Friday June 15 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals-fri

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.

06 15 joe devotion

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

130801-dailydevovisuals-thurs

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].

Wednesday June 13 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals-wed

Scripture: Galatians 5:1-15

Key verses: (13-14)  13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Reflection: As we waited this week for my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony to begin, my family talked about other graduations we remember. My husband recalled speaking at his high school graduation, as class president, but not what he talked about. My mom suddenly remembered that she had spoken at her high school graduation, over 65 years ago. There were three speakers, on the topics of faith, hope and love. Her speech was the part on love. “I didn’t know anything about love!” she recalled, “I was seventeen years old!”

Somehow my mother figured out how to love, and has lived it out well all these many years. She learned to love as we all do, I think, by being loved. First in her family of origin, and then in the family she and my father have created. And then she learned to love by making daily choices over and over again to do the next loving thing. It wasn’t and isn’t always easy. Love often is hard. It means sometimes giving up our own self-interest to put the other first: a spouse, a child, a neighbor. May God help us all learn to love well.

Prayer: Lord, help me learn to love. Help me make the next right decision to do the loving thing. Teach me what it means to love my neighbor as myself. Thank you for all those who love me, and all whom you have given me to love. In the name of Christ, who showed us what love is, 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].

Tuesday June 12 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals-tues

Scripture: Matt 15: 29-39

Key verses: (32-37)  Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” 33 The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” 34 Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.

Reflection: Jesus met the broken where they were, meeting their needs. He provided more than enough for this crowd of four thousand, having compassion for them. These are the pieces of this scripture that stand out for me today, as I work alongside youth and adults on a mission trip in Chicago.

Yesterday, we fed less than four thousand but they were people who were hungry.  We stepped out of our comfort zone and are becoming more and more aware of some deep need. We begin today serving a meal for families and we will draw on the compassion of Christ.  Some people say that Christ did not come to meet our needs, but people who say that often have their basic needs met. In this miracle story, Christ saw the hunger of the people and had compassion. May we have compassion for those who are hungry and join Christ in meeting some of the most basic needs of our neighbors. You don’t have to go on a mission trip to join in this work. Find a way to reach out today with compassion to those who are hungry.

Prayer: God of love, be with those that are broken and hurting. Guide me with compassion to see the depth of need around me and to reach out beyond myself. 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].

 

Monday June 11 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals

Scripture: Matthew 15:21-28

Key verse: (27) “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.”

Reflection: When I was visiting Philadelphia a few years ago I had the opportunity to attend Sunday evening worship at Broad Street Ministry. (Learn more about Broad Street Ministry here: http://www.broadstreetministry.org/ )  Our youth groups have been to Broad Street on mission trips. Broad Street is an alternative church community that was organized in 2005 with the support of three large churches in that Presbytery.  They are located in the old Chambers-Wylie Presbyterian Church, that had long been defunct.  When Broad Street came in, they took all the pews out of the sanctuary and reoriented the congregation to face out toward the street.  They organized their community around expressive and soulful worship, bold faith exploration, and opportunities for compassionate discipleship.  They welcome any and all people into their community, from the homeless living around the church to the wealthy who come from the suburbs of Philadelphia.

That night’s worship was an amazing experience for me.  They had a great band with a gospel choir and a lead singer who brought incredible passion and energy to the service. Matthew 15:21-28 was the passage for the evening’s worship.  After it was read, there was a pregnant pause.  Then a man came in a suit from one side of the semi-circle we sat in.  He walked toward the table at the center of the worship space.  As he made his way, a woman in a t-shirt came from the opposite side of the sanctuary.  She stopped the man and said, “Sir, could you please help me?”  He responded tersely, “No, I’m sorry.  I’m busy.”  She said, “Please sir, my daughter’s sick and I lost my job and I don’t have health care, can you please help with something?”  “No, I don’t have time.  Leave me alone,” he said.  “Please, sir.  Just stop for minute.  Please look at me!” she cried.  “What?” the man said, staring at her. “Please help me.”  “No,” he said tersely.  Then the woman said, “But you’re Jesus.  You have to help.”  The man replied, “All right.  Let’s go.”  And the two exited together.  I’ll never forget it.

I think they captured the essence of this story.  Jesus is uncomfortably rude to this Canaanite woman.  First he ignores her.  Then he insults her. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  He calls this Canaanite woman “a dog.”  Some say Jesus was just testing her.  If so, it’s a pretty cruel test.  Others say this reflects the prejudice of Jesus’ own upbringing.  That’s hard for me to swallow.  No matter the motive of Jesus’ rebuke, the woman stays steadfast.  “Even the dogs get the crumbs from the Master’s table.”  That stops Jesus in his tracks.  He praises her for her faith, and her daughter is instantly healed.

Where do you find yourself in this powerfully troubling story from Matthew?  Do you identify with the woman, pushed to the margins, desperate for healing for one you love, pleading for help no matter the cost?  Do you identify with Jesus and the disciples, seemingly annoyed by the incessant demands the world relentlessly presents that distract you from what you really need to be doing?  Or do you find yourself in the crowd, someplace in between, seeing the problems of the world, wondering who will do something about them?   Wherever you find yourself in this story, it shows us something of what love looks like, relentless love that refuses to settle for anything less than healing and wholeness.

After the skit, we sang a song I’ve never sung in church.  “I Want to Know What Love Is,” by Foreigner.  I’ll never forget it.  Some of the lyrics serve as our closing prayer:

I gotta take a little time, a little time to think things over

I better read between the lines, in case I need it when I’m older

Now this mountain I must climb, feels like the world upon my shoulders

Through the clouds I see love shine, it keeps me warm as life grows colder

In my life there’s been heartache and pain

I don’t know if I can face it again

Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far, to change this lonely life

I want to know what love is, I want you to show me

I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me.

Amen.

Hear the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUYGzZ0tQpA

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].

Friday June 8 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals-fri

Scripture: Matthew 14: 22-36

Key verse: (28) “Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Reflection: Sometimes our enthusiasm is greater than our ability.  In a moment of enthusiasm, Peter tries to walk on water.  He seems to do alright for a few seconds as he walks toward Jesus.  Then, he notices the danger around him – the strong wind and the churning water – and he begins to sink.  I can relate to Peter.  There is something about his can-do spirit that I find magnetic.  He was willing to try anything for Jesus.  He pushed himself to achieve and try things no one else wanted to do.  The other disciples may have found this annoying at times, but Jesus was always patient and kind with him.  Peter wanted to have a big faith, but was constantly challenged by his own humanity. Isn’t this a lesson for all of us?  Have you ever been inspired to do something big for God, only to discover that you were depending too much on yourself and not enough on God?  Faith was not something Peter could create within himself and it isn’t something we can create in ourselves either. Peter could only control his intention; not the outcome.  And the same is true for us.  How wonderful it is to affirm with Peter, “Lord, if it is you, command me . . .” Think how different the world would be if each of us took a chance and stepped out of the boat of our security and comfort to walk toward Jesus.  We may begin to sink, but Jesus will reach out his hand and catch us.  If only we will trust.

Prayer:  Gracious God, thank you for your enduring love in the midst of the challenges of faith.  Help us to get out of the boat to serve 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].

 

Thursday June 7 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals-thurs

Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

Key verses: (13-21) 13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Reflection: Jesus does what needs doing. When he needed time alone, he actually took it. When a crowd followed him relentlessly, he had compassion on them. When he saw sick people, he healed them. When they got hungry, he fed them. When his disciples said, “we can’t,” he showed them they could. When there wasn’t nearly enough, he made leftovers aplenty.

What is it that needs doing today? Where are the barriers that seem too high to scale? What circumstances seem impossible to overcome? Jesus can make a way. I don’t mean in the find-me-a-parking-place-I’m-late-for-the-doctor kind of way. I mean the I’m-sick-and-Jesus-knows-about healing-that-is-more-than-even-wellness kind of way. It takes setting aside what we think God ought to be up to on our behalf, and looking for what God is actually doing. Where is love at work? Where is wholeness at work? Where is forgiveness and grace at work? It might just be in the most broken places, the places with the most need, maybe even the places that have nothing to do with our usual daily worries. May God open our eyes to where Jesus is making a way, and show us how to join in.

Prayer: Lord, you do impossible things, with love. Help me to see where you are bringing about healing and wholeness. Help me trust in you. And show me how to join your ministry of love and justice in the world. 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].

Wednesday June 6 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals-wed

Scripture: Matt 14:1-12

Key verses: (1-12) At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod 7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; 10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

Reflection: Clearly we have here is the clash of two kingdoms. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of Herod are radically different and Matthew invites us to observe the contrast through this horrible story. John the Baptist had been imprisoned because he condemned Herod for divorcing his wife and then taking his bothers wife, Herodias.  On Herod’s birthday, Herodias’ daughter, Salome, danced before the king and Herod was so pleased that he promised to give her any request she desired. Out of revenge for criticizing her marriage, Herodias told Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Although Herod was shocked by the request, he reluctantly agrees to save face, giving in to the crowd.

In contrast, we remember the kingdom of God that John the Baptist points to at the beginning of the gospel. John called people to a kingdom of justice, hope and compassion. It was a kingdom based on the law of love.  John’s kingdom was based on integrity.

We are kingdom people, but what kingdom does our everyday life and choices reflect? Do we take the easy way out and give into peer pressure or do we live with integrity and faith?

John the Baptist points us to the way of God’s kingdom, even in his death.

Prayer: Forgive me for all the times I have given into choices that do not reflect your kingdom, God. Today, may integrity and love rule my day as I seek to 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].

Tuesday June 5 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals-tues

Scripture: Psalm 146

Key verses: (3-4) “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals in whom there is no help.  When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.”

Reflection: In a previous congregation I served it was the practice of the city to invite clergy to offer the invocation that began the city council meetings.  The first time they invited me, I’ll confess I was excited about the opportunity.  John Calvin said that the highest calling was civil service, and the chance to offer prayers for the council before they began their business was a privilege.  Then they told me the rules. It was to be a non-sectarian prayer (couldn’t mention Jesus.)  It was to be brief, though I’m not sure they set a timer on it.  I needed to arrive well before the start of the city council meeting to go through security, etc.  It didn’t take long for the “opportunity” to participate in polite civil religion to lose its luster.

So I adopted a practice of praying Psalm 146 every time I was invited to offer the invocation.  When I got to the third verse, if anyone was listening, there were usually a couple of chuckles.  “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals in whom there is no help,” writes the Psalmist.  “Happy are those who help is the God of Jacob, who hope is in the Lord their God.”  The Psalm goes on to describe the work of God, who made the heavens and the earth, who keeps faith forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry, who sets the prisoners free, who opens the eyes of the blind, who lifts up the lowly, who loves the righteous, who watches over the alien, who upholds the orphan and the widow, who brings the way of the wicked to ruin.”  It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a “drop the mic” prayer.  This practice got me out of doing the invocation very often.  I wouldn’t get invited back until the scheduler changed.  Then I’d offer Psalm 146 again and get a break for another couple of years.

Often we invoke God’s name to bless what we already are planning to do. God cannot be reduced to pleasantries and platitudes to bless agendas that have nothing to do with God. Abraham Lincoln was once asked if he believed the God was on the side of the North in the Civil War.  He responded, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”  Psalm 146 offers a detailed agenda of what God’s business looks like, what it looks like to be on God’s side.  If our agenda is not in sync with God’s, perhaps we should refrain from asking God to bless it.

Prayer: Help me to be on your side today, O God.  To offer myself in joining your work in this world, doing justice, feeding the hungry, releasing the captives, opening the eyes of the blind, lifting up the lowly, watching over the alien, upholding the orphan and the widow, loving righteousness, and shunning wickedness.  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 June 4 2018

130801-dailydevovisuals

Scripture: Psalm 57

Key verse: (1) “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.”

Reflection: What do you do when the storms of life hit?  Most of us want to regain control of the situation as quickly as possible.  Illness, death and accidents throw us off-balance disrupting our equilibrium.  The uncertainty the challenges bring is unsettling and upsetting.  The author of today’s psalm, King David, was under attack.  He could have hunkered down in despair but he chose to pray and ask for God’s protection and mercy in the midst of his struggle.  The image of being protected under the shadow of God’s wings is powerful.  It is metaphorical language that describes God’s protective care when things go wrong.

Recently, I was sitting on my porch and I watched a mother mockingbird protect her nest from a red-tailed hawk.   The mockingbird first chased the hawk, nipping at its wings.  She was relentless until the hawk flew away — it wasn’t worth his trouble.  The mockingbird then covered her nest.  Her babies were safe under the shadow of her wings — her protective care.   I often think of this scene when I think about God’s protective care.  God cares about what happens to us.   Of course, we wish nothing bad would ever happen, but God is there when something does. In life’s storms we can gather under the shadow of God’s wings and ask for mercy and refuge until the storm passes.  The psalmist gives thanks for this kind of protection and for God’s steadfast love.  This love and mercy is available to all of us.  God is faithful no matter what you might be facing.  God will not leave you alone.  Give thanks today for this kind of love and let your soul take refuge in God.

Prayer: Merciful God, we cry out to you in times of need. Help us have steadfast hearts and give us a strong faith that we might take comfort in your love when we need it most.  We are grateful for your presence today and every day.  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].