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Daily Devotional

Pearls Before Breakfast

Sometimes it’s helpful to turn our eyes to look at the news with the eyes of faith. The below article appeared a while back, and it’s a remarkable piece. Read it to see if you can’t hear God whispering to you, calling you to pay attention to goodness…

Pearls Before Breakfast, Gene Weingarten (The Washington Post)

He emerged from the metro at the L'Enfant Plaza station and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play .

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Each passerby had a quick choice to make: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? 

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall at the top of the escalators was 39-year-old Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made, a $3.5 million Stradivarius. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities – in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend? 

Later that same morning, Bell sat in a hotel restaurant picking at his breakfast and trying to figure out what just happened.   "It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah…"  The word doesn't come easily.  "… ignoring me."

No crowd ever gathered for Bell at L'Enfant Plaza, not even for a second.  In fact, for the nearly three quarters of an hour that he played, only seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around, at least briefly, and take in the performance. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston's stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100.  But in the Metro station his open violin case collected only $32 and change. 

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away. 

Here is a 1 minute video of Bell playing in the metro station.

Adapted from "Pearls Before Breakfast" by Gene Weingarten, www.TheWashingtonPost.com <http://www.TheWashingtonPost.com> 

Responding To God's Goodness

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
- Psalm 136:1-4

Someone (the poem is anonymous) wrote Psalm 136 as a response to God’s goodness. It goes on to list all the ways God has demonstrated that goodness through securing freedom and justice for the people and generously providing everything from food to guidance. So this author created a poem to be read in a worship service that was responsive - the leader would read one line, and the people would respond with “His love endures forever.”

The overall theme of the prayer is God’s goodness - that’s where it starts off a the beginning of line one. The overall experience of that goodness felt like love (which is mentioned 26 times in the prayer) - the people feel loved because God has acted out of goodness to them. The overall response to this experience of goodness is gratitude.

Take a minute right now and think of half a dozen things about God's goodness that you experience as love (for some, it may be easier to work backwards from where you experience love and then see if you can tie that back into God’s goodness). Now respond by giving thanks for those experiences of love and for the goodness that lies behind them.

What Does God's Goodness Do?

Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good. - Psalm 25:7

Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly. - Psalm 69:16

Throughout the Psalms (the prayer book of the Bible), people appeal to God’s goodness in a number of ways. The prayers above could be paraphrased like this:

  1. Because you are good, forgive my badness.

  2. Because you are good, hear me even though you seem distant.

David, who wrote these prayers, is clearly counting on the fact that God’s goodness makes the difference in these tricky situations: he’s aware of his badness, so he appeals to God’s goodness; he’s aware of God’s distance, so he appeals to God’s goodness. These psalms give the unmistakable sense that David’s bedrock experience in life is that God is indeed good, and that this goodness is a game changer. It means God can be trusted, even in situations that might otherwise feel really precarious (think about it - doesn’t it feel a bit dangerous to tell God about your badness or about how you feel like God’s been distant?).

Today, write down a short prayer to God about something tricky going on in your life, and in it specifically appeal to God’s goodness. Take some time to reflect on what difference that would make. Then speak that prayer out loud to God.

The Lord is Good

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him. - Nahum 1:7

This was the verse that the kids memorized last week at Kids Camp (which was amazing, by the way). All week long we reflected on how God is good, even when our situations are sad, scary, or unfair.

This week we’ll be looking at God’s goodness in our devotions. While we often oversimplify God’s goodness and make it into a slogan or a saccharine sweet ‘truth,’ the scriptures do no such thing. The goodness of God is full of mystery, engaging with the brokenness of the world and the hiddenness of God. The goodness of God is layered and textured, connecting personally with each of us as well as blanketing humanity. The goodness of God is also resilient enough to handle our questions, fears, and doubts.

So today, take a moment to ask yourself how you relate to the goodness of God. Do you take it for granted? Do you have an experiential knowledge of it, or is it more theoretical? Do you even think about it at all?

Now read over that verse again slowly and allow God to speak to you from it.

The Dry Savages

Sometimes it’s helpful on this journey to listen to a different voice - it can help us come at an idea from a new angle that opens up a whole new world. So today we’re going to read a piece of a poem by the late T.S. Eliot. As you read it, reflect about what we we’ve been learning this week about hearing God in different situations, especially from people different than you as well as in the small miracles in our daily lives.

It seems, as one becomes older,
That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence—
Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy
Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,
Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.
The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being,
Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,
Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness.

- T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets: 3.II (The Dry Savages), 1942

Seeing Miracles

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. - Luke 10:13-14

This week we’ve been looking at Luke 10 and thinking about how God speaks to us. There are half a dozen major avenues God uses; the two we’re looking at this week are when God speaks through people and in today’s devotion about when God speaks through miracles.

The single biggest point Jesus makes about God speaking through miracles isn’t to do some analysis on when they occur or how to verify them or even how to ‘get’ them. Rather, it’s how not to miss them. Can you see the distinction?

Over and over in the gospels, Jesus points out that miracles are happening all the time and we just need to have our eyes and ears open. In our passage today he points out how it’s so often the religious people who miss out on God because they discount miracles when they don’t fit into our neat little descriptions of how they are supposed to work. We want a specific answer to a specific prayer; so we can miss God when the answer comes in a different way. Or we expect God not to be able to work in the lives of ‘unbelievers’ when God is doing miracles in their lives all day long; so we can miss God’s work yet again.

Today, ask God to give you eyes to see the miracles and ears to hear them. Look for them in unlikely places, especially amongst the everyday moments of our lives, in the people who live on the margins of our world, and in your own heart.

Speaking the Very Words of God

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. 1 Peter 4:11

God speaks through people. That’s one of the recurring themes of the scriptures. God speaks through children and prophets, through pagan kings and simple fishermen, through desperate mothers and doubting fathers. We’ve held on to their words for millennia because God has spoke through them so often to us.

So do you think God might speak through you? Be careful of either an easy “yes” - look out for pride!. And be careful of an easy “no” - look out for not trusting God enough or devaluing yourself.

The scripture suggests that as you speak, to let God speak through you. Perhaps this command just for preachers and teachers, but that seems contrary to the whole thrust of the Bible. What if it’s for grandparents and plumbers and cubicle dwellers and high school students? Maybe it’s time to pay a bit more attention to the kinds of things we say. Not that they all need to be quotes from the Bible or certain religious phrases - but perhaps even when we check out at Target we could speak words to the cashier that are honoring, that are honest, that bless and encourage. Certainly there’s plenty of room for that in our friendships, our homes, and our workplaces.

Ask God to give you the grace to speak ‘the very words of God’ today. And then ask God to listen in well to others as they may be speaking those same words to you.

When God speaks through People

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” - Luke 10:16

This week, based on Luke 10:21, we’re looking at what Christian academics call the theology of revelation, namely, how God speaks to us. There are a half a dozen main ways God speaks to us - first and foremost and most importantly through the person of Jesus Christ. Then there’s the specific revelation of scripture and the general revelation of nature, and further down the list are things like learning how to discern open doors and closed doors from various circumstances.

The rest of the week we’ll be looking at two of the other main ways God speaks. The first is through people. Reread the verse at the top of this devotion, and it’s pretty darn clear that God speaks through human beings like me and you. The question is whether or not we’re listening. And then there’s the issue of discerning when you’re listening to other people, how do you know what is from God and what is not.

Think today about these questions, and ask Jesus to meet you as you process these:

  1. Have you ever sensed God speaking to you through another person? Think about a deep conversation that encouraged you or a sermon that challenged you, or a random encounter that gave you surprising insight, or even a book that helped change the direction of your life. What were indications that it may have been God speaking to you?

  2. Do you have a sense of times you’ve shut yourself down to God speaking to you through others? Think about times when you cut off a conversation, when you avoided going to a group or church service or wise counselor, or when you emotionally closed yourself down. What do you think was going on for you then?

  3. Think over the last week - what’s your best guess about the clearest time when God spoke to you through another person in some way, big or small? And now for the most important question: what are you doing in response to what you sense God may have been saying to you?

When Has God Spoken To You?

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. - Luke 10:21

The assumption in this passage is that God reveals things to some people and hides things from other people. Doesn’t that make you wonder “Who does God speak to?” and “Why?”

This week we’re going to ponder those questions.

Today, take a moment and remember the significant times God has spoken to you in the past. Is there any similarity in what God spoke with you about (if there was more than once)? How about the circumstances or your attitude - were there similarities? Keep your eyes and heart open as you ponder these things - sometimes God surfaces new insights as we process some of our old stories.

*Also, please be praying for Kids Camp today!

I Am Judas

This poem was written this week by a friend who is new to City Church. It captures what we’ve been thinking about all week, namely that the dance of the Trinity is always towards inclusion, always towards embrace, always towards blessing. Take some time today to ponder what obstacles you might have inside of you from accepting the invitation into the life of God.

I am Judas

My burden heavy, the sin looming before me and consuming after me

My eyes are down at the table, I can barely swallow this bread. 

My heart had wavered as the silver clinked in my trembling hands

I don’t deserve the kiss of betrayal I gave Him, I don’t deserve the way He washed my feet so tenderly, the way He invited me to break bread at the Table. 

The way He looked at me like I was cherished and known. 

The way He spoke to me, with gentle authority. 

I wanted so desperately to Follow Him. I tried, but I always knew. I wasn’t enough. 

I don’t deserve any of this

For centuries scholars go on to discuss me and debate me

Unpopular to most, yet the truest picture of my last moments: my biggest sin is not that I betrayed Him-The King of Love. My sin is that I believe He and His Love didn’t have the power to forgive a sinner like me. 

I was wrong. The King of Love has the power to forgive All.

Intimacy

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. - Ephesians 5:1

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. - Luke 22:42-43

As we continue this week thinking about imitating God’s life within God’s own self, today we look at how the Father and the Son relate to each other vulnerably. The Son is in touch with the pain of his circumstances and the impending crucifixion. He know what he wants and he honestly asks his Father for what he wants. And the Father hears his request and graciously acknowledges the pain of it, granting an angel to come and minister to Jesus - even though the Father didn’t ultimately grant the Son’s request.

That sort of honesty, intimacy, and vulnerability is how God relates within Godself. And Ephesians 5:1 calls us to imitate God. That’s deep.

Take some time and ponder the life within the Trinity. What is God saying to you about what is truly sacred, what is truly life-giving? What might it look like for you to step towards that today?

To Glorify Others

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. - Ephesians 5:1

The Holy Spirit will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. - John 16:14
Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. - John 17:1

Today as we think about the way that God lives within God’s own self, we’re looking at this idea of glorifying others - of lifting them up, encouraging them, making them brighter and bigger and better. Our goal, again, is to imitate God. And since this is what God does, then this is what we get to do!

Take a minute to reflect on what the life of God might be like with all of this mutual-glorifying. Does it bring a sense of awe or wonder or something else to mind? Hold on to that today.

And then also think about what it might look like to bring glory to someone else today. Obviously we’re not talking about doing this in inappropriate ways by inflating the egos of others. Instead, think about the ways that you can bring attention to the goodness of others today.

Giving the Blessing

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. - Ephesians 5:1

This is my Son, my Chosen One.  Listen to him! - Luke 9:35

To imitate God (Ephesians 5:1 - our theme verse this week) means that in our relationships, we call out blessing just like the Father did at the transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9. With others present (Peter, James, and John), the Father spoke through the clouds, paraphrasing what he said at Jesus’s baptism back at the beginning of his ministry.

The relationally within God’s own self is our model for our own relationships. God the Father blesses God the Son. That’s what God is like… so let’s get on it! Who can you bless today? Make a list, or make a reminder on your phone, or write card, or send a text right now. And why not make a habit out of blessing others? Apparently, from all that we hear from God the Father in the New Testament, giving blessing is mostly what gets said!

Be Imitators of God

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. - Ephesians 5:1

This week we’ll be looking at the Trinity again. Traditionally, the Trinity is approached from a theological/conceptual angle. Like the sermon yesterday, we’ll be approaching the Trinity from a more practical angle. We’ll be asking, “If this is what the inner life of God is like, what does that mean for our life?”

This approach is based in passages like the one above, in Ephesians. The Apostle Paul spent the first three chapters of the letter reminding the church in Ephesus about who God is. The last three chapters of Ephesians are filled with commands like the one above - the entire purpose of these latter three chapters is to invite the early Christians into a life that truly resembles the that of Christ.

In particular, the verse above is inviting us to imitate God - not just Jesus Christ (the Son of God) but all of God, including the Father and the Spirit. So as we look this week at the Trinity we are going to be invited into a life that mirrors the dynamic, affirming, submitting, vulnerable dance of the Trinity with itself.

Take a moment and ponder whether you’re up for learning how to imitate God. What draws you to that? What pushes you away? Talk with God about that.

The Poem of Our Beliefs

Often Christians have treated the Apostle’s Creed as s statement of faith, a set of certainties that we completely understand. What if instead we looked at it as a poem which does the best it can to capture unending mysteries in a few brief words? Certainly the things it speaks about are unfathomable, and yet, somehow, they are able to be grasped enough to alter how we see ourselves, our God, and our world.

Today, read this poem that has been passed down from the original Christian communities. Let it speak to you. Let it expand your heart and mind and love for God.

THE APOSTLES CREED

I believe in God, the Father almighty, 
creator of heaven and earth. 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. 
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, 
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. 
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, 
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, 
the Holy catholic Church, 
the communion of saints, 
the forgiveness of sins, 
the resurrection of the body, 
and the life everlasting. 

Amen.


Unity

 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! - Psalm 133:1 NIV

Family reunions can be fun, but they can also have plenty of drama. It is unusual for gatherings like that to go off without a hitch. Somebody complains about the food, someone else gets offended, or old hurts get dragged up. 

Unfortunately it is the same for God’s people. Too often we complain, offend or get offended, or drag up old hurts. The author of this prayer from Psalm 133 gets it right: it is so very good when there is unity. 

Jesus teaches that what makes unity so good is that it’s actually a reflection of what God is like within God‘s own self. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are united in love, care, and delight in one another. There is complete unity in God and we are invited to enjoy the same here on earth.

Think back over the last week or month and give thanks for the times when you have experienced unity within your friend group, your family, your neighborhood, or your Christian community. Praise God for this expression of the Trinity being lived out on earth as it is in heaven. 

As We Are One

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. - John 17:22-23

The Trinity isn’t just an abstract theological concept - it’s the foundational reality of the universe. God is inherently relational within God’s own self. As we pick up from this passage, Jesus and his Father are one - not the same, but completely united. When we add the Holy Spirit into the mix, as many scripture passages do, we end up with one God and three persons within God. Yes, that’s confusing, but it’s also hopeful because it reminds us that God’s not some cosmic force but a relational reality.

So our invitation is to become like God - to demonstrate that kind of oneness. That’s what Jesus is praying for here. He recognizes how easy it is to separate ourselves, to create ‘others’ who are not as good, not as important, not as valued. But within God, there is oneness, there is unity. What if we treated other people the way that Jesus treats the Father or the Spirit treats Jesus? What if we entered into that kind of dance of love (like we looked at yesterday - the perichoresis)?

Ask yourself today, “What keeps me from being united with others?” Take some time to think and pray on that question today.

Perichoresis

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” – Luke 10:21-22

A lot of people think of God in ways that may not be very helpful, for example, God ias a philosophical truth or a cosmic force or ‘the man upstairs,’ etc. Jesus sees God differently.

In the above passage, Jesus takes a break from his storytelling and healing in order to pull back the curtain on the relationship he has with the Holy Spirit and with his Father (this is very unusual for Luke, who is typically more practical in his gospel than the others). And what we get to see is that within God’s own self, God is remarkably relational and encouraging.

The word the ancient church used to describe what’s going on here is perichoresis, which could be translated “dancing around together.” Look back at the passage today and note the joy, delight, sharing, knowing, and giving demonstrated by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit  towards each other.  

Would you allow God to use this passage to reframe how you understand who God is? Start asking God how this new understanding might shift other key ways you approach the world.

A Prayer

O God,
let something happen to me,
something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

O God,
let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real.

Speak to my condition O Lord,
and change me somewhere inside where it matters,
a change that will burn and tremble and heal,
and explode me into tears
or laughter,
or love that throbs
or screams,
or keeps a terrible cleansing silence,
and dares the dangerous deeds.

Let something happen in me which is my real self, O God.
(Ted Loder)

The Work of the Holy Spirit

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? - Galatians 3:1-3

The churches in the ancient Roman province of Galatia adopted the culture around them when it came to their spiritual growth. Sure, they had accepted Christ and become Christians, trusting in Christ alone to rescue, heal, and forgive them. But then they went right back to working hard to prove themselves to be good people, trying to make progress in the spiritual life by gimmicks, self-help plans, and white-knuckling it through temptation.

Paul reminds them that the plan has been the same from first to last - to rely on the inner working of the Holy Spirit to change us. It’s the Spirit who draws us to Christ in the first place and the Spirit who draws us deeper into Christ after we’ve accepted him as our Savior. It’s our privilege to partner with the Spirit, to lean on the Spirit, to “walk in step” with the Spirit (as Paul says later in this letter) - not to do the work ourselves.

How have you tried to perfect yourself? Are you ready yet to surrender to God’s work in you through the Spirit?