Friday June 22 2018

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Scripture: Matt 18:21-35

Key verses: (21-22) Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Reflection: Our youth this summer are doing a scripture challenge, memorizing verses of the Bible. This is a Bible verse worth memorizing.  It is practical wisdom for living and a reminder of who we are as children of God.

Jesus said we are to forgive others, “seventy times seven” in response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus was speaking not only about forgiving one another but about Christian character. Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times, but reminding disciples that forgiveness is beyond counting. Forgiveness for others and forgiveness for ourselves. We are capable of this extravagant forgiveness because the Spirit of God lives within us and provides us the ability to extend grace over and over. Forgiveness is meant to be abundant, like the grace of God for each of us and all of us.

Prayer: God, pour out your grace upon us because we are broken and our lives are messy. Give us courage to live into your forgiveness so that it is part of who we are as we follow your son. 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].

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Thursday June 21 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 18:10-20

Key verse: (10) “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Reflection: Over the past six weeks, children have been pawns in the immigration debates of our nation. Passions have run high in these debates. Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order ending the practice of separating children from their families when they have entered our country illegally. Thanks be to God! While the details of this order have yet to be defined, and while we are a long way from solving the challenges of asylum seekers coming to our nation for protection, I am thankful something has been done to curb this practice.

How might God feel about all this?

Today’s passage from Mathew’s gospel gives us some insight. It continues a discourse Jesus has with the disciples concerning greatness in the kingdom of heaven.  In yesterday’s passage, Jesus placed a child among his disciples and said, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”  In today’s passage, Jesus continues the object lesson, warning his disciples not to “despise one of these little ones” as they have great favor from God’s point of view.  In fact, in Luke’s version of this story, Jesus says of children, “for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.”  (Luke 18:16)

What do these passages tell us about God?  God loves children.  In fact, children are the most favored citizens of God’s kingdom.  While nations of this world are challenged to define immigration policies that are just and humane, there are no immigration debates regarding the place of children in God’s kingdom.  All are welcome.

What does it tell us about who we are called to be in the midst of all this.  We are not to despise any children.  Harming children comes with great consequence from God’s perspective.  God cannot abide by losing even one child, neither should we.

How might this impact us as Christians?  How might it inform our discipleship?  How might it shape the way we think about the children impacted by the present crisis?

One thing is certain: on the chess board that is God’s kingdom, children are never pawns.  They are the most important pieces on the board.

Prayer: Give us your wisdom, O God, that we might see the challenges of our day with your vision and respond faithfully that we might know your kingdom.  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].

Wednesday June 20 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 18:1-9

Key verses: (4-5) “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Reflection: The disciples went to Jesus and asked: “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”  This seems like a very strange question to ask unless they were each vying for a special position in God’s kingdom.  Didn’t they already know that God is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven and everyone else is just – everyone else. Position and power are human constructs meant to elevate and exclude.  It’s the way we sort and label people according to the values and standards of the world.  Of course, it’s important to recognize people for their achievements – to congratulate them.  But, this can often lead to thinking more highly of one’s self than one should.  When achievements are used to give a person value, there might be a problem.  God values us because God loves us – even the worst of us are loved by God.  Jesus surprised his disciples by calling a child forward.  Children at that time were of value for the adults they would become; not for being children.  No one aspired to be a child.  But, Jesus told his disciples that they must become humble like children.  What does this humility look like?  It is the willingness to set aside a place of honor, or to give up, voluntarily, the insistence to have your own way or freely give up something because it would help someone else.  These are the kinds of things children are taught to do and yet, as we get older, we are taught to achieve and succeed and win a place of honor.  There is nothing inherently wrong in doing your best and doing well in life.  It becomes a problem when we insist on being the greatest at the expense of everyone else – at least from a Christian perspective.  We are called to a different way of life.

Jesus reminds us to be humble like children and to welcome children in his name because this is the same as welcoming Jesus.  He warned them about placing a stumbling block in a child’s way: “Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks!”  Of course, there are stumbling blocks in life, but when we intentionally use them to hurt someone else there will be consequences.  We have seen this played out across the globe.  Jesus’ reminder is a good one.  Don’t think too highly of yourself, choose to become like a child, and protect others who are helpless, especially children.

Prayer: Almighty God, we admire humility, but we struggle to put it into practice in our daily lives.  Remind us that we are not called to be taken advantage of, but to willingly submit our lives to you.  Help us to act innocently and openly with one another – particularly in this unfriendly world.  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].

 

Tuesday June 19 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 133

Key verses: (1-3)
1   How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
2   It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
3   It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the LORD ordained his blessing,
life forevermore.

Reflection: One of my favorite sounds in all the world is when my children are laughing together. Through the years, we have had plenty of times when there was more arguing than laughing. But now as young adults living apart, they seem to actually enjoy each other much of the time. When I learned that they have a regular time to talk to one another on Sundays, I felt like I must have been doing something right as a parent. (Of course, probably they talk together about how ridiculous we are as parents, but still…)

The Psalmist lifts up the joy of kindred living together in unity. It’s a picture of abundance and grace — a blessing from the Lord. Kindred who live this way are family, which is deeper than just people to whom you are related. When it happens between people you live with all the time, it’s amazing. When it happens with people who are even more unlike you, it’s surely the work of God.

We are called to live as kin with God’s children. Some might be like a crazy uncle, or annoying sister. Others are like long-lost cousins we never knew we had. Some just get us. Others might be hard to connect with. But we are kindred. How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. What kin will God put in your path today?

Prayer: Lord, help me live as kin, as family, with all your children. Help me be patient and loving. Help me find unity where there seems to be only division. Thank you for all who are family to me. Widen my circle, Lord. In the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[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 June 18 2018

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Scripture: Matt 17:14-21

Key verses: (22-23) As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, 23 and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.

Reflection: Jesus knew what was ahead for him but he continued to preach, teach and heal. Jesus continued the work of redemption.  On this first day of VBS, with several hundred children excited to learn about Jesus, I am reminded of our baptismal vow to tell this story.

The French Reformed baptism liturgy reminds us that it is, “For you, little child, Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry, ‘It is finished!’ For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes — for you, little child, even though you do not know it. But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true. ‘We love him, because he first loved us.'”

Prayer: Let us not be hesitant to share the good news of Jesus Christ. 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].

Friday June 15 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 16:21-28

Key verses: (24-25) “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Reflection: For many, faith is summed up by Jesus’ words in John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”  Some say that summarizes the entire Christian gospel.  When I was a kid, Rollen Stewart, better known as “The Rainbow Guy,” would travel around the nation and get great seats at sporting events wearing a rainbow wig and a t-shirt with “John 3:16” on it, promoting this one verse as the heart of the gospel.  So this one verse is what the world often saw.

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While I love the story of Jesus and Nicodemus that contains John 3:16, I wonder if it’s the best summary of the gospel.  Surely it communicates God’s love for the world and Jesus’ sacrifice made in love.  That’s a beautiful thing.  But it has a way of reducing faith to simply believing an intellectual proposition.  We can believe Jesus died for us and that we have eternal life in his name, and that can have absolutely no material impact on how we live.

I wonder why we never see “Matthew 16:24” on t-shirts and signs at sporting events?  Or, “Luke 9:23,” or “Mark 8:34;” they say the same thing.  In all these passages, Jesus says, “If any would become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” That’s a bit more demanding, isn’t it?  Yet Jesus summarizes what it means to be a disciple in these simple words.  I wonder if we haven’t spent too much time making believers and not enough time making followers.   That’s a lot more challenging.

How would you summarize the gospel?  Perhaps John 3:16 is a start, but to move from believer to disciple, we must move from belief to following.  According to Jesus, that’s when we experience the kingdom of God before we taste death.  That’s when we begin to discover the life that really is life.

Prayer: Give me faith today, O Lord;  to let go of what I need to let go of, to take up what I need to take up, and to follow you on the way that is the truth about life.  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 June 14 2018

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Scripture: Ecclesiastes 11: 1-8

Key verse: (5) “Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.”

Reflection: Thanks to science, there are a lot of things we know about life, our world and the universe. And, yet there are still things we don’t know.  There are things we can explain based on science but many times we don’t understand the “why”.  We can’t know God’s mind; we can only catch glimpses.  The book of Ecclesiastes gives all kinds of advice. In today’s passage, there are eight different things for us to take into consideration along with the reminder that there are still things only God can know.  Here’s the advice:

  1. Take chances – they may pay off
  2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
  3. Pay attention to what’s happening around you
  4. Ditto on number three
  5. God does things we can’t fathom
  6. Don’t be idle – remember to act
  7. There will be beautiful days full of light
  8. There will be days of darknesss

This passage is capped off with the statement:  All that comes is vanity.  What a good reminder that life is fleeting.  We often get caught up in things that down the road will mean very little.  We sweat the small stuff, as one author says, and forget to focus on what’s really important.  God makes everything in good time for a purpose.  We may not always be able to see it or understand it.  But, we can be grateful that people like the author of Ecclesiastes were wise enough to write down important things for us to remember.  Times may change but good advice is always timely.  We may not know the work of God, but we can give thanks for it.

Prayer:  All-knowing God, we give thanks for your presence in our lives and the wisdom of scripture.  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].