Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Last Word: Hope

Today's reading: Jeremiah 50-52

In those days and in that time, says the Lord, the people of Israel shall come, they and the people of Judah together; they shall come weeping as they seek the Lord their God.  Jeremiah 50: 4 NRSV

It is good to end the month and the Book of Jeremiah on a positive note. Jeremiah is certainly not a positive book to read. Jeremiah continues to remind us to be faithful to God, to walk in God's ways, to turn and repent when necessary, and to remain hopeful in God's everlasting grace. We end the book of Jeremiah with a promise not only of return from exile and punishment, but the re-establishment of a Jewish nation. The people will return. There will be weeping. I think this will be the type of crying that you would categorize somewhere between humility and joy.  But even in this time of crying, there is rejoicing and hope.

What kind of positive word do you need to hear from the Lord at this time in your life? May you God answer you with words of hope and promise.

God, we ask for a word of hope and promise today. In Jesus' name. Amen. 

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, July 30, 2010

No Good Deed....

Today's reading: Jeremiah 47-49

For thus says the Lord: If those who do not deserve to drink the cup still have to drink it, shall you be the one to go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished; you must drink it. Jeremiah 49: 12 NRSV

Jeremiah is full of bad news for the Hebrews. Now Jeremiah has bad news for all the surrounding countries.  Even though they don't deserve it, they too will be punished.

Did you ever feel as though you were being punished, even though you didn't deserve it? Have you ever felt like you received punishment although you never did anything bad? I am sure those of you with siblings can probably relate to this! I know many working folks who have experienced these kinds of situations. Sometimes stay-at-home spouses have felt they were being punished through their partner's work situations (ever have to move because of your spouse's job?).

The people of Edom, even though all they did was be Judah's neighbor, are being punished. This passage does not make it clear why. Perhaps they were just too near. There could have been a danger of gloating or of taking over the land. Jeremiah prophecies and warns these people of the impending punishment.

Perhaps they could have done without the warning.

God, there are times in life when we feel like we are being punished even though it seems we have done nothing wrong. Help us through these times. May we never lose hope or faith in you. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Being Stubborn

Today's reading: Jeremiah 42-46

And the women said, "Indeed we will go on making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her; do you think that we made cakes for her, marked with her image, and poured out libations to her without our husbands' being involved?" Jeremiah 44:19 NRSV

Their Temple has been destroyed, their capital city of Jerusalem is leveled and here are the people who have fled to Egypt. Jeremiah continues to speak God's word to these hard-headed people. But even here, although Jeremiah's previous words have come true, they refuse to listen.

In fact, they are not only not listening but they are defiantly disobeying. It is as if they are teenagers who have been grounded yet refuse to stop doing what grounded them in the first place. And, the women tell Jeremiah, they are not doing this behind their husbands' backs. The men have known all along that they have been worshiping this fertility goddess, known as the queen of heaven. The women speak up and the men back them up: there is no attempt at hiding their idolatry.

Jeremiah responds by telling them to keep up this behavior but reminds them that God is watching. Their punishment will be that they will all come to a horrible death in Egypt. And to prove it, God will allow the Egyptian Pharaoh to fall into the hands of the Babylonians.

Have you ever been stubborn? Have you ever been stubborn with God? Have you ever attempted to hold on to something, even though you knew it was the wrong thing to do? Perhaps God is wanting you to let go and to trust in God.

God, we can be stubborn sometimes. Forgive us and help us to live new lives of obedience. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ebedmelech the Ethiopian Eunich

Today's reading: Jeremiah 38-41

Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, "Take three men with you from here, and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the cistern before he dies." Jeremiah 38: 10 NRSV

Jeremiah is telling the people that if they surrendered to the Chaldeans and didn't fight for the city, they would be spared. If they remained and fought, then they would be killed and the city destroyed. When the people hear this, they are enraged. In their eyes, Jeremiah is going to cause the insurrection among the military! They go to the king's officials and ask them to put Jeremiah to death. The king says he is powerless (!) and gives Jeremiah into their hands. Jeremiah is put in a cistern in the guards' court.

Now Jeremiah has been preaching in order to save the lives of God's people, the Hebrews. But it is a foreigner and a person considered unwhole (he is a eunuch) who speaks on Jeremiah's behalf. Ebedmelech points to the fact that these men have done wickedly and that Jeremiah would surely starve in the well. The king listens to this outsider and gives him permission to free the prophet. Ebedmelech not only frees Jeremiah but also provides the means to prevent himself from being injured in the process.

Why does it take a foreigner, a servant, an unbeliever to see the evil that is being done to God's prophet?

What do you think you miss seeing as an insider and one of God's own followers?

God, you provide means of salvation for your people in strange ways. Help us to not be blind to the evil we may be committing or the injustice we may be upholding. Provide those outsiders to help us turn again to You. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Taking Back What You Give Away

Today's reading: Jeremiah 24-27

...But then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back your male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them again into subjection to be your slaves. Jeremiah 34:16 NRSV

In this passage of Jeremiah, we find ourselves in the middle of a story of freedom and injustice. The king, under Jeremiah's (and therefore God's) direction has made an agreement with all the people to free all the slaves who were Hebrews. This was what was instructed by God to the people in their law. However, the people had not followed this practice. Even when in agreement with the king to do so, the people broke their agreement by taking their slaves back. The really bad part was that they all understood this to be an actual covenant with God and was celebrated in a worship service!

The people agreed to give something up (their slaves), they promised God to do so in front of witnesses, but then they reneged on their agreement. Greed and injustice became their motivators rather than faithfulness and obedience.

Has there ever been something --whether sinful or just unhealthy -- that you agreed to give up? Perhaps you prayed about it or stated this agreement in front of Christian witnesses. Were you able to stick to this agreement? Was this a difficult practice for you? Do you think this was a form of repentance? Or did you find yourself breaking the covenant in a short period of time?

God calls such a retraction a form of profaning God's name which in turn breaks one of the ten commandments. In other words, this is not only bad it is very bad in that it breaks one of the Big Ten. You may not think of taking back what you have given away as profaning God's name. But it is obviously serious stuff for us as Christians.

God, in our attempts to please you, help us to not give back what we have given away.  Instead, give us the will and courage to act justly and with true repentance. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fear Prosperity

Today's reading: Jeremiah 30-33

And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them; they shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.  Jeremiah 33:9 NRSV

I can understand being fearful of a God who kills and destroys. But a God who does good? Would I be afraid of that kind of God?

I guess I would if that were not my god! If those folks over there have a God who provides joy, good and prosperity and that isn't the god whom I worship, then I would be afraid. Afraid that I was worshiping the wrong god.  Afraid that I was missing out on the joy and blessing. Afraid that I was not a part of something good, something that every nation on earth was talking about. I would tremble, too.

One difference that I see in how Muslims and Christians differ in their concept of God is that Allah tends to be a punishing god, rather than a god of blessing and promise. Allah seems to be interested in being followed by those who use violence and destruction. Of course, you could say that there seems to be some violence and death in the Christian Bible. But I think, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, God does not expect us to use violence and killing. Instead, God wants us to be loving. God wants us to act toward one another as servants. God wants us to turn the other cheek rather than beat on another up.

What kind of God do you worship?

God, you want to give us joy, good and prosperity. We want to give you praise and glory as well as be seen as those who follow you. Help us all, Lord. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, July 25, 2010

You will find God

Today's reading: Jeremiah 26-29

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29: 13 NRSV

How comforting these words are amidst one of the better known passages from Jeremiah. We need to be reminded that these words were not spoken to an individual but an entire nation, a people who had been called by God. And these words were for those who were about to suffer exile and great calamity.

If you have ever suffered greatly or experienced what is known as the dark night of the soul, you may be able to relate well to this verse. Perhaps you searched for God and found God during that time of your life. These words may speak deeply to your own soul.

But my question to the rest of us is this: How hard are we really searching for God? Are we seeking God with all of our heart? Or are we giving lip service to this scripture? Do we search and seek half-heartedly knowing that we can do more deeply and fully next Sunday or during Christmastime? Are our spiritual lives only as deep as the last retreat we experienced? How whole-heartedly do we continue to want God in our lives and our souls?

God, we say we are searching for you. We act as though we are seeking you. But God you know how distracted we can be. You know that sometimes our searching is only lip service. You are aware that we tend to hold back in looking for you. We are ashamed that are seeking has not been with our entire being. Forgive us Lord, even as we turn once again and search for you. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How to Speak for God

Today's reading: Jeremiah 20-25

See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord. Jeremiah 23: 32 NRSV

This scripture tells me that it is a very fine line between speaking for God and speaking your mind as if you are speaking for God. Believe me, as a pastor I am very aware of this fine line! Sometimes I have said things in the midst of my sermons that I wish I could take back. At other times, I catch myself about to share something in a sermon that I know is not of God but of me. And often I have to be content with what God wants me to say when I want to share my own opinions.

How often do you speak for God? How often do others assume what you are saying comes from the Lord? Have you ever found yourself teaching, preaching or sharing with others and feel as though it is simply your own viewpoint rather than God's?

The other prophets in Jeremiah's day kept telling the people that nothing bad would happen to them. They claimed they had had good dreams from God and were speaking God's words to the people. God assures Jeremiah, who is preaching nothing but doom, that these other priests and prophets are not speaking on God's behalf. Instead, they are trying to get the people's good will and monetary support. What they are doing does not help the people as they are not trying to get the people to turn to God. Instead, they are making the people feel self-satisfied and content. Certainly, Jeremiah's words are anything but making the people happy or content!

God, how do we know when you have a message you want us to share? Please guide us in our words and actions today and all days. In Jesus' holy name we pray. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, July 23, 2010

Just a word from your sponsor

Hello Gentlereaders;

I have been really enjoying writing these daily devotionals. Normally, I write and post for the upcoming week on Wednesdays. As you can see, I am a bit late this week. In looking at the upcoming readings for reading the Bible in a year, I noticed that yesterday's scripture was for today. However, now that I have "set" the readings through August I really didn't want to go back and change them. I also noticed that you are unable to see the daily readings in the past. Sorry about that oversight! I plan to go back and add that day's reading to each devotional.

If you have a chance, please check out my other blog at
in which I review a secular book from a faith perspective each week or so. You can go directly there by clicking here.

We will continue reading through the Bible this year. Beginning in January, I hope to slow down and take the Psalms for a year. I welcome your comments as well as your sharing this devotional with others. If you have any suggestions, questions or even prayer requests, please use the comment section below.

Let us go to the Lord in prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father; thank you for this medium of blogging to share your word, my own insights and the lives of so many people who take the time to read this. I can do nothing without you. And neither can my readers. We bless you and give you the praise and glory. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trust in God

They shall be like a tree planted in water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17: 8 NRSV

I love the imagery in this verse. The scripture is speaking of those who trust in God. Those who trust in God are like trees planted in the water, with a good source even when the world around them is dry and deadly. They won't be anxious (!) and will continue to bear fruit.

Right now we are experiencing a drought here in the South. The trees are beginning to turn brown and even lose their leaves. The exception that I have seen are the trees planted in the shores of our lake house.  Their leaves are remaining green and healthy.

Is my trust as surely planted in God?

A couple I know are going through a terrible time with their grown son. In fact, I think they have been going through bad times for years now but things in his life have really come to a breaking point. What I admire about them is that they have continued to bear fruit. He leads our church in evangelism and she leads our church in women's bible studies. And time and again they have spoken of everything being in God's hands, of God being in ultimate control. They are like the trees planted in water: even with the drought they are experiencing, their leaves are green.

Where are you planted? What will happen when drought comes in your life? Will you be able to be a non-anxious presence? Will you continue to bear fruit?

God, help us to trust in you now and in our seasons of drought. We want to cast away all anxiety and bear fruit in all seasons. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Can a leopard change its spots?

Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. Jeremiah 13: 23 NRSV

God knew that the people of Israel would not turn back from following other gods, doing their own thing, allying themselves with foreign powers, rejecting God, and carrying out injustice throughout the land. Even with Jeremiah preaching to them, nothing that he could say would change them from  the evil course the people were traveling.

Can someone change the color of their skin?

Can an animal make their spots or marks go away?

Neither can these wicked people do good!

But you and I can change, can't we?

Can we not overcome our weaknesses and be better persons?

Isn't the definition of repentance all about turning around and heading the other way?

Surely it is not too late for us.

God, we know that Ethiopians cannot change the color of their skin nor can a leopard change its spots. But with you, Lord, we can change. Help us to turn and follow you. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Surviving Training

If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe you land you fall down, how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan? Jeremiah 12: 5 NRSV

How ready are you?

Jeremiah wasn't so ready. He was complaining to God about how well the wicked prospered. He kept seeing that God was blessing them yet the people stayed as far away from God as possible. He wanted God to do something right then, to destroy those who were evil, to rid the land of those who no longer appreciated what God had done for them.

God replies that what Jeremiah has seen is only the beginning. You are becoming tired in the foot-race, Jeremiah? Wait until you are having to run against horses! Finding yourself losing your footing in the city? Just you wait until you are stumbling in the wilderness! You think your family listens to you? Don't trust them. I am about to give these all to a foreign land. They will be trampled down and ashamed.

You think you have seen the worst? It will get even worse yet!

You think you are ready for destruction? Just you wait until real destruction falls on this land!

If you can't keep pace now or have a firm footing at this time, how are you ever going to last when things get really tough, Jeremiah?

How ready are you? Do you think you are like Jeremiah, not yet prepared for the hard stuff? What will it take for God to get you ready?

God, we don't know what each day will bring. We just ask that you make us strong and full of courage for every race and wilderness experience that may come our way. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Monday, July 19, 2010

I Am With You

They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you. Jeremiah 1: 19 NRSV

Jeremiah is one of the most interesting of the prophets. He was called by God to prophecy when he was very young. He was born into one of the ruling classes and had all kinds of connections to the palace and the people. He preached gloom and doom to his contemporaries but no one listened to him.

Well, that isn't exactly true. They actually did listen. Then they tried to get him to shut up. And I used those words on purpose because they really did their best to silence his message. They were not kind about it. They did not want to hear what he had to say. Perhaps they believed him or perhaps not. God gives the impression that God knows they aren't going to do anything God instructs through Jeremiah. I suppose God is giving them plenty of warning. They then won't feel like God didn't inform them before bad things began to happen to them.

So, Jeremiah prophecies and the leaders do several ugly things to silence him.

But God is with Jeremiah this whole time. God has warned him that everyone will fight what is being proclaimed. God still affirms his call to prophecy and promises to deliver him in the end.

Have you ever felt like God has given you something to say but no one will listen to you?

How did that feel?

Were people ugly to you because of what you said? What was your response?

Did you feel like God was with you this whole time?

God, sometimes you give us nudges or make something in us seem so important that we must share it with others. Stay with us when people refuse to listen or do something mean to us because of what you have asked us to do or say. Help us to know you are with us. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Here I Am!

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am," to a nation that did not call on my name. Isaiah 65:1 NRSV

This seems like a very modern scripture. The image I have is of a busy city street with plenty of people and traffic. God is right there. God is completely and totally available. Yet God is ignored.  I can see God standing on the corner announcing God's presence but everyone bustles by without even turning their heads. I see God standing with an outstretched arm, hoping someone, anyone, will notice and grab God's hand. Instead, everyone goes out of their way to avoid even touching God.

I find this to be a very sad verse about total rejection. God says that God was ready for someone to ask for God but no one did. God was ready for someone to seek God, but no one was. No one was interested in taking advantage of God's availability.

Perhaps we should make that more present tense.

God is ready for someone to ask about God.

God is ready for someone to seek God.

God stands availalbe, 24/7.

God reaches out, crying, "Here I am! Here I am!"

Are you wanting, seeking, listening, and ready?

Do you know someone who is? Do you know someone who is not?

Let's pray: God, you are ready for us. You are ready for the lost. Yet, so many of us are not asking, seeking, and reaching for you. Help us to respond to you. We especially pray for those who do not know you at all. May they turn and see you there. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Purpose of Fasting

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Isaiah 58: 4 NRSV

If there is any verse in the Bible addressed to me, this one would be it.

I have a terrible time fasting. I do okay if I am among church members or strangers. But just let me fast while in the bosom of my family. Grrr. Watch out! I am going to strike out with my voice, my temper, my quick tongue. Me fasting is like a lit firecracker. It is going to go off eventually.

I guess one part of this verse that I need to hear is that God seems to be saying that those who are fasting are doing it in order to have an excuse to hurt other people. Instead of fasting to pray and be closer to God, to humble themselves or ask for forgiveness, these folks are using their lack of food to cause them to be more easily angered and to take out their lack of food on others.

God tells them this kind of fast is not going to help them spiritually.

God is not going to listen to anyone who uses a time with God in order to carry out their own ambitions.

Although I don't see myself in that category, it does make me think of why I fast. Or why I pray. Or why I study scripture. Do I do these disciplines to carry out my own agenda? Or am I truly trying to be closer to God.

I think we all need to take a careful look and why we practice any spiritual discipline. Are we doing it for God or ourselves?

God, you want us to deny ourselves and follow you. However, we sometimes deny ourselves in order to follow our own ambitions. Please forgive us, Lord, so that we can more perfectly love you and follow you in complete honesty and joy. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, July 16, 2010

No Weapon Shall Prosper

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, says the Lord. Isaiah 54: 17 NRSV

This verse does not say that no weapon formed against you shall hurt you; it says that no weapon formed against you shall prosper or be successful. Likewise, it does not say no one will accuse you falsely. Instead, it says that you will be able to confidently defend yourself. This is what God promises: not complete protection but the ability to not be defeated by attacks. God does not promise we will never be hurt but God does promise us the ability to not be defeated in the end.

So, how many of us would much rather be completely surrounded by a hedge of protection so that nothing gets through to us?

That is something I often pray for: God's hedge of protection. That does not mean God can't provide such a shield against danger. However, this scripture makes it clear that is not exactly what God promises to God's heirs. We can be hurt, we can be falsely accused, we can stand in judgment, we can be attacked and we can suffer. But God provides the means so that we will triumph in the end.

I would imagine such a victory not looking like we expect, however. This is the same God who allowed his Son to die a horrible death yet provided the ultimate ending by raising him from the dead. That is the kind of vindication that God has promised us, God's heirs.

God, you don't promise a life free of suffering. You do promise us your ultimate vindication. May we hold fast to your promises and never lose hope. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, July 15, 2010

No Discernment

No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, "Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and have eaten. Now shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" Isaiah 44:19 NRSV

This is one of those scriptures that is really kind of funny. The person takes some wood and uses part of it to build a fire. The rest is made into an idol. God is saying, can't this person not see the difference between fuel and a god? Can something that can burn to provide heat and cook your food also answer your prayers? Is this not completely ridiculous?

For us in the Twenty-First Century it may seem very obvious. But I think we have our own wood to deal with. And I see our wood as being money.

Do we not worship the almighty-dollar? We have "In God We Trust" on our money but we should have "in money we trust" instead.

Can we not see that something we use to buy what we eat, pays for our comfortable shelters and clothes is not something to worship?

Yet, we spend most every waking moment trying to get more money, working for money, spending our money, worrying about money, obsessing about money and even planning where our money is going to go after we are gone.

Do we have our own idol? Yes.

Do we have no knowledge or discernment? That is a question you must answer for yourself.

God, give us knowledge and discernment. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Will Help You not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NRSV

Who doesn't need some help? Who couldn't use lots of divine help in their lives? God is offering to remove our fears, to give us courage and to assist us with God's own power.

Why do we shy away from this?

The 41st chapter of Isaiah is full of God's assurances. Even as the people are in exile, God gives them assurance that God will restore them to God's favor and promised land. Just because they are outside Jerusalem, God has not left them. God is in their midst giving comfort and help.

I don't know if many of us would recognize if we were in exile. I am unsure if I always know when I am most in need of divine assistance or even comfort. But God knows and God is there with me, with you, in all times and places.

Often, I begin my prayers for myself and others asking for God's presence or for God to be with that person. However, I know in my head and heart that God is actually already there. I think what I am asking for is an awareness of God's presence. I pray that the person who needs God's courage and peace literally will feel that peace and absence of fear. I want assurance of God's continued comfort. I want the fear to at least be lessened, if not completely absent. I want God's divine help to be real.

God, you are with us. We ask that you take away our fears. We ask that you give us your strength. We ask that you help us and uphold us with your victorious right hand. We know that your divine help us real. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Punishment or Grace?

Surely it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but you have held back my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17 NRSV

Some of us may think of Jesus standing in for our sins. However, I love the image of God casting my sins behind God's back. God loves me so much that God puts all my faults out of God's sight and path. God has thrown every wrong thing I have done away so that God is not looking at any of that. What sins? I don't see any sins, says God.

Are you comfortable with the image of all your sins being cast behind God's back?

Do you feel that you still need to explain yourself or rationalize your behavoir to God?

Is there not one sin that you would like to keep and massage a little, perhaps repeat?

If God has cast all our sins behind God's back, can we go and retreave them?

Somehow going behind God's back to wallow in our sins doesn't feel right. However, I have known people who have tried to do just that. Perhaps you have tried to reclaim your sins from God. Maybe you didn't feel like the sin had really and truly been forgiven. Did you need a bit more time with that particular sin? Or did you feel that God needed to give that one some judgment time.

Will we feel more forgiven if God is more judgmental?

Perhaps punishment is what we are looking for rather than grace.

God, you have cast all our sins behind your back. That is your supernatural grace. Thank you. May we thoroughly accept your forgiveness. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Monday, July 12, 2010

We Wait for God

O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning; our salvation in the time of trouble. Isiah 33:2 NRSV

In the midst of all the doom and gloom of Isaiah's prophecies it is good to hear the people actually ask God for help. It is good to hear the people say that they are waiting on God's grace. It is pleasant to see the people recognizing God's strength and salvation on a daily basis as well as in times of trouble.

Are you good at waiting on God?

I am sometimes but not always. I frequently think I am waiting on God, then find myself looking for ways to make things happen. That isn't waiting but taking action.

To ask God to be our arm every morning is asking God's providence and will to be carried out from the first moment of the day. It is saying that we will let God be at work rather than our own will and agenda.

This is also very humbling for those of us who like to be in control. Or have a hard time asking for help. Yet, that is what Isaiah's (i.e. God's) vision is all about.

O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning; our salvation in the time of trouble. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Short Sheeting the Bed

For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on it, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in it. Isaiah 28: 20 NRSV

This verse caught my eye as I was reading this section of Isaiah. My first thought was: God has short-sheeted the bed! But this is not a joke. This says something about being able to rest easy at night.

How is your rest these days? Do you toss and turn? Can't get comfortable? Too hot, then too cold? Is your spouse snoring too loudly or grinding their teeth? Are you having nightmares and dread closing your eyes? Indigestion or aching joints keep waking you up? Praying, counting sheep, reading...does nothing help you to find that blissful sleep you yearn for?

Perhaps it isn't your prayer life as it is your day-to-day living that needs some improvement.

Isaiah 28 speaks to the rulers of the people in Judah: leaders, priests, prophets, kings. No one is exempt from God's judgment. God is sending a message but they won't be able to understand or interpret it. Instead, they have made an agreement in order to put off their own death and loss of power. But it won't help them sleep at night. Their agreement is with the very people who will come and kill, destroy and take what is left into exile. Their trust is very much misplaced as they think they have kept what they have but they will soon lose it. They have made their own bed and now they must lie in it: but not to sleep.

God, you speak to us on a daily basis but sometimes we just aren't listening. We think we are in control and have all the answers. You want us to sleep at night and we will if we listen to you and trust you. We pray for a good night's sleep -- tonight and always. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Call to Worship

And on that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out of the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. Isaiah 27: 13 NRSV

Just as yesterday's devotional focused on God's impending destruction, so today's verse focuses on God's restoration.

When the great trumpet is blown, it is not a sign of doom but a call for everyone to come and worship God on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. This verse is about a call to worship.

It is funny how calls to worship have changed. Today, in many of our churches, we have learned to gather for worship when the live music begins, whether from the organ or the guitars. In the middle ages, the call to worship was the ringing of the bell or bells from the church tower. In the time of Isaiah, the blowing of the trumpet seems to signify the call to worship.

The really interesting part is that this trumpet call to worship is not literal as much as it is figurative. God is not literally going to blow a trumpet in Jerusalem and expect everyone in exile in Assyria and Egypt to come running. However, God will do something that will free all those in captivity and draw them to worship God in Jerusalem.

What has God done in your life that has called you close to God's side? Or perhaps you are waiting for a sign or signal from God to come closer. What do you expect God to do to call you to truly worship?

God, you call us to worship you. Sometimes we either don't hear or don't recognize your call. Be patient with us, God. Some of us are coming from a long way off. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, July 9, 2010

And it shall be

And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. Isaiah 24: 2 NRSV

Here we come upon words of destruction and apocalypse, which my biblical notes state were actually added to the book of Isaiah later. In other words, these were not part of Isaiah's own prophesies but were written down and added to the book of Isaiah years later. These may have been written in response to the difficulties that the returning exiles were experiencing in rebuilding Jerusalem. For them, if God just came and destroyed the earth, at least the playing field would be leveled.

Whether you believe in the apocalypse or are looking for God's new creation, these words should remind us of the equal status that God give s to all of us. The apostle Paul speaks of the church as being a place of equal status as well, although in a more positive light. For Paul, there were no social nor ethnic barriers. In this part of Isaiah, there are no economic barriers to protect you from God's wrath or the path of destruction. Whether you are rich or poor, have power or shame, there will be no difference when the earth is "utterly laid waste" (verse 3).

What we do or who we are never remove us from God's sight. God always sees us as we are without either economic or social labels. God never sees us as better than anyone else, either. God loves us but God loves us as much as God loves our neighbor. That is a very sobering thought.

God, thank you for your love for me. And for your love for my neighbor. Help me to love my neighbor, too. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shame shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as captives and the Ethiopians as exiles, both the young and old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the shame of Egypt. Isaiah 20:4 NRSV

Having slaves naked, especially when being sold, is nothing new. But the book of Isaiah drives home the psychological outcome of this nakedness: shame. And when you have shamed someone, you have removed their spirit of dignity and protest.

What God does, however, is to not just have Isaiah tell people that this is going to happen to the Egyptians. God instructs Isaiah to show them. God tells Isaiah to take off his clothes and remove his sandals. Isaiah had to walk with no shoes on and wear no clothes for three years. This wasn't just Lady Godiva for one afternoon. God had Isaiah live the life of shame so that the people understood what would happen to the country that Judah was depending on to save them. God was trying to get Judah to see that God was their savior because the people they were putting their hope on would be shamed and sold into slavery.

Having Isaiah live a life of shame reinforced the seriousness of what was going to happen to the Egyptians. Perhaps Judah saw Egypt as strong and impenetrable. Egypt seems powerful and trustworthy. For the prophet to walk around naked showed the people that Egypt was vulnerable to attack and exile. Instead of placing their hope in Egypt, the people needed to place their hope in God. Only God is that all-powerful. Only God is strong and trustworthy. God is neither vulnerable to attack nor to shame.

In what have you placed your hope?

God, you ask us to trust you. You are powerful, strong and trustworthy. Help us to place our hope and confidence in you alone. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

God Saves

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. Isaiah 12: 2 NRSV

Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and he will be my savior! These are the words of one of my favorite songs taken from this verse. What powerful words to sing in a time of crisis or even every day!

One of the mistakes that the rulers of Israel and Judah made in Isaiah's time was not to trust in God. Instead, they put their trust in gold, riches and, most devastatingly, in foreign powers. They were unable to see that it would be only God who could save them. They did not trust in God -- perhaps they did not fear God as they should have. They used every means to save themselves available to them -- accept for the one that was the most powerful and important: God.

Do you trust God? I mean, really trust God? Or do you try to solve your own problems and trust in people, money or things?

I say I trust God. But I find myself doing a lot of stuff to make things happen or prevent things from happening. Certainly, God wants me to act and not just stand around. But in my actions, do I trust that God is truly working in the world and that God is going to provide according to God's will?

It is easier to say or sing that God is our savior and sure defense than it is to act like it.

God, you save me. I trust you Lord, and I know in that trust I will not be afraid. You are my stronghold and my sure defense. You are my savior. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

God Whistles

On that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the sources of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. Isaiah 7: 18 NRSV

You know how to whistle, don't you?

Well, according to Isaiah, God knows how to whistle, too!

In fact, in this passage, God is whistling for two insects: a fly and a bee. The fly is the leaders of Egypt, the bee is the leaders of Assyria. God is going to get them to do the dirty work of destroying Israel and Judah. The sad part is that the king has tried to ally himself with Assyria against Egypt which God has instructed him not to do. So, although the king thinks that Assyria will come to help, they will actually come to defeat.

The imagery here is priceless. All God has to do is put God's lips together and blow. And all it takes for God's will of destruction to be carried out is two small insects. God doesn't need  much to fulfill the warnings given time and again to God's people.  Assyria has the stinger and will do the most damage. Egypt is the annoying fly buzzing around, living off the refuse left lying around: presumably what will be left when Assyria gets through with God's people.

What type of bees have you had to come up against lately? Have you been annoyed by any flies buzzing around your head? Perhaps it would be good to take a look at what God is really wanting you to be doing with your life. Are you following God's instructions?

God, you are doing your best to get us to "stand firm in faith" (Isaiah 7: 9b). However, we haven't done such a good job. Please don't whistle for the insects yet, Lord. Give us time to regroup and return to you. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Monday, July 5, 2010

Everyone Loves a Bribe

Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow's cause does not come before them. Isaiah 1:23 NRSV

We sometimes forget, in this age of religious disagreement over abortion and homosexuality, that the Old Testament comes down harshest on those who are not just or merciful. But I don't see a lot of people these days talking about justice. I don't hear many radio talk show hosts trying to convince other Christians to adopt those who are in foster care. There are not many brave souls who complain about all the company CEOs who bleed their companies dry yet many of their employees must choose between keeping the lights on or having health insurance.

But not many people listened to such prophets as Isaiah, either.

Isaiah spent his ministry convicting the Israel, Judah and all of God's unfaithful people. He didn't have pleasant words to say. He predicted the fall of Jerusalem and he prophesied that God was going to send a foreign people in to do all this destruction.

No one wants to hear that they have done wrong. They would rather see themselves as being the good guys and doing the right thing.

When in your life have you been a rebel and hung out with thieves? Think about this seriously.

When have you accepted a bribe? If you look back on your life, I would imagine this has happened.

When have you neglected the poor? I think we can all admit we don't give money to those begging on the top of the interstate ramp.

God, we need to take Isaiah's words to heart. Convict us, Lord, and show us when we have been just like the people of Israel and Judah in Isaiah's day. Help us to stop rationalizing our behavior and listen more closely to you. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me. Song of Solomon 6:10

Okay, let's have some fireworks at home today!

I challenge you to get your beloved involved with this one - read the Song of Solomon and pick out which verses should be the man or woman speaking, marking which is which. Then, both of you read the book out loud. If there is a part that is a group or others speaking, read that part together. Then watch the sparks fly! God is actually all for healthy romance.

I would suggest waiting until the kids have gone to bed, however.

And, hopefully, this will last longer than just one minute!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

God's Approval

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Ecclesiastes 9: 7 NRSV

After searching for knowledge and having the ability to see our lives as futile, it really is a relief to come across this verse. Ecclesiastes may be saying that there is no point to our lives but at least we have God's approval to have contentment and happiness. Even if it is fleeting, it is ours to take part in.

Why should we be depressed? Why mope about and worry over the small stuff? God wants us to enjoy life!

So, don't let the reading of Ecclesiastes get you down. Put down your bible, call up some friends and/or family and sit down at a meal together. Enjoy each others' company and the good food and drink before you.

Dear Heavenly Father; We come before you as you children. We have gained such knowledge and wisdom. We understand so much about the world around us and we think we know quite a bit about you as well. Often what we know has made us bitter or untrusting. We have become hardened and emotionless in our work and our homes. Our hearts are heavy and burdened. We have easily succumbed to hopelessness and depression. Nothing makes sense anymore. We are lost and have no purpose. How come you continue to love us? We are not very lovable. You still want us to enjoy life, though. You still want us to enjoy our relationships. Help us this very day to simply savor what is before us on the table and the ones who are with us. Thank you, Lord, for your joy in our hearts. In Jesus' holy name we pray. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, July 2, 2010

Let your words be few

Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5: 2 NRSV

Can you keep your mouth shut?

Can you resist not posting a comment on facebook?

If you can, then good for you!

I am of the group that usually speaks before thinking, then spends hours rehashing the conversation. I don't think I delete my comments on social media as often as I should, either. And I wish I could sound so caring and pastoral as my husband.

He thinks before he opens his mouth, however.

This verse not only tells us not to speak (or write) rashly but to remember why we should hesitate before opening our mouths and our hearts. This is because God is listening. And it is God who truly judges our speech.

I suppose this changes things a bit. What if I imagine God being part of every conversation I have? What if there is no privacy with God on facebook? Will I be so eager to speak and type if God is paying close attention to what I am saying? And will my words be different if God is listening?

Would this make a difference in your speech as well?

God, you are listening, reading, knowing what is on our hearts and coming our of our mouths. Help us to be more aware and to be content with keeping our mouths shut. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Knowledge = Power

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:18 NRSV

I read the first three chapters of Ecclesiastes to my eight-year-old the other day. All he has to say was: "I don't understand a word you read!"

Ecclesiastes is like that. We have a hard time understanding what it says yet we come away from it feeling fairly hopeless and not a little depressed.

The book itself tells us, in this verse, that trying to understand can make us just feel annoyed and at the same time makes us feel sad. This could be trying to understand life, God, other people or our own situation. Any kind of knowledge can end up being frustrating rather than rewarding. Knowledge may be power but it also makes us face the ugliness of reality. Understanding in itself will not make us happy.

I want to know why my mother gave me up for adoption. But do I really want to know? I think the reality may be very painful. It may sadden me. What will it gain for me to know? Ecclesiastes would call learning something like that simple vanity. In the end, such knowledge would be fruitless.

Is there something you want to know? Is there some issue or situation or even theological concept that you deep down have a desire to understand fully? I don't suppose any of us think that knowing will make us happy. Perhaps we think it will make us more content. I think it will simply make us want to know more!

God, there are so many questions we want answers to. We especially desire to know more from you. Yet, we understand that knowledge will not make us complete or happy. Only you can do that for us.
May we reach for you at all times. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Amelia G. Sims