature’s beauty, but I try to save part of everyday to pay attention to God’s “wonderful works.”

Link2Life:  For an opportunity to go marveling away from home, see upperroom.org/academy

Link2Life: To see Judith “marveling” at the retreat center, go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog.

PRAYER: Loving God, draw our attention every day to your marvelous works and keep us mindful of our role as caretakers of all that you have created.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: To Set Aside Our Busyness

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Faith Rather Than Fear Monday, Apr 29 2013 

Luke 12:13-21 (NIV)

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself ?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Matthew 6:19-20 (NRSV)

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.

DEVOTION – Magdiel Martinez (Nuevo Leon, Mexico)

Today in my country, we are suffering from tremendous insecurity because of widespread violence.  This has caused many of us to avoid owning automobiles or jewelry because having them exposes us to the danger of losing our possessions or even our lives.  Living under these extreme circumstances reminds us of Jesus’ message not to store up treasures on earth but to seek rather the kingdom of heaven.

Even with all our precautions not to appear wealthy, a young man wielding a gun stole my wife’s car.  My wife was not harmed, thank goodness; and the thief did not take her purse or the keys to our house.  However, we have not been able to forget this incident.  My wife reminds me, “We did not lose only the car; we lost our security and sense of peace.”

Today, we live modestly out of necessity rather than conviction.  The disciples of Jesus went a step further.  For their faith, they left everything they knew to seek the kingdom of heaven.  Our challenge is to nurture our spiritual growth and to place it ahead of absurd accumulations of riches – to act out of faith rather than fear.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: No possession is as valuable as our faith in God.

PRAYER: Faithful God, give us strength to place you first in our lives, above all that we own.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Living in Fear of Violence

Sing God’s Praises Sunday, Apr 28 2013 

Psalm 69:30-32 (NIV)

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.  31 This will please the LORD more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.  32 The poor will see and be glad– you who seek God, may your hearts live!

Psalm 100:1 (NRSV)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord.

DEVOTION – Jacob Schneider (Maryland)

The Lord did not bless my father with a pleasant singing voice.  Quite the opposite: Dad couldn’t carry a tune even if it had handles on it.  Standing next to him in church made singing hymns difficult.  My mother sang in the choir.  My sister and I often shared a hymnal with Grandma, leaving Dad to howl in solitude at the other end of the pew.  This never seemed to bother him.  Each worship service found him enthusiastically adding his dissonant voice to the great hymns of the faith.  He truly did make a “joyful noise” – every Sunday.

The quality of our vocal efforts is not important to God.  God doesn’t care if we sing like angels or bleat like goats.  God, who created us knows our abilities.  The act of praise from those who love God pleases God.  When we sing in worship, we aren’t performing for the approval of the people around us.  We’re lifting our voices to please God, who loves us, cares for us, and died for us.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Praise God in everything  you do.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, may our songs, words, thoughts, and deeds always praise you.  As Jesus taught us, we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Reluctant to Sing

God’s Angels Saturday, Apr 27 2013 

Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

DEVOTION – Deborah Jones-Norberto (New York)

My husband has been out of work this past year.  And this was not the first time; over the last 20 years he has been laid off five times.  Each time has become more difficult for us as husband and wife and as a family.  Our three children have endured many hardships and fears related to this.  We’ve experienced days with no oil for heat or propane for hot water.  We’ve had empty food shelves and no electricity.  We even endured a three-week period without a car, making it difficult to get to school, stores, and church in our suburban area.

Even though we’ve experienced hardships, we’ve also received care by unexpected means.  People have given us food, cars, propane, money, and their prayers and support.  These people served as God’s angels to us during these times, and we’ve learned to trust God to help us meet our needs.  God has blessed us far more than the beautiful lilies Jesus described.  When we know and accept God’s love, we can face tomorrow’s challenges with confidence that all will be well.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How can I help God meet someone’s need today?

PRAYER: Loving God, thank you for your love and care shown through your children around us.  Teach us in return to be willing to help others in their need.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those In Extended Unemployment

Taste and See Friday, Apr 26 2013 

Psalms 34:1-10 (NIV)

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. 2 My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. 3 Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. 6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. 8 Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. 9 Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. 10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Psalm 119:103 (NRSV)

The psalmist wrote, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

DEVOTION – Janice Ross (Orkney Islands, Scotland)

Recently I was cleaning out drawers in my kitchen.  In one drawer were recipe books and lots of recipes needing to be filed.  Some of the recipes had been cut from magazines; some came from friends; some from my mother.  I had collected many of them for years, but most I had never tried.  The dishes made from these recipes might taste fabulous, might even become family favorites.  But to find out I must make the dish and then taste the finished product.

My Bible is a bit like my recipe drawer.  In it and in other notebooks, I have Bible verses written out, along with quotes from Christian writers and speakers.  Most of these had great meaning for me at various times in my life.

Like the recipes, the word of God has to be “tasted” – tried and acted on.  Through the Bible God speaks to us, nourishes us, supports us.  We are to read it regularly, with faith, and follow its wisdom.  When a passage from God’s word gets our attention, it is not meant to be a “cut-out” word that we carry as a note stuck between the pages of our Bible.  Rather, each insight is something to meditate on and live until it becomes part of us.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: By acting on the Bible’s wisdom we taste God’s goodness more fully.

Link2Life: Go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog to view a recipe for scripture cake.

PRAYER: Dear Father God, thank you for your word, revealed in Jesus and made alive for us by your Holy Spirit.  Thank you that your word is truth.  Help us by faith to live it.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Who Teach The Bible

Winning Approval Thursday, Apr 25 2013 

Ecclesiastes 7:15-20 (NIV)

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. 16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise– why destroy yourself ? 17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool– why die before your time? 18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all [extremes]. 19 Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city. 20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.

Ecclesiastes 7:16-17 (NRSV)

Do not be too righteous, and do not at too wise… Do not be too wicked, and do not be a  fool.

DEVOTION – Thomas Dury (Colorado)

When we were adolescents, my brother and I strove fiercely to win our dad’s approval.  This created a pattern of competition that continues to interfere with our relationship years later.  During a recent wilderness hike, my brother took the lead.  The trail wasn’t especially difficult, and he set a frantic pace.  Before long, however, he was gasping and suffering muscle cramps.  We make it back safely, but that competitiveness made it difficult for us to enjoy our time together.

As a young Christian, I strove fiercely to win God’s approval as well.  I tried to be a perfect Christian;  I tried to pray longer, I read the bible more diligently, and I behaved more piously than everyone else.  That attitude, however, only alienated those around me.

When I read Ecclesiastes 7:15-20, I was appalled.  How could someone be too righteous?  And how could the writer suggest that we tolerate evil?  Finally, I realized that, try as I might, I can never be perfect.  I can live as pure and holy a life as possible and avoid pretension of righteousness, but I don’t have to win God’s approval.  It’s free and unconditional.  I need only to accept it.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Stop struggling and allow God to love you.

PRAYER: Dear God, may we always be aware that our good standing with you rests solely on your grace.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Trying to Earn God’s Love

One Step Further Wednesday, Apr 24 2013 

Matthew 4:18-22 (NIV)

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Romans 10:14 (NIV)

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

DEVOTION – Janice Davies (Illinois)

In my Bible study group, John requested prayer for his elderly neighbor, Sam, who had suffered a serious fall.  John was helping run errands for Sam.  Our group leader prayed for Sam’s health and also that John would have a chance to speak to Sam about Christ.  Afterward, John remarked, “It never occurred to me to talk with Sam about Jesus.”

One person in our group said that helping Sam was, in fact, witnessing to him.  And to be sure, it is.  But another person said, “Telling him about Christ goes one step further.”

That made me think.  I enjoy visiting people who are sick or lonely, and I help by giving them rides and meeting other needs.  But how often do I speak to them about my faith?  Do others know that I do these loving acts because Christ is my savior?  Do they know what courage and strength and love Christ brings to my life?

Although I enjoy the friendships I make, my goal should be to draw people not to myself but to Christ by reading scripture or a devotional of offering to pray.  From now on, I want to go one step further and witness about my faith in Christ with words as well as deeds.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Witnessing includes both words and actions.

PRAYER: Dear God, help us to spread the good news of your love in words as well as deeds.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Neighbors Near and Far

People Sharpeners Tuesday, Apr 23 2013 

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (NIV)

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. 16 Be joyful always;  17 pray continually;  18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;  20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.  22 Avoid every kind of evil.

Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

DEVOTION – Paula Geister (Michigan)

The butcher I worked with in a small-town grocery store showed me the best way to sharpen knives.  I watched as he used a round metal file to sharpen not only his knives but his cleavers as well.  Then he taught me the technique.  Today I own a file, and my knives are always sharp.  The process of sharpening requires that iron meet iron.  The friction wears away a dull edge to form a new one.  My butcher friend told me that a dull knife isn’t safe; it’s actually more likely to cause serious injury.  And a dull knife obviously doesn’t do the job as effectively as a sharp one.  So sharpening makes a tool more efficient and prepares it for the next job.

Similarly, our Christian friends can help us remain open to God’s work in us.  Their counsel may seem like unwanted friction at times, but we need friends who remind us of God’s wisdom, keep us grounded in truth, and hold us accountable.  Such accountability prepares us for the work God has for us to do.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How has God used my Christian friends to “sharpen” me?

Link2Life: Go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog to see a photo of Lanita and her daughter, Kelsey.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for Christian friends who love us enough to walk with us, pray for us, and lead us into truth so that we can become like Christ.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: My Mentors in Faith

Wait On The Lord Monday, Apr 22 2013 

Psalm 40:1-5 (NIV)

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. 5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.

Psalm 39:7 (NRSV)

O Lord, what do I wait for?  My hope is in you.

DEVOTION – Raul Rocha Gutierrez (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

One day at the close of my devotional time, I said a special prayer for my 12-year-old son, Esteban.  At the time, my wife was with our son at the hospital.  At midnight, the phone rang.  It was my wife, Doreen, with the news confirming that Esteban had meningitis.  This was especially alarming because in those days in 1993 many young children had died from meningitis.  I hung up the phone, fell to my knees, and prayed.  I placed Esteban in God’s hands, as my wife and I had done countless times since his birth.

The next day a medical treatment plan for my son was initiated.  Praying constantly, my wife and I placed our hope in the Great Healer to restore our son’s health.  God heard our prayers and the prayers of our brothers and sisters in the community of faith.  After several months, Esteban pulled through.

Today Esteban serves God.  He plays piano in our worship services and is an English professor deeply invested in his students and their achievements.  Doreen and I are grateful to God not only for restoring Esteban’s health but also for the ways God is bringing wholeness back to Esteban’s Christian life.  Our family has learned to wait on the Lord even in the midst of life’s most challenging moments.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: All that concerns me also matters to God.

PRAYER: Dear God of hope, may we always confide in you, especially in our darkest day.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Parents Of Children Facing Serious Illness

“I’m Hungry!” Sunday, Apr 21 2013 

Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV)

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:6 (NIV)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

DEVOTION – Karen S. Wylie (Texas)

Four-year-old Brenda slipped unseen from her mother’s pew.  She walked down the aisle to the front of the church, where her pastor stood making the weekly announcements.  Taking the pastor’s hand, she announced, “I’m hungry!”  The embarrassed mother hurried to retrieve her child and bring her back to the pew.  She assured the youngster that they would eat when they got home.

The little girl’s statement stuck with me as the service continued.  How many of us have come to church “hungry” today?  Are the others in the congregation spiritually hungry for more of God?  Am I?  Did I enter the sanctuary expecting to be spiritually fed from the Lord’s table?

Now each Sabbath I make a conscious effort to come to church hungry.  I wait with expectantly for the Holy Spirit to feed my heart and soul.  Then I continue my spiritual journey, nourished, invigorated, and fed.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How am I feeding my hunger for more of God?

PRAYER:  Dear God, please increase our hunger and desire for you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Who Are Hungry

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