Spiritual Connection Devotion – May 7th

Posted by Cumming First United Methodist Church on Thursday, May 7, 2020

I know that things are not exactly how we would prefer them right now. However, there have been some unexpected benefits to things. I know it has been nice not filling my gas tank up multiple times a week. I have enjoyed not losing so much of my day in traffic either. But the thing that has been the most pleasant and enjoyable is spending more time outside. Most of you know that I have two boys aged 7 and 8. As soon as we can get our school work done and I am finished seeing clients through zoom, we head outside. A lot of our afternoons have been filled with basketball in the driveway, bike rides through the neighborhood or other made-up games in the yard. This extra time of connection, exercise, and sunlight has been good for my soul, especially in the midst of uncertainty. 

            Now, I’ve shared several times with you all that I love the outdoors. One of the most memorable experiences of my life was 5 years ago when I went backpacking in Colorado. I love nature, mountains, and seeing the beauty of God’s handiwork. When we climbed the first mountain in Snowmass, I looked out and thought, “God, You’re just showing off with how beautiful this is.” There has always been a connection with nature and God for me, even when I was younger and didn’t really understand it. When I need to process something, I prefer to be in nature. For my family, one of our favorite activities is to hike in parks or walk on greenways. 

            So, why am I sharing all of this? I know that in times of frustration, uncertainty, or anxiety, connecting with God is most important. Honestly, we need to stay connected with God at all times, both good and bad. And, this is even more true when we feel like things may be falling apart or things may be scary. When we can connect with God we find the peace and comfort we need. In our family devotion time this week, we read part of Psalm 27. Tradition holds that this Psalm, authored by David, and possible another as well, was written as David had to flee from Saul. Specifically, it is believed that David wrote this Psalm after he had an experience where the priests of God in the city of Nob gave him shelter and food. When it was reported to Saul that David was with the priests, Saul had them executed due to his hatred and fear of David. I am sure David felt a high level of guilt, fear, and anxiety in this season. I am sure some of us have feelings of fear and anxiety too. So, I wanted to read this psalm and offer a few reflections.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour[a] me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

            My first reflection is to remember verses 1 and 8. The Lord is our stronghold. This is protection and a place where we can let go of fear. Too often, we hold onto fear because that seems more comfortable. If I live in fear, I am constantly looking for things to hurt me or betray me. I react to situations instead of responding to them. Reacting in fear can cause me to hurt people before I assume they will hurt me. It can cause me to make decisions that do not allow me to help others and be generous. I may miss opportunities to demonstrate faith and hope for others. However, if I believe that I am safe in the Lord’s presence and I do what verse 8 says and seek His face, I open myself up to living in His purpose and power instead of fear, I can make the difference I am created to make. Side note, I am not saying to be reckless because I trust in God. So, continue washing your hands, practicing social distancing, and being careful. That’s stewardship of your health and knowledge that God gives us. But, I would say live in the confidence of God’s power and purpose for your life.

            Another reflection is that David calls out to God to not reject him or for God to hide His face from David. I think there are times when we feel that God is listening and doesn’t care. Or, maybe we feel that God is angry with us and has abandoned us. Or, maybe we feel that we are an accident and God didn’t really want us. To that I say, you are a wonderfully and beautifully made bearer of God’s image. Your face is a reflection of His face. No matter what you look like, where you are from, what language you speak, what your talents or struggles are. You are made in His image. Trust that God is not hiding from you. Call to Him. Seek Him. Trust in Him. Remember you have a plan from Him. And in that, may the peace that comes only from God fill your heart. You are not the sum of your mistakes. You are the sum of God’s grace and the bearer of His image.

            So, thanks for spending a few minutes with me today. I pray that God’s peace is with you. I pray that you have health and protection. And, I pray that soon we can worship together. We as the church miss you and are thankful that you continue to engage with us through these devotions and with our online worship. Before I sign off, would you pray with me?

Dear God, thank You for Your presence in our lives. Thank You for the hope of Your grace and protection. Thank you that in all times we can seek Your face. I pray that Your will and power is revealed to all of us in this season and that we can live as Your people. Amen. 

Spiritual Connection Devotion – May 4th

Spiritual Connection – May 4, 2020

Cling to the hope that is Jesus. See all the devos at cfumcga.com/blog.

Posted by Cumming First United Methodist Church on Monday, May 4, 2020

Lamentations 3:21-23
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  

When we understand the context in which these verses appear, we see that they express a truly remarkable confidence. The book of Lamentations is a collection of five laments bewailing the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. These laments — funeral dirges, in effect — were probably used on days of public fasting to remember that dire event and mourn the fate of the city and its inhabitants, many of whom were forced into exile in Babylon.

Yet here in the midst of this book of sorrows is the powerful statement of faith that states the ground for hope. That hope is because of the “steadfast love of the Lord,” which comes to us fresh every morning.

When we say, “I hope this quarantine is over soon,” it is both a wish and a prayer.  But when we say, “God gives me hope for the future,” it is confident assurance in the promises of the God who has never failed us.  

Most of us hope for a long life, lasting relationships, good health, and happiness.  Yet we know that in a matter of minutes life can be turned upside down and inside out, and it can feel like our hopes are squashed.  

But for people of God, hope is drawn from a deeper well.  As David explains throughout the Psalms, we cannot rely on our own armies and horses – our own resources- to deliver us.  The beautiful image is that of the God whose eyes are locked on us, whose love never fails, who is our help and shield.  God paints a positive picture of our forever future.  

When our hope and trust are firmly connected to our unchangeable God, we know deep in our souls that God’s love will sustain us through this life and into eternity.  This means that in the midst of our struggles, and even if our struggles return, our hope in God remains.  This kind of hope is contagious!  Maybe you know someone who needs to hear these words of hope today, “the Lord sees you, loves you, and will sustain you.”  

In closing, hear these words from Psalm 33, as found in Nan Merrill’s book, Praying the Psalms, “Our soul yearns for the Beloved (God), for peace, joy, and assurance.  Yes, our hearts are glad and sing songs of gratitude, praising the name of the Holy One!  May every nation come to live in the steadfast love of the Spirit of Truth!  May every people hope in Love Divine!”

Spiritual Connection Devotion – April 30th

Fear is Real, But Fear Cannot Take Charge of Our Lives

Lately, I have heard the phrase “we are in unprecedented times” used repeatedly. This is usually followed by “our communities, our nation, and the world has never faced such dangers.” Though COV-19 is significantly altering our lives, we have been through events in our past that have also greatly altered our lives. In my lifetime, we have lived through the specter of atomic warfare (we use to have school drills of climbing under our desks in the event an atomic blast), the Cold War, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Each involved a change in our behavior, our national policies, and our perspectives. Before that, in our history, we have experienced the Spanish Flu, polio, and the Great Depression. Each of these events is unique in their destructive impacts, but they are similar in the fear that they instilled in people’s lives. With each of these calamities, we worried about whether or not we would survive it and what would the new world look like if and when emerged from that particular crisis. We see this same type of fear displayed in the Bible when the Israelites are looking into the Promised Land. Let’s look at Numbers 13:25 – 14:4.

Numbers 13:25-14:4 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Report of the Spies

25 At the end of forty days, they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” 32 So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. 33 There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

The People Rebel

14 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.”

Notice the fear Israelites were experiencing with the possibility of entering the Promised Land. They began to exaggerate the dangers there were facing. As a result, initially, they preferred staying in the wilderness rather than entering the Promised Land. Ultimately, they took preliminary steps to return to Egypt to be slaves. Their fear paralyzed them, and they could not move forward. However, Caleb and Joshua urged the Israelites to trust in the Lord and to enter in the Promised Land. 

We need to be like Joshua and Caleb and exhort our community, our state, our nation, and the world to move forward. We need to let them know that as we begin to emerge into the new normal, God is with us and leading us. We need to pray that our leaders listen to the Lord. We need to ask Jesus to help us to move forward. This does not mean we do not have to take measures for the health and safety of people around us, nor that we should rush into anything. But as we do consider the steps both individually and corporately of coming back together, we should not rely solely on human understanding; we should trust that God is in front of us helping with the next steps. 

Prayer:

Lord,

We confess that we are afraid of the dangers that this pandemic is bringing to our lives, the lives of our family members, the lives of our friends, the lives of the healthcare professionals, the lives of food preparers and distributors, and throughout the world populations. This fear tends to control us to the point that we want to hide. Be with us at this moment. Give us feet like Peter so that we can walk on water in the midst of the storm. Let us trust in your power, strength, love, comfort, and grace. 

In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen

Spiritual Connection Devotion – April 27th

Spiritual Connection – April 27, 2020

The Lord is creating a new thing. Place your trust in Him. See all of our devos at cfumcga.com/blog.

Posted by Cumming First United Methodist Church on Monday, April 27, 2020

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

What do we do when we have our lives all planned out when we know the direction that God wants us to take, and all of a sudden, the words “shelter in place” enter our vocabulary? How do we continue to navigate in a world where the future is so uncertain? How do we plan for the future when everything is in doubt?

The truth is that even in the midst of our doubt, God is working. He is here with us right now, but to see Him, we often have to shift our focus from our immediate circumstances to the bigger, more long term picture. Instead of looking at the detours, we have to take while we are quarantined, we should focus on the unchanging attributes of God that are guiding us. It is easy to miss what God is doing in the moment. Has your prayer life deepened? Are you taking time for devotions or scripture reading that you didn’t seem to be able to schedule before?  

I invite you to spend some serious time in the next few days reflecting on today’s scripture: “See, I am doing a new thing! The word “new” in this context means “unexpected. See, I am doing an unexpected thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

What is new and unexpected in your life? What paths do you see opening up that were not there in February? God has cleared the path for us. God has prepared the way, just as he prepared the way for the Israelites who were in exile. Don’t let your definition of how the future should look prevent you from seeing how God has planned the future to look. 

The truth is, God sees the entirety of our lives. He sees not only the obstacles of today but also the road that will lead to victory through our belief in him.  

We may not see the answers to this pandemic right away, but we can be certain that God is working. I can pretty well guarantee that the outcome will not look the way we anticipated in February or even yesterday. God’s abilities go beyond our imagination, and there is much blessing in that!! 

Remember these words from Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (NIV)