Monday August 31 2020

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Scripture: John 8:12-32

Reflection: Today’s devotional is based on John 8:12-32 and is in video form. You can access it by clicking the image below. You can read a printed copy of the devotion here.

08 31 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].

Friday August 28 2020

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Scripture: Job 9:1-15;32-35

Key verse: (32) “Who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south … For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him.”

Reflection: The book of Job raises a lot of good questions; questions of God’s presence, of God’s righteousness, of suffering, of humanity’s role in the world, of faithfulness. One of my favorite things about the book of Job is that these questions aren’t answered neatly or clearly, but often times multiple answers compete. For me, asking the right questions is often more rewarding than receiving a tidy answer.

Part of the questioning that Job expresses in our passage for this morning is, “How can a mortal be just before God?” (9:1) This question for Job begins by naming that even if one wanted to state one’s case before God, that mere mortals could not provide sufficient answers. Put another way, even if God has answers for our questions, we are unable to answer to God fully. This leaves Job in a sense of awe and wonder. For the next few verses Job expounds upon God’s grandeur as the one who moves mountains, makes the earth shake, commands the sun in its rising and setting, placed the stars in the sky, and moves before us and among us without our knowing. Job is set in a place of both awe and questioning. Job recognizes God’s place as creator and is questioning his place as creature. This separation between God and Job is highlighted in v. 32 “For he is not mortal, as I am, that I might answer him…”

In our world today, especially over the last seven months, we have a lot of questions for God, questions of God’s presence, of suffering, of humanity’s role in the world, of what it means to be faithful to God and to each other, questions of priorities, and what our lives will look like moving forward. And yet, at the same time as we are asking these questions, perhaps you have had more time to pause and ponder God’s transcendence, God’s grandeur, whether through observing the miracle of a baby and the curiosity of a child or by spending time in nature.

Perhaps Job’s frustration was that his questions coupled with his experience of God’s greatness was better suited for an ongoing conversation, and yet, Job felt like there was a piece missing in his conversation with God, “for he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him.” As Christians, may we never forget our conversation partner in Christ, may we hold fast to the gift of God becoming human in Jesus so that we may wander and wonder through life together in conversation. On this journey we will not receive tidy answers to life’s big questions. However, may we find peace in our conversation companion in Christ, who both experiences our suffering and joy and who also placed the stars in the sky, who is fully God and fully human, and who loves us fully.

Prayer: Loving God, we give you thanks that your love for us reaches from the stars in the sky to the sand in the depths of the sea. Open our eyes to a curiosity of companionship with you, that we may freely ask our questions, trusting in the journey on which you lead us. 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].

Thursday August 27 2020

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Scripture: Acts 10:17-33

Key verse: (28) and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

Reflection: Have you ever noticed that the person driving so slow in front of you is always a jerk, and the person who speeds past you is always a lunatic? We are all prone to justify ourselves and to condemn those who are different than we are. We are prone to judge others according to outward characteristics or circumstantial evidence, rather than to accept them as individual human beings, broken and falling short of the glory of God, just like us.

Peter received a vision that would change the trajectory of the spread of the gospel message. The definition of clean and unclean is now meaningless. But what is interesting is how God uses the most unlikely to convey universal salvation.

Great faith is needed when stepping outside of our comfort zone. Peter, encountering the visitors from Caesarea, could have sent them to the local Gentile motel. Instead, Peter began to realize the gospel message and re imagine the ministry he is called to as a disciple. When Peter then arrived at Cornelius’s house, he was surprised not only to find a handful of Gentiles, but a whole house full! Peter’s remark in verse 28 is not rude or dismissive. He was acknowledging the obvious uncomfortable violation of the current custom that Jews and Gentiles were not to associate with each other, let alone enter into the other’s house. Peter, then explains why he is deliberately violating social norms.

Imagine a world where we all stepped out of our comfort zone, associated with the other in love, welcomed the stranger into our house or accepted the invitation from another. I wonder how you may be called to step into the uncomfortable, crossing divides that society has claimed as custom, in order to spread the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: God, grant me the courage to encounter the other, the openness to welcome my neighbor, and the love that sees them as your beloved child. I pray this day to step into uncomfortable vulnerability to share the gospel message. 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 August 26 2020

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Scripture: Acts 10:1-16

Key verses: (14-15) But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Reflection: In the world of the New Testament, there was a cultural distinction between Gentiles and Jews, mostly involving behaviors and customs. It would have been difficult to distinguish between the two by looks alone. The greatest distinction was circumcision which the Jews considered to be a mark of Jewish piety.

Our reading for today picks up on a man named Cornelius, who is an officer in the Roman Army. We are told he is a devout man with a fear of God, which is the writers way of telling us that he worshiped God but had not yet adapted all of the practices of the Jewish religion (as in he was not yet circumcised). Even so, Cornelius sees a vision and is told to call on Peter. Cornelius does as he is told. Meanwhile, Peter receives a vision of a picnic full of meat that Jews are not supposed to eat. Peter does his best to follow the Jewish customs and refuses to eat. Peter thinks he is being devout by saying “by no means Lord.” God’s response is surprising, reminding Peter who is the leader (God) and who is the disciple (Peter).

What I love about this story is that we see Peter wrestling with what it means to follow Jesus. Peter thought following God meant he needed to follow certain rules, and then Jesus comes along and shows an alternative way of being faithful. Everything Peter thinks he knows about devotion to God is upended and he has to reorient himself to this new way of being.

I tend to be the type of person who likes rules. I like to know what is expected of me and how to orient myself to be “right” in the eyes of God and others. But this story reminds me that God’s active work in the world is radical and unexpected. I find myself challenged to open my eyes to see the active presence of the Spirit in our world. We don’t always know what God makes “clean” and that’s okay. We need to be like Peter and allow ourselves to wrestle with what it means to be a disciple. It’s hard work but it’s what we are called to do.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give you thanks for the ways that you guide us in our everyday lives. Help us to be open to your desires that we might walk in your ways. In your holy name. Amen.

Author: Savannah Demuynck

[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 August 25 2020

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Scripture: Acts 9: 32-43

Key verse: (42) “This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”

Reflection: There are two miraculous healings in today’s scripture passage.  Both stories reinforce Peter’s authority to minister in the name of Jesus Christ. The healing of Tabitha – raising her from the dead – renewed Peter’s relationship with the community of widows.  Earlier in the book of Acts, the Apostles got off to a bad start with this group.  Now they have the opportunity to give thanks for him and the power of Christ to heal.  The healing of Aeneas led an entire community to turn to the Lord. These are wonderful stories about how God uses God’s power to transform lives – not just the lives of those who were healed but the lives of everyone who witnessed the healing.  There is still a question that followers of Jesus ask and wonder about:  why are some people healed and others are not? We want the same healing in our lives that we read about in scripture.

I have prayed for many people over the years.  People I loved who I hoped would be healed.  Some have recovered and some have not. There is a mystery here that only God understands. But, then I have seen how God heals in many ways beyond my expectation and imagination. I don’t pretend to understand these miracles.  I have seen people healed, but not cured. I have seen relationships restored and new and renewed faith emerge.  God takes a wider view that is hard to understand when an accident, illness or sudden death enters our lives.  We want to make sense of what is happening. We want God to keep bad things from happening to us. In the moment it can be difficult to see the active presence and mercy of God all around us.  God is present when we long for a miracle and calls us to live by faith.  In the book of Hebrews, we are reminded that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  No matter the outcome, God continues to heal and to help.

Prayer: Merciful God, there are so many things we don’t understand.  Help us to place our lives in your hands knowing that nothing can separate us from your love.  We give thanks that you hear our cries for healing and that you are always with us, no matter what might happen in this life.  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 August 24 2020

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Scripture: Acts 9:19b-31

Key verse: (26) When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.

Reflection: Saul’s encounter with the Lord on the Damascus road changed his life. He was transformed from a faithful Jew who was persecuting the followers of Jesus into a faithful follower of Jesus. My Bible has the heading “The Conversion of Saul” for that story but the word “conversion” is never used in the story or in Paul’s retellings of what happened. (Saul = Paul in case you didn’t know!)

Perhaps there are several conversions going on in this chapter. Saul “converted” to believe Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Son. In today’s passage, the disciples in Jerusalem “convert” in their understanding of Saul. I can’t imagine what they felt when Saul showed up in Jerusalem and was preaching boldly about Jesus. He had been on a vendetta against them (see Acts 8:3 and 9:1-2). The disciples were “all afraid of him” and didn’t believe he was a disciple.

So, the disciples of Jesus who had been witnesses of the resurrection and who had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, didn’t believe Saul was a disciple. Those disciples knew that God could raise the dead to new life and could bring transforming power that made miracles happen. Yet they didn’t believe that God could transform Saul from a persecutor into a disciple. They knew Saul and they believed they had him figured out. Their opinion of him was set.

As disciples today, I wonder when we have a set opinion about someone and, no matter what happens, we refuse to believe they have changed. I wonder how we doubt the power of God to transform lives and we give up on someone as a hopeless case. I wonder how our fear sometimes clouds our ability to see the goodness at work in someone’s life. God is in the conversion business. May God convert me again and again so that I may be more like Christ.

Prayer: Surprise me, O God, when I think people are reduced to only the worst things I know about them. Remind me that all people are created in your image and your power to transform can do miracles. Transform me to be a person of grace. Through Christ 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].

Friday August 21 2020

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Scripture: Psalm 139

Key verses: (1-6)

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.

2   You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3   You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4   Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5   You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Reflection: One stop on my last road trip was the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which honors more than 4,400 African American men, women, and children who were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.  This national lynching memorial is a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terror in America and its legacy. As my family walked slowly through the memorial and heard stories of bank-funded public lynchings or lynchings of children the same age as my children because they looked at someone’s cow I became convinced that for each of these I would hear and remember the worlds of the Psalmist who writes of God:

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am reverently and wonderfully made.

Each of those individuals were knit together by God in their mother’s womb, wonderfully made. This belongingness of human bodies to God should be the basis for an ethic of how we treat each other and live together.

It should instruct us in all of our interactions. It should guide us as we choose our core values and evaluate them daily. Are we being kind to all of God’s creations? Do we celebrate the beauty and wonder of each person God created?

Why are we not able to love, respect and be kind to others? Is it because we are not able to do the same for ourselves? Are we able to believe this good news is for each of us?

This passage is a powerful testimony of God’s love for us. For you. For me.  God knows when we get up in the morning, the routine of our days or lack of routine, God knows our thoughts, motivations and our actions.  It is hard for us to wrap our minds around how much interest God takes in our lives. God knows our hidden addictions whether that is our daily peanut butter cookie, Tylenol pm or revenge pranks and God still loves us. In our brokenness and with all of our flaws, we are completely known and completely loved.

God already knows every horrible thing we’ve ever done or will do and yet still he loves us more than we will ever understand. God loved us before we knew our Creator and had a plan for us before we realized we needed God.  Hear the good news, each and every one of you is reverently and wonderfully made by God. Let us live is that love.

Prayer: God, guide us in your love. Give us a loud voice when we see injustice. May we be just as kind. To others and to ourselves. 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 August 20 2020

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Scripture: John 6:16-27

Key verses: (26-27) “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Reflection: Today’s devotional is based on John 6:16-27 and is in video form. You can access it by clicking the image below. You can read a printed copy of the devotion here.

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[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 August 19 2020

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Scripture: Acts 8:14-25

Key verse: (20) “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!”

Reflection: Who was it that said money can’t buy happiness? I’m sure a lot of people have said it, but take a moment and google the phrase, the results are interesting. Some results I saw say, “Money can’t buy happiness … but it can buy chocolate!” You can imagine how other results just swapped chocolate out for books, wine, cars, a house, etc. And yet within the more humorous results was also a study by Emory economics professors about the length and relative happiness of marriages in relation to the cost of the wedding.[1] Now this study, nor any study are final on any subject, but it is interesting to note our actions and what research and experience show us.

In our text for today, Simon wasn’t necessarily trying to buy happiness, but instead a gift from God. Throughout history we’ve seen this, whether from indulgences paid to offset sins or Richard Mellon’s funding of a church in Pittsburgh nicknamed “Mellon’s fire escape”, hinting not so subtly that he may have tried to pay for his salvation. In our text, Simon’s desire for the gifts of God don’t seem malicious, they don’t even seem to be self-serving, and yet the disciples rebuked him and called Simon to repent. Simon responds as if he were surprised, and responds faithfully, asking for the disciples to pray for him.

I wonder about Simon, and I wonder about us. Was Simon just living as he saw others live, using money to acquire what he wanted? I wonder what his relationship with money was like after this moment. I wonder how his relationship with money affected his relationship with God, and I wonder if after this moment he had a new relationship with God, and how that affected his relationship with money? Take time today, consider your relationship with your faith and with money, consider the time spent with each, the energy around each, the trust in each. Notice throughout the day how often you speak of each and how you speak of each. And may we come to know that the greatest gifts from God cannot be bought, but are found in the free gift of God’s grace, inviting us into relationship with God and one another.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give you thanks for the blessings of this day and the gift of life. May we deepen our trust in you while holding loosely to all else that fades away. Open us to the joy of relationship with you that is a free gift of grace from Christ our Lord. Inspire us to share that joy with others and to show your love in all we do. 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].
[1] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/research-proves-that-money-cant-buy-happiness_b_5910c61de4b056aa2363d7f0

Tuesday August 18 2020

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Scripture: John 5:30-47

Key verses: (39-40) “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Reflection: All of scripture has one central testimony it points to. Scripture was not compiled haphazardly, or even preserved to give historical snapshots of God’s actions. Scripture was not meant to solely be narrative and story. Scripture is inspired and active, historical and eternal. Scripture has a specific center and a sharp point that it all comes to. Jesus asserts to the Jewish leaders who are persecuting him, who have themselves studied scripture their entire life — it’s all about him. There is a Christological center to the testimony of Scripture. We have the author of life, who was there at the beginning with God but was not God, saying there is a central testimony to the whole thing.

Scripture does not point to an idea or a propositional truth; scripture points to a person. He is a historical person, a real person, a divine person, an eternal person who is meant to be encountered. Verse 40 says that we can read scripture all we want, through and through, yet still refuse to come to Jesus. It’s possible to know theology, study scripture, read all of the commentaries, and quote your favorite writers and theologians, and still not come to have life in Christ. I think about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Our hearts can burn with the desire to learn and grown, but it wasn’t until they invited Jesus to break bread that their eyes were opened.

I wonder how you may encounter Christ in your study. I wonder how easy it is sometimes to miss the point. If our study and our piety don’t lead us directly into communing with Christ in some way, or they don’t lead us to deep fellowship with others who carry the same image of God, then we have missed the point. The point of scripture is not for knowledge – it is for communion.

Prayer: Author of life and creator of love, thank you for the testimony of those who have gone before me, those who come after me, and the power of the Word in scripture. Help me to seek deeply the communion of Christ in my life with those who journey with me. 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].