Week of October 26–November 1, 2015 – Seed or Stone? by Roger Scholtz
Read Ruth 1:1–5
Meditation: Within the space of the first five verses of the book of Ruth we hear a story of devastating pain and loss suffered by a woman called Naomi. A severe famine forces her and her husband, with their two sons, to leave their homeland and move to a foreign country. Starting over as refugees in an unfamiliar place is tough enough, but then further disaster strikes—Naomi’s husband dies! Thankfully she still has her two boys, who marry Moabite wives—surely not the future she has dreamed of for them. But under the circumstances, she will not complain. At least she can now hope for the gift of a grandchild or two, and the pattering of little feet will help ease her grief over the death of her husband. So when her two sons also die, it feels like it is all too much. How much can one woman be expected to endure?
      Few of us have a story as dramatic as that of Naomi, but all of us have our own stories of pain and loss. Some years ago I emerged from a dark season of my life. I remember a letter sent to me by my parents that contained one line of verse: “O memory of a painful time, are you seed or stone?” My parents went on to write, “We pray that you will find every day of that painful time to be seed that produces the harvest of the Spirit!”
      What a hopeful thought that our experiences of pain and loss can be seed in our lives that produces the harvest of the Spirit. This is what happened for Naomi. Her experience of pain and loss was not the end of her story but the beginning.
      Gracious God, thank you for taking my experiences of pain and loss and transforming them from stones of bitterness to seeds of hope. Amen.

Week of November 2–8, 2015 – Heeding God’s Direction by Trevor A. Hudson
Read Ruth 3:1–5
Meditation: One sign of genuine self-giving love is other-centeredness. By this I mean true commitment to the other, an interest in his or her well-being, even a willingness to suffer on the other’s behalf. God relates to us in this way. Sometimes we glimpse this kind of love in the lives of God’s people. We certainly see it expressed in Naomi’s life in these opening verses of chapter 3.
      Naomi has returned to Bethlehem from the land of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth who remains determined to support her mother-in-law, Naomi, through a devastatingly painful time. Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, and her two sons Mahlon and Chilion have died. Her return to Judah is one of heartache and sorrow: “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty” (1:21).
      Yet the opening verses of chapter 3 bear witness to the shift taking place in Naomi’s heart. No longer does she lament the emptiness of her life. Now she thinks of others, especially Ruth, who had abandoned any hope of a future for herself when she left Moab. Ruth now finds herself supported by Naomi: “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.” The next four verses reveal Naomi’s bold plan to secure Ruth’s future—a future of safety, rest, and care. Naomi’s involvement indicates that she now focuses on the future and security of her daughter-in-law rather than herself. She is gradually becoming other-centered, a person of self-giving love.
      Lord, show me what shift needs to take place in my heart to reflect more of your self-giving love. Amen.

Week of November 9–15, 2015 – Praise for the Only One by James C. Howell
Read 1 Samuel 1:4–8
Meditation: Sorrow and unfulfilled dreams can create an ache within us, especially when we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing very well. Hannah not only grieves her infertility but has to deal with the cruel taunts of her husband’s other wife. Elkanah, the dutiful husband, attempts to juggle the emotions of a depressed wife and a haughty one. He offers comfort to Hannah, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” Nice try—but even the noblest human love cannot satisfy the emptiness that accompanies crushed dreams.
      Hannah’s story ends happily. Hannah finally gives birth to the child she has desired. But for many, their prayers never “work.” These women have no sons and are left with nothing. That’s the darkest dread, isn’t it? Not only to bear unfulfilled dreams but to drift into oblivion.
      Here’s where the good news of the gospel helps. Elkanah, though a devoted, compassionate husband, isn’t worth more to Hannah than ten sons. But the God Hannah prays to is worth more than dozens of sons—although we come to that way of believing only by faith, and the ache may linger for a lifetime.
      God came to us as the child everyone has always wanted. “For unto us a child is born.” To the infertile, to the jobless, to those whose marriage is wrecked, to the one just told, “It’s malignant,” to all who bear sorrow—God comes as this child, and we are not alone. This God, and only this God, fills the gaping hole and brings the new life we’d dreamed of. We may not understand this gift this side of eternity, but the promise is sure.
      Lord, help me trust that you are, and will be, enough. Amen.

Week of November 16–22, 2015 – Belonging to the Truth by L. Roger Owens
Read 2 Samuel 23:1–7
Meditation: These verses offer us an image for just, faithful leadership: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” The night may be dark, cloudy, and rainy, but when morning comes the darkness disappears. How refreshing and enlivening is the clarity of such a morning!
      You need only to think of a world leader like Nelson Mandela to understand this image. After the long, stormy night of apartheid in South Africa, Mandela’s leadership, marked by a commitment to justice and reconciliation, was like the light of a new day. However, political leaders are not the only ones called to this ideal of just leadership. These verses speak to parents, pastors, and principals as well—all who hold positions of authority and leadership. How can each of us exercise authority in ways that are just, so that clarity like that of a new dawn will be their hallmark?
      King David in these verses speaks of his own reign, which had its dark, stormy periods. When we remember that aspect, we can hear his words as ones of hope. When we fall short of this type of leadership, we know that with God, renewal is possible.
      When we lead with justice, in the “fear of God,” we become signs of the reign of Jesus himself, the heir to David’s throne, who, as the book of Revelation says, is himself the light of the city of God.
      Lord, help me see where you are calling me to leadership today, and give me the wisdom to lead with equity and justice. Amen.

Week of November 23–29, 2015 – Hopeful Waiting by Sally O. Langford
Read Luke 21:25–36
Meditation: At dawn this Monday, I am frantically cleaning house, washing dishes, and making a grocery list in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner. Jesus warns us that the Son of Man will return one day with power and glory. We must pray and stay alert if we want to be ready for God’s coming judgment and redemption. But for me, there’s no time this week to get ready for anything other than the perfect family feast on Thursday.
      I do believe in the Second Coming of Christ. However, Jesus appearing suddenly on a cloud in the sky is not central to my Christian faith. Pulling the house together for company is a far easier task for me than preparing for Christ.
      And yet, in admitting that I would rather not prepare for the coming of Christ, I find myself hoping to do just that. Too often I get caught up in the busyness of Christmas shopping, party planning, and house decorating. What if I took seriously the invitation of Advent to watch and wait for the coming of Christ? Instead of letting the anxieties of day-to-day life weigh me down, what if I carved out quiet moments for meditation and prayer each morning?
      This Advent we can prepare for the birth of the baby Jesus and the return of Christ in final victory. We can live in the tension between God’s promise of a restored world and the pain that comes with transformation. By doing so, we will discover that getting ready for Christ is more meaningful than getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
      Stir up in me, O God, the desire to watch and wait for the coming Christ. Come, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.

Week of November 30–December 6, 2015 – God’s Messengers by Luther E. Smith Jr.
Read Malachi 3:1–4
Meditation: God announces that a messenger is being sent to prepare the way for God’s coming. This announcement is a response to prayers that God be made manifest and specifically to the question, “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal. 2:17). This text does not identify the messenger, nor does it state the specific time of arrival. Even the message itself is not delineated. Yet, it conveys the certainty that a messenger is being sent and God will follow.
      This certainty is both reassuring and frightening. The people demand God’s justice to overcome suffering, oppression, and injustice. God’s presence promises the advent of hope, love, and joy—all causes for rejoicing. Still, the troubling question arises: “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” The question challenges each of us to consider our honest response to the announcement of God’s messenger and God’s coming.
      How sure is our commitment to anticipate and prepare for such a time? What would being subjected to a “refiner’s fire” mean in our lives? What would the advent of God’s righteousness in society and our lives look like? How are you preparing for God’s coming and not just waiting for it? We answer these questions day by day, decision by decision, and action by action. The messenger and the message implore us to make a faithful offering of our lives that is “pleasing to the Lord.” It has been written and proclaimed. God’s coming is certain.
      O God, with trusting and eager hearts may we come to know the joy of anticipating you and of giving ourselves to your surprising future. Amen.