Author Archives: jillsweet

Creation Moments

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

And God saw that the light was good.

And God separated the light from the darkness.

God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.

And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

~Genesis 1:1-5 ESV

I began 2019 with this Scripture passage and here it is the end of the month already. I have a had a conversation with God around what will be formed in me in 2019. I have taken time to stop and notice the Spirit of God hovering over my life. I have tried to acknowledge and appreciate how good the light God created in but a moment is. I have attempted to stop each evening to take a deep breath and remember that with tomorrow comes another first day filled with creation moments.

Throughout 2019, may you and I stop and receive the blessing of God’s many creation moments. Amen and Amen.

Thank You, Lord, for being with us, God with us.

            In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of    Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  ~Luke 2:1-7 (ESV)

This passage of Scripture from Luke’s gospel is a reminder that Joseph and Mary lived the journey God called forth from their lives.  They traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. And while they were there, Mary gave birth of her first born son and Joseph completed his family’s registration. Profoundly, the sacred and the secular met recording for eternity the Good News of God with us.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). ~Matthew 1:22-23

My husband and I have traveled to many places in the past twelve months. And while we were there we experienced funerals, birthdays, weddings, formal meetings and informal conversations at microbreweries. Our Christmas card highlighted the good news that we have now each been in all 50 of the United States. For another year, we have lived the journey God was calling forth from our lives. And at the many intersections of the sacred and the secular, we stopped to remember again who is with us, Immanuel!

Thank You, Lord, for being with us, God with us.

Thank You, Lord, for all your benefits.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
~Psalm 103:1-5

In this month of giving thanks, I have been praying these verses that beautifully list God’s benefits: forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, goodness and renewal. I have also noticed how readily I list people, places and things among my thanksgivings. Today as I read these verses I notice the verbs not the nouns.

The real benefit in my life and yours is that God forgives, heals, redeems, loves, satisfies and renews. The Lord’s active presence in our lives is not to be forgotten. Ultimately, you and I are God’s beneficiaries and continually crowned with steadfast love and mercy.

Thanksgiving Day can be a tangible reminder not to take God’s benefits for granted. However, the Psalmist reminds us to bless the Lord each new day by remembering the many ways we benefit from God’s presence.

Thank You, Lord, for all your benefits.

Thank You, Lord for knowing my way.

With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
~Psalm 142:1-3

This past month, I have been meditating on Psalm 142, and more specifically David’s words in verse 3: When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! I am not hiding in a cave like David, I really have nothing to complain about, and I can not think of any outlandish troubles on the horizon. Sure, there are petty annoyances and continual confessions that cause me to seek God’s mercy. But, I am not praying as fervently as David in this Psalm or as Paul in the book of Romans:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right
alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it
doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of
our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we
know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present
before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives
of love for God is worked into something good. ~Romans 8:26-28 (MSG)

And yet, I am still drawn to the verse: When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! I cannot help but think of the words Jesus spoke to those with troubled hearts:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father
except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my
Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” ~John 14:6-7

Perhaps my heart is troubled and my spirit is fainting even more than I want to admit to myself or others. Perhaps I need reassurance that God’s spirit is alongside me and pointing out the hidden traps on my way. More importantly, perhaps it is when everything appears “fine” on the outside, I need to pay attention to the inner workings of my soul and the way I am praying.

David reminds us that prayer opens our lives up to God and Paul’s words make it hard to forget that prayer also opens God’s life up to us. 

No matter what state my spirit or your spirit is in, God knows our way, and is helping us know the way to pray.

Thank You, Lord for knowing my way.

 

Thank You, Lord, that in the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness.

But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Psalm 88:13-14

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
Psalm 89:1-2

It is often said the Psalms cover a myriad of emotions. Perhaps like me, you have experienced the Psalms covering a myriad of your emotions. On any given day, I find myself reading between their lines I hoping to find what I am really feeling.

Notice the juxtaposition of the Psalmist’s emotional interactions with God above. Like me and maybe you also, at one point in the day I can feel very far from God, but at another time I can feel like singing and praising God’s steadfast love!

Notice too the promise in these verses. Even when you and I wonder why we feel cast away and hidden from God’s presence, in the heavens God’s faithfulness will be established. Even when we are certain of God’s steadfast love for us and our loved ones, in the heavens God’s faithfulness will be established.

In the myriad of our emotions…as in the heavens, God’s faithfulness will be established. are established.

Thank You, Lord, that in the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness.

Thank You, Lord for the blessing of appearing before you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
~Psalm 84:5-7 (ESV)

Last week my husband and I traveled through four states in four days on our quest to have visited all 50 states in our lifetimes. Since there was really no particular reason to visit them, we had subtitled them our forgotten four states. However, by way of country roads and major highways, we were pleasantly surprised with our discoveries in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The expansive Ozarks, the various museums, the first Walmart store, the story tellers and the noteworthy microbreweries. We will not soon forget the states themselves but I must admit the trip in general is still a blur.

The life with God is similar. Certain legs of the journey are not soon forgotten. As our hearts travel along God’s highway, we experience happiness and gain strength. However, on another leg our souls might feel as parched as valleys thirsting for rain. I am learning the blessing of pushing through the blur of these desolate valleys to the life-giving places where my spiritual strength is rediscovered.

This rediscovery often comes at the end of the journey when most needed to finish well. For with a rhythm of going from strength to strength in the Lord’s name comes the blessing of appearing before God.

Thank You, Lord for the blessing of appearing before you.

Thank You, Lord for making us thirsty.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
~Psalm 42:1-2

I am part of a group of modern day psalmists. Together we explore the deep connection between poetry and prayer. At any given meeting a word or phrase from a poem we share turns into a prayer. Or vice versa, a word or phrase from a spoken prayer becomes the infrastructure for a poem.  Recently, I was struck by the following phrase: “God wants me thirsty.”

We have had so many hot summer days in Northern California that physical thirst has taken me by surprise.  In those thirsty moments, I add a few ounces of cool water to my cup and drink just as the deer who visit and drink Sierra snowmelt flowing through the river near my home.

Moreover, just like the deer in Psalm 42 who is drawn to flowing streams because they are thirsty, I am often so spiritually thirsty that I am drawn to streams flowing with God’s living water. And I wonder. Does God want me thirsty?

I am inclined to think that God allows me to be thirsty so that I am found by him rather than found at my familiar watering hole.  When you and I appear before God thirsting for what is right and good, then blessing, happiness and satisfaction become cups of cold water we offer to others who are thirsty.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.” ~Matthew 5:6

Thank You, Lord for making us thirsty.

Thank You, Lord for taking pleasure in Your people.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him.

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains
and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written!
This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
~Psalms 148, 149, 150

Recently I read the last three Psalms as one new song of praise to the Lord and noticed several things. The first is obvious; the Book of Psalms which is filled with so many emotions ends not with lament but with praise. For though lament is part of our lives it does not have the final say. The second is that all of God’s creatures are given reason to praise the Lord who created them for he commanded and they were created.

But most importantly, we as God’s people have great cause to praise, to sing, to dance and to rejoice. That reason is found in the middle of all the praising of these three Psalms. We take pleasure in the Lord for the Lord takes pleasure in his people and he adorns the humble with salvation.

I am learning that praise flows naturally when I rejoice and take pleasure in the Lord who created me and adorns me with salvation. Moreover, you and I can praise the Lord with our whole beings because he takes pleasure in us.

Thank You, Lord for taking pleasure in Your people.

Thank You, Lord, for commanding blessing.

How wonderful, how beautiful,
when brothers and sisters get along!
It’s like costly anointing oil
flowing down head and beard,
Flowing down Aaron’s beard,
flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.
It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon
flowing down the slopes of Zion.
Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,
ordains eternal life.
~Psalm 133:1-3 (MSG)

In other versions of Psalm 131 brothers and sisters getting along is translated dwelling in unity. Having recently fulfilled the role of official front door greeter at church I noticed how wonderful and beautiful it is when brothers and sisters greet one another. What a precious way to begin a worship service.

This active reminder of the unity we share with Christ and others translates into a freer flowing worship. Even though, dwelling in unity costs you and I the right of having our own way, it lavishes upon us the blessing of eternal life with God.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary,  bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  ~1Peter 3:8-9

Thank You, Lord, for commanding blessing.

Thank You, Lord, for blessing households with peace.

The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron;
he will bless those who fear the Lord,
both the small and the great.
~Psalm 115:12-13

Have you ever considered praying for entire households?  Like me are you aware of a household in need of prayer? Several have been on my heart in the past month. I had lunch recently with a family that is without a home but still a household.  I have a friend whose household is full of her late husband’s presence. My niece and nephew-in-law just celebrated their first wedding anniversary and are in the midst of establishing their household.

I pray for these households, but with different words. Like the psalmist these prayers are blessings, perhaps because they are for a group of people not just an individual. Or perhaps I am naturally praying as Jesus sent out his disciples to pray.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  ~Luke 10:2-5

Have you ever considered that the Lord blesses your household and mine with peace? I do not think I intentionally have, but I am ready to start as a reminder to bless the households of others and to pray for peace within each home I enter.

Thank You, Lord, for blessing households with peace.