Tuesday August 11 2020

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Scripture: John 3:22-36

Key verse: (30) “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Reflection: Our passage for today is the Gospel of John’s scene of Jesus and John the Baptist’s interaction. Jesus came into John the Baptist’s turf and started baptizing as well and John the Baptist’s disciples didn’t take to kindly that people were following Jesus. It wasn’t just that people were following Jesus that John’s disciples didn’t like, but it was that people went from going to John and instead went to Jesus. And yet, John’s response was, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Selfless.

How are we not to feel rejected when people move on from us or stop paying us attention? Do you notice feelings of competition arise when others get attention that was once directed towards you? Being selfless is one thing when we get rewarded or attention for putting others first, or when we receive acknowledgment for our generosity. When I was growing up, the summer camp that I went to handed out the Barnabas award every year, going to the youth who showed the greatest qualities of servanthood like Paul’s companion Barnabas. It wasn’t until talking about this award with my dad a few years ago that I realized how odd it was to give an award for servanthood and selflessness. While the award kept a few kids busy all week trying to outdo each other holding the door or carrying water jugs, how do we live into selflessness when it is neither recognized or rewarded?

For John the Baptist, his selflessness was truly not about himself. John’s identity was tied to a greater vision, the vision of Jesus the Messiah and the coming Kingdom. John was faithfully able to let go of worldly possessions, lose followers, be thrown in prison, and even be executed because his identity was not in what he owned, who recognized him, or even his freedom. John’s identity was found in Jesus the Messiah, the one who takes away the sin of the world and leads us back into right relationship with God.

Throughout the day, consider what it means to firmly have your identity grounded in Christ. In what ways are you willing and able to decrease so that the glory and good news of Jesus might increase? This is a challenge, this is a lifelong call, but as John the Baptist says, when we hear the voice of the one calling us to selflessness, we rejoice greatly for our joy has been fulfilled.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, open our ears that we may hear your call on our lives. By your Spirit grant us the courage and strength to hold fast to you and hold loosely to all else, so that we and our desires may decrease and you and your Kingdom vision increase. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday August 10 2020

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Scripture: Acts 5:12-26

Key verse: (20) “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.”

Reflection: My evangelism professor in seminary, John Vest, began the semester by asking the class to explore several questions. “These questions,” he said, “are easy questions to think about, but rarely are they easy questions to answer. Why? Because they never get asked.” Question number one: What is the gospel? As the class put pen to paper there were smirks on several faces — there was one on my face. Question number two: If the gospel is Good News, what’s so good about it? We then we asked to share our responses with a neighbor. Question number three: Why does it matter to be a follower of Jesus Christ? After a few moments the class and the professor shared some looks. Following this exercise John Vest explained that we are so comfortable with these words and phrases that we rarely define them for ourselves. If you cannot answer these questions, how can you go out into the world and ask these questions?

This passage in Acts is a calling to not stand idle with the knowledge of “this life.” Life here is referring to the eternal life they taught through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Their deliverance from prison was not so they can run to safety and hide, but they were set free to encounter and encourage others with the message of life — the new life in Christ. Having been just arrested at the temple and thrown in prison, the apostles are released to return and tell of the good news.

You have a story to tell. You have an experience (possibly many) that defines your “message about this life.” Are we to run to safety and hide? Or are we going to stand in a vulnerable and brave space, engage in conversation with others, and share our faith story with others? Friends, go, stand at the intersection of vulnerability and bravery, love and faith (wherever that may be for you) and share the whole message about this life.

Prayer: Holy One, who sends us out to be messengers, who sets us free and delivers us from captivity, who’s love is the good news: we give thanks and praise. Give me courage and strength to engage with others and share my story of new life found in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday August 7 2020

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Scripture: Acts 4:13-31

Key verses: (19-20) “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Reflection: How much courage do you have to stand up for what you believe in? I was reminded recently about the courage of conviction many people showed during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s. They challenged the status quo and stood up against injustice. They lived out what they believed; willing to die for what was right. Almost all of them were guided by their Christian faith.  Today’s story in Acts shows the bravery of Peter and John.  This bravery, seen in their determination, was a gift that enabled them to offer hope to countless people.  They knew there were always potential consequences to their choice to share what they had seen and heard from Jesus, but nothing would stop them.  I admire this kind of courage and sometimes I wonder how well I would have done in their circumstances.  Then, I remember that we are living in challenging times. We have opportunities now to speak up for those who have no voice and live out what Jesus taught. There is always a choice.  We can stay quiet and enjoy a private faith with God or we can share the hope of the Gospel and speak up on behalf of others.  How often do we choose comfort over action because we are indifferent or afraid? How often do we fail to speak about what we have seen and heard from Jesus?

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his book Strength to Love these words: “This faith transforms the whirlwind of despair into a warm and reviving breeze of hope. The words of a motto which a generation ago were commonly found on the wall in the homes of devout persons need to be etched on our hearts:

Fear knocked at the door.

Faith answered.

There was no one there.” (p. 126)

May we have the courage of Peter and John as we witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our acts of compassion and kindness; our words and our deeds, for it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we serve God in the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.

Prayer:  O God, that we would be filled by your Holy Spirit so that we might speak the word of God with boldness. Break down barriers within us that keep us from sharing your love, forgiveness and hope with others. Make us bold witnesses to your presence in the world giving us courage in the face of fear to do what is right. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Thursday August 6 2020

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Scripture: John 1:43-51

Key verse: (46) Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Reflection: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Nathanael couldn’t imagine that God’s Savior would come from Nazareth. It was an insignificant agricultural village, not far from a major trade route to Egypt, and likely had a population of 1,600-2,000 people in Jesus’ day. I’ve always thought of it like the small towns we travel through in route to the beach or the mountains. Maybe one stop light. Maybe a gas station with a little diner/convenience store inside. A town where everyone knows everyone else and a handful of families form the basis of the community.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? We expect “good” to come from places of power or education or achievement. We expect good to come from experts who have credentials and a track history of work. We ignore places like Nazareth and the people who come “out of” them.

What is God calls us to “come and see” what good we might find in unexpected places? I’ve received wise personal counsel about family life from people who don’t have much worldly education. I’ve heard spiritual truth from people who never attended a seminary. I’ve experienced love and grace in the midst of people I would avoid on the street. Come and see! Pay attention today to the unexpected places where God might be at work. Listen and look and learn. You may be surprised to see that God is hidden in the least of these, somewhere you were ignoring.

Prayer: Give me eyes to see you and ears to hear you today, O Lord. Make me aware of your spiritual work in the world in unexpected places and unexpected people. Through Christ I pray. Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Wednesday August 5 2020

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Scripture: John 1:29-42

Key verses: (35–42) The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Reflection: This is one of the most awkward conversations in scripture! Jesus walked by John the Baptist and it was like he was a rock-star. John’s disciples followed him so closely that Jesus turned and said, “What are you looking for?”. Caught!

What a powerful question Jesus asks and they are like, “um”, “ah”,” well’, “where are you staying?”.  Haven’t we all been there? When you just don’t have the words because really you just want to hang out with the person asking the question?  They must have been thrilled when Jesus invites them to “come and see.”

We have to look at the words “to stay”. The disciples did not want to unpack what Jesus was teaching or get spiritual wisdom. They were not looking for a 3-point leadership development plan. They wanted to see where he was going to be, so they could be present with him.

The encounter with Jesus is what mattered. To remain in his presence. They wanted to get to know Jesus. This week, how can we remain in the presence of Jesus?

Prayer: Slow us down today, God,
and whisper a word or two – or more,
quiet our mind and heart …

May we be present with Jesus

Remain with him and remember. Slow us down today God,

And be with us. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday August 4 2020

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Scripture: Acts 3:1-11

Key verse: (6) “Silver and gold have I none, What I do I have I give you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”

Reflection: You pull up to the light and there stands a man holding a sign, “Homeless.  Anything helps.”  What do you do?  There are many options.  Ignore the request and don’t make eye contact? Give them some money and ease our own guilt?  Buy them something to eat? Offer to buy their sign? Tell them you’re not in a position to help them right now?  I’ve done all of these things.  Our reading from Acts 3 shares a time that Peter and John encountered a beggar as they were entering the Temple.  What did they do?  What can we learn from their response?

First, “They looked intently at him.” They pay attention to the man.  They see him — not simply as a beggar; not as a person who has lived with a disability his entire life.  They see him not as his world saw him — not as a sinner, not as the tragic product of some moral failure, not as less than human, not as someone unfit to come into the Temple as the Levitical code states. They see him as a fellow human being.  That’s the first thing Peter and John do in meeting the man at the Beautiful Gate.  They see him.  They pay attention to him.  Perhaps their response can inform ours.  Seeing one another as human beings, and not as bums or vagrants.  In the case of the beggar, what would it mean for him not to see Peter and John as “marks?”  Luke tells us he expected to get some money from them.  So he likely saw them only for what he wanted from them, not as fellow human beings.  Indeed, these exchanges can be incredibly complex.

But they did not give him money. In fact, Peter and John may have been more broke than this beggar.  They’d been hiding in an upper room for weeks and just now gotten back into the flow of things after Pentecost.  Who knows the last time they sold any fish?  “Silver and gold have I none,” Peter says.  He is not lying there.  “What I do I have I give you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”  The Greek there is egeiro, which means “arise.”  Arise and walk.  And, by God, he does.

While I’ve never witnessed a physical healing anything like that, I have seen lives restored to wholeness in the name of Jesus through the life and witness of the church. It happens every day through our ministry partners.  It happens in so many ways.  It happens in those pastoral moments when broken lives are healed and made whole.  It happens in AA meetings when people break loose of the hold of addiction on their lives.   It happens when neighbors who are homeless find a path to new life through our ministry partners, like Roof Above.  In all these ways and many more.  This day may we know the power of God that enables us all to arise and walk in faith.

Prayer: O God, give us faith to look intently at those whose lives are less than whole.  Empower us to join your life giving work in the world that all may arise and praise your name. Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday August 3 2020

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Scripture: Judges 6:25-40

Key verse: (30)  “Bring out your son, so that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the sacred pole beside it.”

Reflection: Statues being pulled down. Acts of protest at night. Family divisions. Tension within the nation and threats from abroad. Gideon, at the center of our scripture passage for today, was living in a tumultuous time. Before kings arose in Israel, God appointed judges to call the people to repentance, to bring justice to the land, and to protect from outside threats. We know the all too familiar cycle of the Israelites obeying God only to turn away again to idol worship. We know this cycle because this is our cycle as well. This is the cycle of humanity.

John Calvin, a pioneer in the reformed church, went so far to call humans “little idol factories”. These idols today don’t look like the statues of bulls of Gideon’s era, but they are still as prevalent. Idols aren’t just things that we worship, but ideas or objects that we place trust in over God and value in over other human life. Think back to the Garden of Eden, when the man and woman ate the fruit in hopes to be wise as God, and as soon as they grasped to this object of divine wisdom they also turned against one another. In our passage for today Gideon receives a call from God to tear down the idol that his father was care taker of. Gideon knew this was a dangerous task, and so he went at night to dismantle the statue. Sure enough, the next day the town people went nuts, they saw their bull dismantled and their sacred poll cut down. Their response to an object being harmed? Kill Gideon. Idol worship always leads us to value objects or ideas over human life.

Statues being pulled down. Acts of protest at night. Family divisions. What idols do you find in our time? What objects or ideas do you hold to tightly, serving as the foundation of your identity? Where do you see objects or ideas being valued more than the lives of people?  Gideon knew that his call from God was unpopular, he knew that people would threaten his life, he knew that people valued objects and ideas more than they value the life of another person. But Gideon also knew that idol worship leads to decay from within an individual and within a community. Gideon wasn’t the bravest judge, but he trusted God day by day, little by little, to take steps to call God’s people to repentance and new life. May we trust God and follow in those steps as well.

Prayer: Holy God, we are a people prone to wander, call us back to you. By your Spirit strengthen us to hold loosely to objects and ideas and grasp tightly to you. Open our ears and our hearts to be transformed so that we may love one another fully. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday July 31 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 28:1–10

Key verses: (6-8) He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Reflection: Imagine with me and close your eyes. Take yourself there.

The Sabbath sun is rising; the dust picks up around the city; there is a chill to the air that is strikingly different from any other morning. Your head is covered out of custom and out of fear and your heart is covered with the pain that accompanies grief. With your friend you begin to walk down a long road. Arriving at the tomb of Jesus, you see guards watching over the entrance that is sealed by a large stone. For a brief moment there is silence that penetrates your soul. All of a sudden the earth begins to shake; violently the world seems as if to crumble beneath you. You gather your footing and look up and see a flash of lightning strike the stone. The stone rolls back exposing the entrance to the tomb. But this lightning is different. It stays. It has form. It is an angel dressed in all white. You turn to the guards, but they are overcome by fear and fall to the ground and lay motionless. The radiant angel looks at you and says, “Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus” This too penetrates your soul. Your mind begins to race. What? How? Why? Who? Without a second to think the angel continues, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”

What do you do now? Do you go into the tomb? The angel tells you to come and see that Jesus is no longer in the tomb. But do you need to see for yourself or do you believe. I wonder how difficult that moment would be. I imagine being awe-struck, all the while stuck between fear and joy. Matthew does not tell us if the women went in. After the angel’s instructions, we are told the women hurry away.

You and your friend follow the angel’s orders and hurry away from the tomb. You are filled with fear and joy, running as fast as you can to find the disciples. Trembling with adrenaline, breathing heavy, dust flying, wiping sweat from your brow. You see a man on the path with you. Where did he come from? Who is it? All doubt and fear leave you with one word. “Greetings.”

Prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Thursday July 30 2020

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Scripture: Psalm 116

Key verse: (1) “I love the LORD, because he hears my voice and my supplications.”

Reflection: There are times when it is natural to wonder if God hears our prayers – especially when life is interrupted by bad news like a devastating diagnosis or sudden loss.  Stressful news throws us off balance. Often our first response is to wish it away.  Now that pandemic fatigue is here we are experiencing interruption.  There is bad news and reality has set in.  Wishing it will go away soon isn’t working.  Turning to faith has become a healing balm during the disruption of everything familiar and cherished that has to be postponed or cancelled.  The resources of our faith are deep and wide.  Hopefully, cultivation of faith in the good times has equipped us for faith in the bad times. It is hard to imagine the sheer number of families who are grieving the untimely death of a loved one due to the COVID 19 virus. The isolation and the pain are inconceivable to most of us. I am reminded every day how close the virus is to you and me.  Summer has lured us into hoping that we can enjoy our usual summer routine without any consequences, but reality tells us otherwise.  We just want this pandemic to be over.  One day it will be.  In the meantime, we lift up our voices in prayer to our God who listens.

Last week I received a note from a former colleague of mine who has a health condition that won’t ever go away – there is no cure – and he has learned to live with it.  He wrote with such peace and acceptance as he described the joy he was experiencing sitting outside in his garden. Even in the midst of daily physical struggle he is able to be thankful for God’s salvation and live his life enjoying family and friends.  When I pray for him and his family, I am reminded of today’s words from the psalmist: “even though I was brought low, the LORD saved me”.  My friend is thankful because God has never left his side through the challenges of his illness.  Even though there is no cure – he is healed in the depths of his being.   God can do the same thing for us when we are brought low by the challenges of life.  God can save us from despair and doubt when we travel through situations that scare us, like this pandemic.  God will give us courage in the midst of fear and patience in the midst of restlessness.

There may be something besides COVID 19 that is creating distress in your life right now.  You may feel God is very far away and you are alone.  Remember how precious your life is to God and those who love you.  Turn to God and remember God’s compassion for you.  Be patient. God hears you and in time the answers and peace will come.  Knowing this will give you the ability to hold on and, in time, give thanks.

Prayer:  Gracious God, life surprises us with things we don’t want.  There are times when we feel lost and afraid.  Remind us you are near.  Help us to pray for one another.  And, if there is someone we need to reach out to today, remind us to make that phone call or send that text.  May we strengthen each other on this journey that your love might be visible to all.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Wednesday July 29 2020

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Scripture: Psalm 65

Key verses: (12-13)  The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Reflection: I grew up “in the country” a few miles outside of a city. From our home, you couldn’t see another house. But you could see two horses that ran in a pasture, pine trees that whistled in the wind, and a huge garden that yielded vegetables for months. I loved walking outside, to enjoy the smell of honeysuckle, to listen to the gurgling of the creek, to dig my hands into the mud to hunt for salamanders.

Today’s psalm celebrates God’s creation. We now know that nature can bring healing to our minds and our spirits. Apparently even small things make a difference – noticing a dandelion poking up through a crack in the sidewalk, listening to a bird that sits outside your window, feeling the breeze on your face as you walk from your car into the store. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-resilience/201801/why-connecting-nature-elevates-your-mental-health)

The writer of the psalm knew that nature points us to the Creator. Nature sings of God’s glory. One of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry, writes in “The Peace of Wild Things”:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

Today take an opportunity to listen to the birds, to enjoy the taste of some fresh fruit, to look at the stars. Rest in the grace of the world. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: This is my Father’s world, And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.

This is my father’s world, I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas his hand the wonders wrought. Amen.

(“This Is My Father’s World”, hymn words by Maltbie Babcock)

Author: Millie Snyder

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].