Rams and Oil or Mercy?

Pray | Lord, where I am critical or maybe standing back from you, may I know you are merciful and kind and come closer in response. 

The Pharisees were out to discredit Jesus, and their work to test and trap him seemed endless. In their eyes, everything came down to the law. Jesus responds by acknowledging and respecting the law but replaces malice with mercy. Jesus doesn’t just see the law; he sees the people. 

Read | Matthew 12:10-14; Micah 6:6-8
Matthew 12:10-14

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Micah 6:6-8
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Reflection |

Hey Jesus, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Should this adulterous woman be stoned? Your disciples unlawfully picked that grain on the Sabbath! You healed a crippled man on the Sabbath?! These are just some of the questions and accusations thrown at Jesus. The response to his compassion was constant criticism and eventually death. The Pharisees didn’t care about hunger, shriveled hands, invalids, and the like. They focused on rules and violations, thus missing miracles and restoration.

Though God gave the Law, he consistently also spoke of mercy. In fact, he delights in showing mercy (Micah 7:18). Through Jesus, God continued to show kindness and compassion, rendered aid and healing, and offered forgiveness and our own salvation. Ultimately, he closes the gap between the law and our sin.

We can bring our rams, oils, calves, tithes, offerings, volunteering and more yet still miss the mark of what God desires from us. Our questions might be: How do we respond to Jesus? Do we isolate and pick apart what we don’t like about him, or do we take in the whole of who he is, trusting him and coming near to him? Are we ever as blind as the Pharisees, sometimes missing miracles and restorations?

Today’s devotion was written for and originally published in DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church

Is this really about the Sabbath?

Pray |Lord, as I read your word, help me to really know it so that I can walk it out as I interact with others.

In the story of the disciples picking wheat on the Sabbath, at first glance it might seem the tension is about keeping the Sabbath; but maybe it’s not. Sometimes real issues are clouded beneath frustrations felt and words said. There are times we just don’t say what we really mean.

Read |Matthew 12:1-8

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Reflection 

When Jesus responds to the Pharisees, you can kind of feel the tension in his response. Haven’t you read? Aren’t you aware that David ate the consecrated bread? Haven’t you read about the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple? And you know these words: “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Jesus knows his audience. He knows the Pharisees know what David did. They know that priests have work to do even on the Sabbath, and he knows they have ignored God’s word on desiring mercy, not sacrifice.

Maybe the Pharisees had been so long in looking for violations of the law that the intent of the law was no longer within sight. Perhaps this response to Jesus was less about the Sabbath and more about them looking to bring him down and take him out – his upside down kingdom was certainly messing with the established rank and order of the day.

One of our takeaways from these verses might be to examine our hearts and check our vision. When something inside wants to sling words, accusations, or our own (perceived) righteousness, could we instead take a breath, inhale grace, and offer mercy? The reality is, sometimes that’s difficult. But we are not alone in this journey, Jesus is with us walking through the office and sitting at family tables. He’s in our hearts as we peruse and comment on all manner of things we see and hear on that world wide web. If we pause, we might just hear him ask, “Hey, child of mine, haven’t you read. . . ?”

Does our response to Jesus impact our response to others?

Today’s devotion was written for and originally published in DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church

So many rules . . .

Pray | Father, help me to know your law, understand the intent, and respond well.

As we consider the verses below, we see the disciples picking wheat on the Sabbath because they’re hungry. The Pharisees see this and pounce, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath!” It’s almost as if they’re following Jesus around just to watch, judge, and challenge him.

The Pharisees were highly concerned about following the law – right down to the letter – as well as every other letter they had added. For perspective, the fourth commandment, Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy, had been given 39 types of prohibited work, creating more laws around the law. These were called fence laws. In fact, 1,500 of these laws were created around the Ten Commandments (maybe originally out of concern for the people), attempting to create a wide berth around sin.

Read |Matthew 12:1-8

At that time, Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began picking some grain heads and eating them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Reflection | 

In response to the law, extra laws and heavy burdens had been put on the people. Then along came Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus cares deeply about people, which doesn’t mean he dismisses the law, though he does lean into the intent of the law.

It seems that somewhere along the line, the original concern for people to follow the law got complicated and out of focus. Rules, regulations, expectations, and judgment reigned; maybe pride came near, and mercy was squeezed out. However it happened, people of faith started hurting people of faith. Unfortunately, we still do that today.

The challenge for us is to question ourselves: Are we watching for and pointing out what other Christians say and do that we interpret as wrong? Do we approach (or post) from places of pride and pouncing, or do we draw near with mercy and grace? As we walk out this life alongside others, do we truly desire mercy over sacrifice?

Today’s devotion was written for and originally published in DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church

Hello NEW YEAR – Day 3

Pray | 

Lord, you know the number of hairs on my head, have seen my days, and have made a way for me. May I truly trust you this year.  

If you have left the previous year with joy in your heart and contentment in your soul, then rejoice and be glad in that! Or maybe you find yourself walking a new path this year that’s difficult, lonely, has traces of regret, or looks uncertain; maybe joy just isn’t coming easily. In our jobs, churches, and daily living we are shoulder to shoulder with ones who are in really good places as well as ones who carry heavy weights and shed quiet tears. If the latter is you, take heart because splashed all over the Bible are good and true words that call us to lift up our face.
Read |

Isaiah 43:18-19
Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. 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 dry land.

Lamentations 3: 22-24
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Revelation 21:5
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We have a tendency to ruminate on regret, anger and frustration, and no one’s better at beating ourselves up over the former things than our own selves. But God tells us not to dwell on the past, his word says to put our eyes forward to look for the new thing he is doing. If we’re lost in a wilderness or walking in a dry land, God says he’s making a way and creating streams. Do we perceive it? And God loves us so much, has such compassion that even when it feels like we are, we cannot be consumed by grief, anger, heartache, disappointment, or fill in the blank. In addition to all of that, believe it or not, his compassions never fail, his mercies are new, waiting each and every morning; we can hang on, he is indeed faithful to make everything new.

Consider pausing to assess how you’re really doing before pushing through this first month of the year. What do you believe you need from God and others to move through these days?

Hello NEW YEAR – day 2

Pray | 
Father, as I consider the days before me, help me to establish my plans in your wisdom. 

There’s just something about a new year and a fresh calendar with big empty squares. There are birthdays and anniversaries to mark, possibly vacations to plan. Meetings will creep in, events, gatherings, and on and on until before we know it the days are full, our minds are busy, and the months can feel cluttered. In our busy and full lives, in a culture that values doing more, it can be a challenge to stay intentional with our time. It can be even more difficult to leave some blank squares to create breathing space, rest, and quiet to listen for the still, small voice of God. 
Read | 
Proverbs 16:3, 9; James 4:13-15; Proverbs 27:1

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:9
In their heart’s humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

James 4:13-15
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Proverbs 27:1
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. 
Reflection | 

There are many good things, places, and certainly people that need our time, and planning is good, for if we’re simply blown around by the wind, waves, and whims, not much is accomplished. So, in planning our days, we should consider wisdom, balance, and intention. Even then, there is a call to hold loosely to our calendar and schedules, because we do not know what will happen tomorrow, despite what is written in our planners.

The truth of this life is that our days simply don’t always go as we think they will – plans get scratched off and new ones penciled in an instant. This year I’ve witnessed a dear friend walking through a vey difficult diagnosis, there have been unwanted and unwelcome struggles in the lives of people I love, and still triumphs and new paths for others. You likely find your own circles are similar. The reminder here as we begin anew is to be intentional with our days – to work, serve, and play, to both show up and slow down. Let us be – or get – comfortable with spending time with the Lord and his Word, to be quiet, and also to listen. This new year, let us establish our plans with wisdom as we fill our calendars, and may we not be in a hurry to leave the King’s presence ~ Ecclesiastes 8:3.

Consider the past year, do parts of it feel like it slipped through your hands? Could you be more intentional or wise with your days this year? 

Today’s lesson was written for DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church.

Hello NEW YEAR

Pray | 
Father, as I walk into this new year, may I seek you with all my heart, trust your plans for me, and walk in wisdom.

The new year has arrived! As we switch our calendars to 2024, some of us are sensing a refreshing and new beginning. Some of us feel loose ends, scuff marks, family strife, illness, loss, and unknowns leading the march into the new year, so flipping the calendar doesn’t necessarily feel refreshing. And just maybe it’s a mix of both anticipation and apprehension, wondering what these next 365 days will – or will not – hold.
Read | 
Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Psalm 90:12

Psalm 139:16
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Reflection | 
One thing we can know for sure is that God has seen these upcoming days, and they are ordained. Nothing will take his breath away even as we gasp with joy or bend in heartache. If promise is looming large in front of you, if your toes have been pointed to a new land, if a new day is showing itself to you, then call on the Lord as you go on your way. Come, pray, and seek him with all your heart, for he has plans to give you hope and a future. If job loss, family struggles, health concerns, or a busy mind and heavy heart is your current lot, then call on the Lord as you go through your days. Come, pray and seek him with all your heart, for he has plans to give you hope and a future. No matter our circumstances, whether light and abundant, or scarce and heavy, may we ask the Lord to teach us this year to seek him with all our heart and to number our days so that we may indeed gain a heart of wisdom.

As you enter this new year, are you feeling promise and a refreshing, or weariness? If all of your days are ordained and written in a book, do you trust the Lord to meet you where you need him?  

Today’s lesson was written for DailyLife Devotions for Five Oaks Church

Faith and Work ~ Work Can Destroy You

Pray | Lord, give us insight on how my faith should shape our work, because our work matters to you and to others.

This week in looking at work and its relationship to the fall in the Garden, we’ve seen that we’ve been working from the very beginning, and that work became more difficult after listening to the serpent. Limitations set by God are for our good, and brokenness causes us to ignore those boundaries creating difficulties in and between us. Today we’re considering how our faith can influence our work, and that if faith doesn’t, our work has the potential to destroy us.
Read | Psalm 119:30; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; Micah 6:8 

Psalm 119:30
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws.

1 Thessalonians 1:3
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 
Reflect | Spend some time reflecting on one or more of the following:

Pastor and theologian, Tim Keller, in speaking on faith and work, offers four ways faith can serve us in our vocation. The first is faith gives an inner stability without which work can destroy us
If our self-worth, importance, identity or competence comes from work, our successes go to our head and our failures go to our heart. If we are not absolutely certain of our worth, we’ll be whipped back and forth but faith can keep us grounded in the stormiest of times.

Faith reminds us of the dignity of all work.
With this truth central in our hearts, we won’t have a belittling attitude toward others’ work. The shutdowns during the pandemic revealed and reminded us of some of the unsung heroes in our midst. Our uplifting of them showed we valued their dedication and work, that their work very much mattered.

Faith gives us a moral compass without which work could corrupt us.
With so much pressure for profitability, and with culture leaning toward moral relativity, leaving our faith at the door may cause our clarity and conviction to become soggy and soupy.

Lastly, faith gives us a world view that shapes the character of our work, and without faith, our work could master and use us.
We might find ourselves giving more to our jobs than to our families, which in turn causes us to prioritize in a disordered manner, putting our best effort, energy and position toward work. Our work has the potential to shape us if we walk unaware of if we are shaping or being shaped by our work environment.

Though people can be difficult, and work is harder and slower due to a ground cursed with thorns and thistles, that’s not all we’re left with, we have faith. Faith gives us hope in all circumstances, so let us not leave it at the door as we finish our prayers, begin our day and enter our work.

Does my faith shape my work, or am I being shaped by my work? If so, how? Am I certain of my self-worth and identity outside of my job or role?

Written for Five Oaks Church Daily Life Devotional
Link here to the second message in a four part series on Faith and Work

Pastor Jonathan Haage // (message The Curse of Work begins at 16:12)

Your Work Matters ~ Embracing Limits

Pray | Lord, help me see the limits you have in place for my daily life.

“Should babies have maple syrup?” my daughter-in-law asked as I dipped a piece of pancake into syrup before plopping it in my granddaughter’s mouth as she murmured “Mmmmmm.” Turns out, they should not.

Just because the taste is sweet, or something looks appealing, doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Sometimes it’s as simple as syrup for a baby, but it can be as complicated as the fruit on a forbidden tree. 

Read |  Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-5 

Genesis 2:15-17
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” 

Genesis 3:1-5
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Reflect | Spend some time reflecting on one or more of the following

In the Garden, God forbid Adam and Eve the fruit of one tree. Enter the serpent, who out points out to Eve the prohibition of one tree, neglecting God’s provision of the rest of the trees, implication — God is restrictive. While living within the limit God set for them, Adam and Eve lived harmoniously and uninhibited with God and one another. But once they broke that boundary, they suddenly felt naked, ashamed, covering themselves and even hiding from God. When asked what they had done Adam blamed Eve (and kind of blamed God, “The woman you put here with me . . . “) and Eve blamed the serpent and they became fragmented. That decision to take the forbidden fruit still affects work environments and relationships today; we can be difficult with each other, have a hard time taking ownership of our actions, we can be disagreeable and prideful . . . fragmented.

Interestingly while living within God’s limitations in the garden, work was fulfilling and good, yielding much. But with disregarded limitations, work became harder, there were thorns and thistles to contend with. Those thorns and thistles are still present in our work today, they can pop up as tedium, exhaustion, blaming, difficult deadlines, co-workers, clients, bosses and such. But we still have the option to embrace God’s limits today, and when we do, we live with each other much more harmoniously, and work is good and fulfilling.

How might the brokenness back in the Garden affect your relationships and work life? Do you have a sense of God’s limits for you? What are some limitations that have yielded fruit in your home and work life?

Written for Five Oaks Church Daily Life Devotional
 

Your Work Matters

Work, whether paid or unpaid, includes all meaningful and moral activity apart from leisure and rest. Work is fundamentally about contribution, not compensation, adding value to others. (Tom Nelson)

Pray |Lord, may my hands, mind and heart work as if working for you.

When babies are born and grow we see personalities, strengths, gifts, talents and preferences emerge. We watch them pretend to be explorers, builders, dancers, scientists, moms, dads and so much more. Before we know it they are coming alongside us to wipe up spills, pound nails, wash cars, plant gardens and whatever else we do; it simply seems to be in our nature to want to help. 

Read |  Genesis 1:28; 2:15; 3:17-19

Genesis 1:28
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 2:15
 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 3:17-19
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Reflect | Spend some time reflecting on one or more of the following:

It’s ironic to consider the toddler happily going back and forth across the lawn with his or her play mower, and then years later that same teen grumbling about having to mow the lawn. As adults, roles, jobs and careers that at one time were new and exciting many times become riddled with difficulties and frustrations. Though created to contribute, we see that work was made difficult through the fall in the Garden. Whether it’s a demanding boss or customer, an annoying co-worker, a deadline or budget that seems impossible to meet, power lines that need to be fixed despite the cold or heat, endless meals to plan and prepare, the umpteenth diaper change of the day, and on, and on, and on ~ in all work inevitably there will be difficulties.

Whether it’s outside or within the home, discipline, perseverance, growth, character and more can be developed through our work. Each of us absolutely has some level of influence in our work, is it my children, client, co-worker, neighbor, boss, or subordinate? How might I be influencing those I come in contact with on the daily? It can be easy to slip into believing that we work for the weekend, retirement, or to pay the bills, but as Christians we are called to work as if for the Lord, and to do it with all our hearts (Col. 3:23-24), despite the sometimes painful labor and toil.

Are you aware of your influence through your work? Have you considered your work as a part of kingdom work? If not, would your perspective and purpose shift if you did?

Written for Five Oaks Church Daily Life Devotional
Link to the first message in a four part series on Faith and Work ~
Why Your Work Matters to God and Why God Matters to Your Work
by Pastor Henry Williams

(message begins at 19:21)

Not Feeling It

Have you ever been in a season of just not feeling your relationship with God? One where you don’t really want to read the bible, and prayer feels a little empty, kind of bland? I believe most of us have from time to time walked in what feels like a spiritual dry land. I’ve been there for a minute, and I have to say, it’s not a great feeling.

I hear my own voice telling others, “God is not a feeling”, which is true, so I open the bible and read. I open my daily devotions and read. I open my prayer journal and let what seems like limited words, and even less emotion, fall on the pages.

In describing this funk to a friend she said something along the lines of doing it to check the box, which I instantly knew in my soul wasn’t true. I’m reading and praying not to check the box, but because I know this is good for my soul, even if it doesn’t feel it. I know the Word is true and has power to be life giving, correcting, soothing, encouraging and more. I pray because I believe it might matter that I pray, and I believe the Lord cares that I do, even maybe especially when I don’t feel it? Bottom line, I’m doing it because I don’t feel like doing it.

Another friend read Kneeling with Giants – Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers, more than once she spoke of how great it was, so I’m reading it on her recommendation. The book has chapters on spiritual mentors from church history like Benedict, Luther, Calvin and more, and offers different methods of prayer, such as the divine office, the Lord’s Prayer, healing prayer, Psalms and more. I’m only through chapter one, but I sense optimism and just may be on the cusp of freshness.

I’ve started with the divine office taken from the Common Book of Prayer (modeled from St Benedict). I’m praying old prayers that seem written for today, there are prayers for leaders, prisoners – justly and unjustly imprisoned, pastors, the aged and lonely, the hurting, conflicts and more. I’m singing along with hymns of old that are feeling right for now; there is a time of confession, scripture readings and more. In this prayer discipline there are four set times of day to pray, I’m currently committed to the morning one, and slightly committed to the noon one.

In chapter one, Praying with St Benedict – The Divine Office, there are two places I’ve underlined, on page 21 Gary Neal Hanson writes, “It (the divine office) stretches me to pray in a healthy range of ways. It renews my connection to deep and holy things. When times are hard, it can put my battered soul back together. I admit there are days when it feels like a ritual performed without conscious thought – though even that can help me. Whatever it feels like, it puts my day in a rhythm of prayer. As one of my students put it, Benedict envisioned a life of prayer with work interspersed, not the other way around.” And on page 34 he says,
“. . . but the more hours you pray and the longer you keep at it, the better chance you have of keeping all of life in perspective.” In my short time with this style of prayer I’m feeling both of those statements to be true. I’ve decided to hang out in this prayer style for awhile before I move on to chapter two, Praying with Martin Luther – The Lord’s Prayer.

In the meantime, it is written to be prepared in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2); I’ve been feeling out of season, but maybe this is where some of the work is done so that the in season will return.

If you find yourself interested in reading Kneeling with Giants and discussing it, comment on fb, instagram, this post, or email me at shericarlstrom@gmail.com and we’ll figure out a way to connect through a group zoom, email or maybe private fb group.

(I’m praying the Divine office through an app, Mission of St Clare – Praying the Daily Office, I just have to click the morning, noonday, evening or compline prayer, making it very simple.)