The Gift of Abundant Life

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.

Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—

they do no wrong
but follow his ways.

You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.

Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!

Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.

I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.

I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

This week’s devotions have borrowed the language from the Deuteronomy text that offers abundant life to the people as a choice. “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.” And this is true; living the abundant life God offers is a choice that takes mercy, wisdom, honesty, grace, and love.

But the abundant life that God offers is also a gift, a source of happiness, an unexpected blessing. Think of the prodigal son returning home; he did not choice the abundant life but instead choose his own destruction. Yet the loving father welcomes him, rejoices with him, and offers life again. Our choices in life matter – but abundant life is a gift from a loving God that is offered to us freely. Receive this good news in the very core of your being.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Help us to accept this gift of abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

The Wisdom to Choose Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:27-32

What does it mean to be a committed fan? Not a fair-weather fan but a tried-and-true fan? As you form your picture, let me offer three observations about the nature of fandom. Being a fan is sometimes difficult, an act of imagination and hope, and a matter of the heart – formed by habits, history, and community.

I hope this image of a fan can reveal some truths about God’s call for us in our commitments to spouse, neighbor, family, and church. These commitments are sometime difficult and, as Jesus’ graphic example reminds us, may cost us something. These commitments spring from hope and seek the best for others. Lastly, honoring these commitments goes beyond outside observation but instead requires a heart formed through practice over time and directed by the wisdom of God.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Give us wisdom so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

The Mercy to Choose Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:21-26

As a native Midwesterner, I know summer means orange traffic barrels and signs for road construction. And the same scenario plays out every summer: traffic slows to a crawl for a lane closure marked well in advance. Then, without fail, a car zooms past the line of stopped traffic to cut in at the very end. I feel my blood boil as I begin to plot ways to stop this driver and his deviant behavior.

Yet despite the injustice of this moment, I know in my heart that my rage did not change my travel time nor did my rage offer any help to the other drivers on the road. Anger and rage are the natural responses to many of the situations we face in the world – the call of Jesus is to work with these feelings and seek the way of reconciliation.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Teach us how to be merciful so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

The Honesty to Choose Abundant Life

‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

 

Matthew 5:33-37

We live in a world full of half-truths and outright lies – these ideas and fears wash over us and lap against our hearts and minds, trying to slowly erode and corrode our lives. In this quiet moment, take time to reflect on this simple truth and so be refreshed and restored:

Jesus loves me—this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong—
They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Remind us of these truths each day and help us to trust the promises of scriptures.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Teach us your truth so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

Love and the Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

I try and keep the towels neatly folded in my apartment. My wife doesn’t ask me to do this – but I know she appreciates it and I do it out of love for her. The few seconds I spend folding towels each day are moments that bring her to my thoughts and allow me to silently express my love for her. I hope that my towel folding practice is shaping my soul to become more loving and selfless and caring.

What does folding towels have to do with the call to love one’s enemies? Loving our enemies seems overwhelming – is there some small way we can start to practice this love? Perhaps this small way is through prayer or offering forgiveness. Abundant life is defined by love – let us look for the small ways we can begin to practice this radical love.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Help us to love so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor – and enemy.

The Grace to Choose Abundant Life

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

Have you ever settled a dispute with a tape measure? I know I’ve relied on exact measurements to settle close calls on the Bocce court. My family settled many contentious car rides by measuring out a line to divide two squabbling brothers. Sometimes rulers and tape measures provide something useful and even good.

However, Jesus tells us that there is a time and a place to set aside rulers and tape measures. Setting aside the conventions of the world, Jesus offers stories that shape and challenge our moral imagination.  Poet and theologian Wendell Berry makes the same observation about the Kingdom when he writes: “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world.”

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Fill us with stories of your Kingdom so that we may choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

 

God Offers Abundant Life

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…”

This passage seems to pose a simple question for the people of Israel – and for you and me: “Do you want life and blessings? Or do you want death and curses.” Only, of course, this question is not as simple as it seems. How often did God’s chosen people reject God and reject God’s promise for abundant life? How often do I reject the fullness of life and choose death by failing to forgive? By hoarding my time and money as if they were mine to hold? By failing to work for compassion, mercy, and justice in the world?

In a moment of honest truth-telling, let us confess our own tendency for self-destruction and remember and rejoice in the truth that God has offered life to us – and offers life to us each day.

God, thank you for offering us abundant and eternal life. Help us choose abundant life and live for your glory and the good of our neighbor.

Friends of Covenant History Reception Speech

Greetings. My name is Andy Meyer and I’m very happy to be here today representing the Covenant’s Commission on Covenant History. Specifically, I’ve been tasked with telling everyone how they can get involved in the group “Friends of Covenant History.” This group – supported by the Commission on Covenant History – is intended to gather, connect, and equip people interested in Covenant history so that together we can engage and expand the Covenant story.

This is a really exciting and interesting group – and I wanted my announcement to be equally exciting and interesting. So I thought “what would make for a great announcement?” and “who makes great announcements?” I thought to myself: politicians! – they make great announcements! But then I thought – politics can be polarizing forces – “Friends of Covenant History” is meant to be as inclusive as possible. So I scrapped that idea.

Then I thought – infomercials! They have perfected the sales pitch; I could provide a little background, reveal the project in stages with rhetorical flourishes. But “Friends of Covenant History” isn’t about selling a product or trying to create a need; “Friends of Covenant History” is about trying to foster a community of people centered on solving real community needs. So I scrapped the infomercial idea.

Then it dawned on me. This group is looking for members – members united by shared interests and yet rich in diversity. We are looking for informed and engaged members. The best model for this announcement isn’t a political campaign. It’s not the infomercial. It’s the Public Television or NPR membership drive!

So, without further complication or introduction, I’d like to kick off the first ever “Friends of Covenant History” membership drive!

  • The best way to get involved with “Friends of Covenant” is by becoming a member! Membership is a way to formalize your support with a financial contribution. The membership fee is minimal – it mostly goes to cover the cost of printing, cookies, and coffee – but is an important part of making this project sustainable.
  • And if you become a member of “Friends of Covenant History”, you get an awesome gift! Right now, it’s this amazing mug but we have other dreams for the future. It’s our way of saying thanks for becoming a member!
  • Beyond membership, you can also join the growing “Friends of Covenant History” communities on social media. Right now, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter. We will continue posting interesting articles and cool pictures – but we also want to hear from you! Share an important date, post a picture or stories, ask a question and we’ll do our best to connect you to others.
  • I’ve talked about membership, I’ve talked about the amazing membership gift, and I’ve talked about connecting with us on social media. If this were an infomercial, I would say – “But wait, there’s more!” Another way to get involved is to contact the Commission directly and share your thoughts, stories, or questions. There are opportunities to write for the newsletter, host regional gatherings, to equip local churches to preserve and share local stories, and many more. The Commission’s role isn’t to manage all those projects but to connect and resource local people and churches. If there are opportunities for us to better serve the Covenant church, please stop us today or contact us in the future and let us your thoughts and ideas.
  • Finally, the last way to strengthen this group is to get more people involved!
    • Ask your friends to become “Friends of Covenant History” and share us with your church.
    • Tell your local historian or archivist about this organization! Membership in this organization make a great gift for that “special someone” in your church or community!

Our desire is that this group be as broad and as inclusive as possible so that we can gather, connect, and equip the entire Covenant community. Your history is our history – we need your stories to tell the broader Covenant story and we think that the broader Covenant story gives inspiration, warning, encouragement, and guidance to our local stories. Join with us in this work by becoming a member, joining us online, and by sharing us with your community. Thank you!

Best Man Speech Final Draft

Thank you. My name is Andy Meyer and – if you couldn’t see the family resemblance – I’m Jim’s younger brother. I am also very happy to be here today as his best man. It’s been really wonderful seeing so many great people together in one place to celebrate this marriage and I want to thank all the people that have made this possible – especially Donn and Sally Engebretson.

Like I said, I’m Jim’s brother. As brothers, we’ve been pretty close and had a lot of shared experiences and quite a few common interests. We grew up together in Grand Rapids, attended the same church and high school, and then we moved to Chicago together to attend college at North Park. We graduated and stayed in Chicago, usually living near each other and, for some time, actually shared an apartment together. So we’ve shared a lot of life together.

Another thing that Jim and I have shared over the years is a keen interest in technology and the internet. I work in the library at North Park and Jim works in the information technology department and we sometimes joke that a lot of problems could be solved if people just googled their question.

So when I was faced with writing a speech for tonight, I approached this problem like a lot of other problems: I googled it. And, really, google did not disappoint. I read a great article from wikihow entitled “How to write a best man speech” another one from the Art of Manliness called “How to write and deliver a great best man speech” and, my personal favorite, one called “How to give a best man toast that doesn’t suck.”

And, really, these websites offered a lot of great advice!

They said that it’s probably good to start with a funny story or a joke. However – these same websites also said to avoid the following topics: any arrests or prison time, ex-girlfriends, wild drunken nights, and anything that might be insulting the bride. And I thought – wow, that really limits the material I have to work with!

I’m glad that joke worked out so well – I have a few others planned as back-ups, but that was my best attempt.

After telling a joke to break the formality, the websites instructed me to tell a touching story that would focus on Jim’s strengths. So I of course started thinking – when has Jim ever done something heroic or amazing that would make for a great story? I thought to myself – I guess Jim has gone on mission trips, he teaches Sunday School, he volunteers with the church youth group… but why hasn’t he rescued any kittens or puppies? And, to the best of my knowledge, he has never saved anyone from a burning building.

And that’s the problem with Jim – he is a good guy in all of the least glamorous ways. And the story I’m about to tell fits that model perfectly. Years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to try riding my bike all winter. So one “warm” February day – I biked down to my job at the University of Chicago. Or course, I neglected to check the weather report for the rest of the day. So when my shift ended at 9pm, I was alarmed to see that it had started sleeting. The weather was miserable – it was dark, cold, wet, and I was stuck a long ways from home. Not knowing what else to do, I called my brother to explain the predicament I had created for myself and to plead for a ride back home.

And Jim said something like “sure, I’ll be right down.” Now but then it’s well after 9pm, the weather is pretty bad and getting worse, and it’s a 45 minute drive each way. I don’t know what Jim was doing or what he was planning on doing – but he drove down to pick me up out of that mess.

And that’s the strength that I want to share with you all today and especially with you, Kristen: that Jim will be there for you. No questions asked. No explanations needed. I’ve certainly experienced that as his brother. And I’m sure you’ve already experienced this in your relationship with Jim. It’s my hope and prayer that you both continue to experience faithful and steadfast love that always seeks the best for the other.

So now you all know that I think Jim is a great guy.

And I want to be equally clear in saying that I think you are a great woman, Kristen. We, of course, didn’t grow up together and we haven’t shared life as siblings, but I still know a bit about how great you are. I know you’re great, in part, because of how great your friends and family are. It has been wonderful to get to know them and look forward to growing in those relationship. Another reason I know how great you are is because Jim tells me. All the time, in fact. But this isn’t just second-hand news or rumor – I know it firsthand as well. It’s been wonderful getting to know you and wonderful celebrating here with you. I could not be happier for you and Jim.

Now that I’ve finished the touching stories, I’m free to conclude with a toast to the couple. So, please raise your glasses with me: Jim and Kristen, may you always remember this moment – surrounded by friends and family that love and support you – and may God bless you with a lifetime of joy and love.

Covenant Home Altar

Biography

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I’ve called Chicago home for the past decade. I did my undergraduate work at North Park University and just completed a Masters in Theology through the seminary. I work in the Brandel Library and am most happy when surrounded by good books and good coffee. Writing these devotions was a difficult but also wonderful experience because it forced me to look at the Advent season through fresh eyes.

Sunday, December 8 – Isaiah 11:1-5

Waiting and Listening

I have a confession: waiting is hard for me. In the grocery store, I survey each checkout lane and consider everything – How long is the line? Does the cashier look experienced? Do my fellow shoppers look determined? – before making my decision. I can stand back, assess the situation, and proceed with efficiency because I’ve done this all before.

My real confession, however, isn’t about grocery shopping. It’s that I’m in the same rush during Advent. I rush through this wonderful text from Isaiah because as soon as I hear the opening line, “a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse,” my brain flicks immediately to Jesus, to Christmas, and then to a smug sense that I’ve got the message. But, really, I’ve missed the point because I’ve missed Isaiah’s beautiful description of a king who will judge with righteousness and will act with justice on behalf of the poor.

God, help us to wait and enter this season of Advent with open hearts.

Monday, December 9 – Isaiah 11:6-10

Peace and Wholeness

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat.” Isaiah’s poetic language speaks to the heart of God’s ultimate plan for peace in the world. Yet I can hardly imagine a world that isn’t divided in violence. Divided by religion. Divided by politics. Divided by race, by power, by economic status, and by countless other things. This seems like a plain fact of existence. More than mere external realities, it seems many of us feel the same internal divisions within ourselves. At least I do.

And what does God promise? God promises a complete transformation of the established order. Where there was division and violence, God promises peace and wholeness. This peace that passes understanding is made possible through God’s righteous and just reign and in the power of Christ, who’s coming we await.

God, increase my capacity to imagine peace and wholeness and to work with you toward those ends.

Tuesday, December 10 – Romans 14:13-23

Peace and Edification

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean” As usual, Paul’s logic is unexpected. He claims that “all food is clean” to a people who had a long list of foods that God had deemed unclean. Might it be accurate to paraphrase Paul as saying “Do not destroy the work of God because of your religious beliefs or because of your ethnic identity”?

How can Paul claim this radical truth? Because he has been persuaded in the Lord Jesus (v.14). Our context is different, but Paul’s words still deserve thought. In fact, I wonder how Paul would end this statement “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of ____” if he were writing today? Where have we allowed something else to define our actions and relationships other than the radical lordship of Christ?

God, let us never destroy your work by our small mindedness and instead work for peace and mutual edification.

Wednesday, December 11 – Romans 15:1-6

Choice and Gift

More than a decade ago, I watched a video about fishmongers working in Pike Place Market in Seattle. It was a video about creating a positive work environment and, miraculously, I still remember all of the concepts presented in the video. The last one was the simple reminder that you should “choose your attitude” every day.

I’m not an expert on corporate psychology or efficiency, but this seems like an appropriate practice for the workplace. However, I think it falls short as a Christian practice. Hear again the words from the Apostle Paul: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” God gives a Christ-like attitude for the good of the people. We both choose to have a Christ-like attitude and we must receive it as a gift; there is no other way.

God, help us to understand that living in this world as you want us to is both a gift and a task.

Thursday, December 12 – Romans 15:7-13

Accepted and Loved

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.” Paul’s claim here begs the simple question “how has Christ accepted you?” and that seems like a terribly powerful question. I cannot claim to answer that question for you but I simply want to offer an image to guide our reflections.

At the church I attend, when infants are baptized the service ends with this tremendous moment when the pastor raises the newly baptized child and proclaims: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” I must confess that I often need the emphatic “And that is what we are!” because the truth in this claim – that Christ has accepted me like this tiny and fragile child – is nearly too much to bear.
God, through Christ you have accepted as and made us your children; help us to honor our baptism by accepting one another.

Friday, December 13 – Matthew 3:1-12

Here and Now

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” Matthew, like any good story teller, sets the scene. At a particular time and in a particular place, a man named John did something. John, a man who looked and sounded a lot like other Old Testament prophets does something new because he wasn’t just describing the reign of God. He was announcing it.

John is part of the Gospel story that is inherently and irreducible historical. The Christian faith boldly claims that at a particular time and in a particular place, God became human. The justice and mercy and truth and righteousness that generations of prophets and believers had hoped for took human form and came to dwell among us humans as a helpless baby.

God, you came to live among us at a particular time and place; help us to love and serve you in our particular time and place.

Saturday, December 14 – Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Hope and Expectation

This Psalm asks God for a king endowed with justice, who judges with righteousness, who defends the afflicted, who saves the children of the needy, who crushes the oppressor, and who will endure forever. It ends with the exaltation “May the whole earth be filled with his glory!”

Is Jesus this hoped for king? Is Jesus the king they expected? I imagine the disciples asked themselves these questions at least once and John the Baptist asked it using different words “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? (Luke 7:20). They expected someone who would crush the oppressor; yet Jesus was crushed for our sake. They expected someone who would fill the earth with the glory of God; yet Jesus came as a tiny infant.

We claim that Jesus is this hoped for king but perhaps not the king we expected.

God, let the wild unexpectedness of Christmas and the Incarnation renew our hope.