The small devotional book by Sarah Young titled, Jesus Calling, has enjoyed phenomenal success. First published more than fifteen years ago, it remains a best-selling devotional book. The author wrote each day’s message as if it were coming from Jesus. Young’s stated purpose in writing the devotional was to help readers have a greater intimacy with God. I’ve had many people tell me over the years that it has brought them closer to Jesus. They’ve felt that he was talking directly to them, and that each day’s message seemed on-target for what they were experiencing.
Jesus Calling is not the devotional book I use each day, but I keep a copy close by at my office. I picked it up on a particular day recently, to see what it might have to say. The devotion for the day began, TRUST ME. I could have stopped right there and received a worthy message from Jesus for my day. But let me share the rest of the message with you, and see if it speaks to your heart as it did to mine:
"TRUST ME in the midst of a messy day. Your inner calm – your Peace in My Presence – need not be shaken by what is going on around you. Though you live in this temporal world, your innermost being is rooted and grounded in eternity. When you start to feel stressed, detach yourself from the disturbances around you. Instead of desperately striving to maintain order and control in your little world, relax and remember that circumstances cannot touch My Peace. Seek My Face, and I will share My mind with you, opening your eyes to see things from My perspective. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid. The Peace I give is sufficient for you."
Does that feel like a message to you from Jesus, today? I hope so. There is truly no substitute for the peace we can find in our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. One of the Scripture verses Young references in this devotion is John 14:27. This verse is part of a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples, as he anticipates his betrayal and physical death. In John 14:1-7, Jesus assures his disciples that he going to prepare a place for them in eternity. In verses 15-17, Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit as Advocate and Helper following his earthly death and resurrection. "I will not leave you orphaned," Jesus says. Those who show their love of God by keeping the commandments of Christ will see Jesus continually revealed in their lives by the teaching power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Then comes one of the greatest promises of all time, in verse 27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Dot not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
Through the risen Christ, you and I have the promise of spiritual peace while on this earth, as well as life eternal with God. We find this peace through our prayerful relationship with Christ. Jesus may sometimes prod us out of our comfort zones or away from sin, but it is always toward the end of bringing us greater peace in a life lived closer to the will of God.
With prayers for your journey,
I came across a photo recently of a gravestone for my great, great grandparents, located in a cemetery near Townsend, Tennessee. What is remarkable to me in remembering this gravestone is how long ago this couple was born. Absalom Abbott was born in 1804 and his wife, Annis Stillwell, was born in 1807. There is a reason for this wide span of years between my great, great grandparents and my own generation. They were in their 40’s when my great-grandfather, Pleasant, was born. My grandmother was born of a second marriage when Pleasant was middle-aged. My own father was among the youngest of my grandmother’s six children, born when she was in her mid-30’s. Thus, the span of more than 150 years between the births of Absalom and Annis, and my own.
There is very little I know about Annis and Absalom. Absalom was a teaching elder, a farmer and a mill wright. He and Annis had ten children, and the youngest, my great-grandfather, was a young teenager when Annis died from a snake bite. When I stand in front of a gravestone for relatives like these, who lived so long ago, I wonder if I would have liked them. I wonder if they were truly good people. I wonder if they would have been kind to a stranger. I will probably never know much more about Absalom and Annis than I know right now. Which causes me to wonder, “What will my great, great grandchildren know about me in another hundred years or so?” How do I sort through the detritus of all my “stuff” to leave some record of value to a future generation? If I could write a message to future descendants, what would I say?
I think that Annis and Absalom did leave a message for those of us who would never know them. When Absalom stood to preach in his Primitive Baptist congregation, he probably never imagined that a great, great granddaughter would one day stand to preach in a Presbyterian church. If he had, he likely would not have approved! And yet, I do what I do, partly because of his and Annis’ faithfulness. They may not have left a message for me, but they left “the Message” for any of their descendants who would care to hear it - the legacy of a knowledge and love for Jesus Christ.
There’s no doubt that their practice of their Christian faith would have looked somewhat different from my own, because as much as we may not like to admit it, the living out of our faith is embedded in our own time and culture. It has to be. But what doesn’t change is the essence of the Gospel; that God loves us, that God has come to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and that God has made a way through Christ for us to be with him, forever. When we accept the good news of this Message, our response should be a grateful ordering of all the aspects of our lives around the celebration of this gift of grace.
We never know how the message of the Gospel will take root and grow in the generations who will come behind us. But we have the responsibility to make sure the Message is not lost to them. Our descendants in the family and in the faith will live as they will, partly as a result of what they see to be important in our own lives. What – or better, yet Who - is at the center of your life, today?
With prayers for your journey,
“Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.” 2nd Corinthians 2:14, NRSV ---
The apostle Paul had a special relationship with the Christian community at Corinth, an important city in ancient Greece. It was Paul who first brought the Christian message to Corinth, and it was through his work that the church there was established. While the relationship was at times rocky, it endured through hardships and disagreements. The 1st letter to the Corinthians in our New Testament is one of our most valuable letters in understanding the mind and the character of this great apostle in the early decades of the Christian Church. In the 1st Corinthians letter, Paul lays out principles of Christian worship and discipleship for this diverse community of converts. He wants them to thrive in their love for Christ and for one another, and to be a witness of this godly love to all those around them.
Paul probably exchanged many letters with members of the church at Corinth. We have just one other in our New Testament, labeled the 2nd letter to the Corinthians. This letter appears to have been written after a difficult episode between Paul and the Corinthian congregation. As with any of the Pauline letters in our New Testament, it is only one side of a conversation, for which we don’t have the other. But there are themes that emerge in this letter that Paul wrote to one of his most beloved congregations. We’ll be looking at some of these key ideas during worship over the next few weeks, with a series called, "More Than Meets the Eye." God often works behind the scenes to help us to grow and to show us our worth and our true treasure, and to open our eyes to beauty, opportunity and godly strength.
While Paul recognizes his own human frailty as he seeks to teach and lead in the early years of the Church, he also insists that God works through those who are willing to be used for God’s purposes, regardless of their imperfections. Of himself and his missionary colleagues, he says, "We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing." (2nd Corinthians 2:15) Paul recognizes that none of us through our own strength can adequately bear the fragrant love and grace of Jesus Christ, but as we continually place ourselves in God’s presence through prayer and the Word, we can indeed “smell good” for the sake of Christ.
Have you ever been in the presence of someone or something that bore a pleasant and lasting fragrance that lingered with you even after that person or that thing was gone from you? That’s how a person should feel after being in the presence of someone whose heart is close to Christ. We don’t literally “smell like Jesus,” but we bear a spiritual “fragrance” that lingers with others when we are living close to our Lord. We bear a fragrance of joy and kindness and peace and strength, that will be remembered long after we have left the room. It will bring God glory and will help to draw others to Christ. This is the fragrance I hope we all will want to bear. While we won’t always succeed, with God’s help, we can be more of the aroma of Christ to those we encounter each day.
With prayers for your journey,
I often say how much I enjoy having adult children. Though I occasionally miss the sweet morning cuddles and the other joys of having young children, watching my sons grow up and pursue their own interests and “launch” has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Our sons are now 30, 27 and 25 years old, and I could not have anticipated nor chosen for them the careers and hobbies they now enjoy. My husband and I did our best to expose them to many different opportunities when they were growing up, and then took a hands-off approach as they were deciding about careers and adult hobbies, seeking simply to support them in the choices they made. Occasionally they do things that cause us to hold our breath a little (purposeful trips to risky places, challenging outdoor sports), but we would never wish for them to live in a bubble, just to be “safe.” We tried to teach them the difference between worthy risks and foolish decisions, and I hope they will always make wise and expansive choices.
There’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t consult with one of my grown sons or their beloved women for opinion, advice or a recommendation of some sort. I love meeting their friends, and I take joy in just listening to them talk to one another. They live in a world that is different than mine, and while my husband and I can bring the wisdom of years and our own life’s experiences to bear in our relationships with our grown children, we have so much to learn from them, as well.
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to sit down for lunch with a young woman who used to babysit my children. She’s now in her 30’s, a seminary graduate, and a pastor. This girl who used to build sofa forts with my kids and whose decision once to help them make red jello while I was away resulted in a spill of epic proportions, is now a professional colleague to me. We shared with one another about our congregations and how we’ve fared and adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic. We shared about our respective ministries, and commiserated about a few of the difficulties each of us has experienced along the way to where we are, today.
I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s words to the young Timothy, who found himself thrust into leadership in a troubled congregation of the early Church: “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity…do not neglect the gift that is in you…” (1st Timothy 4:12, 14a) Paul says elsewhere that “I have no one like him…how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” (Philippians 2:20a, 22b)
The young Christian adults of today are the mature Christian leaders of the near future. We do well to give them our ear. It is not always easy to hear what they have to say to us. We might wish that they preferred to adopt our own opinions and take up our preferred practices; just as our elders in the faith once wished of us! But the faithful young adults we know have become our colleagues in the Christian life. They want to nudge the rest of us toward worthy risks and expansive choices. If there is a faithful young adult in your life who is trying to gain your ear, take a moment to listen to what she or he has to say.
With prayers for your journey,