Tuesday February 28 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 42

Key verse: (3) “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Reflection: Has there ever been a time in your life when you longed for God?  A time when you had a powerful need to experience God’s presence and it didn’t happen?  You may have asked yourself:  Where is my God?

What did you do?

Today’s psalm offers some strategies when your faith feels like it is failing.  First, acknowledge the emptiness and pain. The psalmist says it this way, “My tears have been my food day and night.”  Once you admit and accept the pain, you will be able to move through it.   Second, remember the better days when you were happy and thankful and hold on to the hope that those days will return.    Third, pray and let God know how you are feeling, remembering that nothing can separate you from God’s steadfast love.  Most of all, don’t give up on your relationship with God.  Remind yourself that there is a season for everything.   Hold on to hope and don’t let go.   God hasn’t let go of you even in your struggle.  Keep hoping, be honest about what you are going through, and stay connected to God anyway you can.  Don’t wait until you feel some warm feeling inside to confirm your faith.  Keep calling out to God as an act of your will until the storm ends.  And, it will end.

This psalm reminds us that we have choices when tough times come.  We can give up and surrender to despair or we can remember God’s promises in the midst of our suffering.  Hold on to hope and there will be a time of praise again.

Prayer: Loving God, in the midst of our struggles, when our tears have been our food day and night, when people have questioned our faith, please remind us of your steadfast love.  You are the God of our lives.  Send out your light and truth to guide us when we can’t see where we are going.  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].

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Monday February 27 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verse: (17) 17 The Lord is just in all his ways and kind in all his doings.

Reflection: There is an old rabbinical saying that if you read Psalm 145 three times a day you will ensure your spot in God’s kingdom. Really?  No, probably not, but maybe reading this psalm is a reminder of what it is like to live in God’s kingdom.  The psalm is uniquely titled “Praise” and that is what it is from top to bottom — a psalm of praise to God who makes all things well. Praise is a response to the world as we experience God in it. Praise also creates a world because we experience God in it.  Praise is a powerful, creative act.

One word that keeps emerging in this psalm is the Hebrew word kol, or all.  Almost twenty times it is used.  It’s a way of saying that everything is everything with God.  Or as one Jewish expression says, “all of every everything. “ What a great description of God — the one who is all of every everything.  It means God is complete, whole, perfect, and all-encompassing.  It means that weeping may come at night but there is rejoicing in the morning.  It means that in the midst of all that is unfair, unjust, and unworthy of life, God is working to bring about what one day will be just and good and fair and loving and worthy and true.  The word “all” is in some ways our best prayer — we give all to the one who is all and can do all and who knows all and whom will bring all things into completion.

God.  You will encounter him, especially if you decide today to go anywhere.  He’s everywhere.

Prayer:  God, my all in all, I praise you this day for everything, for everyone, and for forevermore. Amen.

Author: Derek Macleod

[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 February 24 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

Key verses: (38-39) “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…”

Reflection: Today’s reading comes from the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Gospel readings from the daily lectionary have been from this sermon all week.  The sermon extends from 5:1-7:27.  It is the first major teaching block within Matthew’s gospel—a defining speech for the early Christian community.  In today’s passage, Jesus makes a series of statements beginning with, “You have heard it said…,” and then adding, “but I say to you…”  This section of the sermon begins in 5:17.

Scholars suggest that Matthew’s original audience was likely a group of Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and who had been expelled from their local synagogue because of this.  The academic theory is that they were likely accused of abandoning the law of God as expressed in Torah.  Jesus’ sermon reiterates the truth that he came “not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matthew 5:17)  He begins the section by intensifying what the law says, thereby calling our attention to the spirit of the law, not just the letter as it relates to murder, adultery, divorce, and taking oaths.  Millie’s devotion yesterday spoke to this reality.

At verse 38, that changes.  Jesus doesn’t intensify the law, he changes it.  While the Torah calls for an eye for an eye, Jesus says, “Do not resist an evildoer. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Give to everyone who begs from you.”  Then comes the most radical call—“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”   This is not consistent with the religious tradition Jesus grew up observing.  This is a radically new concept.  It is a game changer.  It’s also the command that Christians through the centuries have had the hardest time observing.  Living this way just might get you killed.

Of course, it did get Jesus killed.  He loved his enemies to the end, even asking God to forgive those who nailed him to the cross.  And God raised him from the dead, validating the truth that his love, even for enemies, is in fact the way that is the truth about life.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, how does his command to love our enemies shape our lives?  Does it?  What might change in our lives if we took this command seriously?  What might change in our world if Christians took this command seriously?  Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook.  In fact, he concludes this section of the sermon with these words: “Be perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Prayer: “Lord, I believe.  Help thou my unbelief.”  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 February 23 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 5:27-37

Key verses: (27-28) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Reflection: This passage is from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s story of Jesus teaching the crowd from his seat on a mountain.  Repeatedly in the sermon Jesus says , “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you…”  Jesus lifts up a commandment or a law that the people already knew.  Then he expands it.  He deepens it.  You might say he goes from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law.

For Jesus, faithfulness isn’t just about keeping a list of rules.  Faithfulness is expanded and deepened.  Faithfulness is about so much more than just a list of dos and don’ts.  God cares about our motivation. God cares about our inner thoughts and feelings.  You might do the right thing but for the wrong reason. You might avoid breaking a commandment but your inner thoughts have violated the spirit of the commandment.

Goodness, if you put it that way, there’s no way I’ll manage to be faithful!  Maybe that is part of the underlying message.  Faithfulness is never something we can achieve. We can’t claim that we have arrived. We won’t be sinless.  Faithfulness is a journey.  Just when we have made some progress, we realize how much further we have to go. We are following a Lord who challenges us to a higher level of faith than we will ever have by keeping the rules.

Prayer: Gracious God, you have called me and claimed me.  As I try to follow Jesus Christ, encourage me and strengthen me for the journey. Open my eyes to see my own sins and shortcomings, and show me what it means to be faithful.  In Jesus’ name 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 February 22 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26

Key verses: (22-26) But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Reflection: We have learned with parables that Jesus teaches around the edges. When Matthew throws out the heavy issues of divorce, murder, and adultery, dig deeper.  Jesus uses issues from real life but is always inviting the hearer (or reader) to think on their own. If we look beyond the immediate problem, we find the brokenness of relationships.

Following Jesus is not about the rules or even how to be a good person.  It is about God picking up the broken pieces of our lives and forming them into something new.

Take a minute to stop today. Own your brokenness and look to the edges where Jesus is waiting to speak new life into life.

Prayer: God, enter the messy places of our lives and give us hope for new life. In the name of your Son we 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 February 21 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20

Key verses: (13-14) 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.

Reflection: Salt and light. What a strange way to describe the followers of Jesus. Perhaps it is for us in the 21st century, but not so for those in the first.

In an age before ice and air conditioning, it was hard to keep food, especially meat or fish, for any period unless it was cured with salt. Salt was a preservative. But it could also be used to season or flavor food (just like we do today).

At a time when there was no electricity and lightbulbs, just oil lamps and torches to illuminate the night, having light was crucial for dispelling darkness and for lighting the way.

Jesus is telling his followers that they have a transforming role to play in this world. They, and we, are to become in life what salt and light are to the world. Followers of Jesus preserve what is good and enhance existing things. They also, in their living, shine a light in darkness and show others the way. Followers of Jesus do not live for just themselves, they live to transform the world around them.

Ever wonder how God wants to use you? The next time you see how even a little salt scatters all over the table or taste the difference salt makes to food you are eating, the next time you enter a dark place and turn on a light—then you will know how God wants to use you. You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world!

Prayer: When my salt has lost its taste, restore me, O God. When my light is hidden under a basket, help me to let my light shine. In both taste and sight may others experience your glory through me. In the name of the one who calls us into transforming witness, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Author: Von Clemans

[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 February 20 2017

Monday

Scripture: Ruth 1:1-14

Key verses: (8-14)  8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

Reflection: The book of Ruth is a story of family life. There are mothers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. There is death and remarriage. There are times of plenty and want, and times of joy and sorrow. Like modern family life, things get complicated. Naomi thinks she knows what she wants. After the death of her husband and sons, she intends to go home to Judah, where she has heard that food is plenty. She tells her daughters-in-law to stay in their home country of Moab. She is sure that the Lord is against her, and wishes a better future, with new husbands in Moab, for the younger women. She gives a lovely farewell speech. One daughter-in-law listens and does as Naomi asks. The other, Ruth, does not. Ruth stays with Naomi, completely against her stated wishes. Ruth gives a lovely little speech of her own, and it seems like all might go well. I note what verse 18 says, though: “When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.” Ruth gets the silent treatment, perhaps all the way to Bethlehem! And when Naomi gets home she tells her friends that the Lord has dealt bitterly with her, and she came home empty. No mention of the sacrifice of her daughter-in-law. I am not sure all was well between the two women, after a long road trip together.

The story works out unexpectedly, as family stories often do. Naomi manages to help Ruth remarry well, and in fact, the marriage becomes the genealogical line of David, and ultimately, Jesus. In hindsight, Naomi must have been able to see the hand of God at work redeeming the darkness, though in the moment of her grief, it was impossible. It felt only like loss and emptiness and failure. I wonder where God is at work for you today, in what might look and feel like pain and frustrating relatives?

Prayer: O God, give us the grace to trust that you are at work redeeming what looks to us like a mess. By your grace, light can overcome darkness, and new life can come out of death. Teach us to be patient, with you, with ourselves, and with one another. In the name of Christ we 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].