Thursday February 28 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-thurs

Scripture: Matthew 5:27-37

Key verse: (27) “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…”

Reflection: On the first full day of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we visited “The Mount of Beatitudes,” the traditional location of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7.  It is a beautiful spot, even filled to the brim with tourists and pilgrims.  It’s not hard to see why Jesus would have taken his disciples up that hill to offer them his first sermon concerning discipleship.

joe 2 28

Yet the serenity of the setting betrays the tension present in Jesus’ sermon.  After declaring blessings upon those the world views as cursed, Jesus then talks about the disciple’s relationship to the Jewish law.

Many in the Jewish community thought those who confessed Jesus as the Messiah had rejected the law.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is clear.  “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  Our reading for today exemplifies the standards Jesus set.  He challenges his followers not just to live by the letter of the law, but to embrace the Spirit of the law.  This is accomplished by a series of “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you,” statements that up the ante on the law.  The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but Jesus says if you objectify another by lust, you already done it.  He raises the bar on divorce, and on making oaths.  He will go on to challenge them to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile.  Jesus challenges his disciples to live not just by the letter of the law, but by the spirit of the law.

Later in Matthew’s gospel, when asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39)  Love is the spirit of the law according to Jesus. I came across this cartoon on Facebook the other day.  It’s a pretty good summary of where Jesus is coming from when it comes to understanding the law and the prophets, which is to say, understanding all of Scripture.  The cartoon says it all:

joe 2 28 cartoon

Prayer: We long to follow your will, O Lord.  Too often we make it too complicated.  We debate the meanings of particular verses of your Word.  We condemn those who do not agree with our interpretations.  Yet you have set a simple standard: love.   Love is the heart of your law; loving You, loving one another.  While that may not be complicated, it is incredibly challenging.  Help us to love this day, O Lord, that we might fulfill the spirit of your law.  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 February 27 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-wed

Scripture: Psalm 147:1-11

Key verses: (1-5)

1   Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2   The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3   He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4   He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5   Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

Reflection: As I write this devotion, our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church are struggling through a painful church debate over disagreements about biblical interpretation and human sexuality. It’s not a new debate. We certainly have wrestled through our own painful disagreements as a denomination, as have others. As the wife of a United Methodist pastor, I’m invested in their decisions. I have spent a little time tuned into their debate online. It is familiar in many ways. Some of the deliberation is indeed about human sexuality, and about how to interpret scripture. Much of it is about the procedure of making decisions as a church. Sadly, some of it reflects the way our ability as a society to talk with respect and civility to one another has eroded. At this time, it is unclear what the future will hold when all the voting has finished.

Regardless, I am confident that God will continue to work through the United Methodist Church, the people who have been raised and nurtured in her churches, and even those who might choose to leave a fractured denomination. God will, because God has before. Over and over again, God makes a way in a broken world. God gathers those who are brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. God is great and abundant in power, even when we are weak. God holds the future, even when we can only see a little way in front of us.

May God bless all those who struggle to make faithful decisions for the Body of Christ: on big national stages that affect whole denominations, and in small church board rooms. May God bless all those who seek to love both God and their neighbor, as Jesus called us to do. May God bless you today, as you seek to live out your faith in a hurting world.

Prayer: Lord, you hold the future. Bless any in your church anywhere, who are hurting. Help us all who call ourselves disciples learn how to live in unity for the sake of your kingdom. Help us be faithful and loving, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, 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].

Tuesday February 26 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-tues

Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20

Key verses: (13a, 14a) “You are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world.”

Reflection: In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus laid out some of the essential elements of faith in action.  Beginning in chapter five, he taught about key topics related to how we are to live in the world. In today’s text, Jesus called his followers to be salt and light to everyone around them. I love how the Bible uses all the senses in describing faith.  We are the salt of the earth.  We are to add flavor to our relationships.  As one commentator has said: “Salt does not exist for itself”.  It enhances the flavor of everything it is added to.  In other words, every encounter is an opportunity to show the love of God to a person, a situation or a community.  When salt loses its taste, it has to be thrown out.  It’s not good for anything.  Likewise, we are to be light to the world.  The light of God needs to shine in our lives in such a way that others can see it.  We are to reflect the tangible expressions of love and justice.  If we hide what God has placed within us, then we are of no use.  Perhaps the most challenging verse in today’s passage is found in verse 20.  Jesus says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  This sounds impossible to achieve on the surface.  However, Jesus criticized the “righteousness” of the religious leaders who were adhering to the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. Disciples are called to exceed this righteousness, not copy it, by living as citizens of the kingdom of God.  The Sermon on the Mount outlines what this citizenship looks like and how it can be lived out.

How will you be salt and light today?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for calling us to show your light and love to others.  Help us as we seek to live as people who belong to you.  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 February 25 2019

Monday

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

Key verse: (3) Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Reflection: I was holding our baby when someone told me how wonderful it was to have a healthy infant.  I hesitantly said something like “yes, we are grateful.” The other person quickly scolded me and told me we were blessed. Blessed? Really? So does that mean that God chooses some couples to “bless” with healthy children and other families aren’t “blessed”? I don’t think that fits with my understanding of God.

When we read today’s passage, we get a glimpse of what it means to be blessed by God. Jesus proclaims God’s blessings on the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Apparently in God’s kingdom, the blessed ones are an interesting bunch. They aren’t the people the world considers blessed – the healthy, the happy, the prosperous, the successful.

As a disciple of Jesus today, how will you identify the blessings of God? How will you join God in blessing the unexpected ones? In a world where #blessed is a quick affirmation of worldly happiness and success, how can you live as a citizen of a kingdom in which #blessed may be a word for the least, the lost, the last, and the lonely? Bless an unlikely person today as you live in Jesus’ way in this world.

#BLESSED (2)

Prayer: Dear Lord, open my eyes to notice the people you choose to bless. Disrupt my assumptions and empower me to bless them too. Give me courage to live in the way of Jesus in this world. 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].

 

Friday February 22 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-fri

Scripture: Mark 12:28-34

Key verses: (30-31) “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength…you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Reflection: A few friends and I have dubbed this month “Self Care February” – and this for two reasons.  The first is that February is the shortest month of the year, and experts say it takes about 28 days to form a habit. Perfect!  The other is that we’d all had jam-packed Januaries and were just feeling out of whack.  So, we each committed to one or two habits to stick to for the month to prioritize health, rest, and stress relief, and we’ve been encouraging each other along the way.

It sounds indulgent – and maybe a little trite – to even write those words as part of a devotional about the Bible’s ethic of neighbor-love.  We are used to reading these words as a call to selfless action, a reminder of the Golden Rule, even: treat others as you would have them treat you.  And, of course, that is what they are.

Here’s the fly in the ointment.  The underlying assumption we tend to have when reminded of Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself” is that we love ourselves well. If we want good things for ourselves, we should also want them for all of God’s children.  This is true.  But I wonder if re-reading these verses today might be an opportunity to stop and examine if we are loving ourselves well.  Are we taking care of our spirits by including things we love to do in our calendars?  Are we finding time for rest, even in the midst of busyness?  Are we tending relationships that fill our cups?  Do we prioritize our own mental health and spiritual growth?  Would you want someone to speak to you the way you speak to yourself?

I know it can be true for me that the busier I am, the lower on the priority list some of these strategies for self-care drop.  And yet, I also know that I am a more patient mother and a more compassionate minister and friend when I don’t consider self-care a necessity vs. a “nice to have.”

Take a minute today to check in with yourself.  How can you show yourself some compassion today, so that you might also show others compassion?

Prayer: Dear God, sometimes in the midst of my busy life, I forget to be a good steward of this life you have given me.  Help me to reflect with honesty about ways I can tend my spirit in this season, trusting you.  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].

Thursday February 21 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-thurs

Scripture: Psalm 80

Key verses: (3, 7, 19)

3   Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

7   Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

19  Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Reflection: “3 is a Magic Number,” is my favorite Schoolhouse Rock song. I still recall the first few lines: “Three is a magic number. Yes, it is. It’s a magic number. Somewhere in the ancient mystic trinity, you get three, as a magic number.”

You can check it out here.

Culturally, we use three’s in many expressions, “third times a charm,” or “three’s a crowd.” The number is prevalent in the Bible in that Noah had three sons, Jonah was inside of the belly of the fish three days and nights, the Trinity, and of course, Jesus’ resurrection after three days.

Therefore, it’s not a surprise the refrain is offered three times in Psalm 80 for emphasis. While not a holy number, it is a significant number in Scripture.

The Israelites are praying: Bring us out of exile, cause us to return to you, O God. Give us our life back. As your face shines, be present with us. Bless us, keep us, be gracious unto us, and give us peace.

It’s a timely prayer today as well, as we can sometimes feel in exile as wars continue around the world, too many children are killed by gun violence in this country, and affordable housing is more and more of a challenge each day in our city.

As I pray to God, I often find myself repeating prayers over and over and over again. Three times feels complete, like I’ve asked the appropriate amount of times. The first time can feel like a plea, the second time, like it’s right, and the third time for finality. Three is a magic number!

Prayer: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we might be saved. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. 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].

Wednesday February 20 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-wed

Scripture: Mark 11:27-12:12

Key verse: (12) When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

Reflection: If we had a list of the top five favorite parables, the wicked tenant would not make the cut. The parable is harsh and speaks a strong word to the original hearers and to us.  Jesus told this story as a parable against the religious leaders of Jerusalem. The Lord had given the people of Israel over to their leaders to be cared for and nourished. Instead, the temple system took advantage of the people and harmed them.

If you have ever walked through a vineyard, you know the care that is needed for each vine.  The fruit is protected, the vine cared for and there is beauty all around.  In this parable, the vineyard owner gives all of this over, trusting his tenants.  This is HUGE!

When the time was right for produce, the owner sent servants to the tenants to get some of the fruit of the vineyard. However, the tenant farmers met those servants with violence. Some they beat and some they killed.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to begin to apply this parable to ourselves and creation. God created the universe with love and possibility. God gave the earth to humanity, to you and me, to nourish and manage. Humans have taken advantage of the land, overused the earth’s resources and been selfish with God’s gift.  The original hearer’s of Jesus’ day refused to listen to the message of the parable. Can we hear a message about our role in caring for all of God’s creation and God’s people?

Prayer: God of Creation, help us to tend your creation and to use its resources wisely. May we be good stewards with every gift you have given to us. 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 19 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-tues

Scripture: Philippians 3:12-21

Key verse: (12) “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Reflection: “When were you saved?”  That was the question my friend asked.  We were in college together.  He’s a wonderful human being and a committed man of faith.  Out of love for me he posed that question, concerned for my salvation.  “When were you saved?” he asked.  “2,000 years ago,” I answered.  My response reflected my Reformed theology of salvation, as we believe we are saved by what God accomplished in Christ, not by our own belief  in that truth.  “And by the grace of God, I might be saved today,” I added.

This understanding of salvation is informed by Paul.  At the heart of Paul’s theology is the concept of “the already, but not yet.”  One of the ways he employs this theology is through the grammar of his verbs.  Paul often uses the “perfect tense” when speaking of salvation.  The perfect tense is used to communicate an action that has been completed in the past yet has results occurring in the present.  Paul often employs the perfect tense in combination with the future tense when speaking of the goals of faith: justification, sanctification, knowing Christ, becoming like him in his death, knowing his resurrection, and ultimately salvation. He’s been talking about these things earlier in chapter 3, and today’s passage moves to the ethic born of this perspective of faith.

The story is told of a prisoner of war camp in Germany in World War II that illustrates this truth.  American and British soldiers were both held captive in this prison, but they were not permitted to speak with one another.  The only people who could talk to each other were the Chaplains.  They both happened to be Irish, and they both spoke Gaelic.  While many Germans could understand English, they could not comprehend Gaelic.  It just so happened that the British had a radio over which they were receiving news of the war.  As news came in, the British Chaplain would communicate it to the American in Gaelic.  So as news of D-Day, and the Battle of the Bulge, and the progress of the allies toward Germany came in, the news would spread throughout the camp through the Chaplains.  They knew the war was won, though there were still battles to fight.  Victory was already attained, but it had not yet come to them.  This changed the way they lived.  Their will to live improved.  The burden of their work lightened. Their hope for liberation in the future eased the despair of the present conditions they endured.  Then one morning, they woke up and their captors were gone.  Later that day, allied troops arrived to set them free.

The life of faith is lived within the already, but the not-yet.  This Lenten Season, as we make our way toward the cross, and ultimately to the joy of resurrection, may we press on to obtain what has already been won, but not yet fully achieved.

Prayer: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth, as it is even now in heaven.  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 February 18 2019

Monday

Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

Key verses: (1-6) 1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

Reflection: I love the instructions Jesus gives to his disciples here. They are sent to find a colt, which Jesus knew would be there, and to bring it back to him. He gives them the words to say if anyone asks what they are doing. Sure enough, they are noticed untying a colt that doesn’t belong to them. They tell the questioners what Jesus said: “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” This line of reasoning works on the bystanders, who allow the colt to be borrowed. Jesus ends up on back of the colt, and rides it into Jerusalem in a palm branch parade fit for a king. We are told that he went into the temple, looked around, then went to Bethany with his disciples. We don’t hear any more about the colt. I suspect Jesus was a man of his word, though, and those same disciples were sent to return the colt to its original place.

I wonder if the owners of the colt were involved in that parade? I wonder if they watched Jesus through the rest of the week, as he cleansed the temple, argued with scribes and religious leaders, and was arrested and crucified? Did they become followers of Jesus? Or did they hide the fact that their colt was used by this man declared to be a guilty criminal?

I also wonder if we can have the faith of those disciples. They had faith to listen when Jesus said, “Trust me. Tell people what you need to do my work and then go do it.” Jesus is still at work in the world, calling people to him, showing them what his kingdom looks like, and inviting them into it. He has need of all that we can offer in his service: our money, our possessions, our time, our talent. The most unlikely things we have, that seem as unimportant as a colt tied up outside our home, can be part of the way that the kingdom of God becomes visible to someone else. What is Jesus asking for from you today? Trust him to make good use of it.

Prayer: Lord, help me to follow you faithfully. Give me a vision of your kingdom, and help me hear your invitation to be part of it. Show me what I can be and do, and how to serve and share, to do your work in the world. In the name of Christ, the Risen One, 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].

Friday February 15 2019

130801-dailydevovisuals-fri

Scripture: Isaiah 61: 1-9

Key verses: (1-2a) “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, . . .”

Reflection: Does the scripture text today sound familiar?  It is the scripture that Jesus read in the synagogue on the Sabbath day in his home town of Nazareth in Luke 4:16-20.  On that day Jesus declared that this scripture was fulfilled in him.  He was the prophet, the messiah, the servant, that would save his people.

At the time of Isaiah, there was a prophecy of a servant who would bring good news to the oppressed and brokenhearted   All those held captive would be set free and God’s favor would return to them after they had suffered through the trials of exile. God would lift someone up to the lead them out of misery.  This servant would be committed to be an “agent of God’s mercy” restoring justice and peace. The people would work together to repair all that was ruined.  Confusion and shame would go away. Live would be renewed. This promise and the hope of a messiah was very strong throughout the history of Israel and it continues today.

Destruction plagues our world because of power struggles, politics, greed and hatred.  There are countries, cities and communities that long for restoration and relief.  There is also the fallout of personal destruction – behaviors and choices that crush the spirit and destroy lives.  This is one reason why this text today, particularly verses 1-3 resonate with so many.  There is still a need for the hope of messiah, a servant of God, who will lift all people out of oppression, heartache, and imprisonment of all kinds.  The servant songs of Isaiah remind us that the God who saved God’s people centuries ago continues to be at work in our world today.

Prayer: Merciful God, we give thanks for the servant who we know in Jesus Christ.  Anointed by God, he continues to bring good news to the oppressed and bind up the brokenhearted.  Help us to join in his healing work in the world as we share his love with others.  Make us servants of his saving grace.  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].