Home Altar: Week of November 7, 2021

by Paul H. Betancourt

Sunday, November 7
Psalm 46:7-11

Stop, Look, and Listen

Of all the speeches, sermons, and lectures you have heard in your life, what do you remember? Stories, passion, and speakers who drive their point home tend to stick with us. I can remember one preacher from the church we attended when I was a boy. His theme that morning was, “Stop, Look, and Listen.” He used the traffic safety tip and applied it to our spiritual lives. 

There are wonderful things in Psalm 46: God is our refuge and our strength. But the thing I always remember is, “Be still and know that I am God.” Can we do that? Can we stop, look, and listen for those holy moments in our lives?

We live in a world where even instant coffee is too slow. We rush here and there. Are we worried we are going to miss something? 

Gracious God, thank you for the fullness of my life. In that fullness, grant me those still moments of your presence. AMEN.

Monday, November 8
Psalm 119:1-8

Reclaiming Torah

A few years ago I was fortunate to go on an interfaith trip to Israel. One thing I learned is that Torah is not a straitjacket of legalism. One writer says, “At its core, the Torah is a set of instructions from God meant to provide divine wisdom.” Instruction. That sure got lost in translation, didn’t it? As Protestants, we tend to get squeamish about “the Law.” But what if we translated that word as “Torah,” or instruction—or God’s teaching? We can all use a little instruction in this crazy world, can’t we? Who better to learn from than the Creator? Torah is a gift. Since that trip, I joined a weekly Torah study at a local Jewish synagogue. It is one of the highlights of my week. In the depth and the richness, there is always something new. Shifting from worrying about rules and opening ourselves up to instruction changes everything.

Gracious God, thank you for Torah. Open our hearts and minds to your guidance in our lives. AMEN.

Tuesday, November 9
Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Not Just on Sunday

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (v. 1, NIV).

This is the Shema, from the Hebrew for “hear.” This the great claim of the people of God in a pagan world. 

We are told to have these words on our hearts and even our doorposts. Even today our observant Jewish sisters and brothers say them upon waking up and going to bed. The Shema is supposed to be the last words on their lips as they pass from this life. We are called to put God at the center of our lives and love with all of our heart, soul, and strength.

I am willing to bet I am the only farmer in my community with a mezuzah with the Shema on his shop door. I also have one on my desk. They are my reminder. God and his Word are to be woven into the fabric of our daily lives, not just on Sunday.

Gracious God, may we live our daily lives before you, aware of your presence and guided by your Torah. AMEN.

Wednesday, November 10
John 15:9-12

Respect and Cherish

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12, NIV). 

We like to talk about love, don’t we? The world talks about love a lot, doesn’t it? But according to the news, we are not very good at it, are we? How about cherish and respect for one another? There seems to be a worldwide shortage of respect out there. We care for the things we cherish, don’t we? We nurture and protect them, don’t we? 

Jesus’s call to love one another is revolutionary. Not just love the ones who love us back. Not just those who agree with us. Not just love our families (that would be hard enough). Not just love as a sentiment, but love as an action. Love one another without condition.

That is the starting point to respecting and cherishing one another.

Gracious God, help us to find new ways to love one another as you have loved us. AMEN.

Thursday, November 11
Hebrews 5:1-10

Our High Priest and Hope

Jesus as High Priest is one of the themes of the Letter to the Hebrews because the writer is making the case that Jesus fulfills the Torah and fulfills the role of human priests and their sacrificial system that were just a foretaste of God’s plan for us. In that fullness, because of his sacrifice, our conscience is cleansed “from dead works to serve the living God.”

Jesus is not just the great High Priest who takes care of a task. As the final sacrifice, he makes full atonement for our sin. As Christus Victor, the Victorious Lamb, he has broken the power of evil and sin in our lives, completely and permanently.

But wait, there’s more—it even gets better! We are told in Hebrews 4:15 that this is not a High Priest who cannot empathize with our humanity. Our Orthodox sisters and brothers believe that Jesus became like us so we might become like him. By taking on flesh, Jesus fully understand our lives and offers the encouragement that our lives can be better. He is our High Priest and our hope.

Gracious God, we thank you that as our High Priest, Jesus broke the power of sin in our lives and having lived like us, understands our lives. AMEN.

Friday, November 12
Hebrews 13:8-10

Strengthened by Grace 

I have read the Letter to the Hebrews many times. We just finished it in our men’s Bible study. But I had never noticed that line in verse 9: “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (NIV).

I wrote these reflections while on a week-long motorcycle ride. I get hours to meditate and pray while on the bike. I spent more than one day on just that sentence. We do not always think of grace as a source of strength, do we? It is good that our hearts are strengthened by grace—God’s grace for us and that grace overflowing to others in our lives. 

What would a heart strengthened by grace look like? Probably less stressed. Probably less wrung out. How do we strengthen our hearts by grace? Or perhaps that’s the wrong question. How about, how do we let God strengthen our hearts by grace? It starts in worship. It starts in God’s presence.

Gracious God, strengthen my heart with your grace. AMEN.

Saturday, November 13
Hebrews 13:20-21

Overflowing with Grace and Peace

“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with every good thing to do his will, carrying out in us what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen” (vv. 20-21, Lexham English). 

What a prayer, what a blessing. That is a high calling. It is our calling.

“To whom be the glory forever.” Do you remember the scene in Revelation 5 where they await the Lamb of God who is worthy to break the seals of the scroll? All heaven is there to worship Christus Victor, the Victorious Lamb. 

Gracious God and Creator to Whom is all glory and honor, fill us to overflowing with your grace and peace so we become a blessing to those around us. AMEN.

About the Author: Paul H. Betancourt

My wife, Sheryl, and I live and grow almonds in California’s San Joaquin Valley on land that was farmed by her grandparents. We have been members of Kerman Covenant Church since 1981. I am a member of the first cohort of the Ignite program with North Park Theological Seminary and plan to finish my MDiv in the spring. In addition to farming, I teach political science at Fresno State. And I recently returned from a 2,100-mile motorcycle trip through Idaho and Oregon.

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