Friday January 15 2021

Scripture: Psalm 15

Key verse: (1) “O LORD, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy hill?”

Reflection: Today I am taking a break from the book of Genesis to focus on a psalm.  This particular psalm speaks in a new way to me given the upset and unrest that is present in our country right now.  We have all heard the United States Capital building referred to as holy and sacred; the center of our democracy, a symbol of all we hold dear as a nation.  The building actually sits up on a hill and so we often hear references to the “Hill” as the place where laws are made and the work of our nation happens.  For the Jews, the Temple sat on a hill. It was the place where God lived. It was the heart of the nation and religious life in ancient Israel.  Even today, it holds an important place in the life of people in Israel.  Who belongs there?  Certainly not people who commit acts of violence against others and destroys public property. Psalm 15 is attributed to King David, one of the most revered leaders of Israel.  In it, he lays out values to live by describing who may abide in the LORD’s tent and dwell on God’s holy hill.  I am drawn to this psalm because the values outlined here can lead to living a more faithful and content life.  We know that doing what is right, speaking the truth; holding God in reverence and awe; and living up to God’s values are good, life giving things.  Our nation’s highest ideals have been influenced by values such as these.  Yet, we all know that there is no comparison between the U.S. Capital building and God’s dwelling place. One is a human institution and the other is a shelter not built with human hands.  Abiding in God’s tent is a state of being we carry with us that is the source of our hope and strength.  There is a constant struggle for followers of Jesus to be more conformed to the world; following our own desires more than spending time with God.  We put ourselves in positions that are not conducive to transformation.  I know that at times I fall short of the reminders in this psalm, I want to go my own way and achieve my own agenda.  But, with God’s help I can resist these temptations in order that I might discover the life God envisions for me to live. Each of us has an opportunity every day to live out our faith in such a way that others will be blessed. I won’t pretend that this way is an easy one.  There are all kinds of obstacles along the way because of our human condition. So, let’s remind ourselves today that it is a great gift to abide in the LORD’s “tent”.  The blessings are beyond compare even though the way can be narrow and hard.  I hope you will plan to spend some time today reflecting on these words from scripture.  As the psalmist says, those who do these things will never be shaken.      

Prayer: Gracious God, we are thankful for your unmerited grace that gives us the opportunity to abide in and with you.  Help us this day to live like people who abide in your tent and dwell on your holy hill that others might experience your love, mercy and justice through our acts of compassion.  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 January 14 2021

Scripture: Genesis 45:1-15

Key verses: (7-8) God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Reflection: Have you ever compared memories with a sibling or a childhood friend? It can be amazing to realize that you both had the same experience but you remember it in completely different ways. A family vacation might be remembered as a huge adventure or a boring long trip. A classroom performance might be remembered as an embarrassing incident or as the beginnings of a creative career.

In today’s readings, Joseph was reunited with his brothers after years of living in Egypt. His brothers came seeking food and they didn’t recognize their brother Joseph. As a child, they had despised him and sold him to traders who took him to Egypt. We don’t know how they remembered the experience. Were they glad they got rid of their father’s favorite son? Were they carrying a burden of guilt buried deep inside?

Joseph looked back at his life experience and he saw God at work. I think there are two important lessons in this. First, Joseph is the one who interprets what God is doing in his life. And second, he does that by looking back at his history. I don’t think Joseph would have welcomed a messenger yelling down to him when he was in the pit, “I know your brothers threw you down there but really God will work it out.” And I don’t think Joseph would have been receptive if a fellow prisoner told him “God is going to use this time in prison to make you a great man.”

Joseph looked back at his life experience and he saw God at work. Joseph was the only one who could make this faith claim for himself. It couldn’t be imposed upon him from an outsider. And I don’t think he could recognize it in the present tense, but only by looking back. When you think about your life experiences, how do you see God at work? In what ways did God use events to shape your path? How has God guided you to where you are today and how will God use you where you are?

Prayer: Use me, O God. Use even me. Give me eyes of faith to see my past as you have worked in my life. Give me an understanding of your claim and call for me so that I can be faithful to you now. 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 January 13 2021

Scripture: Genesis 42:7

Reflection: In the world in which we live, we imagine that we know who to trust and who to fear. We draw lines for who we love and who we distrust, dislike. There are clear sides of good and bad.  Our side being good and right. God is always on our side, right? We begin to think we can bring about transformation and we know the mind of Christ.

Again, our scripture reminds us how we are challenged in faith again and again. We assume that family is on your side but here Joseph is thrown into a pit and left to die. Then sold into slavery. It works out for Joseph, as he finds favor with the King, gains power and has resources during a famine. His brothers are hungry. Here they come before him and Joseph is a bit passive-aggressive. We understand the pain that drives the game Joseph plays with his brother and we are not disgusted. Is this really what God wants from us in our relationships?

Over and over throughout this story, our assumptions are challenged. It is not enough to be good. We need a radical transformation that only God can bring. We need reconciliation that is deeper than a forgiveness we can offer. We need God to bring us out of the pit.  We have to step out of the powerful spirit of the mob and let the holy spirit guide our lives. 

This is a story about a group of brothers. It is also a story about humanity. It is a story for you and for me. May we hear God’s word for us today.

Prayer: God, pull us out of the pit. Snap us out of it when we are in the middle of the mob. Remind us every day of our need for you. Guide us. Inspire us. Transform us, the church and this country. Transform me. In the name of Jesus we earnestly pray. 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 January 12 2021

Scripture: Genesis 38:1-30

Key verse: (26) “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son, Shelah.”

Reflection: Today’s assigned readings in the “Year with the Bible” contain some pretty spicy tales. DISCLOSURE:  THIS DEVOTION CONTAINS MATURE CONTENT—at least a PG-13 rating!  The Joseph narrative continues with Potiphar’s wife making false accusations of sexual assault against Joseph that land him in prison. Before that we hear the sordid tale of Judah and Tamar. It’s a complicated story filled with tragedy, sin, and betrayal — tough stuff for a daily devotion!

By way of background, Judah was Joseph’s older brother, who orchestrated selling him into slavery.  We learn in chapter 38 about his family with a Canaanite woman named, Shuah.  He has three sons: Er, Onan, and Sehlah. Er married a woman named Tamar.  Er’s evil caught up with him and he died.  It was a practice in that day that widows without children would marry a brother of their husband so that the brother’s name could carry on.  So Tamar was given in marriage to Onan, but he did not want his brother’s line to continue, so he did not fulfill the obligations of levirate marriage.  Then he died.  Sehlah was too young to marry at that point, and so Judah sends Tamar home to her people “until Selah grows up.”  

Fast forward a few years and we learn Selah has grown up, but Judah has not fulfilled his obligation to Tamar. Tamar learns he is coming her way, so she devises a way to trap him, posing as a prostitute, and ultimately conceiving twins by Judah.  When Judah learns his daughter-in-law is pregnant, in righteous indignation he demands she be put to death for adultery.  That’s when Tamar reveals her identity through showing Judah the items pledged to the “prostitute” for her payment. 

Unfortunately, many traditional biblical scholars paint Tamar as “deceitful” in this, twisting the story to make the marginalized widow into the antagonist.  In truth, Tamar embodies a boldness in securing what is her right by law. Only her ingenuity in securing proof of Judah’s immoral action saves her life. Truth be told, far more Tamars in our world fall victim to far too many Judahs whose righteous indignation masks their own dark sin. 

Thank God Tamar had that ingenuity.  Thank God she had that boldness.  Thank God she had that courage.  For if Judah had prevailed, if the man with all the power had succeeded in branding the victim in this story as the offender, had Tamar been burned at the stake as Judah demanded, then her sons Perez and Zerah would never have been born.  If Perez hadn’t been born, then Hezron wouldn’t have been born.  And if Hezron hadn’t been born, then generations later, Jesse wouldn’t have been born.  And if Jesse hadn’t been born, King David wouldn’t have been born.  If David had never been born, then how could Jesus, the King in the line of David, have fulfilled his call to be the Messiah?  

It all began with Tamar and her courage to secure justice.  I wonder what we could all learn from her. 

Prayer: Thank you, O God, for our sister Tamar.  Thank you for her ingenuity, her conviction, and her courage to secure a future for her family.  For through her family you have worked to redeem this broken world where far too many Tamars fall to injustice and betrayal each and every day.  Through her family, you have worked to redeem 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].

Monday January 11 2021

Scripture: Genesis 35:2-3

Key verses: (2-3) “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your clothes; then come, let us go up to Bethel…”

Reflection: Sometimes things spiral out of control. One bad event leads to another, then another, then another. Has this ever happened to you? Are you in this kind of place right now? We are currently reading through the story of Jacob, and while Jacob has been able to escape a few poor decisions early in life, it seems as though reality is catching up with him. Just a few chapters before our text for today, we find Jacob on the run and about to be confronted by his brother Esau. If you remember, Jacob deceived Esau out of his birthright and his blessing, two not so little things! The reunion of the brothers, however, turns out to be a beautiful moment of reconciliation … until they depart. Esau urges Jacob to come with him back to his land, and yet Jacob makes an excuse to delay his departure and ends up traveling a completely different way. Jacob’s decisions keep having consequences.

As Jacob turns away from Esau, we find him and his family in Shechem. Here, away from his brother, things begin to unravel as his daughter Dinah is raped. Dinah’s brothers are distraught, and the silence from Dinah is simultaneously deafening and heart breaking. In response Dinah’s brothers retaliate, deceiving and then killing the men in the town. One horrific event leading to another, then another, then another.

By the time we get to our passage for today, God intervenes, or perhaps Jacob finally paused to hear God’s voice that had been calling out all along. Either way, Jacob told his household to shape up, to put away their false gods, clean themselves, change their clothes, and head to Bethel (House of God). Bethel is where Jacob encountered God in a dream, where God promised Jacob that God would be with him wherever Jacob went.

There is so much unresolved pain surrounding Jacob and his family, but at this time of despair, Jacob went back to where he experienced God’s presence. In times of distress, where do you go? Where do you turn? Sometimes when it seems like life is spiraling out of control, we need a pause, a reset, a moment to physically and metaphorically wash away the pain and hurt. Jacob went back to a special place, recommitting himself and his family to God. No matter what kind of place you are in right now in life, consider taking a moment to pause and turn to God, remembering God’s promise to be with us always.

Prayer: Merciful God, help us to pause and know your presence. May we remember to turn toward you in good times and in bad, for you are forever with us. 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 January 8 2021

Scripture: Genesis 25-28

Key verses: (25:24-26) When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

Reflection: If the most famous Hellenic heel is that of Achilles, I assume the most famous biblical heel association is that of Jacob. One might not make immediate comparisons of the two — one being a swift footed Achaean battle star, the other a mama’s boy ready to lie his way through life. Yet the two share important similarities: both deal with human weakness, of struggling with fate or providence, and the often mysterious will of the divine. While Achilles’ heel is a mortal weakness, Jacob’s heel-grabbing is a moral weakness.

Although Achilles suggests he can avoid death not by living to the favor of the gods but by manipulating circumstances, his weakness is bound up with fate and the quest of eternal glory. On the battle field Achilles is caught between the assurance of life and the hope of heroic mortality: “If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive, but my name will live forever. Whereas, if I go home, my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.”[1] Achilles is an action-oriented, in-your-face character, who’s strength and skill provide the opportunity for legendary status.

The biblical patriarch of Jacob wrestles with weakness, fate, and the mysterious will of the divine, but his story is quite different. Smooth-skinned, puny, and the second-born, Jacob was always seen as less-than in comparison to his older brother Esau, at least in the eyes of his father Isaac. Manipulation, at the direction of his mother, is the driver in receiving blessing. Jacob steals Esau’s birthright with a pot of stew, then Jacob steals Esau’s blessing through lies and deception, claiming God blessed his hasty hunt.

As a second child myself, I am drawn to Jacob and his character. I have struggled with the idea of acceptance, approval, and blessing. Like Jacob, born a “heel-grabber”, I wonder what proverbial heel you are reaching for. Is your heel one that will provide the promise of life or one that accepts mortality at the expense of posturing glory. As Christians we have found both, life and death, in Christ. Even more, we have received glory not through our actions — mighty or manipulative — but by the actions of God in Christ. We may reach for what is seemingly significant now, yet it is God’s grace and promise that provides significance in all we do.

Prayer: God of promise, it is in you that I am claimed beloved. It is by your love that I have life. It is by your grace that I have glory. Help me to reach for you in all I do. 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].

[1] Homer, Iliad, Book IX, p. 161.

Thursday January 7 2021

Scripture: Genesis 22:1-19

Key verses: (12-14) He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Reflection: Today we encounter God testing Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. There is so much to unpack about this narrative but this moment in verses 12 through 14 show us that the testing is over. Isaac will live. God will provide the ram for the sacrifice. While I find Abraham’s faith in this text to be extraordinary, I am reminded that God too has a lot at stake in this encounter. God has already promised that Abraham will have more ancestors than stars, so for Isaac to die before he has any offspring presents a dilemma for God as well. God must have trusted Abraham in order to test him in this way, just as Abraham must have deeply trusted God to obey this request so fervently.

Before this exchange, Abraham and God have had a lot of time together. Their relationship has encountered many things, including Abraham asking God to spare the people of Sodom. Abraham understands that God takes human desires into account before acting. Abraham trusts that God will provide, and indeed God does.

As with any relationship, there will be times when it will be put to the test. Sometimes the tests will be more severe, sometimes they will be minor, but it is our relationship with the other that determines how we respond. Will we trust the test? Will we turn from it? When these questions are applied to our everyday relationships we might have one answer, but we might also consider them in relationship to God. How might we show God that we are faithful? Can we show God our trust? Do we? As you continue your day, I hope you will consider these questions, looking for ways that God might be asking you to respond faithfully. It just might surprise you.

Prayer: Faithful God, you provide for us even when we fail to trust you. Help us to be faithful in our journey today, responding in love and justice as you showed us through your son, Jesus. 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].

Wednesday January 6 2021

Scripture: Genesis 19

Key verse: (26) “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

Reflection: The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is an interesting one. After Abraham negotiated with God in chapter 18 trying to prevent destruction of this city, two angels visited Sodom. Lot offered them hospitality at his home for the night. The city was worse than anyone could imagine. It was full of total wickedness that topped any depravity that could be found then or now. Part of the story reads like a dystopian nightmare. In the middle of this terrible city Lot and his family appear to be the only righteous people left. They offered hospitality to strangers and protected them. In the middle east, hospitality was more than being a good host and taking care of your guests. It was an important code of ethics to live by. The fact that men in the town wanted to harm Lot’s guests was a particular kind of sin against God. At dawn the next day after a difficult night, the angels warn Lot to get out of town as quickly as possible because the city was going to be destroyed, but God was going to be merciful to him and his family. They warn him not to look back or stop until they are clear of the city. Lot, like Abraham, negotiated with the angels about going to the hills and they told him to go to a small town nearby where they would be safe. Once they were safe, the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah killing “all the inhabitants of the cities and everything that grew on the ground.” (v.25) It was like a volcanic eruption that poured down out of heaven.

But, Lot’s wife looked back . . .

This verse has always intrigued me. Why didn’t she follow the angel’s instructions? They were representatives of the living God. There is something so human about her actions. It is so hard not to look back when we are called to move forward. This is part of the human condition. Some Jewish scholars have commented that she turned to salt because she saw the LORD as the LORD was destroying the cities. As a consequence, she died in her tracks, looking like a pillar of salt. The result of the explosion. I wonder . . . how many people have died in their tracks because they looked back? It can be difficult to follow God’s leading, especially if we are called to leave the past behind. Some people look back and end up being frozen in time. Others, remember the past but keep moving forward. This story has many layers, but I wonder what would have happened to Lot’s wife if she had followed God’s command? For me, she is a reminder that the past can have a strong pull on our lives, keeping us from living in the present.

Prayer: Almighty God, your power is immense and beyond our comprehension. Help us as we seek to look forward. May we be people who extend hospitality to strangers and show your love to others. May we continue to follow in your ways and trust in your love. 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 January 5 2021

Scripture: Genesis 18:1-15

Key verse: (14) “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Reflection: Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? Just a couple of weeks ago we heard Mary ask the angel Gabriel “How can this be?” and Gabriel responded “For nothing will be impossible with God.” God does wonderful, impossible things all the time. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son but in their anxious waiting, they pursued a “Plan B” and Abraham had a son Ishmael with the slave Hagar. When the Lord appeared to Abraham in a visit from three mysterious men, the promise of a son was repeated. Sarah overheard the promise and laughed. The promise was impossible. There was no sign of hope. Maybe Sarah thought it was ridiculous, or maybe she was overcome with giggles imagining a child in her old age.

As we begin a new year, let’s take time to consider the wonderful things God has done and let’s pray about the wonderful things God will do. God worked through scientists in 2020 to develop a vaccine for Covid 19 in record time and with great effectiveness. God worked through health care workers and first responders to bring care and comfort to sick people. God showed us glimpses of grace in the way communities came together to care for one another. God empowered ministries to adapt to offer good news in new and creative ways.

What wonderful things will God do this year? Look around where you expect to find hopelessness and you might see God at work bringing hope. If I suggest that God will bring peace to our divided nation, are you tempted to laugh? If I propose that God will ensure hungry people are fed and homeless people are given shelter, will you snicker? If I preach that God will bring justice to those who have been mistreated, do you roll your eyes?

Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? The answer is no. May God transform our ridiculing laughter to joyful hope.

Prayer: Nothing is impossible with you, O Lord. Nothing is too wonderful for you, O Lord. When I am tempted to discount your power, when I am quick to dismiss your work, when I am cynical about your future, correct me. Fill me with joyful hope that empowers me to work for the coming of your kingdom. 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].

Monday January 4 2021

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3

Key verses: (1-3) Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Reflection: As we take these steps into a new year, we all are hoping 2021 brings something better than 2020.  With each step, we have no idea what the day will bring. Like every other year before this one. It is an unknown journey.

In his journey into the unknown, Abraham chose to live with confidence in God’s promise to be with him in a new and strange land. Abraham had to relinquish control. It was not just a journey from a place on a map but it was also one of the mind. Abraham had to leave behind his narrow vision of the world and humanity. On this journey, Abraham became the stranger, powerless and excluded. We know that Abraham’s story does not end here. Abraham’s faith is in a God that promises to be and abide with him always. Abraham believed God could do the impossible and in him we see God’s blessings for the whole world.

What do you need to leave behind before you take a few more steps in 2021?

Our journey as children of Abraham, is to move beyond our self-focused need for control, taking steps into a love of God, a love for our neighbors and a genuine love for the world.

Prayer: God of the known and unknown, thank you for the promise to walk with us. To bring transformation. To do the impossible. Whatever that may be for each of us and all of us. With trust and confidence, we journey with you. 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].