Tuesday October 27 2020

Scripture: Psalm 12

Key verse: (1) “Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.”

Reflection: Throughout the bible, the faithful often get discouraged at the state of the world around them. Moses confided in God about his frustrations with the people, Elijah wept alone in a cave, and Jonah wished God’s wrath upon the unfaithful of an entire city. I’ve heard and seen similar words and actions in our times with people claiming that they are the only ones left who could possibly know and follow God’s will. The world is doomed, the wicked are winning, the faithful is down to … me. Really? Do we really think that this line of thinking is faithful?

Recently, when author Christena Cleveland came to visit she talked about how harmful this line of thinking really is. When we think we are the only faithful ones left and that the world as we know it depends upon our individual action alone, we are thinking too highly of ourselves, too lowly of others, and we are leaving God out of the equation. While stresses, change, and injustice can feel overwhelming, may we never forget that we are not alone. The Psalmist in this passage, while greatly distressed, does acknowledge that help comes from God saying, “You, O LORD, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever.” (12:7)

Trusting in God’s goodness and action, we are able to hold grief and hope together, acknowledging our grief in the world around us, but hoping and trusting in God who holds all things together. In this tension we find faith, not in our own ability to problem solve but in God who is creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all things. May we find peace in the midst of the anxieties of the world trusting in this God who holds us all.

Prayer: Faithful God, we bring to you our frustrations, our grief, our fears. May we turn these over to you, trusting in your actions and faithfulness. Calm our hearts and minds, open our eyes to see that we are not on this journey alone, and quicken our steps that we may follow you with humble joy. 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 October 26 2020

Scripture: Luke 11:14-26

Key verse: (16) Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

Reflection: This casting-out episode takes place after Jesus has taught the disciples about prayer, but there is no indication how long after. Quite possibly, the inclusion of this story after a lesson on prayer, may indicate and reinforce the confidence we can have in prayer. Demons are supernatural beings and can be quite frightening to humans. However, God can cast out demons by God’s finger, indicating light work for the Almighty One, the Creator of all things. But what can be more frightening is our human tendency to doubt — even when seeing miracles with our own eyes.

As soon as Jesus casts out the mute demon, the man possessed regains his ability to speak. The crowd marveled, and they were amazed. Yet, some questioned and even accused Jesus of healing in the name of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Those accusers couldn’t believe what was happening, so they accused to disparage Jesus with the claim he sided with Satan. They demanded another sign to prove Jesus was from God. All the signs they have already witnessed — calming the seas, healing the diseased, curing the sick, raising the dead — were not enough proof for this crowd. They wanted, even needed, a bigger sign, a sign from heaven.

After I see someone do a card trick, my first request is “Do it again” as if I will be able to catch the illusions and not be fooled once more. This is our human reaction to many things that amaze us. We need affirmation and confirmation to believe. What miracles have you overlooked recently? I wonder what miraculous events we witness on a daily basis go unnoticed due to our lack of belief or faith. Doubt is a tricky thing to navigate when we experience something beyond our understanding. God’s hand is at work everywhere and it is up to us to open our eyes, and our hearts, to recognize it. You might be amazed at all the amazing miracles that happen right in front of us.  

Prayer: Open my eyes, O Lord, to see your wondrous works. Open my heart, O Lord, to believe in your mighty hand. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray to see. 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 October 23 2020

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

Key verses: (41-42) But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Reflection: The Mary and Martha narrative is one that is familiar to many 21st century Christians. In a culture that prizes achievement and success, it’s easy for many of us to identify with the doers in the world. As usual, Jesus presents us with a different way of seeing things. We are told to praise Mary for the way she sits at the feet of Jesus. And we look at Martha, her busyness, her desire to do, and scold her for the ways that those acts take her out of relationship with God. This is one way of looking at this text, but it’s not the whole story. In order to get to the heart of this section of Luke, we must compare it to the section the comes before it. In the prior verses, we are told the parable of the good Samaritan, which ends with Jesus’ direction to go and do. It’s a call to action. Then we come to our verses for today, in which Jesus asks Martha to stop, he calls her to listen and reflect.

It’s important for us to hear these stories next to each other as a reminder that there are different ways to live out our faith. Sometimes following Jesus looks like going out and helping our neighbors; sometimes it looks like sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening. These calls don’t look the same for everyone but, if we are honest with ourselves, we all are called to both. As we continue to live into a socially distanced life, I wonder how we might find value in these two important aspects of our faith, to go and do and to sit at the feet of Christ. I invite you today to consider which one of these comes more naturally to you, doing or sitting? Which one should you do more in your daily life? How might you find balance between these two?

Prayer: God of all wonders, you know our hearts better than anyone. Help us to reorient our lives to find the balance that you call us to, through the power of Christ’s love. 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].

Thursday October 22 2020

Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

Key verse: (35) “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.”

Reflection: This is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan — a parable used to teach us about loving God and loving neighbor. It is one of my favorite parables. The term Good Samaritan is part of our everyday language.  We use this expression to describe “a compassionate person who unselfishly helps others” or “one who renders voluntary aid without compensation to a person who is injured or in danger.”  Basically, Good Samaritans come to the rescue without being asked. Sometimes their actions are heroic, but most Good Samaritans don’t draw attention to themselves.  They do what is right as part of their everyday lives. 

Much has been written about today’s parable related to what it means to be a neighbor. For many in the Christian community, the care the Samaritan provides is a self-less example of mercy.  We imagine this man staying with the injured one until he is well, addressing all of his needs.  But, this isn’t what happens. The Samaritan draws others into the caring circle of compassion.  He initially responds, then, he asks an innkeeper to help and, if necessary, obtain additional care for the man that he might recover from his injuries.  The Samaritan started the care, but then he went on with his business promising to return later to follow-up. If we approached our care for each other in this way, no one would carry a burden alone.  Others would be more willing to get involved, helping provide care. We wouldn’t experience compassion fatigue or burn out.  We might even experience joy by sharing the love of God with someone else. During these pandemic days, I have seen people helping each other in new ways. People are connecting with one another, because they have time they didn’t have before.  Even though we have been confined to home and safe activities more than we like sometimes, I have seen compassion and mercy increase.  Many people are better neighbors.  Is there someone you need to be a neighbor to today? 

Prayer: Gracious God, break down the resistance to help another because we are afraid we will become overly involved.  Remind us that everything doesn’t depend on our effort.  You are the great “cure-giver” and we give thanks for your mercy and love.  Help us show this love to others.  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 October 21 2020

Scripture: Micah 3:9 – 4:5

Key verse: (4:5) For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.

Reflection: This month at church we have focused on Micah 6:8 “what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” These expectations shape the lives of faithful people – justice, kindness, and humility. These expectations inform all of our decisions as we try to live as disciples.

Micah was a challenging prophet, who spoke the truth even when he knew it would be hard for others to hear. He lived in a time of financial success and religious reform, but Micah saw the hypocrisy behind the external achievements. He knew that behind the economic success was tremendous injustice and behind the religious reform was a lack of true faithfulness. Sometimes the outward signs cover up a lot of internal problems. Individuals, groups, institutions and nations can look great on the outside when inside there isn’t justice or kindness or humility. (I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples!)

In today’s passage Micah calls on the political and religious leaders to recognize their hypocrisy. Claiming the Lord’s support for what you’re doing when you aren’t living in the Lord’s way is a big problem. Then Micah offered hope that when the people returned to faithful living, the Lord would bring the blessing of true peace. All people walk in the name of a god. Some claim that they are walking in the way of God but they are following other gods – money, success, rewards, reputation, false security. Micah called the people, and calls us today, to walk in the name of the LORD our God. How will we walk with integrity today? How will we make faithful choices today?

Prayer: You are my God. Strengthen me to follow you with integrity today so that all of my actions, all of my words, and all of my thoughts and motivations honor you. Show me clearly when I stray from your way and give me the courage to repent and return to you. Show me clearly when I fail to bring my faithfulness into my public life and give me the courage to repent and return to you.  In the name of Christ, my Lord, 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].

Tuesday October 20 2020

Scripture: Luke 10:1–16 

Key verses: ( 1-11) After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

Reflection: This should be the official passage for our virus time. Take nothing for the journey Jesus tells the disciples. Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. Sent out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick, they were told to just SHOW UP.

Often when we are the church, we brag about what we have to offer. A gym, a great sanctuary, beautiful art on the walls or a great nursery on Sunday morning. Guess what? None of that matters during virus days. We just have to show up for one another.

Take nothing for the journey, Jesus says and go on your way, curing the sick and sharing the good news.

When we were building the outreach center at MPPC, the youth walked the empty shell of the building. We didn’t know what would be in each room but we had plans for what might happen in each room. We shared as we walked the space where basketball teams would play, where we would sleep on CROSS weekend or lock-ins, where we would make Thanksgiving pies and where we would laugh. When we came to the room where we would have youth dinner, one youth shared that this might be where we share our deepest struggles and pray for each other. She shared her fears about a medical test that might change her life that week and we laid hands on her right there and prayed. 

It had nothing to do with the building but everything to do with the relationships and being the body of Christ.  Youth showed up for their friend that week. They took nothing with them as they checked in and walked with her on that journey of waiting.  They showed up and they were the church.

Wherever you are this week. Be the church. Show up for each other.

Prayer: God, give us courage to offer love, words of grace, a few moments or whatever is needed as we seek to be the body of Christ in these days. 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].

Monday October 19 2020

Scripture: Luke 9:51-62

Key verse: (51) “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Reflection: Today’s devotional is based on Luke 9:51-62 and is in video form. You can access it by clicking the image below or read a printed copy here.

[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 October 16 2020

Scripture: Acts 28:1-16

Key verse: (4) When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.”

Reflection: How do you feel about fair weather fans? Are you a fair weather fan … you know, someone that is part of something only when things are going well, and then the moment the mood turns sour you hop out, distance yourself, disassociate all together? In our text for today in the final chapter of Acts, Paul meets some extreme fair weather fans. Paul, arrested by the Romans, is sailing toward Rome for trial when the ship wrecks and the passengers find themselves on the island of Malta. Warming up around a fire after a wet day Paul is bitten by a viper! Seeing Paul surely about to die, bitten by a poisonous snake, how do the natives of Malta respond? They exclaim, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live!” Paul was down and out, arrested, ship wrecked, and now has poison flowing through his veins and instead of helping Paul out, the fair weather fans of Malta pile on, accusing Paul of being a murderer. But … hold on tight, for this gloomy weather turns fairer quickly, for in fact Paul doesn’t die for the snake bite! The people of Malta turn course and they now proclaim Paul to be a god!

What extremes, right?! One moment Paul is labeled as a murderer deserving death and the next he is titled a god who is invincible! Where is the middle ground? Where is reason? Where is pausing to listen? It is interesting to continue the passage, however, and see that Paul is shipwrecked for three months on the island of Malta. I imagine in that time that Paul and the people of Malta moved passed this initial moment of extremes. I wonder if they came to understand each other in their everyday actions and lives, if they came to see the good and the bad in each other not in extremes but as real imperfect humans, perhaps even respecting each other. I’m not sure how the rest of Paul’s time on the island went, but he does describe the people there as showing “unusual kindness” (28:2).

In these times, in 2020, what would you find as “unusual kindness?” Would it be moving away from extremes, taking time to pause and listen, seeing someone for their good and bad, recognizing the humanness in all? Jesus is our great example of being faithful, rather than a fair weather fan. Reading the Gospel’s, we see Jesus stick with people in their good and bad, listen to their stories, and move past surface level judgments. May we follow in Christ’s footsteps, relying on his grace, that we too may ever be more faithful rather than fair weather fans.

Prayer: Loving God, we praise you for your unending faithfulness toward us. You don’t give up on us no matter how bad things get. Thank you for your love, your care, your unusual kindness. May we in turn show that love and kindness to others. 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 October 15 2020

Scripture: Acts 27:27-44

Key verses: (35-36) After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Reflection: During my days as a director at YMCA Camp Cherokee, we would host staff training for all the summer staff for the upcoming camping season. We would do ice breakers, team building exercises, teach conflict resolution and issues of cabin dynamics, and get ready over 1,500 campers for the summer ahead. We would always invite our Medical Director to come talk about safety protocols and emergency procedures. He would teach us the difference between an “emergency” and an “urgency”. An emergency is life-threatening, and an urgency is a something that needs quick attention. But the one phrase I continue to think about that was mentioned every time our medical director came to prepare the counselors for the summer is this: when there is a kid that needs emergent or urgent attention, sit down and smoke a cigarette. The first time I heard this I was confused. What he meant by this saying is when everything seems to be going sideways, children will take their cue from you. If you are frantically running around, the kids will follow your lead. If you are calm in the face of challenges (figuratively taking time to smoke a cigarette), the kids will calm down as well. By “smoking a cigarette” you give yourself time to think, assess the situation, get your thoughts and actions in order, and calmly respond appropriately.

In our text for today, Paul, in the midst of an emergency, smokes a figurative cigarette. More specifically, Paul calmly sits down to share a meal with others in peril. In the middle of the fourteenth night of stormy seas, the life boats have drifted away empty, Paul urged everyone on board to sit down and eat. “You have been in constant suspense and have gone without food,” Paul says. Yes, that is a scary situation. Yes, they do not know how this will end up. They hope that there is land ahead, but they are not certain of anything. Paul took some bread, blessed it and broke it, and “all were encouraged.”

I wonder if there was a time when “smoking a cigarette” or “breaking bread” would have been the more appropriate response to a scary or challenging situation before acting. I wonder how we might encourage others through our response using the example of Paul. I encourage you to give thanks to God, break bread with those around you, then respond, and may God provide a safe shore for landing.

Prayer: God of patience, send your calming spirit upon me this day, so that I may give thanks in each and every moment that I encounter today. Grant that my response may be one that brings you glory and honor, and encourage those around me to see your goodness and love. 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 October 14 2020

Scripture: Psalm 147:1-11

Key verses: (10-11)

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
    in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Reflection: We live in a culture that idolizes perfection. We are taught that things must be done the right way, and they must be done in a timely manner. Our desire for perfection sometimes gets in the way of the beauty of the action itself. As someone who values both strength and speed in all tasks, I know sometimes it’s hard for me to appreciate the steps that lead to a final product. I often need to take a step back and remember the phrase “the journey is worth the destination,” which is at the heart of the focus verses for me today.

Psalm 147 is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise. The beginning of the psalm calls us to praise the Lord for God’s steadfast love and dedication. Reading this psalm, we are reminded of God’s active presence on earth. The writer of the psalms speaks to the beauty and bounty of creation, asking us to look at how the sky is covered with clouds or the rain that makes the grass grow. We experience God all the time by simply living in the world and observing what is around us.

Our section for today ends with our focus text, in which we are reminded that God takes pleasure in those who hope in steadfast love. God does not ask us to be perfect in our actions, but rather God asks that all we do, we do in love. I don’t know about you, but I find this to be freeing. God doesn’t expect us to get everything right. God wants our dedication. And we can show this love through the way we act towards creation, God’s beloved people and creatures. I wonder if we, in our busy lives, can take a step back and notice all that God is. I wonder if we might be able to let go of our getting it right to instead find joy in the journey of walking through life in relationship to God. What might this mean for you today?

Prayer: Creator God, we are grateful for all the ways that you are active in our world, showing us steadfast love. Help us to appreciate the journey of our faith, that you might use us to show others your love. In Christ’s 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].