What Is God’s Dream for You?

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from the weekly Psalms and associated readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Guest writer: Mimi Otani, crazy4jazz.com

Read

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Reflect

Jacob favored Joseph the most among his sons, making him the envy of his brothers. Joseph had dreams of ruling over his father and brothers, which only increased his brothers’ hatred. They nearly killed him before selling him into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph’s plight is vividly described in Psalm 105: 18: “His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron.” What would become of his dreams, now that he was a slave, helpless and far from home?

If you read the story to its end, either in Genesis or in Psalm 105, you will notice that Joseph found his vindication not when his dreams came true, when his brothers had to come to him for food to help them survive the famine in Israel. The purpose of his dreams was not for Joseph to gloat over the brothers who sold him into slavery. Rather, Joseph’s true vindication came when he was reconciled to his family, speaking words of forgiveness and understanding of how God had acted to save his people. Had Joseph not attained a position of power in Egypt, his family would have perished in the famine.

Through Joseph’s dreams, the nation of Israel was preserved, including the line of Judah, which produced first King David and ultimately Jesus. Through Jesus, God has included us all in His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph’s dream fulfilled became part of a story of redemption that continues to this day.

Respond

Whether or not you’ve ever had a dream like Joseph’s, chances are that you have dreams for your life. You may have a dream job, a dream spouse, a novel to write, a mountain to scale, a far country to travel.

In your prayer time today, lay those dreams before God. Ask God to show you to His dreams for your life. Ask for the willingness and courage to live out God’s dreams for your life, wherever they may take you. Be blessed with the certainty that God’s dreams are far beyond anything you could ever ask or imagine for yourself.

Jesus Chooses Us

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series following the weekly Psalm and linked readings from the Revised Common Lectionary

Guest writer: Mercy Perez

Read

Matthew 14:13-21

Reflect

Matthew 14 begins with Jesus receiving the news that John the Baptist, his cousin, had been killed. His initial response was to withdraw to a solitary place to mourn John’s death. The crowds followed him, but instead of dismissing them He had compassion on them. He chose to stay with them and began to heal their sick.

In spite of his grief and his desire to be alone, Jesus did not distance himself from the crowds. On the contrary, He fulfilled the message John the Baptist proclaimed: that Jesus is the Son of God, full of compassion and love.

As Jesus is pouring out his love on those who had followed him, along come the disciples. With the hour getting late, they tell Jesus to send the people away so they can buy themselves food. But Jesus is not done yet. Again, he chooses the people. Knowing that they are tired and would have to go a long way in search of food, He tells the disciples, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

How do you think Jesus’ command was perceived by the disciples? Did they interpret it as a real assignment or as sarcasm? Either way, it was a monumental request. And yet again we see Jesus’ love as He performs another miracle, multiplying the fish and loaves until everyone is fed. Jesus chooses to continue to pour out his love and compassion, this time by meeting the crowd’s need for food.

Respond

Just as Jesus chose to be with the crowd, meeting their spiritual and physical needs, He chooses to be with us. He is ready to listen, heal, strengthen, and do the impossible on our behalf.

Take a moment and choose to speak to Jesus. Tell Him about the needs you have that only He can meet. Be ready to receive his love, compassion, and his gift of the impossible.

 

Who God Designed You to Be

 

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from my church based on Psalms and associated readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Read

Genesis 32:22-31

Reflect

Jacob had a difficult life. Often it seemed like his problems were mostly his own doing. Born the second son in a society that awarded all property and honor to the oldest, he was still determined to take everything for himself. Jacob’s name meant “Supplanter” or “Trickster” and it fit. No matter what the consequences, he never seemed to learn to stop plotting and manipulating. He schemed, fought and tricked his way into an inheritance and prosperity.

When the Lord tells Jacob, “you have striven with God and with humans, and prevailed,” He’s telling the story of Jacob’s life. But He’s also affirming that Jacob is exactly who God made him. God told Jacob’s mother ahead of his birth that he would inherit his father’s blessing, and that God’s chosen line would flow through Jacob, not his older brother. God could have simply caused Jacob to be born first. But that’s not what He did.

Instead, God designed Jacob to be a fighter and a striver, someone who never took no for an answer, someone who would wrestle God Himself to get the blessing he wanted. It’s not that God wanted or caused Jacob to do underhanded things. But Jacob was on a path to become Israel, the father of a new and mighty nation, and he needed to be persistent, shrewd, and unafraid in the face of opposition in order to be ready for everything that entailed. Through Jacob, a lowly second son with an iron will and an unrelenting drive for more, God kept His promises to His chosen people.

Wherever you are in your life right now, it’s worth asking: Who has God designed me to be? What personality and character traits has He given me, and how do they fit into God’s plan and promises for my life?

Respond

Name a personality or character trait that you like about yourself. Thank God for making you that way. Next, name a trait that you aren’t as happy with, maybe one that’s gotten you into trouble, or has seemed to be an obstacle as you pursue your goals. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how God has used that trait to move you in His direction for your life. Thank God for this trait. Then, thank God for who He has designed you to be and for the role He has called you to play in this world.

Remembering God’s Promises

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and reflection series based on the Revised Common Lectionary. 

Guest writer: Mary Lynn Errigo

Read

Romans 8:26-39

Reflect

This week’s lectionary readings remind us that God’s faithful love for his people is present throughout Scripture. In Genesis 29, we read the story of Jacob, who was deceived by his uncle into marrying not the woman he loved, but her sister. Even in his pain and frustration, Jacob kept going. He remembered the covenant that God made with Abraham and with him (Genesis 28) and trusted in God’s promises.

In Psalm 105, we see the Psalmist give thanks to God in all circumstances. In the most difficult of times, he calls upon His name. He gives glory to God who is worthy to be praised, and he seeks the Lord and His strength.

In Romans, Paul tells a Christian community facing violent persecution that God is with them, enabling them to be “more than conquerors.” He assures them that God will never fail or abandon them.

Sometimes when we think that things can’t get any worse, we assume that God isn’t with us. We begin to lose heart and lose hope. However, even in dire situations, when our strength is gone, we can look to the promises that God has made to us throughout his Word, from beginning to end. We can remember the times that He lifted us up when we had no strength — the times when He came through for us and saved us — and know that He remains faithful to His promises.

Respond

Are you struggling today?  Are you looking for answers to situations that seem hopeless?

With the help of God’s promises in His Word, seek the Lord and His strength. Remember the promises He has kept to you in the past: the times He has lifted you up out of the mess, even when there seemed to be no hope.

Remember that Jesus is with you, defending and protecting. The Holy Spirit is also with you, giving words to your prayers even when you don’t know what to say. No matter what you are going through, it cannot separate you from God’s love.

Flawed People, God’s Perfect Plan

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from my church. It is based on the Psalm and linked readings for the week from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Guest writer: Mimi Otani @ crazy4jazz.com

Read

Genesis 29:15-28

Reflect

Genesis is filled with many disturbing and controversial passages. This passage is one of them because of its portrayal of Jacob’s marriage to two sisters, one attractive and one seemingly less so.

Some translations and interpretations say Leah’s “tender eyes” were due to her tender heart (perhaps she spent time crying or praying, making her eyes red and swollen), or that they were blue, which would have been a sign of weakness, or that she had a squint or was cross-eyed; others suggest that her eyes were beautiful, but perhaps her only beauty.

Either way, the order of the sentences suggests that Jacob weighs one sister against the other and chooses the one he finds more physically beautiful. There’s no suggestion that he falls in love with Rachel for any reason other than her appearance. Jacob’s superficial attraction makes him an easy target for Laban, who takes advantage of Jacob’s susceptibility and tricks him into another seven years of labor.

Although I am not a big fan of Jacob, I give him a lot of credit, because even after seven years, Rachel was still desirable to him, and he was willing to work for another seven years to marry her. What woman would not long for such an expression of love?

Looking at the bigger picture, we can see that God uses both women to fulfill the promise that He made to Abraham: that He would make Israel a great nation. The sons of Rachel and Leah become the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. Rachel, who was initially chosen by Jacob for shallow reasons, is shown his faithful love, the kind of love God has for all His people. Leah, the unloved wife, ultimately is more honored than her sister. She becomes the mother of Judah, the line that gives birth to Jesus. And Jacob, through all his work and struggles and character flaws, is key to God’s fulfillment of His everlasting covenant with Israel and with all His people through Jesus. Through Jesus, we are called children of God and enjoy an inheritance that is more than the land of Canaan.

Respond

Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
He is the LORD our God (Psalm 105:5-7)

God does not sugar coat His story – He is not afraid of revealing human weaknesses and follies in His Word. Stories like Jacob’s help us to learn from our weaknesses: to realize why we all need Jesus to carry our burdens and why we depend on his grace.

Think of a time in your life when God has rescued you from your own weakness and foolishness, bringing good things to you or other people in spite of everything. Give Him thanks for His wonderful works and the faithfulness of His promises.

God’s Seeds of Life and Hope

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Summer in the Psalms is a series from the Revised Common Lectionary. Sunday sermons and written reflections are based on the Psalm and additional passages for each week.

Guest writer: Mercy Perez

Read

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Reflect

I made the decision to follow Jesus at the age of sixteen. I was at a youth conference when the invitation was extended and I accepted. I was young and had the notion that if I became a Christian my life would be problem free.

A few years into my walk as a believer, that notion was shattered. I realized that, believer or not, I was not exempt from the harshness that surrounded me. I was not exempt from the consequences of my poor decisions, nor from the consequences of others’ poor judgments and decisions.

But Jesus had sowed the good seed in me: the message of hope and life that flourished and deepened my desire to continue to follow him. That hope sown in me served as a lifeline when doubt, fear, discouragement and disappointments grew like weeds threatening to destroy me.

When I was at my weakest I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, telling me how much I was loved and that no matter what assailed me or where I turned, God would always be there.

Respond

Reread Psalm 139 for a reminder that no matter where you go, God is always guiding and holding you. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you receive and meditate on God’s love. Let the experience of being loved by God wash away any anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed.

Thank God for having fearfully and wonderfully knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:14) and for being with you every day since.

 

“The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God”

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A sermon and reflection series following the Revised Common Lectionary. Sunday sermons are based on the Psalm for the week. Written reflections are based on selected Scriptures from the same week.

Read

Genesis 28:10-19a

Reflect

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil – Gerard Manley Hopkins*

At the beginning this passage, Jacob is fleeing for his life. He’s just lied to his blind, dying father. He’s cheated his older brother out of his rightful inheritance as the firstborn son. That brother (quite understandably) now wants to kill him. Jacob has no reason to expect God to show up in a dream, give him a glimpse of angels carrying out God’s work, and leave him a blessing. But God does all of these things.

Most of us have never had a dream even close to Jacob’s. But, as the poet and Jesuit priest Hopkins writes, God’s glory and beauty shine through all creation. And through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God’s presence is always available to us. We don’t have to wait for God to reach us in a dream or go to a faraway holy place – although those are also options. We can see God, now, through every blade of grass or summer rain. Or, if nature doesn’t speak to us, in science, human interactions, architecture, or the arts. We can hear Him speak to us in our prayers and through the Word. We can feel the Spirit’s presence in our bodies, hearts, and minds.

We can also trust that if God wants to get our attention, He will. Both Jacob’s story and Psalm 139 tell us that God’s love can reach us anywhere, even if we’re running from it or unaware it exists. Whatever our present feelings towards God – shame, sadness, anger, weariness, indifference – God will literally move heaven and earth to reach out to us and assure us of His love.

Respond

What are your feelings towards God right now, positive or negative? Talk to God about them, and ask Him to be with you as you experience those feelings.

How would you like God to show His love today, both to you and to a specific person who doesn’t know Him yet?

 

*Full text of poem available here.

“Our Hearts Are Completely His” (Romans 8, Psalm 119)

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A sermon and reflection series from my church, based on the weekly Psalm and linked readings from  the Revised Common Lectionary

Guest Writer: Mary Lynn Errigo

Read

Romans 8:1-11

Reflect

There is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. This is truly “Good News.” And not only Good News, but Great News!

As followers of God, we live each day trying to walk according to His ways. But everyday trials and our own sinful natures get in our way, and we fail in spite of our best efforts.

This is where the Good News of Jesus Christ comes in. Jesus took all our sins and died on the cross for us. Because He paid a price we could never have paid on our own, we are not condemned to suffer in guilt and shame for our mistakes. When we go to Him in repentance, He holds us in His arms and forgives us. He sets us free from the power of sin and death so our hearts can belong fully to God.

Jesus breathed life into us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He will never abandon us or leave us to face our pain and trials alone.

Respond

God knows that our hearts are completely His. He has called us to be His very own. As we walk in His ways, holding each of His words close to our hearts, we know God will never abandon us. In Psalm 119, the Psalmist cries out, “I have sworn, and I will confirm it, that I will keep Thy righteous ordinances . . . O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth and teach me Thine ordinances . . . I have inherited Thy testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart.”

As you read God’s words this week, allow them to fill your heart with joy. Thank Him for His Good News. Spend time talking with God and trusting in Him. He will give you the strength you need to walk in His ways.

No Such Thing as Failure

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A summer sermon and reflection series following the Psalms and linked verses from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Guest writer: Mimi Otani @ crazyforjazz.wordpress.com.

Read

Genesis 25:19-34

Reflect

Jacob, whose birth is depicted in this passage, is shown great favor by God. He becomes the father of the nation Israel, blessed with many descendants.

One of my Jewish colleagues found this troubling, asking, “Why did God decide to favor Jacob? Jacob’s way of obtaining Esau’s birthright for himself is very underhanded.” It’s a fair question. Unlike Noah, who found favor in God’s eyes through his obedience, Jacob does not seem like a person of virtue. In fact, later on Jacob uses deceptions to expand his wealth and power.

I don’t know why God chose to bless Jacob, but one thing is certain; God’s appointment of Jacob as Israel is NOT earned through Jacob’s personality or righteousness.

God has given us a lot of leeway to exercise our will: to make choices, good or bad. Free will, however, does not mean that we completely control our destiny, nor that we are left at the mercy of someone who is stronger-willed or more powerful than we are. Similarly, if we don’t achieve something, it is not necessarily due to our lack of determination or training. God in his mercy does not leave us to our own devices, nor bless us based on our character or achievements. Through everything we choose to do or not do — or even the things we are not able to choose, but are chosen for us — God is sovereign and will carry out his plans.

God sent his Son Jesus to show us the way and gently teach us his sovereignty. If we believe in God’s mercy through His Son, then we do not have to rely on our own strength, or be afraid of those who are more powerful than we are. God puts us to the test at times, but he also gives us a way out. Remember, his Son came to save the world, not to condemn it (John 3:17). Failure is not in God’s vocabulary.

Reflect

Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law – Psalm 119:109.

Meditate on this verse. Declare your trust in God and his ability to lead you through his Word.

Is there any area of your life where you are trying to take control instead of letting God have his way? Ask God to remind you of his sovereignty and allow you to rest in his mercy.