Friday July 10 2020

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Scripture: Romans 10:6-13

Key verses: (6-13) But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)

7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Reflection: Faith is not simple. First, we have to admit we need to be transformed and that someone greater will have to take the lead. We cannot save ourselves. I need God. We need GOD.

Faith is not just about being “good enough”.  I think we all struggle with the voices that challenge us to be the best. With faith, we also have those voices that challenge us to be the best at being good. Our children and youth sometimes see faith as a journey to be “good” and they are rarely told they are enough.  I once heard someone tell a youth that being “enough” means you are not trying hard.

Let’s be honest with each other. We are broken. We are racist. We mess up. Maybe I should not use “we”, in this sentence but own it. I am broken friends. I am a racist in so many ways I think about life and I am working hard to be anti-racist. I have messed up, I mess up and I am going to mess up. I need JESUS!

Jesus is the one through whom God brings abundant life and joy. Jesus brings the love of God’s rule into our lives and can be a step toward that freedom and transformation. Let’s be loud in calling on the name of the Lord today and every day.

Prayer: God, who is bigger than we can ever imagine, we need You. Guide us to think BIG and NEW with a faithful heart and powerful imagination. God you are BIGGER than our plan, our hopes and dreams. Make us one with your mission and empower us by your Holy Spirit as we follow your son into this amazing new world. 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 July 9 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 24:1-14

Key verses: (3-8)

Reflection: Today’s devotional is based on Matthew 24:1-14 and is in video form. You can access it by clicking the image below.

07 09 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].

Wednesday July 8 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 23:27-39

Key verse: (30) “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”

Reflection: We catch Jesus in our text for today right in the middle of laying it out there for the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus is just finishing up a harsh seven “woes” directed at this group. Growing up, the scribes and Pharisees were always taught to me like my personal punching bag, highlight all of their shortcomings, giving them a good hit since they couldn’t hit back, and being thankful that “I wasn’t like them.” However, if we read scripture with the scribes and the Pharisees like our personal punching bags, we fall right into the issue that Jesus was talking about.

We as a people don’t like to hear “no”. From the time we are young throughout our life, this is not a word we enjoy hearing. Just try saying “no” to my 20-month old daughter Foster and her eyes will water up and her chin will quiver. Jesus’ rebuke of “woes” could also be translated as a list of “no’s”. No, don’t appear kind on the surface but harbor malice, hate, and injustice on the inside. No, don’t pretend to honor the prophets of years gone by while treating today’s prophets with disrespect.

While we don’t like to hear no, we need to hear no, we need Jesus’ guidance and judgment to set us on the right path. As we as a nation celebrated our Independence Day this past weekend, I thought of Jesus’ final woe, “Woe to you … for you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’” Jesus’ warning to the scribes and Pharisees challenges them not to play hypothetical with history, therefore feigning innocence, but to repent and learn from history and show growth in the present. As we continue to grapple with our nation’s multifaceted history of freedom and enslavement, advancement and oppression, opportunity and threat, may we not feign innocence with an incomplete history, may we not pretend we would have been any different than our ancestors who have gone before us, may we not play the hypothetical game of what we would have done in a situation. Instead, may we hear “no” and respond. May we deal lovingly, justly, and righteously with those around us, may we listen to the prophets in our midst, and may we seek the guiding presence of Christ, heeding to his loving “no’s” where we need them.

Prayer: Loving God, we give you thanks for guidance. We give you thanks for opportunities to learn and grow. We cannot hide from you, you know our innermost thoughts and our outermost actions when no one else is looking. By your grace, empower us to live boldly and honestly into the people you have called us to be. 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].

Tuesday July 7 2020

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Scripture: Romans 8:31-39

Key Verse: (37) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Reflection: Paul writes his letter to the Romans during Nero’s turbulent reign, when Christians had many reasons to worry and feel defeated — even more fear for their life. In the century before Paul wrote this letter, Rome was in the midst of a bloody civil war, resulting in the republic form of government being replaced by an empire ruled by emperors. In light of all these things Rome endured and witnessed, and all these things the Christians in Rome endured and witnessed, it is interesting that Paul’s statement about being “more than conquerors” came in this letter to this place. Rome, its citizens, and the Christians living there had seen many “conquerors.”

Yet, Paul claims these Roman Christians are more than conquerors “in all these things.” These things that Paul refers to have been personally experienced by him: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword. But through all these difficulties and tribulations, Paul knew that, because he was loved by God and was called according to God’s purpose, “all things work together for good” (v.28). It is by God’s grace and love found in our Savior Jesus Christ we are called conquerors. In and through and because of our identity in Christ, we are conquerors of sin and death. I wonder what difficulties you are currently facing in your world. I wonder how might knowing God loves you and calls you God’s beloved child may bless you in the midst of stress.

Henri Nouwen, in a collection of journal entries The Inner Voice of Love, describes what claiming and accepting this identity as conqueror and child of God can do in our life.

“Your true identity is as a child of God. This is the identity you have to accept. Once you have claimed it and settled in it, you can live in a world that gives you much joy as well as pain. You can receive the praise as well as the blame that comes to you as an opportunity for strengthening your basic identity, because the identity that makes you free is anchored beyond all human praise and blame. You belong to God, and it is as a child of God that you are sent into the world.”

May you hold on to the knowledge of God’s love for you, feel the embrace as a beloved child of God, and in Christ be a more than a conqueror through peace, grace, and mercy.

Prayer: I am more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus. I am your beloved child O God. Help me to claim this identity and accept that I am loved, knowing that nothing in this world or beyond this world can separate me from your 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].

 

Monday July 6 2020

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Scripture: Romans 8:26-30

Key verse: (26) “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Reflection: Recently, I was re-reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together.  It was written during WWII when he was teaching in an underground seminary. Bonhoeffer would meet his students in secret to avoid prosecution.  We can only imagine how alone and isolated he and his students must have felt as they taught and learned in secret hoping to avoid arrest. Their lives were in constant danger.  In the midst of their uncertainty, Bonhoeffer encouraged his students to read scripture, particularly the Psalms because they are a powerful reminder that “one who prays never prays alone.”  Bonhoeffer’s quote about prayer reminds me of today’s scripture.

In the context of suffering, the Apostle Paul offers hope for the future.  He reassures us that God hears our cries for help and even prays with and for us.  God takes all things – good and bad – and works them into God’s purposes.  Yet, there are times when we are impatient.  We try to make the terrible things that happen better before they can be better.  We stumble around with our questions and fears forgetting that God is the one who will work all things together for good – not us.  In the short run, the events of life can be awful. But through it all, God is present and the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  What a hopeful message! We are assured that God knows our hearts and will pray our prayers with us. We are not alone.

Prayer:  Loving God, thank you for taking what happens to us and creating something new.  Shape our lives in such a way that your likeness may be seen in us. Call us by name and place us on solid ground. Encourage us when we are down and lift us up when we pray for your help. Complete your work in us and stay with us, always.  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].

Friday July 3 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22

Key verse: (21b)  Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Reflection: Two things you can count on – death and taxes. Religious leaders were trying to trap Jesus so they asked him about paying taxes. The Roman Empire occupied Israel and required all people to pay taxes with Roman coins. If Jesus suggested the Jews shouldn’t pay taxes, then he would be a revolutionary and could be arrested for treason. For faithful religious people, paying taxes was a problem. It probably felt like an act of betrayal, acknowledging Roman control over the land that God had given to them. The coins themselves were “unclean” because they were made by Gentiles, used by Gentiles, and had the image of a Gentile on them. If Jesus said “yes pay your taxes,” then he would honor the Roman laws but anger the faithful religious people. If Jesus said “no don’t pay your taxes” then he would please the religious leadership but anger the Romans. A trap!

Jesus was wise. First he asked them for a coin as an example. When one of them pulled a coin out of a purse or pocket, I wonder if anyone gasped. That religious leader was carrying an unclean Gentile coin around. Scandalous! Then Jesus asked them about the image of the coin. It was an image of the emperor. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Well that settles it. But wait a minute, doesn’t everything belong to God? Oh goodness, now what do we do?

Jesus wasn’t offering a universally applicable solution to whether we should pay taxes. He was refusing to fall into a trap. He was challenging self-righteous leaders by revealing their own hypocrisy and inconsistency. He was forcing everyone to think and discern without a quick and easy answer.

As we celebrate this holiday weekend, take time to think and discern. What does it mean to be a faithful citizen? Does it sometimes mean civil disobedience? How does a person of faith recognize when patriotism becomes nationalism? In our celebration of freedom, let us use our freedom to work for good in the world.

Prayer: This is my song, O God of all the nations, A song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine. But other hearts in other lands are beating, With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover, And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, A song of peace for their land and for mine. Amen.

(“This Is My Song”, verses one and two by Lloyd Stone, hymn #340 in Glory to God)

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].

Thursday July 2 2020

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Scripture: Matt 22: 1-14

Key verses: (1-3, 9-14) Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.

 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Reflection: Parables invite us to sit with them and look at them from every angle. They invite us to ask questions of our lives, of the narratives that we have formed and of how we live together.

Amy Jill Levine, New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt says of parables that “If the interpretation does not raise for us more questions, if it does not open us up to more conversation, if it creates a neat and tidy picture, we need to go back and read it again.” This parable of the wedding banquet is anything but tidy and neat. We cannot conclude that God is an angry king who destroys his own people because it does not fit with the God revealed by Jesus in the rest of the gospels. The parable is outrageous and shocking.

I wonder if this is opposite of God’s intentions. The kingdom of heaven is not like our lives with judgement and systems that exclude because you are not perfect.  What if God’s judgement is filled with grace and invitation not exclusion. We are called to just show up. It’s simple and it’s just as hard.

What caught my attention in the parable was the man who didn’t dress right for the party. The guest was speechless. There are times when we show up but we are not present. I wonder if he was not really there, on his phone or so future thinking that he couldn’t even hear someone having a conversation. I also wonder if the guest felt so out of place that they believed they didn’t have a voice.

Why didn’t anyone speak up for the guest? There were others in the room that could have stepped forward.  Were they fully present or worried about themselves? I don’t know the answer for the parable but I know that I miss a lot of invitations because I am rushing through life. We have the chance during these virus days to slow down and show up.

Let’s show up to this life to which we are called, being fully present and committed to Jesus Christ.

Prayer: God, you call us to be in relationship with one another, to join together at the table and you promise to dwell wherever two or three are gathered.  Nourish us at this table. Through the food we eat and the stories we share, fill our heart and soul. Open our hearts and eyes so that we might find the treasures of diversity among us. Help us boldly live out the adventure of hospitality. 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].

 

Wednesday July 1 2020

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Scripture: Romans 7:13-25

Reflection: Today’s devotional is based on Romans 7:13-25 and is in video form. You can access it by clicking the image below.

07 01 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].

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].