Tuesday June 30 2020

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Scripture: Numbers 22:21-38

Key verse: (22) “God’s anger was kindled because Balaam was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the road as his adversary.”

Reflection: This passage is always a favorite of mine, talking donkeys, angels with swords, and a change of heart. Be sure to read the whole Balaam saga in Numbers 22-24. What I’ve often focused on in this passage before was Balaam’s actions. Remember the story? Balaam was just paid by the king of Moab to go and curse the Israelites, for the king knew that whoever Balaam blessed would be blessed and whomever he cursed would be cursed. As the Israelites traveled from Egypt into the promised land, the king of Moab was fearful and would do anything to keep his land safe, hence paying Balaam to curse the Israelites. An angel of the Lord appears in the path in front of Balaam, but only the donkey sees the angel with the sword! This happens three times before the angel finally stands in a narrow place where the donkey can no longer turn aside and Balaam must confront the angel.

It is intriguing to follow Balaam and his actions in this narrative, but what about how God acts? Yesterday Ben shared in the daily devotion about Jesus’ righteous anger. Interestingly in our passage for this morning we see some anger from God again as verse 22 says, “God’s anger was kindled because he (Balaam) was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary.” Notice what God does with God’s anger here. God takes a stand, gets in the way of our path, acts as an adversary to the route we are on. I wonder if we often hope for God to turn us around and show us the right way, to fix our path for us. But here we see God standing firmly but passively, blocking the way.

And yet, just like Balaam, we find ways of getting around God don’t we? We find ways of diverting our gaze from God, we find ways of taking the longer route just to stay on the way of our life. And yet, God is persistent, planted firmly in our way, taking a stand to redirect us on our way, until eventually we can’t ignore God any more.

Pause for a moment today and reflect upon the way in which you are going in life. Are there any places you might be trying to divert your gaze from God’s presence? Do you notice extra efforts that you take to continue on the path that you are currently on? Might you be blind to God standing firm in your path, calling you to repent, to turn, to go another way? Take this as an opportunity of reflection, that we may make sure we are all traveling on the way that is the truth about life, the way of Jesus, the way of love, reconciliation, and new life.

Prayer: Loving God, we give you thanks for your righteous anger, we thank you for taking a stand in our way when we need to turn. Soften our hearts that we may take your stand as a gift of new life, turning to Christ, who is the way. 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].

Monday June 29 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 21:12–22

Key verse: (12) And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.

Reflection: In a lecture, Andrew Lester, professor of pastoral care and counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and later at Brite Divinity School, drew a large circle on the chalkboard. He said, “Let that circle represent you.” Put inside it everything, everyone and every idea you love.” He then drew an arrow coming toward the circle. “Let this arrow represent a threat.” He continued, “What happens when you feel threatened?” And drawing a line coiled around the edge of the circle he said, “You become anxious and that is when you need to stop and pay attention.” Expanding on this idea in his book Coping with Anger, Lester says, “Anger occurs when that arrow starts moving toward that circle, when you, or those important to you, are threatened.”

I wonder what threat you find in our passage for today. Is the threat directed directly at Jesus? Is the threat directed toward something else? I see the anger coming in response to a corrupt system. I see Jesus becoming angry at the “pay to play” system taking advantage of sacred worship space. Jesus was angry at the fact people were being taken advantage of and that the house of prayer was being turned into a “den of robbers.” The threat was to God’s love for everyone because people were being cut-off from the temple for prayer and worship. Do think Jesus’ response was appropriate?

What is your relationship with anger? Do you consider anger a sin? Or is anger a suitable emotion in response to threat? If not controlled or used for the advancement of the God’s kin-dom, anger then might be a sin. However, as seen in this passage, anger can be an appropriate response to suffering, survival, and the search for justice. I pray we may be angry for all the right reasons.

Prayer: In the search for justice, grant that our actions may be appropriate to the advancement of your kin-dom O God. By your grace and mercy, I pray that I will speak up for those whose voices have been muzzled and stand up for those who have been oppressed. For any threat to your love is a cause for response. In Jesus’ name I 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].

Friday June 26 2020

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Scripture: Numbers 20:1-13

Key verse: (13) “These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and by which he showed his holiness.”

Reflection: Today’s scripture passage begins on a sad note with the death of Moses’ sister, Miriam, but a greater concern was that there was no water. The people were thirsty; livestock were dying.  They went to Moses and Aaron and quarreled with them asking the same question they had asked many times before: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place?”  After everything they had experienced so far, they still didn’t trust God.   Moses and Aaron went to the Tent of Meeting to implore the LORD for help.  Something that I think most leaders would do in a crisis.  The LORD gave them instructions on what to do and water gushed out of the rock.  Unfortunately, both Moses and Aaron were penalized for their actions because they didn’t do what the LORD told them to do.  They dishonored God in front of the community when they called the people rebels and Moses hit the rock twice when he was instructed to speak to the rock. His anger got the better of him.  The LORD didn’t ask him to shame the people.  In doing so, he dishonored God.

I don’t know anyone who turns to the book of Numbers for their daily devotions, but there are great stories in this book about the trials and travails, the commands and the practices found in the wilderness wanderings.  Another version of this story is found in the book of Exodus, and the story is referenced again in Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Psalms and Ezekiel all making the same point – there are consequences for unfaithfulness.   Something we still deal with today.  There are a lot of lessons in these ancient stories that challenge us to follow in God’s ways.  What might happen if we followed God’s leading?  Perhaps our community and world would see more clearly God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness as we seek mercy and justice for all people through our daily choices and actions.

Prayer: Almighty God, ruler of the nations, forgive us for forgetting that you are holy and call us to be holy.  Help us to follow in your ways, even when we are criticized; to trust you in the midst of our doubts; to show gentleness and persistence in addressing and relieving injustice.  Give us the faith and trust, the determination and patience, to show the world through our actions, something of your love for all humanity. 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 June 25 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 20:17-28

Key verses: (27-28) And whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Reflection: Following Jesus is hard to do! I like following Jesus when I think about him welcoming the little children (like me), and searching for the lost sheep (sometimes me), and forgiving the sinful (always me). It’s hard when he challenges me to put others before myself. It’s hard when I realize that following Jesus means I’m called to welcome the children and search for the lost sheep and forgive the sinful. I’m called to live like Jesus in the world, not just accept him or believe certain things about him or even worship him.

In today’s passage, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (we know their names are James and John) asked Jesus for a favor. She wanted her sons to have positions of honor and authority when Jesus is seated on the throne in his kingdom. But Jesus cautions that any spiritual authority is only God’s to give and spiritual authority doesn’t come with a fancy seat at the head table. Spiritual greatness comes to those who are servants. Slaves, treated as possessions with no self-agency by others who oppress them, will be first in the kingdom. Why? Because Jesus came to serve and we are invited to follow him.

How will we follow Christ today? Take a few moments to think through the day ahead. How can you take the commitments on your calendar and turn those into opportunities for service? It might be small gestures of kindness toward your friends or your work colleagues. It might be inviting someone else to join you for a virtual church service or for morning prayer on Zoom. It might be taking a moment silently to pray for those whose faces you see today. It might be putting your phone down during a meal so you can have a real conversation. Jesus invites you to be a servant today in ways that will show his generous love to the world.

Prayer: “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” Help me to live that decision out in my life today, O Lord. 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 June 24 2020

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Scripture: Matt. 20:1–16

Key verse: (15) Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Reflection: Jesus often uses parables to help the disciples and the first hearers of these stories to think outside the expected. There might be a moral to the story but that was just the beginning. These series of parables invited the listener to imagine the kingdom of heaven. In this Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, there are things that Jesus tells the disciples and us that help us get out of our head about rules and fairness. Once we do that, we can see the grace of God.

I think of this parable every year during Confirmation. It would be great if an 8th grader moved to town a few weeks before confirmation ends and wanted to join the church.  The 8th graders are told that there are requirements they must meet in order to join the church.  However, if someone moved to town with only two weeks left in confirmation class, they would only be able to do the work the last two weeks. Fair? Maybe not, but it would be a living parable of God’s grace.

The parable conveys a truth, generosity and grace of God that we almost cannot put into words. Who doesn’t want to believe in a God that believes in us? A God who is generous even when we are late to the party? A God who is gracious to us even when we are skeptical, cynical, lazy or broken. The parable is a fabulous reminder that God is bigger than anything that we can imagine might stand in the way of grace. That is the kingdom of heaven.

Prayer: Gracious and generous God, thank you for your extravagant love. Your grace that is more than amazing. 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 June 23 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 19:23-30

Reflection: Today’s devotional is based on Matthew 19:23-30 and is in video form. You can access it by clicking the image below.

06 23 Joe

[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 June 22 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 19:13-22

Key verse: (21) “If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

Reflection: What must I do to be perfect? My mom is moving this month, and as she is cleaning out her house she found some of my old report cards. By no means were they perfect, but it is interesting to look at the grades and remember a season in life where perfection was measured in test scores. What is the measurement of perfection in your life today? Might it be good reports at work, family achievements, or serving those in need? How has the view of “perfection” changed in your life over the years?

When I used to read this passage I often read the man as a failure, unable to live up to what was asked of him, to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. However, reading the passage again recently I recognize how much this man accomplished in his life, perhaps more than me! Through his years into adulthood the man was able to follow the law and fulfill it. The good type A person that he was, he sought his next task to accomplish and master. Little did he know the task he would be given, to seek perfection, or as translated in Hebrew, to bring about to fulfillment.

You see, Jesus was giving the man a glimpse into the perfect future of the fulfillment of time that we are all called to live in to. This is Kingdom living. We do not get to the Kingdom by ourselves, we can’t perfectly live into all at once, but we are given a vision as to what perfect living is. This is living where greed does not control our desires, living where care for self cannot be separated from care for neighbor, living where our identity is firmly rooted in Christ. May this be our ideal for perfection, may we strive to perfectly love others, to perfectly hold loosely to what is ours so no one is in need, and to perfectly glorify God in all that we do. This is a tall order, but by God’s grace, the power of the Spirit, and the guidance of Christ, may this be the end to which we strive.

Prayer: Gracious God, imprint in our hearts your goal for perfection, your hope for humanity. Grant us strength and humility to follow where you lead. We give you thanks for calling us on this beautiful journey. Through Christ we pray. 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].

Friday June 19 2020

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Scripture: Romans 2-25-3:8

Key verse: (28) A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.

Reflection: My home church pastor uses a great analogy to teach the kids (and adults) about baptism during the service — others may use this as well. The analogy is that of a swimmer. You see, in baptism we are baptized into Christ’s death. This is like when the swimmer dives into the water; Jesus died and went into the grave. A swimmer may hold their breath and stay under water; Jesus stayed in the tomb for three days. And just like a swimmer comes out of the water, we are baptized into Christ’s resurrection and raised to new life. Also, when the simmer gets out of the pool, the water clings to the body. Our baptism clings to us; we are soaking wet with the new life of Christ forever.

We are changed inwardly and outwardly by God’s grace in baptism. Baptism is the visible sign of our being claimed by the Spirit and our being grafted into Christ. Paul is asking those in his time, “What good is it to be circumcised (baptized) if you only hide behind the law?” Hypocrisy is not to be valued. Paul calls out the Jews of his day as they claim to be one thing, while their conduct says otherwise.

The New Testament calls baptism the circumcision of Christ. We have been made new in Christ. This is an inward and an outward transformation. How are you living out your baptism? May we remember this so that we may not fall into the same error of claim without conduct.

Prayer: Holy One, you have called me beloved and a child of God, and in your love that is what I am. Help me to live into the promise of baptism each and every day of my life. 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].

 

Thursday June 18 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 18:10-20

Key verse: (14) “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

Reflection: Several years ago I was given a wonderful book called While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks by Timothy Laniak.  It is a book of 40 reflections on biblical leadership.  Dr. Laniak traveled with a group of Bedouin shepherds for a year to learn about the life of shepherds in the Middle East.  Since sheep and shepherds are frequently used imagery in the Bible, he wanted to better understand the life and role of a shepherd.  He discovered many things, too many for today’s devotion, but one powerful discovery was the incredible love and care good shepherds give their sheep and how a lost sheep was a big deal.  Shepherds notice when even one sheep is missing and will be very diligent searching for it. The parable of the lost sheep tucked away in today’s long text reminds us that a shepherd will search for the one that has gone astray, for the one that has wandered off and may be lost and afraid.  God wants us to know that we can depend on God for protection and care.  God notices when we struggle, when we hurt, when we disappear or feel lost and will never stop searching for us. What incredible love God has for each of us!  We are God’s “little ones” – precious as children.  Knowing this, how will God’s great love for you affect the choices you make today and the way you have chosen to live your life?

Prayer: Loving God, we give thanks that like a shepherd you care for us and notice when we are lost.  We give thanks that instead of leaving us to our own devices, you continually seek us.  For your abiding presence we thank you, this day and every day.  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 June 17 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 18:1-9

Key verse: (5) “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Reflection: In first century Palestine, children had virtually no value. They were a financial burden and they brought no financial gain. Children weren’t seen as the sweet picture of innocence that we envision. When the disciples asked Jesus “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” I suspect they were thinking about worldly rulers and political figures, or religious leaders and particularly faithful disciples. When Jesus called a child into their midst as an example of greatness, I wonder how they reacted. Perhaps they scoffed, shaking their heads at this foolishness. Perhaps they were puzzled, wondering what this might mean. Perhaps they were challenged, because this reversed all of their understandings of greatness.

How do we think about greatness in our world? Do we think of people who have power, or money, or success? Do we think of people who have education and intelligence? What if greatness in the kingdom of heaven is found among the least expected?

The church welcomes children. Not just because they are cute and say funny things. The church welcomes children because they show us greatness. They have little power (especially until they learn the world’s most powerful word NO), they are dependent on others for care, they have no assets of their own. The church provides care for children, nurturing them physically, emotionally and spiritually. The church strives to be a safe place for children, where they can be protected in every way. When we baptize an infant, we make a promise to guide and nurture children as they grow to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Children are great in the kingdom of heaven!

MTBMillie

Prayer: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so! Jesus, transform my understanding of greatness and equip me to welcome children in your name. 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].