Friday January 18 2019

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Scripture: Mark 2:13-22

Key verse: (15) 15And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples — for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Reflection: If we take Jesus’ words seriously, we have to take a hard look at ourselves. If we called by Jesus to follow him, then who are we in this story?

Maybe we are the scribes or the Pharisees—the followers of the letter of the law, and religious officials. As a professional church person, I am always afraid of becoming one of those kinds of religious leaders. They don’t come off looking too good here. They are pretty whiny about how Jesus chooses his companions, and are a bit self-righteous.

Or maybe we are the tax collectors and sinners—the ones whom Jesus said he had come to call. Maybe we are those who sorely need to hear the good news of forgiveness of sins, and of grace. Jesus invites us over and over again to his table to remind us of it.

Or maybe we are the disciples—the ones who host the gatherings with Jesus that are so surprising and transformative. If we think about it that way, it is not really up to us who Jesus chooses to call. It is up to him. Our job as followers is to open the door, spread food on the table, and invite in everyone—especially those who seem to be most in need. And to always know that our seat at the table is only because we sinners first were called to come and follow ourselves. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you welcome in those who need to know you. You change lives. You call us to follow you, which maybe means to do the same inviting work. Help me follow, even when I don’t know how. 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].

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Thursday January 17 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 16

Key verse: (11) “You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Reflection: Do you place your trust and security in God?  This psalm reminds us of God’s faithful love and protection.  There are times in life when we may wonder where God is or why we are struggling.  Sometimes it is because we have chosen a path away from God.  We choose to worship others things.  We quit doing what is right and don’t ask for help.  Security in God is a natural outgrowth of affirming the LORD is our Lord.  That is, the God of all creation is the one who is with us and will direct our path in life — a path that leads to fullness of joy, even in the worst circumstances.  When we seek the LORD’s counsel we live with a sense of blessing and strength because we are aware God is with us.  God doesn’t give up on us, but holds us secure.  This doesn’t mean we won’t ever be afraid — we will.  It doesn’t mean we won’t ever face hardship or challenge.  Life happens.  And, we have a choice how we will face it.

Prayer: Gracious God, in you we take refuge.  Help us to keep you always before us as we live through this day.  Thank you for loving us.  Show us the path of life that we might find joy in your presence.  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 January 16 2019

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Scripture: Ephesians 2:1-10

Key verse: (8-9) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the results of works, so that no one may boast.

Reflection: Grace, faith – not your own doing! That is so hard to understand and to accept. Almost everything in our lives depends on our own doing. School work. Job tasks. Laundry. Cooking. Taking care of family. It can be easy to begin thinking that everything depends on us, including our own salvation.

We are saved by grace through faith. Sometimes we even turn faith into an act of our own doing. We tell ourselves to get it together, to “let go and let God,” to trust more, to believe more. We encourage other people with these same platitudes and we hope they will find faith (as if faith is lost??). I don’t think that’s how faith is understood by the writer of the letter to the Ephesians. Here faith is presented as a gift from God, given without any evaluation of worthiness or effort.

God gives us faith that works out our salvation. I don’t think this is primarily focused on what happens when we die but instead is about the quality of our lives in the here and now. Are we slaving away as if everything depends on us? Are we “dead” in sin because our lives have been flattened by our own efforts to get it right? Are we trapped in a cycle of keeping up with the neighbors? Are we caught in trying to satisfy our deepest longings with success or with possessions? Are we expecting our loved ones to meet our need for unconditional love? In Jesus Christ God sets us free and gives us new life. God has given the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:7).

Prayer: Dear God, I long for you to set me free from the ways of sin and death. Give me the gift of faith that brings abundant life, knowing the riches of your grace and trusting in your unconditional love for 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 January 15 2019

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Scripture: Isaiah 40:27-31

Key verse: (28) “[God] does not faint or grow weary…]”

Reflection: I recently caught up with a friend from college, who in the course of the conversation said, “You know, I think I have forgotten how NOT to be tired.”  She said it with a self-deprecating chuckle in her voice, knowing she was being a little dramatic.  But, I have to say, I know what she means.  There are seasons of life that are truly exhausting.  The constellation of demands looks different for all of us — some are “in the trenches” of raising small children while balancing work and social obligations, some find ourselves in the “sandwich generation” caring for both teenagers and aging parents at the same time, and some are contending with chronic conditions (ours or a loved one’s) that deplete energy for other tasks. It is true — many of us are “never not tired.”

It is amazing to me that Isaiah 40 includes a description of a God who does not get tired.  The people of God have been in exile.  They’ve been suffering.  They’ve been waiting for promised redemption.  They must’ve been tired.  And finally, their comfort comes.  Isaiah 40 is an encouraging, wonderful restatement of God’s providence, which is to say God’s providing, for the people.  It is worth a re-read if you have time today. God the Creator creates, forgives, stands by, cares for, and counsels the people.  But the best part? God doesn’t get tired (28).

God never tires of taking care of God’s people, even and especially when we’ve reached the limit of what we can offer. In our personal lives, when we’ve given it all we’ve got, and we think to ourselves, “I think I’ve forgotten how NOT to be tired,” God reminds us to stop and to wait, so that our strength can be renewed.  This is true of the church, too, by the way (the text from Isaiah is addressed to a community). I wonder, when the church feels an energy slump coming on, could it be God’s reminder to stop and remember God’s faithfulness to us in all seasons?  Imagine what our work would look like if it were animated by that promise — surely it would be work that is much less anxious, and perhaps bolder.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, thank you for being in it with us.  When we grow tired, remind us that you never do — that you are always present and always give us what we need for life and godliness. 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 January 14 2019

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Scripture: Isaiah 40:12-24

Key verses: (12-14)
12  Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
13  Who has directed the spirit of the LORD,
or as his counselor has instructed him?
14  Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?

Reflection: Questions, questions, questions. This passage reminds me of the book of Job, where there are so many questions. In Job, there are many more questions than answers. In contrast, Isaiah steers us towards a clear answer.

“Who has measured; who has directed; whom did he consult; who taught him knowledge,” are asked in the first few verses. The answer: God.

Israel knows this. We know this.

So, why the speech? Israel has forgotten about God. Earlier in the speech, the prophet Isaiah reminds Israel of God’s role as warrior, shepherd, and caregiver. Starting with verse 12, God is Creator, God directs, God consults, and God teaches us often.

God, God, God, God.

God as Creator does not stop at the inception of the world. God’s power, counseling, and instruction continues, through Israel’s time, and today.

Richard Rohr writes, “We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.”

We forget about God. We go on with our day-to-day ‘to do’ lists and our ‘what’s next.’ Isaiah reminds us that God is standing beside us all the time, and it is up to us to be aware of it. We simply have to recognize God’s presence, trust in God, and find joy in the companionship.

Here. Now.

How is God with me as I’m writing this devotion? How is God with you as you are reading this devotion?

Prayer: Dear God, our Creator, allow us to feel your presence in our every moment. Teach us to focus more on you and less on the distractions. Let us feel you in our midst, as we move through our daily lives. 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 January 11 2019

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Scripture: John 6:15-27

Key verse: (15) When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Reflection: Two weeks into a new year and we are already talking about self-care.  Articles are everywhere offering practical habits to deal with the stress of everyday life.  There are new products to help us deal with our highly stressed, overly tired and very busy lives. No diversion is going to transform our lives. All the bath products in the world do not have the capacity to lift us out of the deepest darkness that often overcomes us.  The silence is a start.

Jesus withdrew to the mountain by himself. Did he take a walk? Read? Just sit in silence? We don’t know.  My bet is that he did nothing. Yes, nothing. Nothing productive, just some silence.

We could use a bit more silence in our lives. Silence where we can admit our need for God. Admit our need for the healing, restoring and transforming grace of a God who loves us completely. Jesus withdrew because there was a lot going on and that is what we do too. I want us to have the resources to take care of ourselves in those moments but I also want us to take care of ourselves every day. When we are not stressed or tired we need to withdraw and find some solitude.  We need to take a walk in the park and be mindful of God and God’s unconditional love for us. Find some time today to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. God will be there with you.

Prayer: God in the silence of our lives, find us. In the loud, crazy chaos, find us. Remind us of your love that surrounds us to bring healing, grace and transformation. 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 January 10 2019

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Scripture: Revelation 3:1-6

Key verse: (1) “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.”

Reflection:  When I consider passages like today’s reading from Revelation I understand why Martin Luther didn’t want it to be included in the Canon of the New Testament.  It’s hard to find any grace in Revelation in general, or in the letter to the church of Sardis in particular.  This is one of seven letters the Glorified Christ dictates to John of Patmos to send to the seven churches of Asia.  Some of these churches get more encouragement than rebuke, but Sardis is pretty heavy on rebuke.  Granted, there are some in Sardis “who have not soiled their clothes,” but it sounds like the vast majority have really wallowed in the mud.  As a consequence, their names “will be blotted out from the book of life.”  Ouch.  Where’s the grace?

There is grace in the fact that this is a warning.  If they straighten out their act, then they still have a chance to be “clothed in white robes.”  It’s not a done deal, and there is a grace in that. Sometimes we face consequences for mistakes when no one pointed out the error of our ways.  Judgment can come without any warning.  So there is grace in a warning. But this certainly does not support our doctrine of justification by grace through faith.  Romans has much more of that than Revelation.

Yet, I believe there is grace even in the letter to the church in Sardis.  “I know your works,” the letter begins.  “I know all about you,” says the Risen Christ to the church of Sardis.  There is a grace is being known, fully known by God.  The church in Sardis had a good reputation, but Christ knows their true being.  Christ knows there is work to do.  It is impossible to fake out God.  God knows — fully, completely.  There is grace in being fully known.  It takes a lot of energy to keep up a reputation, especially one that is not born of true identity.  The church in Sardis can let go of all that faking it.  There is grace in that.

I wonder how they responded to the letter?  Did they hire a PR firm to try to spin the story about the letter they received?  Perhaps they sent out those few persons who were walking the talk and had them represent the church?  “See, we’re actually pretty awesome!”  Or did they face the truth about themselves?  Did they take a look at themselves and really assess where there was life in their ministry, and what was dead?  Imagine them coming together to mourn over what was dead.  Imagine them confessing that death and facing that reality.  Imagine them embracing those places in their church that were truly alive.  Imagine that energy resurrecting the whole. I wonder how they responded.

How might we?  Are we alive in faith?  God knows us fully.  Do we know ourselves?  What would it mean to invest more in what Christ thinks about us than in what the world thinks about us?  Can we find a grace in that?

Prayer: You know me, O God.  You know me better than I know myself.  Open my ears to hear what you have to tell me.  Give me the courage to hear it and give me the faith to respond, that my life might truly reflect my love for You. 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].