I’m Sad Friday, Jan 31 2014 

John 11:27-37 (NIV)

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” 28 And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

DEVOTION – Karen Perez (Georgia)

My brother-in-law has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder.  The man my sister has loved for more than 40 years is disappearing.  In a recent letter, she detailed her husband’s worsening symptoms: hallucinations, insomnia, confusion, and fear.  She closed her letter with the words, “I’m sad.”  Sad – such a small word to express her anguish, fear, and hopelessness.

How should we, as Christians, address sadness?  Should we embrace it or pretend it doesn’t exist?  Is being sad OK?  Can hope be found in the midst of grief?

Jesus understands sadness.  Jesus was moved by Mary’s grief at her brother’s death.  In Gethsemane he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death ” (Matt. 26:38).  The Lord embraces us and weeps with us in our sadness.

In the midst of our grief, God gives us hope.  “Now is your time of grief, but I will be you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22).  “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).  We are never alone in our sadness; God is near to comfort us.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God knows and understands our sadness.

PRAYER: Dear God, we pray our blessing on those who are sad.  Comfort them, and restore in them your joy.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE WHO ARE GRIEVING

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String Cross Reminders Thursday, Jan 30 2014 

Deuteronomy 6:4-9(NRSV)

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem  on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Mark 8:34 (NRSV)

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

DEVOTION – Jay T. Basinger (Florida)

I have retired from teaching physical education, but I found a new sense of purpose a few years ago.  David, a camp volunteer, taught me how to make string cross necklaces.  Each cross takes four minutes and costs about four cents to make.  David gave these to summer campers as a gift, a symbol of God’s love and forgiveness for each of us.  He still makes string crosses by the thousands to give to whomever he encounters.

I was inspired by David to take up making string cross necklaces as my purpose and mission for Christ.  I think earing such a symbol could be a good reminder for others and for ourselves to reflect and radiate the love of Christ to those around us.

So how will we represent the cross of Christ – the love he gave us as a sacrifice for our salvation and for forgiveness of our sins?  We can wear the cross as a reminder to share the meaning of the cross in words and in acts of love.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How visible is the cross of Christ in my life?

LINK2LIGE: For instructions on making Jay’s string crosses, go to devotional.upperroom.org.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus Christ, we want to remember your great love for us.  As we wear a symbol of your great love for us.  As we wear a symbol of your cross, help us follow you in steps of love.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: CHRISTIAN CAMPERS

Being Still Wednesday, Jan 29 2014 

Psalm 31:19-24 (NIV)

19 How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. 20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing tongues. 21 Praise be to the LORD, for he showed his wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city. 22 In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. 23 Love the LORD, all his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. 24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

DEVOTION – Abby Marten (Oklahoma)

I am a full-time student with a full-time campus leadership position and a part-time retail job.  I love the Lord, but recently I’ve noticed that my prayers are mostly those of exhaustion.  I feel like I’m being pulled in a thousand different  directions.  In the midst of crying out in moments of desperation, I shoot “arrow prayers” into heaven – impersonal, inattentive requests such as “Lord, let me have a good day today” or “God, please help me with ….everything!”

Whenever I have a moment for what should be quality time with God, it is peppered with distractions:  social media notifications, e-mail, phone calls, and text messages.  In order to truly focus on God, I’m now compelled to put down the cellphone, close the laptop, and shut off all distractions.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  I think  God is just as eager to talk with me as I am with God.  When I steal away in God’s presence without distraction and really try to focus on God during that time, I find that God has something to say.  When I am still and silent, I am finally able to listen.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Am I too distracted to hear God’s voice?

PRAYER: Gracious God, help us to commit our time and our attention to you so that we may serve you better.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: BUSY PEOPLE

Out On A Limb Tuesday, Jan 28 2014 

Luke 19:1-10 (NRSV)

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:5 (NRSV)

5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

DEVOTION – Teresa Cannady (Florida)

I’ve traveled to more than 50 countries. I’ve seen people living in the lap of luxury and on the edge of poverty.  I’ve met and worked with people of all faiths, socioeconomic classes, and political persuasions.  I’ve learned that what people want most, no matter where they reside, is to live and love, enjoy their friends and family, and provide a better future for their children.  Yet our perception of differences can create misunderstanding and a sense that “we” are right, so “they must be wrong.  Even though we may feel compassion of sympathy for others, we may find it difficult to reach out to them – to go to their place as Jesus dis with Zacchaeus.

Jesus called Zacchaeus down from that tree and went to his home – the place where he ate and slept and lived with his family.  Jesus didn’t ask him to come down and head for the nearest church.

If we are to follow the call of Christ, we must go where people live to truly know them.  If we really want to reach them, we may even have to climb some trees.  But when we do, the view might be amazing.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Christ calls us to meet people where they are – even if they are just next door.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for the differences that make us unique.  Teach us to meet People wherever they are and share your love with them.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: SOMEONE WHO MAKES ME UMCOMFORTABLE

Four Steps To Joy Monday, Jan 27 2014 

1 John 1:8-10 (NRSV)

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2 Peter 3:9 (NRSV)

9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you,  not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

DEVOTION – Fred Cloud (Tennessee)

I am an old man, soon to be 87.  I’ve been a baptized Christian for over 60 years.  In my daily devotions, I ask God to help me grow in my relationship with Christ.

There are four steps I take to grow in my faith:  awareness, confession, repentance, and acceptance of forgiveness.  Following these actions has brought me joy.

First, I became aware of a mental and emotional sin I had lived with so long that it no longer stood out in my spiritual inventory.  I was somewhat shocked that I hadn’t dealt with it sooner.  But after mulling over this troubling situation, I realized that I must confess it to God – which I did.

After I had confessed it to God in prayer, I realized that I had to reject this old mental and emotional sin.  So I repented, resolved to turn around 180 degrees in my mental and emotional behavior.  Then I asked God to help me keep true to my new commitment.  Even I believed that God had forgiven me, I had to accept that forgiveness as an expression of God’s love and grace.  Slowly letting go of the past, I was filled with joy.  Thank God!

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: When we confess and repent, God is eager to forgive our sins.

PRAYER: Open our eyes, O God, to any persistent sin of which we are not aware.  Help us to confess that sin, repent, and to accept your forgiveness.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: SOMEONE STRUGGLING TO ACCEPT FORGIVENESS

Like Yeast Sunday, Jan 26 2014 

Matthew 13:10-17, 31-35 (CEB)

10 Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?” 11 Jesus replied, “Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have. 12 For those who have will receive more and they will have more than enough. But as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them. 13 This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. 14 What Isaiah prophesied has become completely true for them: You will hear, to be sure, but never understand; and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing. 15 For this people’s senses have become calloused, and they’ve become hard of hearing, and they’ve shut their eyes so that they won’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears or understand with their minds, and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them. 16 “Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear. 17 I assure you that many prophets and righteous people wanted to see what you see and hear what you hear, but they didn’t.

31 He told another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”

34 Jesus said all these things to the crowds in parables, and he spoke to them only in parables. 35 This was to fulfill what the prophet spoke: I’ll speak in parables; I’ll declare what has been hidden since the beginning of the world.

Matthew 13:33(CEB)

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”

DEVOTION –  Laila Geitz (Akershus, Norway)

A Young man I know well gave his life to Christ and became a diligent reader of the Bible.  Like many Christians, he had difficulties with some of the parables Jesus told.  The parable about the yeast in the dough was hard for him to accept.  In his opinion the word yeast sounded negative because yeast cannot be eaten.  “I don’t understand this,” he said, “because the Bible also says, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. 34:8, NIV) – and yeast is not good!”

I was able to help him with this by explaining that yeast is necessary to make bread airy and good to eat.  Also, I told him about World War II when Norway was occupied, and it was impossible to buy yeast in the grocery Stores.  I told him that my mother used to make her own yeast to bake into the dough by taking grained rye and mixing it with lukewarm water and a little sugar.  After several days this started fermenting and became like a type of yeast.  Then she took a lump of this homemade yeast and put it into the dough.  The result was tasty loaves that remained soft for a long time.

Jesus meant that we should be like that, like yeast among our neighbors so that we can spread our faith in Christ.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: To be a witness for Christ require perseverance.

PRAYER: O Lord, help us every day to seek you for strength and love so that we can lead other people to you.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: NEW CHRISTIANS

Saturday Saturday, Jan 25 2014 

Psalm 91:1-16 (NRSV

1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,  2 will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” 3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; 4 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 5 You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, 6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,  the Most High your dwelling place, 10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. 14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. 15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. 16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Psalm 91:14 (NRSV)

14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.

DEVOTION – Carolyn Buford (North Carolina)

My father left us when I was six years old.  I never knew my dad as a provider, protector, or promise keeper.  He would promise my sisters and me that he would come to see us on Saturday, then not show up.  I remember that once after we were grown, we made a “date” with him one Saturday to go out to dinner for our birthdays.  We got all dressed up, as  you can guess…he did not show up.  Because of my poor relationship with my earthly father, I had a hard time relating to God as my heavenly Father.

I trusted that God could save me but wondered, Will God provide for me when I am lonely?  Will God protect me from those who would do me harm or from myself when I make bad decisions?  Can I trust God’s promises?  Will God “show up on Saturday”?

     During the years of my Christian journey, I have come to realize that my dad is my dad – and God is my God.  I can trust my Creator with my triumphs, my trials, and my tears.  And I thank God for the chance to live a more abundant life. (See John 10:10.)

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God is Immanuel, God with us … God with me.

LINK2LIFE: Volunteer with a mentoring program.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for the opportunity to be your children.  Help us to forgive those who hurt and disappoint us.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: FATHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN.

In Spite Of Our Limitations Friday, Jan 24 2014 

Exodus 3:1-10, 4:10-16 (NIV)

1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

10 Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” 11 The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” 13 But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” 14 Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.

Exodus 4:10-12 (NRSV)

10 Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” 11 The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

DEVOTION – William L. Dike (Florida)

Moses may have been a great man, but early on he was more concerned with making excuses than with trusting God.  The power in the burning bush story is God’s  response in dismantling those excuses by telling Moses to trust and by promising to do through Moses what seemed impossible.

How often do we use our limitations as excuses?  We say we do not have time, skill, experience, and so on.  A stroke left me with a speech impediment, but when I am tempted to use this as an excuse, I remember Moses.  Moses also had a speech problem, But God called him anyway.

I believe that God can use us as we are – hesitations and limitations included.  What we can learn from Moses is that the setting of limits belongs to God, not to us.  God’s unlimited power can transform our limitations into instruments of faith and works.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: In spite of our limitations, God can give our lives purpose.

PRAYER: Remove our excuses, O Lord, so that we yield all that we are to your purposes.  May even our limitations be of use and service to you.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE RECOVERING AFTER A STROKE.

God Is With Us Thursday, Jan 23 2014 

Romans 5:1-5 (CEB)

1 Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness combined with our faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. 3 But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope. 5 This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (CEB)

9 He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me.

DEVOTION – Gabriela Morales (Mexico)

Believing in God’s goodness is easy when all is going well.  However, when things are not going well, we may be more likely to doubt God.  I have come to understand that being a Christian does not mean that life will be without its ups and downs.  We have only to look at the lives of the apostles to see that their lives were far from trouble-free.

Being a follower of Christ does not mean we will be safe from accidents, indifference, injustices, or death.  The radical difference is that we will not be alone when hardships befall us.  God will see us through the challenges we face.

In even the most trying circumstances, we can give thanks to God because often in the midst of these situations we discover how close God really is.  God is with us, not to remove us from these situations but rather to help us face them.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God walks with us through all our trials.

PRAYER: Dear faithful and loving God, help us confide in you during our most difficult moments.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: CHISTIANS PERSECUTED FOR THEIR FAITH

To Hear The Word Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 

James 2:1-9 (NRSV)

1 My brothers and sisters,  do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”  4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.  Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

James 2:5 (NRSV)

5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.  Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?

DEVOTION – David Hosey (District of Columbia)

Our young-adult Bible study group sat outside a sandwich shop in downtown Washington, D.C.  We were beginning our discussion of the letter of James when a man approached our table.  “Excuse  me,” he said.  “Are you studying the Bible?”

One of us hesitantly answered, “Ye.”

“May I join you?”  he responded.  We glanced at each other.  How could we say no?

The man sat down and asked if we would read the passage again.  We did, and it was stunning.  James indicts his audience for showing favoritism to the rich while neglecting the poor.  Ray, the man who had joined us, listened intently as we read.  Then he told us about being homeless and going into churches and being ignored or even asked to leave because he wasn’t well-dressed or well-groomed.  “The worst part of being homeless,” he said, “is having nowhere to hear the word.”  He meant the “word of God”; but he could also have meant any word at all.  Too often, people who are homeless are ignored; no one speaks to them.  After studying the Bible and sharing a meal, we asked Ray if we could pray for him; but he prayed for us.

Christ visited us that night.  How many other nights have we received a visit from Christ and not realized it?

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God comes to us at unexpected times.

PRAYER: God of the poor, help us to see your face in everyone who is in need.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: PEOPLE WHO ARE HOMELESS

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