Your weekly love note from God (as imagined by Sandhya!)
Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defence to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’
The story of my faithful servants Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego has been famous for many years. People tend to focus on the miracle of how they survived the fiery furnace that the King had placed them in. But I want you to pay attention to something else: they were put in the furnace for refusing to worship anyone but me. They willingly took the risk of death, not knowing whether they would survive, in order to be faithful to me. What are the things that distract you from honoring me? What are the gods that those in power ask you to worship? How might you model for others how to resist those gods?
Your weekly love note from God! (As imagined by Sandhya)
1 Peter 2:1-3 Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
I have a special love of babies, of their fragility and their unadulterated joy and their trust. Babies have an alive connection to me that I want to see in all of my children. Your generation sometimes values world weariness and even cynicism as badges of honor. And yet those things are barriers to your relationship with me. Today I invite you to consider how you might be a little more innocent in your relationship to me, a little less concerned about the world seeing you as gullible and a little more longing for us to grow closer.
Psalms 17:7-10 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand. Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me. They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
Someone once said that the rest of the Bible is my love letter to you, humanity; and the book of Psalms is your love letter to me. One of the things that moves me about this love letter is how each Psalm, whether it is praising me, petitioning me, or pleading with me, is so real and raw and vulnerable. There are some psalms asking me to do violent things on someone’s behalf. That is not how I intercede, but I want you to know that all of your emotions can find a safe place with me, that I am big enough to hold your heartbreak and your jubilance and your rage. I would rather you place them with me than misdirect them in harmful ways. Today I invite you to simply pray this passage to me, knowing that you are the apple of my eye and that like a mother bird I will hide you in the shelter of my wings, no matter what is facing you.
Here’s your weekly love note from God! As I wrote this, I knew my biblical studies friends would have a LOT to add about King Cyrus. But the bible works on a LOT of levels, and this time the whisper I got from God wasn’t just about the historical context; it was about God working through anyone God chooses. I hope it speaks to you.
–Sandhya, the author
Ezra 1:2-4 ‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill-offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.’
Do not limit who I can work with and who I can work through. King Cyrus was not Jewish. And yet he knew what I meant to my children of Israel. My son Cyrus let me work through him to build up my children of Israel after they had borne so much suffering in exile. Over and over I have worked with and through people who were not the expected vessels of my message. They have alleviated suffering and comforted and extended love in so many ways. It saddens me that my followers demonize so many people through whom I work. Today I invite you to reflect on the Cyruses in your own life who have brought you or those you know comfort, love, or access to dignity in some way. Lift them up in your prayers today, knowing that your God can turn so much to the good.
Here’s your weekly love note from God! Most daily devotionals focus on your personal relationship with God. As I re-read the whole book, I was struck that most of God’s teachings are to a community, not to an individual. So sometimes God whispered a word in my ear about community life. It’s a little different, but I think it might be pretty urgent for the moment we are in as much as it was for our spiritual ancestors.
Philippians 1:27-28a Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.
My son Paul took many risks to share my love and the love of my beloved Son Jesus Christ throughout the Roman Empire, constantly risking his life because he felt the love of Christ so deeply. The knowledge of Jesus Christ literally saved him from a life of violence justified by his religious commitments. So often my name has been used for the sake of violence. Paul’s message to the church in Philippi is my message to you and your spiritual community: I want to hear reports that you are standing together for the gospel of love, not bowing to any opponents who promote a false gospel of hate and judgment and violence. How is your faith community living into that practice together? How can you go deeper together?
Here’s your love note from God! As a pastor, it has brought me particular joy when a couple chose this passage as their wedding vows, when they were committing to each other across cultures or when their same gender love meant one person’s family would not embrace their love. Ruth and Naomi capture something so profoundly human and divine. I hope you are moved by their story also.
Ruth 1:16-17 But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’
I love how, to this very day, this passage about my faithful servant Ruth is used in wedding ceremonies all over the world as people commit themselves fully to each other. What people sometimes forget is that part of the reason this beautiful story ended up in the bible is because my children had forgotten my teaching to love the stranger and show compassion for the foreigner. This story of Ruth’s deep commitment to her mother-in-law was intended to remind them (and you) that people different from us can model for us the deepest commitment, love and faith, and to give us strength in hard times. I meant you to know all of the beautiful diversity of my creation. I made you in my image, and I am so big that I needed billions of people to capture the fullness of my divinity. I invite you today to reflect on how you can deepen your connections to the people, the parts of my image you don’t yet know.
These days are short; there is a lot of darkness. And I know that these can be some of the hardest days to face, also. I want to remind you that because of people like you, in the hardest days, my light has never disappeared. It has always been there to light the path for people facing their own shadows or the shadows of fear, pain, and heartbreak. Today I invite you to reflect on how my beloved Son came to shine a light that still shines today. And I invite you to reflect on how that light shines in you for those who need it, and where you can invite me in to shine more brightly in your own life. Because I always want to be there now; I have always wanted to be there.
Here’s your first Love Note from God for the year 2020! I hope you find it meaningful. I hope you find ways to receive God’s love all year.
–Sandhya Jha, author
Genesis 1:1-3 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
I was there from the beginning, and I was there from your beginning. Today is a day for us to re-start our journey together, and this I promise: I will always provide light for the journey. Today, I invite you to take a moment and revel in my creation, and to find ways to honor it and care for it. This is what I seek for us together this year: that you might grow closer to me and creation, and that you might always feel my light around and inside you, even in the hard seasons. If I could create all of this, what can’t I create in you?
How strange that today’s devotion isn’t from the Gospels, right? When I set out to write this, I wanted to make sure I didn’t slip into the tendency of writers before me of leaning on only the texts I love. (Most year-long devotionals are primarily gospels, maybe a little of the prophets, and a lot of Psalms.) I also started writing with a calling to reconnect us with the complexity of the scripture and its many characters. So every even day is from the new testament, working in rotation from Matthew to Revelation and then starting over again. And every odd day (starting with 1/1 in Genesis) does the same with the Hebrew Bible. So here we are with the wisdom of the prophets on the day of the birth of our saviour. I hope you find a point of connection.
Hosea 14:2b-3 ‘Take away all guilt;
accept that which is good,
and we will offer
the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, “Our God”,
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.’
On this birthday of my Son, I invite you to turn to an ancient text which he would have studied and learned from. As you celebrate him today, reflect on what it means to give up believing that the work of your hands or a strong army is your salvation and instead to embrace me, the God of the orphan and of the innocent and sinner, the God of a baby born vulnerable among animals brought in from the cold and of his teenage mother and his father who also wasn’t his father, the God of the family who took in a very pregnant woman and of the many people who would not. I ask you today to offer me the fruit of your lips.
Here’s your weekly love note from God! And here’s hoping that during this frenetic season you are finding time to breathe and know that you are loved.
Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
My beloved child who wrote this letter wanted his church to be a beacon of hope and inspiration to those in need of hope. Today I invite you to read this letter as it was written: to a group. Imagine it has been written to your faith community. If it helps, add the phrase “you all,” to remember the writer was inviting a whole community to rejoice together, not placing that burden on one person who might not be able to do so, and inviting a whole community to be known for its gentleness, so that on a day that one person could not be the embodiment of gentleness, the rest of the community could step up. I made you for community so you do not have to be Christ to the world all by yourself, but that your community could support each other in being Christ to the world.