Friday May 21 2021

Scripture: Job 4-6

Key verses: (4:7-8) “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?  As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” 

Reflection: In the first three chapters of Job, we watch as he loses everything in his life; his business, his family, his own health.  In response, his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to him.  The first thing they do is weep with him.  Then they sit with him for seven days and seven nights, saying nothing, “for they saw that his suffering was very great.”  This is such a faithful response for those of us who seek to care for friends enduring great suffering, a ministry of presence that suffers with those we love.

In today’s section from Job, things go downhill.  His friends begin offering their responses to Job’s lament. Eliphaz is the first to respond with the key verse for today.  He essentially blames Job and/or his children for the suffering he’s endured.  “Who that was innocent ever perished?” he asks.  “Where were the upright cut off?”  What a horrible thing to say.  I can’t imagine anyone every saying such a thing.  However, we have our own contemporary versions.  “Everything happens for a reason,” is one I’ve heard.  Too often we say things not to comfort those who are suffering, but to ease our own anxiety about their suffering.  Seeing another in deep suffering reveals how fragile life really is, and that can be frightening. Listening to their lament, they might say things that make us uncomfortable.  Perhaps that is why Eliphaz recites his deeply flawed moral calculus.  “Who that was innocent ever perished?”  Of course the answer to that question is countless millions of innocent people throughout history have endured untold suffering.  Every single day, innocent people suffer.  When an apartment building in Gaza is used as a rocket launching station, and Israel destroys it, how many innocent people living in those apartments perish?  When Hamas launches their rockets into Israeli neighborhoods filled with children who have nothing to do with their nation’s policies, how many innocent people perish?  In two Bible studies I’m part of, we’re praying for children battling devastating cancers.  Surely the innocent of our world suffer inexplicably every day.  That’s the answer to Eliphaz’s rhetorical question. 

If only Eliphaz could’ve mustered the courage and compassion to keep sitting with his friend in silence.  If only he could have held his tongue instead of coming up with a ridiculous response to ease his own discomfort born of Job’s lament.  The gift God gives us through these ancient words is the opportunity to reconsider how we might respond to the suffering of the innocent in our day.  May we learn that we might love more faithfully.

Prayer: O God, your word calls us to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”  With those whose suffering is very great this day, give us courage to sit by their side in silence, and wisdom to listen to their lament that we might embody your steadfast love for us all.  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].

Thursday May 20 2021

Scripture: Job 1:1-11

Key verse: (11) “But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”

Reflection: There once was a man … As the book of Job opens, these words signal to us that we are reading a long parable, a story set up to teach a point. Throughout the chapters of this book, Job struggles with his friends and God, trying to understand why bad things are happening to him, trying to understand the actions of God.

In chapter 1, our reading for today we meet Job, a wealthy and righteous man who had seven sons and three daughters. Again, the parable theme here … 7 and 3 are both holy numbers indicating completeness. So Job was set! He had the house, he had the kids, he had the large estate with animals and servants. God even declares, “Consider my servant Job, there is no one like him on earth.” Quite the compliment! But … in chapter 1 we also meet the character Satan, which in Hebrew means “the accuser”, who plays a significant role in this book testing and challenging Job. Satan isn’t sold on Job’s faithfulness, telling God that if all that Job had was taken away, Job would curse God face to face!

The rest of the book plays this drama out, but the opening scene is quite interesting and raises some valid questions that faithful people have been asking through the ages. Some of those questions are: Do we see safety, well-being, and wealth as a blessing from God? If so, does that mean that harm, poor health, and poverty are a curse from God? Depending upon how we answer these questions will tell us a lot about how we imagine who God is, and who we are. The book of Job wrestles with the tension of why bad things happen, why good things happen, how we understand God’s character and actions, and where we fit in the mix of life.

These are all questions that are faithful to ask today! Whatever you take from these passages in Job, I encourage you to hold in tension the reality that God loves everyone, and people’s lives look differently. Can we look at our situation in life and not see it as a result of God’s blessing or curse? Can we see our comfort not as a product of God’s love, as well as not seeing our pain and suffering as a result of God’s anger? Instead, may we seek to find God’s love and respond in faithfulness in the midst of each and every situation in life. For God loves us in good times and in bad, whether we have plenty or are in need, whether we are healthy or sick, God loves us each and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, may we seek to find your love in the midst of everyday life no matter our circumstances. By your Spirit enable us to love others as you love them as well. 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].

Wednesday May 19 2021

Scripture: Zephaniah 1-3

Key verse: (2:3) Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
    who do his commands;
seek righteousness, seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the Lord’s wrath.

Reflection: Zephaniah is one of the short books of the prophets; you can easily read the whole book in a single sitting. Because of that, it’s important to look at the arc of the book, not just individual sections. We open with the judgment of the southern kingdom of Judah. Then we move to judgment of the nations and Judah. We finish with a word of hope, looking to the new thing that God will do.

As you read, I hope you will take time to read the hard words of judgment and even war that can be found in this prophetic text. Linger on them. Consider what they might mean for you. I sometimes wonder if we are too quick to rush to hope. Just as on Good Friday, we have the tendency to look toward the hope that comes on Easter, in Zephaniah, it’s easy to jump to rush through the early chapters of judgment to the hope of chapter 3.

God indeed provides us with hope – hope that fills us up and looks toward new life in Christ. But it’s important that we also remember the judgment. Throughout the book of Zephaniah, we encounter the reality of human pride that is the root of sin and leads to the need for judgment. I wonder what pride you carry with you. Are there places in your life that need to be reoriented to the ways of God? On the other side of that judgment, are there places where you need hope? Places you need to be reminded about God’s grace and give yourself the space to breath and take the pressure off. I hope today as you read through these words you sit with the hard words and you let yourself live deep into the hope. Because we believe in a God who is present for it all, and promises hope and new life on the other side of the hard times. May we rest in God through it all.

Prayer: God of the past, present and future, you are there through it all. Help us to reorient away from human pride into the way that you taught us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Author: Savannah Demuynck

[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 May 18 2021

Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4

Key verse: (2) “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?”

Reflection: Not a lot is known about the prophet Habakkuk. Within this short book there is more than one literary form suggesting that each section was written during a different time period.  Scholars suggest that the writings found here weren’t originally found in the same document.  However, they were written during the height of Babylonian power.  Throughout this prophecy, there is a common theme of theodicy. Theodicy seeks to answer the question of why a good God allows bad things to happen.  The prophet asks “. . . why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?” (v. 13) I suspect this is a question all of us have asked at one time or another.  Scripture reminds us we are called to live by our faith.  This can be very difficult when we look around at the world we live in.  When we are comfortable it is easier to look away from the senseless tragedy and injustice that affects so many. But when our lives are directly affected by tragedy or struggle, we too ask –  how long God, how long before you hear my prayers.  It is natural to wonder where God is during times of trial.  Yet scripture assures us over and over again that God is with us.  We may not be saved from the pain and destruction that arises out of evil and sin, yet we are able to rejoice in the LORD because God is the source of our salvation and strength.  As Christians, this is further affirmed by our faith in Jesus Christ, who lived among us and knew what it was like to suffer and die. Habakkuk calls us to live lives of faith, and in time, God will punish the wicked.  We need to be careful not to become the wicked.  We are called to live our lives in deep humility and awe before God.  One day all will be made right.

Prayer: Almighty God, be with us as we try to make sense of life.  Help us to follow in your ways and devote our lives to you.  Strengthen us for the journey of life and may we always depend on you.  In Jesus’ name. 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].

Monday May 17 2021

Scripture: Nahum 1 – 3

Reflection: Aleph, bet, gimel, dalet, he, vaw, zayin … I remember learning the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in seminary.  Trust me, it was a struggle!  The only thing that helped was learning a Hebrew alphabet song that still slips into my head every once in a while.

That alphabet is helpful in the first chapter of Nahum that is an “acrostic poem” (a literary device where paragraphs begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet).  Famous acrostics in the Bible include Psalms 9, 25, 11 and 119. For a text that reads as an angry tirade of a God frustrated with violence and oppression in the world it seems odd to funnel that wrath into a sing-song of the Hebrew ABC’s.

But what if an acrostic poem is used to show the underlying order of God’s work in the world even when that reason is not readily seen? 

The prophet Nahum prays through the alphabet all the way to the eleventh letter and then …. stops.  This is what scholars call a “lost acrostic” and the order we have been clinging to suddenly spirals into disorder: the downfall of Nineveh, the spiraling descent of Assyria.  In our news and world we experience that incompleteness as well.

Perhaps the “lost acrostic” reminds us God is not yet finished.  God continues to intervene in human history – even today – to address violence and oppression, to redeem what appears unsalvageable, to bring upheaval even when nations and leaders seem steadfast.  God has, is, and will pick up the letters of the alphabet that have gone unspoken and write into new phrases with the remaining letters.

The words that jump from the text of Nahum are those that describe the work and character of God:  The Lord is slow to anger but great in power! This God is “alpha and omega” –  the beginning and the end.  Our alphabet may be incomplete, but this God has history under his feet.  And so we listen for the acrostic to continue:  Look, there on the mountains, are the feet of one who brings good news.  The “lost acrostic” reminds us God is still speaking, for Nahum and for us, today.

Prayer: Holy God, so much around me feels unfinished, the world aches and needs your redemptive power.  Help me listen with all my being for you still speaking love, grace and peace into what is unfinished and draw it to a close with your resurrection hope.  Amen.

Author: Lisa Nichols Hickman

[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 May 14 2021

Scripture: Jonah 4:1-11

Key verse: (4) And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Reflection: There’s really no way to select a passage from the book of Jonah. You have to read the entire story! Jonah, called by God to proclaim a message in Ninevah, ran away. The story of his unsuccessful escape is full of adventure (a ship, a mighty storm, puzzled sailors, and a large fish). God was relentless and came to Jonah a second time with the call to go to Ninevah. Jonah relented, proclaimed judgment on Ninevah and all of Ninevah repented of their evil ways. Good news, right? Not for Jonah! He was mad. How dare God forgive the undeserving people of Ninevah! So Jonah sat down and pouted. God wasn’t through with Jonah though. God tried to teach him about the power of gracious love. The story ends with God speaking and we don’t know how Jonah responded.

I don’t remember many sermons from my childhood but I remember one in which the pastor asked each worshiper to envision someone they just couldn’t stand. It might be a real individual or it might be “type” of person. He gave us a little silent time to conjure up the person in our minds. Then he proceeded to tell us that when we arrive at the kingdom of God, that person will be the greeter at the entrance door. Yikes! I don’t think the pastor was preaching on Jonah but the message was the same. How do we handle it when God’s mercy is shown to someone we don’t think deserves it?

Jonah pouted. So did the elder brother of the prodigal son when he learned that his father was hosting a huge celebratory party for his undeserving brother (Luke 15:11-32). And I pout too sometimes. God’s mercy is a gift when I receive it and it’s a challenge when I see mercy given to someone else. In trying to teach Jonah, God appointed a bush (v. 6) and God appointed a worm (v. 7) so it looks like God can use all sorts in the kingdom. Even worms. Even me. And even the person who is my enemy. That is the good news, and the challenging news, of God’s mercy. God made us all, God loves us all, God is merciful with us all.

Prayer: O God, you have poured your grace out on me. You have forgiven me and you have welcomed me in spite of my mistakes. Soften my hard heart. May your powerful grace make my heart more gracious, and may your mercy shape me with a merciful spirit. 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].

Thursday May 13 2021

Scripture: Psalm 128

Key verses: (1-6)

1 Happy is everyone who fears the LORD,

    who walks in his ways.

2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;

    you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine

    within your house;

your children will be like olive shoots

    around your table.

4 Thus shall the man be blessed

    who fears the LORD.

5 The LORD bless you from Zion.

    May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem

    all the days of your life.

6 May you see your children’s children.

    Peace be upon Israel!

Reflection: Reading this psalm, it sounds like prosperity and blessings come to people of faith. Like a contract. Fear God, walk in the ways of God and you shall be happy. The basic idea of this prosperity theology is that God rewards Christians that are good, kind and faithful. It is a theology we often teach our children. It is an easy theology. Under this theology, bad things should not happen and when they do all kinds of questions are asked about God.

As Presbyterians, in the reformed faith, this is not our theology. We do strive to be good and kind. As people of faith, we ask hard questions about God, faith and life.  However, we do not expect to be blessed or to prosper.

We expect transformation.

We yearn to be changed because of God’s presence in our lives. To be honest, we probably fear it a little bit too. I wonder if that is what the psalmist is talking about when they talk about fearing God. It is easy to stay where we are and we have no idea where God is going to take us. We have great trust in our God, we stand on a solid hope but there is a healthy dash of fear that comes with faith.  Transformation is life-changing. 

When theology says that God brings prosperity and blessings it becomes hard to deal with the regular pain of life. Our theology reminds us that God walks with us in the good and bad of life. We read this in Romans 8, in the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. I’d say that is a pretty amazing blessing.

Prayer: God, thank you for being in every corner of our lives. The good, the bad and every ordinary thing in between. 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].

Wednesday May 12 2021

Scripture: Amos 6-9

Key verse: (9:11) “On that day I will rise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old.” 

Reflection: Today we finish the prophet Amos.  His work would never be described as “cheery.”  The herdsman of Tekoa wasn’t one to mince words.  His most well-known words call for “justice to roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  That is preceded in chapter 5 with the very direct chastisement, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.”  Today’s section is also filled with pronouncements of judgment against Israel that land Amos in trouble with the “big-steeple preacher” of his day, the court prophet Amaziah, who was always eager to tell King Jeroboam whatever he wanted to hear.  (see Amos 7) 

The last five verses of the book, Amos 9:11-15, offer a stark contrast of hope.  There’s a promise for redemption and abundance and joy.  It’s so starkly different from the rest of Amos that many scholars believe it was tacked on to the book at a later date.  Maybe, maybe not.  Regardless, those final five verses offer an important theological reminder.  God’s word to us is never simply judgment.  There is certainly a lot of judgment in scripture, but that’s never all there is.  God’s judgment is always for a purpose.  The goal is redemption.  Judgment is part of the process, but it is only the means to a new end, a new day, a new life.  That’s even true for old, grumpy Amos!

There’s an awful lot of judgment in our world these days.  It seems to be judgment simply for the sake of tearing down our opposition, whomever they may be.  I wonder what we could learn from the end of Amos.  How might imagining a redeemed relationship with those we judge change the way we pass judgment on others? 

Prayer: In the midst of a world too often defined by brokenness and bitterness, where judgment of the other often defines the day, give us hearts to hope for a new day, where even our relationships with those we judge might be redeemed. 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].

Tuesday May 11 2021

Scripture: Amos 5:18-27

Key verse: (24) “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Reflection: Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. These words of Amos may be familiar to your ears, whether through previous Bible reading, or the great hymn “Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples”, or probably most famously in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” These words have stood the test of time and continue to speak through generations from Amos, to King, to our day.

Like many popular phrases and verses in scripture, I worry that this verse has lost the sting of its substance over time from Amos’s lips, to King’s pen, to our ears. In our passage for today Amos is railing against Israel and their comfortable complacency. Amos a shepherd by trade and a prophet by calling is speaking freely, without having to answer to any higher power other than God. In the chapters leading up to our text for today Amos goes through the surrounding nations and the wrongs they’ve committed, and finishes by describing God’s judgment on those nations. Amos however wasn’t done with God’s judgment after commenting on the surrounding nations, instead Amos brings it straight to home and highlights Israel’s straying from God’s desires. The case against Israel is that they have trampled upon the poor, denied justice to the oppressed, and caused discomfort for many so they may be comfortable themselves. And these were the religious folk!

The verses immediately before Amos calling for justice to roll down like waters decries the religious actions and festivals of many in Israel. Sure, the Israelites have their feast days, they bring grain and burnt offerings, they sing their songs, they honor God with their religious actions, but in their personal dealings and in their day to day lives they are oppressive.

Amos’ words cause me to pause. As a pastor I could point to the number of days I’m at church, or how often I read the Bible, how many times I pray, how big my offering is, or how loudly I sing (trust me, you don’t want to hear my singing). But if I pointed to those things while the daily actions of my life caused discomfort and oppression of others, am I really glorifying God? Amos’ words in his time, and his words through King’s pen, and his words today call us to pause and question not whether we are good church attendees, or even whether we give and serve faithfully, but where these words sting the most is that they ask whether our comfort which causes discomfort for others is more important than seeking justice and walking rightly with God. May you pause with me today, and discern where in our lives we may seek to make changes that will bring justice and righteousness to all.

Prayer: Holy God, sometimes your words make me a little uncomfortable. Thank you for shaking me from the confines of my comfort and refocusing me on your justice. Guide me in word and deed this day so I may live into your way. 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 May 10 2021

Scripture: Joel 2:18-31

Key verses: (21-22)
Do not fear, O soil;
    be glad and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
    for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
    the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

Reflection:In this season when creation is literally springing forth around us, it’s hard to ignore God’s presence in that process. As flowers bloom, birds chirp, and streams flow full of water, it feels as if God is reaching out and saying, “look, here I am – I’m here for you!” I wonder how creation fits in to your faith.

There was a long time when faith felt like a two-way relationship between God and me, but in seminary my eyes were open to the ways that God breaks through to redeem more than just humanity. God redeems all of creation. I’m not sure I can totally fathom the scope of God’s reach but I do know that it is amazing.

In the book of Joel, we receive visions full of joy for the harmony of creation. Joel reminds us of the deep, God-filled connection of humans to the land and the animals, the whole earth. All things happen in relation to one another. Every event is connected to everything. It’s a beautiful vision of the way God created this earth. Not to be a place where humans ruled all and never gave creation a second glance, but to be interconnected, where we follow God’s example of care and stewardship of creation.

As you go about your day today, consider the creation that surrounds you – the birds that sing as you wake up in the morning, the trees that shade your car as you drive to work, the food that you eat that came from the dirt. Offer gratitude to God for such a magnificent planet and the sustenance it provides us. May our awakening to creation, fill us with the love of God that surpasses all understanding.

Prayer: Creator God, you sent your son to redeem all of creation. Fill us with your love for the whole earth. Let us find renewal in you through your presence in all that surround us. Amen.

Author: Savannah Demuynck

[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].