Wednesday November 18 2020

Scripture: Luke 17:11–19

Key verses: (15-18) 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 

Reflection: Thanksgiving. Yes, it will look different this year. This year, I will not run into you at the airport excited to escape for some sun without any family or about to board an international flight to catch up with a college student who is doing study abroad. We may not be adding the extra leaves to the table or cooking quite as much.  What will not be different this year? The opportunity we have to gather together and give thanks to God.

That is what I really love about Thanksgiving. The time to acknowledge that each moment of life is enough. We have enough, we are enough and what we experience is enough. Jesus healed ten but only one returned to give thanks, with a LOUD voice. Did the other nine not notice they were healed or were they too busy to give thanks? Let’s start practicing our gratitude as we walk these days to Thanksgiving. God has certainly brought some healing, transformation and definitely grace into our lives this year. 

If you have not seen the healing, give thanks for the ordinary, everyday things that bring you joy. A child’s laugh. A text from a friend. Chocolate chess pie.

I invite you to stop for a minute today and just take notice of all that God has given you. It is enough.

When we practice gratitude, we cultivate the ability to see wonder, awe and possibility in each moment of our lives. You will be surprised what begins to happen. God enters our lives with healing and wholeness. Bitterness is replaced with contentment. Daily routines become defining moments. The ordinary becomes holy.

Gratitude researchers and scientists also show that this faith practice can bring actual healing; creating stronger immune systems, lowering blood pressure, and helping us sleep better.  Grateful people also have a greater capacity for joy and positive emotions.

Let’s not wait until Thanksgiving. Be like the Samaritan and give thanks. Be loud.

Prayer: God, I am grateful.

For …

And …

And even …                    

Thank you for your love that sustains me every day. 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 November 17 2020

Scripture: James 3:1-12

Key verses: (5-6) “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.”

Reflection: Fire, in and of itself, is neutral. It is simply energy. When it is focused and controlled it accomplishes great things. It can be used to cook, to heat, to propel forward. Uncontrolled, fire can be terribly destructive.  We’ve witnessed its power to destroy this year in recent fires in the west of our nation. 

So it is with our speech, suggests James.  Words, in an of themselves are simply words.  Yet they have the power to shape worlds, or to destroy them.  James warns his readers of the destructive power of words, of the need to control our tongues, and moderate our speech.  What a word for our world right now.  It is critically important that we measure our words and moderate how we employ them in these incendiary times. Let us heed James’ advice and choose to use our words for blessing, not for cursing. 

Poets know the power of words.  David Whyte is one of my favorites. I’ve been thinking about his poem, “Loaves and Fishes” in these days.  It exemplifies the power of words to bless:

Loaves and Fishes

This is not

the age of information.

This is not

the age of information.

Forget the news,

and the radio,

and the blurred screen.

This is the time

of loaves

and fishes.

People are hungry

and one good word is bread

for a thousand.

Prayer: “May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.”

Author: Joe Clifford

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday November 16 2020

Scripture: James 2:14-26

Key verse: (14) What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?

Reflection: Can you imagine telling your child that you love them, but never giving them a hug? Or how about saying you hope your sick spouse feels better, but never getting them soup or a blanket to warm up? This just seems inconceivable, right? If we love our child, we not only tell them that, but we show them affection through hugs and quality time. And if we hope our spouse feels better we get them food and help them rest.

However, according to James in our passage for today, people are prone to label themselves as Christians but not live into the actions that would show it. James asks, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” Our faith is more than our prayers. Our faith is more than labeling ourselves as caring and Christian. Our faith is more than words. Our faith is lived, it is embodied, it is made concrete in our actions.

Right now when we are showing love by keeping our distance from one another and wearing masks, you might think it difficult to show your faith by your deeds. But you all have been finding creative ways to show God’s love for the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the lonely. You all have been bringing thousands of pounds of food for those hungry through canned food drives, you have been giving casseroles to the hungry, you have been giving financially to those affected by COVID 19, you have been writing letters and making phone calls to those who are isolated. I am thankful for you all and how you continue to “Live Out Love” in creative ways! May God continue to strengthen you in your faith, that we may both pray for those in need and also respond in our loving deeds.

Prayer: Holy God, stir within us that we may not get complacent in our faithful words. By your Spirit move us to action, embolden us to share, to care, to love in our deeds. And by our actions may all know our love for you, and your love for the world. Through Christ we pray, who showed us love through his own life. 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 November 13 2020

Scripture: James 1:16-27

Key verses: (19-20, 27) My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Reflection: Most definitions of “emotion” follow Aristotle’s understanding of emotion as “states of feeling.” Jamie Dow wrote in summary of Aristotle’s work on this theory of emotion:

“To have an emotion is to experience pain, pleasure, or both, where this pain or pleasure is intentional and representational. An emotion is pain or pleasure at the emotion’s object, where the object is represented in ways that give ground for the particular emotion experienced.”

How do you understand emotion? More specifically, how do you understand anger? I was told anger is an evil emotion, an emotion that must be silenced and subdued. I think this understanding and guidance on anger comes from this passage in James and others like it. The apostle Paul implores and advises both the Colossians and the Ephesians to get rid of all evil such as anger (Col.3:8; Eph.4:31). However, there are other uses of the word anger that couple the emotion with different advice — be slow to anger. Anger is not evil, but it can be harmful if your anger boils to the surface easily.

What do you feel when you see injustices in the world? How do you feel when experiencing or witnessing prejudice against others? As James begins he calls for “brothers and sisters” to listen up, pay attention, know this! Our purpose as Christians, in James’ understanding, is what follows: quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Is that it? Is that our calling as followers of Christ? So, another question to ponder: can anger be a good thing? As this passage concludes, he states what “pure religion” is: looking after orphans and widows, keep yourself unstained from the world.

Here is how I understand all of this. To be quick to listen is to truly pay attention to and understand what God calls us to do: love God; love neighbor. The way to fulfil this command in the eyes of James is taking care of those oppressed and those on the fridges of society (orphans and widows). But James draws our attention to not merely listening but doing! “Do not merely listen … Do what it says.” By caring for the oppressed, by fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves in this world, anger may be experienced. It is anger that can drive our actions to fight, not freeze or flee. It is our anger that can push us into action to right the wrongs we see in the world. First we must listen, to the Word and to others. Then we take action. I hope the actions we take come from a place of love, driven by our care of the other, keeping ourselves and others unstained from the world, all for God’s glory.

Prayer: In creation you exclaimed that all was good, O God. In the sight of injustice and evil you became angry, O God. I pray that I remember creation is made in your goodness, and I pray that when I see evil I may respond by taking action. Guide me in your call to love, so the orphans and widows may be lifted up from the pollution of this world. 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 November 12 2020

Scripture: Joel 2:21-27

Key verses: (21-22)
21 Do not fear, O soil;
     be glad and rejoice,
     for the LORD has done great things!
22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,
     for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
     the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

Reflection: I always love it when scripture tells us not to fear or “do not be afraid” as it often teaches. The words sound so easy and yet the action of setting aside our fear is such a challenge. In order to not be afraid, we have to know the root of our pain, which is often the hardest part. Accepting what causes our fear, acknowledging it and then deciding to continue on anyway. When I read these words in the bible, “do not fear,” I am reminded that it’s not necessarily a call to not be afraid – that would be disingenuous – but it’s a call to not let fear run our lives.

In our passage for today, the prophet Joel remembers a terrible plague of swarming locusts that descended and destroyed. Joel asks the Israelite’s not to be afraid but instead to look around at all that is, to see the green pastures and the fig trees that are full of figs. This might seem to us like a call to ignore what has been hard and look to the positive, asking the reader to choose happiness over despair.

Instead, the author of Joel wants us to hold these two things together. We are asked not to let fear and sadness rule our lives and at the same time to notice our surroundings. We don’t have to choose between one emotion but rather to allow ourselves to experience both. We hold these two realities to be true. This is our call as Christians – to live in our current world, full of complex human emotions and outcomes and to look ahead to the world to come, promised through Jesus Christ. What a call this is! May we learn to not let fear rule our lives and remember to notice our surroundings in the midst of it all.

Prayer: Merciful God, who knows the breadth of human emotion. Help us to acknowledge and minimize our fear. Teach us to stop and notice our surroundings. Lead us in the way of truth and light, by the power of your Son, Jesus Christ. 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].

Wednesday November 11 2020

Scripture: Joel 2: 12-19

Key verses: (12-13a) “Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”

Reflection: One of the gifts of the COVID pandemic is the time we have been given because our regular schedules have been disrupted. Some of us have filled up this time with more work.  Some of us have found we have more time to exercise, read a book, connect with others or simply rest because we aren’t commuting or travelling.  For others this disruption has created more space for spiritual issues to emerge. And yet we still have many things that distract us from faith.  Even though early in the pandemic many people filled up their days learning new skills or starting new projects, some couldn’t stop working and from dawn to dusk they worked and worked and worked to the point of exhaustion. It became apparent six months into the restrictions that there were some unaddressed issues.  All of us have had an opportunity to discover where we are in relationship to God. In today’s text, the people of Judah were in a desperate situation.  There was plague and drought.  The prophet Joel attributed this destruction to their unfaithfulness.  They had turned away from God.  Of course, we know that there are scientific reasons why there are natural disasters.  Things like poor farming practices, mining, building too close to the ocean and climate change, are some of the things that contribute to devastation.  We no longer believe that these events are caused by God’s withdrawal from a people or a nation. They are caused by human activity.  We do understand how people lose their way and cause destruction in their lives and in the lives of others. And, yet in the midst of all this, God is generous.  No matter how far away we travel from the LORD; the LORD is ready to give us a second chance.  We are given the opportunity to turn our lives around because it is never too late to return to God. We are invited to return to the LORD at the start of every day – to return to the One who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. In spite of our human failings, God calls us to return.  God is willing to give restoration.  Are you willing to receive it?  What might happen if you humble yourself and submit to this gracious love?  Is God calling you to “return to the LORD with all you heart”?  What will your response be?

Prayer: Loving God, we think we know what we want, but too often we delude ourselves.  Forgive our pride and self-determination when it gets in the way of submitting to you.  Forgive our sins that have hurt us and hurt another person.  Help us amend our ways.  Take our desire to change and restore us.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.     

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday November 10 2020

Scripture: Revelation 19:1-10

Key verse: (1) After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just.”

Reflection: I love to sing! Singing in the car, singing in the shower, singing in church. Oh how I miss singing together in church. I have what choir directors call a “choir voice” which is a polite way of saying I don’t sing solos but I can blend in with a big group.

When we think about the book of Revelation, we might think about strange symbolism, and end time predictions, and violent warnings of judgment. But do we think about song? Revelation is full of song because it gives us a glimpse of the heavenly kingdom where the multitudes sing praises to God. In today’s passage the multitudes rejoice that Babylon (the symbolic evil city that probably represented Rome to the first century readers) fell. God has triumphed. Evil has been destroyed. Life has defeated death.

In response, the multitudes sing “Hallelujah” to glorify God. When you imagine it, do you hear the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah? Or do you hear a favorite hymn or worship song? Can you imagine your voice in that choir? Even if you don’t think of yourself as a singer (and believe me, everyone can sing) you are invited to sing praises to God for God’s goodness in your life. The joy of God’s goodness is so overwhelming that even non-singers join in the Hallelujah! Everybody sings to celebrate what God has done. Take a moment today to think about what God has done in your life, think about a time when you have known that God was with you through difficulty or a time when you experienced the triumph of goodness in the world. Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

Prayer: For today’s prayer I invite you to watch and listen to this fun song of praise! I hope it brings a smile of joy to you.

Author: Millie Snyder

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday November 9 2020

Scripture: Luke 14:12–24 

Key verses: (13-14) But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Reflection: Bonus points, jewels in your crown. That is how we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.  It is not about getting paid or earning something. This parable is about God’s love.

Jesus wants us to be different.  We all are invited to the feast. That is the good news here. We are invited, not because God wants something from us but because of God’s love for us. God doesn’t expect anything in return. 

When we read the scripture, how many of us instantly inserted ourselves in the role of the one having the party? Be honest. Most of us think of ourselves as the one having a big party.  We all know that in this story we are the broken ones, the poor, the powerless, right? We are not invited so we could be put on display but out of hospitality and generosity. We are invited because God loves us. 

Prayer: God, for those that are just as lost and broken as I am, neighbors, friends, family and those that drive me crazy, may they know a deep breath of peace. AMEN   

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush      

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

                

Friday November 6 2020

Scripture:  Luke 13:31-35

Key verse: (34) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Reflection: On two occasions I have had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land.  One of my favorite places there is the Mount of Olives.  Standing there and looking over Jerusalem, in a place where Jesus and his disciples were no doubt present over 2,000 years ago is so inspiring.  On the Mount of Olives stands one of my favorite chapels.  It’s called “Dominus Flevit,” meaning, “The Lord wept.”  Christians have worshipped in that space for almost 1,000 years. Inside the chapel is this mosaic:

It is one of my favorites in the Holy Land.  I call it, “The Holy Chicken.”   It references Matthew’s version of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem that we read in Luke today.  By placing the image in the Chapel of Tears, they link this to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as described later in Luke 19. There Jesus says of Jerusalem, “If you, even you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace, but now they are hidden from your eyes.” Surely Jesus also wept in this lament over Jerusalem.   

In these strange days in our world and in our country, while we continue to wait for official results from Tuesday’s election, with frustration and anger beginning to bubble, protests starting to rise, and COVID numbers climbing again, it gives me comfort to know our Lord laments over our world.  Surely he weeps over us even now, longing to gather us under his wings, like a mother hen gathers her brood.  Let us be willing to seek the shelter of those holy wings through these days that we might know the way of peace, and be gathered together in Christ and in His love. 

Prayer: Give us willing hearts this day, O God, to come under the shelter of your wings that seek to hold us fast in the security of your powerful love.  In the name of Jesus, who weeps for us. Amen. 

Author: Joe Clifford

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Thursday November 5 2020

Scripture: Luke 13:18-30

Key verse: (18) “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it?”

Reflection: As I write this devotion on Wednesday morning, we are still waiting to hear final election results for the presidency. For many across all political lines this time of waiting brings anxiety and questions of the future. And while the presidential election is consequential here and now, our scripture passage for the day asks another even more important question…” What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it?” No matter what your hopes are, neither candidate this year or any candidate ever will bring about the kingdom of God. It just doesn’t work that way, since neither candidate is Jesus. In this time of waiting, may we take this as an invitation to ponder the kingdom, not just during election season, not just every four years, but may we ponder the kingdom each and every day.

The kingdom is like a mustard seed that grew and became a tree, and again it is like yeast that mixed with flour until it was leavened. The kingdom starts as little things that eventually make a big difference, everyday things, things that add up over time. Little things make a big difference. These things that add up either look more and more like the kingdom or they are unrecognizable to Jesus. As Jesus often does he puts this point into a story, painting a scene of those who stand outside knocking, claiming to have eaten and learned from the owner of the house, but when the owner of the house opens the door he claims not to know them, they are unrecognizable and are sent away. It wasn’t just the moment of knocking at the door that was consequential, it was all the little moments that lead up to the knock. 

What are the little moments in your life that add up to make a big difference? What are the little moments that shape who you are as a person? Do you allow yourself to let the love, grace, and peace of Christ grow within you like a mustard seed? Do you allow the patience, servanthood, and care for the other to rise within you like a pinch of yeast? May we not be too distracted in the little moments that we and our actions and our attitudes become unrecognizable to Jesus. Instead, may care for the tiny everyday seeds of the kingdom sown by God in our lives, that they and we may grow into the beauty of God’s kingdom. 

Prayer: Loving God, you are above all things. You see through all time from the beginning of creation to the coming of your kingdom. And yet, at the same time you see the passing of every second of our days. May we rest in your loving kindness trusting that you are big enough to hold all of time in your hands and knowing that you care deeply enough for us that your Spirit is with us every moment of every day. 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].