Understanding Wednesday, May 22 2013 

John 20:24-29 (NIV)

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Mark 9:24 (NIV)

The boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

DEVOTION – Patricia A. Simmons (Missouri)

Recently I was with some friends discussing our understanding of God.  One person always referred to God using the phrase, “the God I don’t understand.”  Another said she was truly glad there was mystery involved with understanding God.  The third person said he had been searching everywhere for God and in every way possible, but he could not find God.  Therefore, he decided to quit the search and let God find him.  Then he added, “It worked!”

Listening to these comments made me think of Thomas’ experience of questioning and seeking.  And then I remembered the father who had asked for his son to be healed and how he answered Jesus by saying, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

At times I am like each on in my group of friends, and sometimes I am like the people I read about in scripture.  I find comfort in knowing that people in the Bible grappled with the same feelings and challenges we experience today.  God always knows where we are.  When we are still (see Ps. 46:10) and make ourselves available to God, we are saying, “Here I am, God.  Find me!”  At times, I see God’s presence revealed through together people or even through nature (such as when a butterfly lights on my hand and stays there).  I am grateful for the mystery of the God I don’t fully understand.  And I’m equally grateful that when I cannot find God, I know that God can and will find me.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Perceptions may change, but God remains constant.

PRAYER: Thank you, God, that you never change.  Our understanding of you may change, but you forever remain the same.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Small-Group Discussions

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Open for Healing Tuesday, May 21 2013 

Psalm 51:1-7 (NIV)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

DEVOTION – Gale Richards (Iowa)

Friends told me that my sudden illness was an allergic reaction, but I didn’t really believe them because I’d never had allergies.  Finally, with a high fever and barely able to move, I begged my wife to take me to the hospital.  I remember saying, “I guess I must have some sort of allergy.”

The hospital staff isolated the problem and took corrective measures that relieved my physical distress.  Later it struck me that until I admitted my problem, little could be done to save me from it.  I had to be open to the remedy for my condition.

Something similar is true for us as sinners.  Until we admit that we have sinned, we can never open our hearts to accept God’s forgiving grace that is the remedy for sin.  I head a minister say one time, “The hardest step in the act of redemption is the step where the sinner accepts the need for it.”  Only after we admit that we are sinners can we accept God’s grace offered as a remedy for our sinfulness.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: The moment we turn from our sin, we will find God’s grace.

PRAYER: Dear Father, we have sinned, and we fear that you will reject us because of it.  Help us to accept your grace and draw close to you.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Who Feel Beyond God’s Grace

No Performance Necessary Monday, May 20 2013 

John 1:14-17 (NIV)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1:16 (CEB)

From [the Word’s] fullness we have all received grace upon grace.

DEVOTION – Dorothy O’Neill (South Australia, Australia)

My granddaughters were to compete in classical ballet.  However before the ballet, we were told that a troupe of five-year-old girls would perform individually.  Four girls came on stage, one after the other.  Then came the turn of Number 5.  The music for the dance was “Me and My Teddy Bear.”  But no little girl appeared.  Instead we heard her crying.

Later in the program all the dancers lined up on stage.  To our delight, each little girl was given a medal on a ribbon, including Number 5, who, pale and tear-stained, was clutching her teddy bear.  We saw no tears now but instead a watery smile.

That’s like grace, I thought.  We don’t have to perform; we don’t have to earn God’s approval.  Grace is the unmerited love of God.  It’s sheer gift, a free expression of God’s love for us.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: To receive graciously brings blessing both to those who give and to those who receive.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, we thank you for the riches of your grace.  Grant that we may receive these riches graciously and live our gratitude by offering gracious acceptance to those we meet.  We pray as Jesus taught us, saying, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever.  Amen.”

PRAYER FOCUS: Children in Competitions

A Different Ending Sunday, May 19 2013 

Acts 2:1-22, 41-42 (NIV)

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine. ”  14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ” ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.  42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:1 (NRSV)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

DEVOTION – Drew Sappington (Florida)

Hours after the Last Supper, the disciples were put to the test – and they failed.  They abandoned Jesus when the soldiers came, denied they knew him, and mostly hid while he died on the cross.  They were so cowardly that they did what we probably would have done, perhaps what anyone with common sense would have done.

The story must have seemed familiar to people living in Israel during Roman times.  Others had claimed to be the messiah and were executed by the authorities as their followers scattered.  But this time the story had a different ending.  This time, those who had fled came back to proclaim more loudly than ever that the executed man was really the Savior.  Something had profoundly changed the followers since the night they forsook their leader.  What was it?  They had seen the risen Lord.

These failed followers had bickered among themselves over places of honor, had misunderstood Jesus, and had tried to temp him to the easy way.  But then the Holy Spirit descended upon these former cowards in flames.  And these all-too-human followers boldly spoke in dozens of tongues to tell Good News.  The disciples had become the Church.  We call it Pentecost.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: The power of God can transform cowards into bold witnesses.

PRAYER: Dear gracious God, thank you for the message of Easter.  Make us bold witnesses of your grace.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: The Church Around the World

God’s Touch Saturday, May 18 2013 

2 Corinthians 1:3 – 4 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Philippians 4:13 (KJV)

Paul wrote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

DEVOTION – Cathy Fooshee (Kansas)

We have a new puppy, a Labrador retriever named Holly.  We spend a lot of time swinging in the hammock while Holly explores the back yard in the comfort of our presence.  If playing on the deck, she often will move close to our legs and eventually sit on someone’s foot as she chews on her bone.  If we move while she is our on the lawn playing, she stops immediately and checks for our new location.  Our presence gives her the confidence to explore.

Holly’s behavior reminds me of my relationship to God.  I explore life – sometimes without any thought of God’s presence.  But often, especially when life throws a challenge my way, I need the comfort of God’s touch; I need to know that God is close by and that I matter.  I need to know that God is working diligently for good in all situations in my life.

God’s touch may come through a hug from another person, through something that I read in the Bible, or through a timely devotion in The Upper Room.  Sometimes I sense God’s touch in the still, small voice that occasionally comes when I least expect it – but I sense its message with startling clarity.  In whatever form it comes, that touch gives my life warmth and color and fills me with confidence that through God’s power at work in me I can do all that God asks of me.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How do I experience God’s touch?

Link2Life: Go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog to see a photo of Cathy and her puppy Holly).

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help us to look for the many ways you touch us with your love and care every day.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Someone Who Needs Comforting

In The Family Friday, May 17 2013 

Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV)

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,  24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.

1 John 2:17 (KJV)

The world and its cravings are passing away, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.

DEVOTION – Karenn Voorhees (Kansas)

The Lord has blessed me, enabling me to be a wife, a mom, and a grandmother.  However, I have struggled from time to time with low self-esteem.  Because I do not have a college education or a career outside my home, sometimes I see myself as not having anything to offer the world.  Other people have so much more to offer, it seems.

Recently, as I read Jeremiah 9:23-24, I experienced an epiphany; I grasped a new perspective on how we should evaluate ourselves.  God said we are not to boast in the wisdom we possess, the strength we have, or the riches we’ve accumulated.  Our education and whatever career or job we have are included as part of our wisdom and possessions.  Just as we are not to boast, we also are not to be ashamed for our lack of a college education or a high-status job or career.  If our value to the body of Christ could be measured, it should be measured according to our service to others.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Each one of us is valuable to the body of Christ.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, you came and served the world.  Help us to see the ways we can follow your example in serving others.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Homemakers

Calm Shining Thursday, May 16 2013 

Isaiah 43:1-4 (NIV)

But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.  4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.

Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV)

The Lord says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

DEVOTION – Luis Alberto Jones (Chubut, Argentina)

I was driving to one of our firm’s subsidiaries.  It is quite a distance away, but traffic was light.  While crossing a bridge, I noticed a significant difference between the landscape behind me and the one I was approaching.  The vegetation ahead was richer than that behind me and featured a riot of colors in hues of green and yellow.

Until this point in the trip, I had been churning inside as I thought about my work performance.  My company expected better results; and as much as I tried, my efforts did not math their expectations.  Now, as I crossed the bridge, I remembered that God always accompanies us as we traverse trouble waters.  As I reflected more on this my spirit lifted quickly.  I felt invigorated, as if I had taken in a breath of fresh air.  I thanked God for standing by me during the difficult times and guiding me a place of peace.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God guides us through troubled waters to peace.

PRAYER: Merciful God, help us remember that you always guide us through the storms of life and on to safety.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: People Dealing with Work-Related Stress

Inconvenient Discipleship Wednesday, May 15 2013 

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV)

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)

The king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, jut as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

DEVOTION – Lissa Stressman Smith (Michigan)

The Christian ministry where I work serves those in need by giving food and clothing and meeting other basic needs.  One Saturday as my husband and I were on our way to a business associate’s company picnic, my cell phone rang.  One of my clients told me, weeping, that she had absolutely nothing to feed her children.

My first reaction was, This is my day off, and I want to enjoy it with my husband.  But then the Lord reminded me I am a Christian all the time, not just when it is convenient.  I jotted down the woman’s address, and we headed to the food pantry.  We also stopped by our house to get some meat for the family.

When we arrived at the client’s home, two of her children ran out to greet us with loving hugs.  As we brought sacks of groceries into the kitchen, the young mother stood crying and gave both of us a thank-you hug as well.

Sometimes I am tempted not to respond to a call from God that is inconvenient or unpleasant.  But then the Lord reminds me to take up my cross and follow Jesus – 24/7.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Do I follow Jesus only when it is convenient?

Link2Life: Become a volunteer at a local food pantry, or make regular contributions to that ministry.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help us to follow you whenever and wherever you call us.  Fill us with overflowing love for those in need.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: People Who Are Hungry

Two Lost Sons Tuesday, May 14 2013 

Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. ‘ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 ” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

Luke 6:37 (NIV)

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

DEVOTION – John D. Brown (Minnesota)

I’ve always loved the parable of the lost son because it is a great illustration of God’s limitless grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  However, while many see this as a parable about the younger son, the story begins, “There was a man who had two sons.”  When I first read this story, I felt sympathy for the older son, who obeyed his father, worked hard, and did the right things.  We an understand why he was upset about the party his father gave in honor of his selfish, immature younger brother.

I have come to see in the older brother sins of the heart – jealously, self-righteousness, resentment, and judgment.  These might not be as obvious as the outward sins of the younger brother, but they can be just as dangerous, especially since we tend to overlook them in ourselves.

The parable is a great message of love, forgiveness, and grace toward the younger son.  But actually its message about the older son is just as important.  Jesus said earlier in the book of Luke: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  These are great words to live by.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: To whom do I need to offer the grace of forgiveness?

PRAYER: Dear God, help us to forgive as you do.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Siblings Who Are At Odds

Life-Giving Water Monday, May 13 2013 

John 4:7-15 (NIV)

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 (NRSV)

It is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

DEVOTION – Sachie Yoshimoto (Tokyo, Japan)

During my college days I was zealous in my studies and my attempts to find work.  Yet my spirit felt hungry and dry.  While believing that being employed by a first-rate company would bring me happiness, I also had other questions:  What is the purpose of my existence?  What meaning is there in my giving myself to this work?  Life is limited to one time; therefore, I wanted to devote my life to something with real value.

I knew there should be something more important for me to learn, and I have always sought that true teaching.  Then I encountered the words of Jesus in the Bible.  Jesus offered me water that satisfies my spiritual thirst and became “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  Before, I had seen God as distant from me.  Now, I have a very close relationship, like a father and daughter.

Now that nagging uneasiness is gone.  My heart is content.  I worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23), and I am enveloped in God’s love.  I give heartfelt thanks to God who shines in my heart and displaces the darkness of the world wit the light of Christ.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Only God can satisfy our spiritual thirst and give us eternal life.

PRAYER: O God, thank you for salvation.  Deliver us from spiritual hunger and thirst as we worship you in spirit and truth.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Searching For Meaning

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