Tuesday February 19 2019

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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

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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].

Thursday February 14 2019

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Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:14-26

Key verse: (14) Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.

Reflection: Happy Valentine’s Day! As I prepared to write this devotion, I was hopeful to find a passage about love so I could lift up the celebration of the day. Instead I read 2 Timothy 2:14-26. What a weird passage! What does it say to our world? And to our celebrations of love?

The author of this letter is trying to encourage Timothy, the young leader, as he deals with the realities of his life and ministry.  In these verses the focus is on dealing with people who are distorting the good news of the gospel and teaching false doctrines. I’m sure Timothy and his companions were tempted to argue and debate with these heretics. Likely heated conversations arose about the gospel.

The letter writer told Timothy and his companions to “avoid wrangling over words.” When is the last time that “wrangling over words” changed someone’s mind?  When did a debate transform someone’s character? Not often, if ever!

Perhaps this passage has wisdom for our world. There is a lot of “wrangling over words” these days on television, on social media, in corporate board rooms and in the halls of government. Little progress is made. Those who are listening, the ones on the sidelines or in the middle on an issue, are ruined by that wrangling. They aren’t persuaded. They aren’t transformed. They aren’t encouraged.

Perhaps this passage has wisdom for Valentine’s Day. There can be a lot of “wrangling over words” in our relationships and those tangled, wrangled words don’t convey our love.  Today is a good day to resolve not to wrangle. Try listening. Ask questions. Speak kindly and gently. The message of good news is more likely to be heard and accepted when it is conveyed in a gracious way.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for your love shown to me in Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, give me the self-control and patience I need to avoid “wrangling over words.” Teach me how to love others the way you love 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].

Wednesday February 13 2019

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Scripture: Mark 10:1-16

Key verse: (14b)  “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”

Reflection: In 2015, a psychology professor named Sydney Engelberg gained Internet fame when one of his students posted a picture of him lecturing his class while holding a baby.  The backstory to the photo is that one of his grad students, a young mother, was going to have to miss class because her childcare had fallen through. When she contacted Engelberg to let him know, he encouraged her to bring the child with her.  When the child began to get restless and she prepared to take the baby out – meaning that she would miss the lecture – her professor simply came over, and without missing a beat, picked up the child and continued on with the lecture.  The child quieted in his arms, the distraction was averted, and the class went on.

When asked about the moment, Engelberg said he didn’t want to teach about “leadership, engagement, empowerment, and respect” in his classroom if he wasn’t also prepared to act on those things on behalf of his students.  And so, he modeled what he taught.  Through his actions, the mother was able to stay in the conversation. Talk about empowerment and respect!

Jesus was always teaching that “the least of these” belong in the center of the kingdom of God.  He said this in different ways along the way: “the last shall be first,” “the meek shall inherit the earth,” and “blessed are the poor” are just a few iterations of the theme that come to mind.  Here, he models what he teaches.  Jesus is in the temple lecturing about a difficult subject, and people kept bringing their children to him so that he might touch them.  We can assume, then, that these children might have been in need of healing — or at least in need of a blessing.  And when the disciples tried to stop the people, Jesus became angry, and insisted the children be allowed to come to him.  He does what he teaches.  He includes “the least of these” in the center of his ministry.

The most compelling witness the church can have is to do what it teaches.  If we proclaim a God of forgiveness, we ought to extend mercy to others — and even to ourselves.  If we talk about a God of love, we might examine all of our ministries by the standard of that love — how we are sharing it, how we are showing it.  If we talk about a God who brings hope, we might find ways to share hope with our neighbors in tangible ways today, as we watch and wait for God.  In all these ways, we might begin to know the Jesus who welcomes the little children, and even us.

Prayer:  I want to practice what I preach, O God, but often struggle to know how to do that. Help me to listen to your leading Spirit, that I might live in a way that more fully reflects the things I have learned from you to value. 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].

Tuesday February 12 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 102

Key verses: (23-28)

23 He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
24  “O my God,” I say, “do not take me away
at the mid-point of my life,
you whose years endure
throughout all generations.”

25  Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26  They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28  The children of your servants shall live secure;
their offspring shall be established in your presence.

Reflection: This Psalm is a plea for help from God. The plea could be for a range of reasons, from an individual request for healing, or a king asking for help on behalf of his people, or an individual praying for his nation. “He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days,” the Psalter writes. It almost sounds like the Psalter has resigned himself or his people to a short life. He is honest in his request for a longer life.

However, he quickly transitions to a reminder of the endurance of God. God created the heavens and the earth, the day and night, the sky and the land, all living creatures, and called it good. The Psalter reminds us that God will live as we humans come and go. Humans are spoken of in days, and God in spoken of in years.

There is hope in the long reign of God, and the future is trusted in God’s care. There is a hint of the promise to Abraham in the last verse, “The children of your servants shall live secure; their offspring shall be established in your presence.” God will take care of the future generations. We can live confidently and securely in that knowledge.

Prayer: Dear God, we know that you reign forever and ever, as we pass through this world like worn-out garments and clothes that are changed. We have hope in your compassion and security of the future generations. Give us the strength to keep this faith. 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].

Monday February 11 2019

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Scripture: Mark 9:30-41

Key verses: (30-32, 35-37) 30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Reflection: There seems to be something special about what you can learn about God from little children. Have you ever noticed how a child looks at the world as if everything holds a secret? They look at every part of creation and each person in the world with awe and wonder. Children see beauty and when they do not have words, they engage with what they have. They lean their head or blink their eyes. Children let you know that they see you and that you matter in their world.

If we welcome the children our culture will change. You cannot help but kneel down and play for a bit. This week at a conference, we had a few babies in the room. We decided every conference should have babies. At the back of the room, there were adults crawling on the floor, making faces, not taking themselves too seriously. When the mom needed to eat, another offered to help out. We saw hospitality, compassion and family forming in the room.

With children, we put up our computers and our cell phones and we notice the small things. The patterns and colors in a shell you thought were just white, a scar long forgotten and the conversation that can happen between two people without any words.

Jesus had children in his circles. Among the crowds and in this passage when he called the twelve together. I wonder if they stopped for a minute to just breathe and notice God in their midst. Jesus was still with them and yet they needed to be reminded again and again. We too need to be reminded of the resurrected Christ who lives and moves among us.

Stop and breathe today and with the eyes of a child look at the world, seeing God in our midst.

Prayer: Holy One, move among us and within us as you do each and every day. Open our eyes and hearts to receive all you have to offer.  Open our minds to know you. In the name of your son, Jesus we pray. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].