Friday November 30 2018

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Scripture: Romans 15:7-13

Key verse: (7) Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Reflection: Welcome is one of those funny words that can be used in multiple ways. It can be a noun as in: “a warm welcome” or to “overstay your welcome.” It can be an adjective as in “a welcome relief.”  It can be an interjection said to someone we greet: “Welcome!” It can be a verb as it is used here by the apostle Paul, when he instructs us to welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed us.

To welcome someone means we receive them with gladness.  Perhaps there was welcome in your households over Thanksgiving, or will be over the upcoming Christmas holidays, when beloved family or friends visit. Those are the easy ones to welcome. Paul asks us to welcome people who are different from us, people we might not welcome without encouragement. In the letter to the Romans, he is talking to Jewish believers about opening the gospel message to Gentiles. It was a necessary word of encouragement; and because it was heard and embraced, the gospel spread beyond first century Palestine. Thanks be to God!

Where are you being asked to stretch to welcome others? Who needs receiving with gladness in your home, your schedule, your life, your worldview? May “welcome” become a noun for someone else, as you use it as a verb in your life, and share it as a sincere interjection to someone new.

Prayer: Lord, you have welcomed me into your family of faith. Help me to welcome others sincerely. 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].

Thursday November 29 2018

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Scripture: Ephesians 1:15-23

Key verses: (15-16) “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”

Reflection: There are many prayers in the Bible prayed by devoted followers of God and Jesus.  Some of the prayers are for deliverance, like the ones we find in the Psalms.  Some are for healing and some are prayers for other people.  Jesus prays for his disciples in the Gospel of John and Paul often prayed for his churches in his letters.  Today’s passage contains a prayer Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus.  Paul acknowledges their faith and give thanks for them.  Then, he prays the following for those who follow Jesus:

*May God give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him

*May the eyes of your heart be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you

*May you have a glorious inheritance among the saints

*Remember Jesus is Lord of all because God put the immeasurable greatness of his power in Jesus Christ and seated him at the right hand of God, and . . .

*Jesus is over all things for the church – the body of Christ.  We are his body.  All of us together.

Imagine Paul praying the petitions above for you today.  May you be open to God’s leading as the eyes of your heart are opened to the hope and love Jesus offers to you and to the world.

Prayer: O God, we give thanks for your faithfulness toward us.  Help us to move out into your world as we work for justice and mercy.  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 November 28 2018

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Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14

Key verse: (3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Reflection: Count your blessings; name them one by one. Just last week we celebrated Thanksgiving and we reflected on our blessings. So often our prayers of gratitude focus on material blessings, sometimes extravagant ones and sometimes mundane daily needs. We are grateful for food, and shelter, and clothes to wear and money to pay our bills. We are also grateful for our health, our families, and our friends.

We acknowledge that all of those things belong to God and all of those things are gifts entrusted to us by God. But our gratitude to God cannot be solely about those things. Some of those aren’t promised to us in this life. We might face natural disaster or devastating grief. Can we be thankful then?

The writer begins this letter to the Ephesians with a customary opening prayer of thanksgiving. Today’s passage is one long sentence in the original Greek (imagine diagramming that one!). The blessings listed here are spiritual blessings. We have been chosen. We have been adopted by God and are part of God’s family. We have been redeemed, transformed by the power of love in Jesus Christ. We have been included in God’s plan and gathered up in Christ. We have a spiritual inheritance of wisdom and abundant life.

Count your blessings today, focusing on the spiritual blessings God has given you.  No disaster, no diagnosis, no trauma, no grief can take away those spiritual blessings. You are God’s child. You belong to God and God is with you on the journey.

Prayer: Dear Lord, deepen my faith and my trust in You. Give me wisdom to discern what really matters in my life and transform me with gratitude for every spiritual blessing You have given me. 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].

Tuesday November 27 2018

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Key verses: (11, 16) “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Christ… Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

Reflection: There was a meme floating around the internet in the days leading up to Thanksgiving this year that depicted a complex holiday seating chart.  The cartoon had the chart posted on a wall as if it were a strategy map for an upcoming battle, and the hosting couple, dressed as generals, were plotting how best to seat their guests to avoid conflict: progressive relatives at one end of the table, conservatives at the other end, vegans in their own turkey-free zone, and children relegated to their own corner table. There was something there for anyone with a family to chuckle at.

It is no secret that every family is made up of individuals who can sometimes have very different convictions, gifts, and values.  This is certainly true of the church.  What I find helpful about this passage is that Paul reminds us of two important features of our life together as followers of Christ.  The first is that Paul draws a distinction between human leaders and Jesus Christ.  For Paul, Christ is the foundation for our collective life.  Human leaders come and go, each with their own gifts, ideas for ministries, and styles of leadership – some we like, and others we have to work hard to accept.  But it is Christ who is constant in every season, and who calls us in each of those seasons to discern together how to be faithful to him and his promises.  Anyone who has ever become a committee chair and been handed a binder of minutes for how things have been done in the past might find this to be good news.  Remembering Christ as our foundation can help us to discern which past ideas still feel faithful in a new season, and which might need to be put to rest so that fresh ideas can come to fruiting – all the while affirming the faithfulness of those who have gone before.

The second is that God’s Spirit is with us.  Here, when Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you,” he is talking about the community as a whole.  God’s Spirit lives within us together, which means that there is something vital about sharing faith with others.  We need each other.  Look at any church that people describe as “really alive” and you will see that it really is just a group of people who have come together to be attentive to God’s Spirit on the move here and now.  Their intuition is that seeking God is best done together, not separately, and they have become willing to deal with the imperfections of community life while they watch and wait for God’s Spirit to stir.

Take a few minutes to think about these two truths of community life, and where they challenge you.  Do you need to work on patience with other people’s ideas and styles?  Or might you need to be challenged to delve more deeply into community life, because that is how your own faith might be reignited?

Prayer: Dear God, you promise that, where two or three are gathered, you are in the midst of them.  Guide me as I commit to my community of faith.  Help me to be patient, to be open, to be discerning, and to be hopeful in what is sometimes a messy endeavor, so that I might catch a glimpse of how you work within our human life.  Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[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 November 26 2018

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 73

Key verses: (13-14; 21-28)

13  All in vain I have kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14  For all day long I have been plagued,
and am punished every morning.

 
21  When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22  I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
23  Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24  You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.
25  Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26  My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

 
27  Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
you put an end to those who are false to you.
28  But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
to tell of all your works.

Reflection: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14: 7-8).”

The Psalmist is foreshadowing Paul’s message in Romans. He has been acting in good behavior, and reprimanded each day. There is a sense of expected reward for positive actions. The psalmist may have even fought God in that he, “was like a brute beast toward you (21).” However, he eventually recognizes the reward is in the faithful behavior itself, not any new shiny possessions. The experience of God’s power and presence is enough. Again, a foreshadowing of Romans, nothing “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:39).”

We are called to be faithful to God, whatever the circumstances, and not look to God for material reward. God’s presence is enough. Nothing, nothing, will ever separate us from the love of God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, our hearts desire is to be faithful to you. However, like the Psalmist, we falter in our faith, as we look for material rewards for good behavior. Help us to be more faithful to you, and live in your presence, and know that is enough. We are grateful for your continued presence and love. Amen.

Author: Amy Speas

[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 November 23 2018

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Scripture: Malachi 3:1-12

Reflection: The day after Thanksgiving has long been the day when we can begin moving to Christmas.  I have to admit that I got up in the dark and thought about going to join in the chaos of Black Friday. My sister and I have done this for years, even when we are not in the same location. We call each other and share where we are and how long lines are but this year I could not do it. The crazy mass of people is sometimes fun but it also makes me sad as people are searching for something that might just fill the emptiness.

I am trying to stay present in Advent this year.  It is a time of waiting.  Waiting for God to be born in our world and into our hearts.  The hope of Advent is that God will offer us something new that will fill the emptiness. I can promise you it will not be a new game system for your children or the best ugly Christmas sweater. It will not be a new car or even the new iPhone.

Malachi paints a God who does awesome deeds that surprise God’s people.  He offers us a bold promise of transformation that comes with faithfulness.  It will be surprising and nothing that we expect.

What will you do in Advent to prepare yourself for an experience with our God?

Prayer: God, keep me present in these advent days watching and waiting. Prepare me to receive the gift of your son at Christmas. Prepare me for love. A love that is different than I expect, plan or control. Keep me present, God. 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].

Thursday November 22 2018

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Scripture: Luke 17:20-37

Key verses: (20-21) “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Reflection: Happy Thanksgiving to you! I hope this day is filled with the blessings of family and friends, and a bounty of food to celebrate an abundance of blessing in your life.  Though today is thanksgiving for us in the United States, the daily lectionary does not take into account such holidays.  Luke 17:20-37 is not a passage that I would recommend reading at the Thanksgiving table this afternoon or this evening.  It would certainly not make most folks “Top Ten” lists of favorite passages for Thanksgiving.  Philippians 4:6-7, or many of the Psalms, (9:1, 95:2-3, 107:8-9;) these are great passages for Thanksgiving, but Luke 17:20-37?

This passage is about the end of the world as we know it, and the coming of the kingdom of God.  Apocalyptic visions are not appropriate for the Thanksgiving table.  Who wants to hear about Noah and the flood, or Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back at Sodom and Gomorrah, or scenes from a Left Behind novel when we’re celebrating Thanksgiving?

Yet there is a profound message in this.  Life is indeed fragile.  Things can change in an instant.  In ministry, I’m reminded of this each and every week as people we love and care about in our congregation receive news that ends the world as they have known it.  I think about all the people in California whose lives have been devastated by these fires; dozens killed, over a thousand missing, thousands homeless, hundreds of thousands of lives impacted.  This all unfolded so quickly, without warning.

Perhaps the message we can glean from Jesus’ wisdom this Thanksgiving Day is that we never know what tomorrow holds, so be thankful for today.  Do not let the stress that can come with family gatherings and feast preparations get in the way of living into the blessings today brings.  Indeed, the kingdom of God is among us, we have only to take the time to see it.  Today, may our eyes be opened to see God’s beloved community all around us, to embrace our blessings, and give thanks to God.

Prayer: Open the eyes of my heart today, O Lord, that I might see the abundance of your kingdom all around me.  Help me live in the moment and count the blessings that fill this day that I might be defined by a thankful heart and a generous spirit.  May I trust that whatever tomorrow holds, you hold tomorrow, and I can trust you with it, because you have shown your abundant love for me and for this world in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name I pray. 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 November 21 2018

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Scripture: Luke 17:11-19

Key verses: (11-19) On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Reflection: This is one of my favorite stories to tell to children at this time of year. It’s such a clear and understandable example of what it means to give thanks. There are lots of uses of the words “thanks” and “thanksgiving” in the Bible, but not many happen in a story with people and action. The book of Psalms and letters of Paul encourage us to give thanks. This story shows us how.

In the time of Jesus, leprosy was more than just an uncomfortable skin disease. It meant isolation and poverty. When Jesus healed the ten men, he offered more than renewed health. A whole way of life and community was also restored. Nine of the men did exactly what Jesus said to do. They headed to show the priests that they were well, so they could be officially certified to return to the community. No doubt they were thankful. They just didn’t stop and thank the one who healed them. But one man was so overcome with gratitude that he turned back to Jesus. His thanksgiving poured out of him in a loud voice. It flowed out in action, in the way he threw himself on the ground at the feet of Jesus. It caused him to cross the divide that existed between Jew and Samaritan, just as Jesus crossed it over and over again.

As we give thanks this week, may we do more than think thankful thoughts. May our thanks pour out of us in words, in actions, and in crossing whatever barriers separate us from others.

Prayer: Lord, I give thanks to you with my whole heart. Help me live in thankfulness every day. Help my words, my actions, and my life overflow in thanksgiving for you and for others. 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].

Tuesday November 20 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 28

Key verse: (7) “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; . . .”

Reflection: This psalm is a prayer for deliverance attributed to King David.  If you are familiar with the history of Israel, David spent a lot of time in battle fighting those who wanted to destroy him or his country.  He regularly asked for protection and much of the book of Psalms chronicles his fervent prayers for deliverance.  The Psalms also include his joyful songs of praise.  Sometimes these two themes of deliverance and praise are woven together as seen in today’s psalm.   Notice the way David used poetry to give voice to his personal struggles and those of the people of Israel.  Now consider how these same words, spoken across thousands of years, also give voice to our struggles.  These are words of comfort and strength that help us, especially when we feel like we are under attack by the challenges of life.   I’ve been listening to the interviews of people in Paradise, CA who lost everything.  It’s hard to imagine a fire moving so quickly that you would have no time to flee. Those who were able to escape have seen a lifetime of history wiped out.  More than 1,000 people are still missing.  The trauma from this devastation is beyond comprehension.  How do people who have lost so much pray?  I believe they are carried on our prayers and the help we offer.  Otherwise, there would be only despair.  We have hope, like David, that God hears their prayers in the midst of struggle.  They are facing an “enemy” of natural disaster.  What “enemy” are you facing right now?    Read this psalm as a prayer to God.  Then, trust in the LORD and let God be your strength.  And when you are called to act, respond, whether it is helping another person or receiving help yourself.

Prayer: Almighty God, we need your strength.  Help us to trust you in every circumstance of life.  Remind us that you care for us and what happens to us.   We give thanks that you hear our cries and will not forsake us.  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].

Monday November 19 2018

Monday

Scripture: Luke 16:19-31

Key verse: (24) He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”

Reflection: I have read this parable so many times and today I saw something new.  I love when that happens! (If you haven’t read the parable, be sure to read the entire thing and not just the key verse above.)

The rich man, who isn’t given a name by Jesus the storyteller, lives in luxury while the poor man, named Lazarus by the storyteller, lays outside his gate hungry for food. Both men die. The poor man is carried by angels to live with Abraham and the rich man goes to Hades (Sheol in Hebrew, the place of the dead). The rich man calls out to Abraham to have Lazarus come and cool his parched mouth with a drop of water.

The rich man knew Lazarus’ name! I never saw that before. I had assumed that the rich man ignored Lazarus, avoiding eye contact as he went in and out of the gate in the same way I often avoid eye contact with the person at the stoplight holding the cardboard sign. I thought the rich man was oblivious and in his own little world of luxury. I believed the rich man had sinned in his ignorance and hadn’t made a conscious choice to pass by someone he knew.

But the rich man knew Lazarus’ name! Ouch! He knew who Lazarus was. And he has the gall to ask for Lazarus to come to him as a servant.

Every poor person, every beggar, every person we avoid has a name. Every person is created in the image of God to be treated with respect. When we know someone’s name, we recognize their humanity. Or at least it’s my hope and my prayer that we don’t choose to ignore them and then treat them only as servants who can do something for us. Yep, that’s my prayer.

Prayer: O God, give me eyes to see each person today as someone created in your image and loved by you. Equip me to love even the most difficult person in a way that honors who they are in your eyes. Shake me out of my oblivious ignorance. Give me compassion to live like Jesus. In his 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].