Day 7: Reckless Love
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
I’m sure this scripture was a part of the inspiration for this song. The bridge goes like this:
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me
The other thing that I’m sure inspired this song is the writer’s lived experience of God’s grace and love. He remembers a time when something fell into place, or someone gave the right encouragement in exactly the right moment, or maybe the sun just rose one morning after a long sleepless night. And in that moment, he knew – nothing can stop God’s love for us.
Human bodies are frail, and social bonds are complicated. But this is Lent. This is the time of year when we remember what the end of Jesus’s life looked like. His social network collapsed in on itself. The brokenness of the world – fear, jealousy, power struggles, and violence – all landed on the world’s own Creator. And Jesus died.
Even that was not enough to stop God’s love for us. God kept coming for us. Kicking down walls and lighting up the darkness.
It’s hard right now – right now as I write this in the floor of my boys’ bedroom. I feel all of the hard things today. But I feel God’s love too. I talked to Aly and Brian and Sharon today on a video call, and I felt God’s love for each of you as they talked about how to offer God’s grace in such a weird time. An old friend sent a DM. The rain watered my lawn. My daughter told me she liked spending more time with me “even if it’s just because you’re scared of getting sick.”
God’s love is real. Some days I leave it in the background, or ignore it all together, but that doesn’t stop it. Nothing can stop God’s love.
For even today, I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor quarantine, nor sickness, nor recession, nor anything else in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Prayer: God, you love me. Thank you. Amen.
Day 6: You Say
Man, it’s just hard to be human right now.
There are messages, and friends, and media, and celebrities – all telling us who we should be, what we should look like, how we should feel, and how we should behave. Sometimes it feels like our culture says that there is only one way to be, and if you aren’t that way, then there is no room for you.
Honestly, it’s hard not to get swept up in that. We all want to be accepted and we all want to be “in.” Especially at your age, as young people, you have all of these hoops you’re expected to jump through:
- Make perfect grades (oh, and while we’re at it, let’s totally change the format for school)
- Be a friend who is accessible and available 24×7
- Be the best at something
- Have your next 10 years planned out and solidified (marriage? career? children?)
- God must be your best friend, so you have to spend your whole life at church, reading the Bible, praying, or working on a Bible Study
- You must also workout constantly because you have to be excellent shape and look better than everyone else.
- Don’t eat any processed foods
- Save the planet
- When was the last time your called your parents/grandparents/some adult who cares about you?
- Is your room clean?
….you get the point.
If we hold ourselves to the worlds standards, we will never be enough. None of us would ever be enough.
But, do you know what the good news is through all of this? What the world says about us matters 0%. Our identity does not lie in our friends, social status, academic achievements, how many checks you got on the list above. You are not who your accomplishments say you are.
You are who God says you are.
Isn’t that so freeing?
Today, I invite you to tune out the world’s opinion of you. What other’s think about you is none of your business. Spend some time with God reflecting: Who are you in Christ? Who does God say you are? Where does your identity lie?
Prayer: God, You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak. You say I am held when I am falling short. When I don’t belong, You say I am Yours. So today, God, I choose to believe what YOU say of me. Amen.
Day 5: No Longer Slaves
On one level, I think it’s pretty obvious why I chose this song. There is plenty to be afraid of, and it’s good to remind ourselves that fear is not God’s plan for us. Christian courage does not mean ignoring problems so that we don’t feel the fear at all. And it doesn’t mean foolishly walking into danger (or ignoring the recommendations of trained public health officials). Christian courage means reminding ourselves often enough that God can do all things to make decisions that are good for us and good for the world around us.
When “everyone else” is making unhealthy decisions, it requires courage to risk those relationships to take care of yourself. When someone is being mistreated or ignored, it requires courage to speak up on their behalf, or to hand over your microphone. God calls us to do things like this all the time, and by God’s grace these little things can change lives.
But there’s another reason I chose No Longer Slaves. Like a lot of modern worship songs, there’s far to much “I” and not nearly enough “we” in this for my taste. BUT – there’s an assumption of community in this song. Verse two is explicit: “I’ve been born again, into a family, your blood flows through my veins.” But verse one implies it too: “You unravel me, with a melody.” They’re describing that moment in a worship service when the room seems to all move together for a moment. You sing a little louder, and drums hit a little harder, and everyone means what they’re saying all at the same time. It can be beautifully..unraveling.
And we cannot do it alone.
We can’t do any of this alone. We need each other to sing along, to encourage us in the face of temptation, and to fight with us when we stick up for the left-out.
It’s harder than ever to gather right now. (Literally a finable offense in some areas, for good reason.) So we have to be even more intentional about it. Sign into a livestream of some church service today. Get on the phone and pray with someone. Download Zoom and schedule a call with your 9th grade sunday school class (even that one person you’d rather be left out). Gather that family together – the ones who know whose blood runs through their veins, and who knows that with God’s help, anything is possible.
Why not? Are you scared?
(see title song)
Prayer: God, thank you for all the people who have gathered with me in the past. Thank you for my church home. Comfort all those who are missing their faith family this morning. And help me to find ways to connect with other Christians this week. Amen.
*(I know – I have problems with Bethel Church too. I’ve seen God work through their music, so I keep using it. You’ll notice I did not link to their page.)
Day 4: Weep with Me
Over the last few days I’ve had phone and text conversations with many of you.
We’ve discussed how things are unfair.
We’ve discussed how experiences have been taken away from you.
We’ve discussed worries, anxieties, and even God’s role in this global pandemic.
Here’s the deal: You are not alone.
You are not alone in your worries, anxieties, questions, and feelings. It is okay for you to be sad. You are living through something that has never happened before and your lives have been turned upside down. Allow yourself some time to grieve the things that have been lost.
Do you want to know the best part about all of this?
Whether you feel alone in that no one is physically around you, or if you feel alone in your feelings, God gets it. God gets how you feel and what you’re experiencing without you having to explain it again and again.
God sees your heart, just as it is –and still isn’t going anywhere.
Todays devotion is shorter, because I truly feel this song is a devotion and prayer in itself.
I want to invite you to pray the lyrics of this song today.
Invite God to sit with you as you acknowledge how it is with your soul.
Think through the different ways this week you have felt God’s comfort and understanding.
How is God using others to speak to you? How is God showing love to you?
Prayer: God, when words fail us, You understand. When we struggle, You stand firm. When we feel lost, you seek us out. Thank you for never leaving us. Thank you for grieving with us. Thank you for making it to where we are never, ever alone. Amen.
Day 3: So Will I
There is a lot to love about this song. But the thing I find most helpful while I’m stuck at home worrying about my kids’ development, my own future, thousands of sick people and dozens of canceled events and appointments is its scale.
This song is enormous from every angle. It starts before the beginning of time and by the time we get through the first chorus, we’re describing our present and looking to the future: “if creation sings your praises, so will I.” It talks about tiny creatures and yesterday’s sunset. It talks about billions of people changed by Jesus’s love, and it brings it home to me too: “You chased down my heart, through all of my failure and pride.”
It evokes God’s majesty and power, as well as God’s mercy and love. And it calls us to look at the big picture. That’s what I find most helpful in these difficult days.
To be honest, I don’t have a lot of time to look at the big picture. My wife and I are both working from home, but we’re only working when the other parent is chasing the kids. And when we’re not working or chasing kids, we’re just streaming Tiger King or checking the news for the thousandth time today. Which makes a few minutes of big picture thinking really necessary.
Take a few minutes right now to imagine yourself telling the story of this “safer at home” experience to your grandchildren. What kinds of questions might they ask you? Where are you while you’re telling the story? What will you tell them?
For more fun, try to imagine explaining this to your great great grandparents.
Our immediate circumstances demand our attention, especially when things are this serious. But our immediate reality is not the only reality. God has been at work in our world for billions of years, and God is at work right here as you read this.
What do you think God is doing around you right now? How will you respond to it?
Prayer: God, thank you for my life. Thank you for my grandparents, their grandparents, and each step you guided along the way to bring me this place. Remind me of the work you’re doing in corners of the world I will never see. And open my eyes to the work you’re doing right here around me.
Day 2: My Strength
Guys, this song is my whole heart.
If there is ever a time….scratch that, EVERY time that my heart feels weary and it is a battle to find joy, I turn on this song.
It has a magical way of redirecting my vision straight back to Christ, my source of joy.
And, it’s literally impossible to listen to this song and not dance (or at least tap your toes).
I remember a Sunday school lesson in middle school when we were discussing the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness comes from circumstances, things, and even sometimes relationships. Joy is what comes from God, and the best part about that is that no one, no thing, no decision, and no virus can take away what God gives us.
In this weird and uncertain time it’s okay that it’s difficult to find happiness. Experiences, normalcy, plans, and friends have been taken away from you. It’s not fair, and it’s hard. No one (and, honestly, I believe that even includes God) expects you to be happy right now.
Where I find relief and strength through all of this is knowing that nothing in the world today can take away the joy I receive, and am given, through Christ. That very joy is the source of my strength when I feel lost, or useless, or worried, or anxious. When I feel there is nothing to be joyful about, I am reminded of Gods unconditional and undeserved love for us. When I feel weak, because of God, I am given strength – again and again.
The chorus goes like this:
You’re the joy no one can take away
You’re the joy no one can take away
You’re the peace inside I can’t explain
You’re the strength I need
You will always be my strength
I invite you to take some time and listen to this song. If the Spirit moves you to sing along, do it. If the Spirit moves you to dance along, do it. If the Spirit moves you to sit in stillness and pray every word of the lyrics, do it. There is no wrong way to be in the presence of God.
I love you and I am praying for you every single day.
Prayer: Lord, you are good. When life is hard, you are good. When life is confusing, you are good. When nothing else is good, YOU are good. Thank you for being our constant in a time of uncertainty. Though at this time we feel weak, we come to you, now, for strength. We ask for you to be our source of strength and our source of joy. God we love you and we praise you. Amen.
Day 1: King of My Heart
I picked this song for Day One long before I knew we’d all be dealing with a global pandemic. And I’m glad I did. People still criticize modern worship music for being repetitive, and King of My Heart is definitely guilty. But there are things we just need to tell ourselves over and over so that we don’t forget them.
The chorus is this: “You are good.”
It’s the most essential expression of worship.
And it says it over and over.
Because we need to remember that God is good, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. We need to remember that the brokenness we see around us, and the fear we feel inside us does not mean God has left us alone. God is still good. God is still with us – in the healthcare workers, the delivery drivers, the remote-music-makers, the just-checking-in-ers.
And if you have to say it over and over to remember, then do it. Because we are most likely to see God working in all those places, and we are most likely to let God work through us too when we remember that God is good.
Listen to the song (again if you started that way), and notice one more thing. It says a lot of helpful things about how God guides and protects us, but it admits that this is all a work in progress. It’s not “the King of my heart is x, y, or z” but instead “LET the King of my heart be the mountain where I run; the shadow where I hide; the fire inside my veins.” It’s a humble prayer, as well as a crucial reminder. And I need both today.
Prayer: God, we pray for healing, protection, and resilience in the middle of so much disease and disruption. Today, remind me of the good You have done for me in the past. Open my eyes to the good You are doing around me right now. And make me a part of the good you are doing for other people.
Rev. James Hunt