Thursday November 14 2019

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Scripture: Revelation 19:1-10

Key verse: (9) And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

Reflection: Everyone wants to look their very best on their wedding day. It is a day to get pampered, get all dressed up, look your best, and be ready to commit your life and enter into a covenant. Marriage is a gift of God. My wedding day was not so long ago (actually 69 days ago today), and I wanted to look my very best for my bride. In the book of Ephesians, Paul wrote about a wedding day when the church will be presented to Christ as his bride, who is “without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind” (Ephesians 5:27). There is a want to look good in the presence of the Lord — putting on our Sunday best if you will. Here in Revelation, the church is also described as Christ’s bride: “to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” (v.8).

What happens after the wedding ceremony counts as well. Verse 8 continues, “for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” We are not saved by our works; we are saved through faith. But faith apart from works is dead. Much like the life of faith, marriage is something that must be worked on daily. It takes humility, forgiveness, patience, and endurance. Sadly, there are some marriages that do not work out and do not survive the rigors of the years. Some separations or divorces make the individuals whole again, and yet there are other times guilt, regret, and shame are the only emotions felt.

As Christians, there is a wedding feast we all can look forward to. A wedding feast we are all invited to, when we will be clothed in linens of grace and mercy. This is the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” This is a promised banquet of forgiveness and deliverance as Christ takes the church as his bride. It will be a time of great joy and jubilation, of everlasting love and eternal happiness. We may not get everything right here on earth, but there will be a wonderful event when we are at last reunited with Jesus our Christ, the risen Lord.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the invitation to your wedding feast. May our hearts be open to your love, so that when we, the church, your bride, are reunited with you, we may joyfully celebrate the eternal union of your kingdom. In your holy name, we wait and pray. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[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 13 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 15

Key verse: (1) “O LORD, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy hill?”

Reflection: When I was a child we moved a lot.  On average, I attended a new school almost every year, so it was important to know very quickly what the values and traditions were of any community we moved into.  So I really like it when rules, procedures, processes, guidelines, requirements, suggestions, and directions are spelled out clearly.  This was a basic survival skill for me in K through 12.  As an adult, I’m still drawn to groups and organizations that clearly state their goals and objectives.  This is one of the reasons that I am drawn to today’s psalm.  This psalm, attributed to King David, lays out values to live by that can lead to a faithful and content life. We know that doing what is right, speaking the truth, not doing evil to friends or seeking revenge; holding God in reverence and awe; and living up to our ideals are good, life giving things.  But, I wonder are we more conformed to the world and following our own desires than spending time with God so that we might be transformed by the Holy Spirit? I know that at times I fall short of the reminders in this psalm, but with God’s help I am able to discover the life God envisions for me to live. Each of us has an opportunity every day to live out our faith in such a way that others will be blessed.  It is a great gift to abide in the LORD’s “tent”.  The blessings are beyond compare.  Plan to spend some time with God today.

Prayer: Gracious God, we are thankful for your unmerited grace that gives us the opportunity to abide in and with you.  Help us this day to live like people who abide in your tent and dwell on your holy hill that others might experience your love, mercy and justice through our acts of compassion.  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].

Tuesday November 12 2019

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Scripture: Nehemiah 9:26-38

Key verse: (33) You have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.

Reflection: A local church is having revival this week. Daily worship services are an opportunity to gather, to hear God’s word, and to renew commitments to follow Jesus Christ as disciples. Worshipers pray to be forgiven of sin and to experience the grace of God in a powerful way that revives their spirits. Recognizing and confessing our sin is a key step on the journey of faithfulness.

In the Old Testament, God’s people are caught in a cycle of faithfulness, then sin, then recognition and repentance, followed by a time of renewed faithfulness, and then sin again, and so on. After a time of exile in Babylon, the people were allowed to return to their homeland and Nehemiah was appointed governor over them. The book of Nehemiah records a tremendous revival of their commitment to God. In today’s passage the people of Israel were gathered together. They fasted, they wore sackcloth and they prayed together. Their priest Ezra prayed a long prayer of confession on behalf of the nation, acknowledging that cycle of faithfulness and sin that had been repeated over and over. Ezra also proclaimed God’s steadfast faithfulness and justice.

Honestly we all live in that cycle of faithfulness, then sin, then recognition and repentance that leads to renewed faithfulness. The good news is that God remains steadfast in loving us. God is gracious and merciful. God is patient and generous. Wherever you are today, whether you feel close to God or you feel far away in some kind of spiritual exile, whether you are living selfishly or unselfishly loving your neighbors, whether you are serving others or serving only yourself, God is steadfast in loving you. God invites you to confess, to repent, and to begin again. And again. And again.

Prayer: Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

                Because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come; I come!

                Just as I am, thy love unknown has broken every barrier down;

                Now to be thine, yea, thine alone; O Lamb of God, I come; I come!

Thank you for meeting me where I am today, O Lord. Revive my spirit and renew my faithfulness. 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].

Monday November 11 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 15:1-20

Key verses: (10-11) Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

Reflection: Our traditions are sacred to us.  We stand firm on traditions, from the date we begin decorating for Christmas to the exact Thanksgiving side dishes that must be served.  Traditions can share our values or give order to our beliefs. Traditions can also begin to stand alone and we become rigid, forgetting their purpose.

In Matthew, Jesus questions the priorities of the Pharisees and the scribes.  The traditions help support their commitment to God.  Jesus got them with a zinger and it makes you smile just a bit when someone gets called on the carpet. O.K. maybe it’s just me! Then I realize this word of God from Matthew is for you and for me too.  We are just as hypocritical as the Pharisee’s and scribes.

My grandmother made this amazing cranberry salad with pecans and grapes and it is not Thanksgiving without it, except that no one eats it. Not one person in my family besides me! This year, there will be no cranberry salad but there will still be thanksgiving with the people I love.  It will save me an hour that I can spend with them too.  This trivial discussion about traditional sides for thanksgiving also helps me to avoid discussion about larger issues of justice in the world that make my family uncomfortable and might cause some arguments.

We would rather stick to discussions about how ridiculous it is that people decorate for Christmas in November. (Does it really matter?)  The passage from Matthew reminds us that like the Pharisees and scribes, we are selfish and need Jesus to remind us to live with integrity.  Our beliefs and our actions should be consistent, even in the midst of our traditions. A good reminder as we go into this holiday season.

Prayer: God,  help me live with integrity as I follow your son; loving my neighbor, working for justice and welcoming the stranger. In his holy name. 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].

Friday November 8 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 51

Key verse: (10)  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

Reflection: In his book, The Big Picture: An American Commentary, A. Whitney Brown writes, “Any good history book is mainly just a long list of mistakes, complete with names and dates. It’s very embarrassing.” (As quoted in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Psalms, written by J. Clinton McCann, Jr.)  By this standard, the Old Testament is a great history book, for it offers a long list of mistakes.  From Adam and Eve in the garden, to the golden calf in the wilderness, to Israel’s experiment with kings, again and again God’s people make mistakes that carry serious consequences.

Tradition affirms that today’s Psalm was penned by King David in the wake of one of those terrible mistakes — his adulterous affair with Bathsheba.  That story is told in 2 Samuel 11-12.  In that instance, David violates at least four of the Ten Commandments.  He covets his neighbor’s wife, he commits adultery, he bears false witness to cover up his sin, then he orchestrates the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah.  His advisor, Nathan ultimately confronts him with the sin he has committed.  According to 2 Samuel 12:13, David confesses his sin.  According to the tradition, he writes Psalm 51.  While David’s sins might not be our own, our own histories could certainly be defined by a long list of mistakes. It’s true for us as individuals, in our families, our churches, our communities.  Sin pervades our lives. Within the Calvinist tradition, this is known as “total depravity.”  It is the human condition.  It’s very embarrassing.

J. Clinton McCann writes, “This is the bad news.  But the good news of Psalm 51 is even more prominent.  Psalm 51 is not just about human nature, it’s about God’s nature.  And the good news is that God is willing to forgive sinners and is able to re-create people.”  That story of re-creation is also what the Bible is all about.  Again and again, God restores, God reconciles, God redeems.  That redemption opens the door for new life on the other side of our mistakes.  Echoing words of the Psalmist, God puts a new spirit within us that makes things right, restoring us to the joy of our salvation, upholding us with a generous spirit.  Thanks be to God!

Prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” 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 November 7 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 14:1-12

Key verse: (5) “Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd because they regarded him as a prophet.”

Reflection: I remember as a child in elementary school this great poster on the wall that said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t need to remember what you said.” I loved this as a kid, thinking I didn’t need to put much energy into remembering what I had said, just tell the truth, that’s easy enough right? Later in life I came to find out that Mark Twain was credited with this quote, I’m sure many others have said something similar. I also came to find that telling the truth isn’t always as easy as I thought when I was a kid.

In our scripture passage for today we see the trouble that John the Baptist gets in for telling the truth, for speaking out against Herod for taking his brother’s wife Herodias. But even more so we see how quickly things escalate when Herod is unwilling to listen to the truth. Herod is however afraid to act against John because the people revere him highly. On the other hand, Herodias wants John dead, but she doesn’t say that directly to her husband Herod, she gets her daughter involved. By the end of the passage the blood of John the Baptist is on all of their hands, and for what? All of this messiness because Herod and Herodias didn’t want to hear the truth about their relationship.

How often have you been John the Baptist in this story? Where have you had hard truth that you needed to tell someone, even if it meant hard times were coming? Or when have you been Herod or Herodias, ignoring the hard truth in your lives, even at the expense of someone else?

May we not only find inspiration from the words of Mark Twain (“If you tell the truth you don’t need to remember what you said”) but may we find comfort in our Lord Jesus who is, “The way the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). For if we abide in Christ who is the truth, we are empowered to speak the truth in love and strengthened to receive even the hardest truth’s.

Prayer: Faithful Lord, may we rest in your Son Jesus, the way the truth and our very source of life. Empower us to speak the truth in love and open our ears that we may hear the hard truths in our lives. Guide us by your Spirit to follow where you may lead. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[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 6 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 13:53-58

Key verse: (57) And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.”

Reflection: This passage made me think of Tupac Shakur’s album and title track, “The Rose that Grew from Concrete.” The song is a poetic representation of the life struggles of Tupac, acknowledging the harsh conditions he (and many other individuals in the black community) was raised in and the miracle that was his escape. Tupac says, “You try and plant something in concrete… If it grows and the rose petals have scratches, you are not gon’ say, ‘Look at all those scratches on the rose that grew from concrete.’ No! You gon’ say, ‘Wow! A rose grew from concrete!?!’” Tupac continues, “Same thing with me… I grew out of all this. Don’t say, ‘He did this.’ Instead say, ‘Wow! He grew out of that? He came out of that?’”

Jesus just finished teaching many through parables, explaining them to his disciples, and asking if they understood all he had taught (13:1-52). Once Jesus finished this teaching episode, he left that place and made his way to his hometown (v.53).

Upon arriving, Jesus began to teach the people in their synagogue, reading from Isaiah and offering an interpretation (as Luke 4:16-21 tells us). The people were astonished at the wise teachings of Jesus, the hometown boy who returned. They heard his teachings, and they saw him. Jesus pointed to himself as the fulfillment of prophesy, but their amazement and astonishment did not equal belief.

First they saw, then they speculated. They replied, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is his mother not called Mary? We know his whole family, his brothers and sisters. Where did he get all this wisdom and power?” The people couldn’t understand that one of their own would be able to do such miraculous things, to teach with such wisdom, and be the One.

They saw, they speculated, and then they stumbled and suffered. Verse 57 says “they took offense at him.” I see this as an unwillingness to believe that Jesus, a carpenter’s son from their own town, could be the Messiah. It was partly because of this familiarity with Jesus and his commonness that caused them to take offense and stumble, making it difficult for them to believe he was a great teacher, much less the long awaited Messiah. So, in response, Jesus did not bless them with powerful deeds.

Their familiarity should have made them pay even more attention to what Jesus was teaching. They heard, but did not believe. They saw, but they stumbled. Their familiarity should have made them even more thoughtful of his miracles. They knew who Jesus was, but they suffered due to their inability to understand who he has always been.

The townspeople looked at Jesus as a rose that grew from concrete: “Who does he think he is? He was born of us; he grew up here with us. Nobody amounts to anything from here.” Tupac would reply, “You wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would celebrate its tenacity. We would love its will to reach the sun!”

Prayer: The rose that grows from concrete is a blessing from your hands, O Lord. I am a rose, growing from my past mistakes, striving to reach the sun. Grant me the tenacity to grow in the promises your Spirit. Gracious God, help me see myself as the beautiful rose I am, and help me see others as the rose they truly are. I pray this in the name of Jesus, the rose of redemption. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[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].