Friday June 26 2020

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Scripture: Numbers 20:1-13

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

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

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

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

Author: Deborah Conner

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

 

Thursday June 25 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 20:17-28

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Millie Snyder

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

 

Wednesday June 24 2020

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Scripture: Matt. 20:1–16

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

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

 

Tuesday June 23 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 19:23-30

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

06 23 Joe

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

 

Monday June 22 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 19:13-22

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

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

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

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

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

Author: John Magnuson

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

Friday June 19 2020

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Scripture: Romans 2-25-3:8

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Ben Brannan

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

 

Thursday June 18 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 18:10-20

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

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

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

Author: Deborah Conner

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

Wednesday June 17 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 18:1-9

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

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

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

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

MTBMillie

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

Author: Millie Snyder

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

 

Tuesday June 16 2020

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Scripture: Rom. 1:16–25

Key verses: (16-17) 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Reflection: Unashamed. Paul was not ashamed even though he had been imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16), run out of Thessalonica (Acts 17), shipwrecked and bitten by a snake! (Acts 28) Even when he was stoned in Galatia (Acts 14) he still wanted to get to Rome to preach the gospel.

Unashamed. Paul remained bold in his call even after being ridiculed, criticized and persecuted. We might be done after one of those.  I was out after the snake. Done. Long gone. Just reading about it was enough.

Paul stayed in Rome even after the snake bite. He knew that Rome was a volatile place and that Christians there had already experienced persecution. He knew the Romans would despise him and they would disagree with his teachings but he went and stayed for two years.

I think we imagine the world is like Rome and we will be ridiculed, criticized and persecuted if we were to share the gospel message. First what is the gospel message? It is the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection and the message that new life is possible. It is the Christmas story that light shines in the darkness and darkness does not overcome it. It is the hope we find in God’s promises. It is love.  It is a powerful message. Don’t you want to tell someone?!!

There is a whole new generation of young people who are children of nones.  Nones are those who have no church connection, no faith that they claim. Children of nones are curious.  This generation was not hurt by the church. They really don’t know anything about the church and often have not even been inside a church.  Start the conversation. Invite them to church.  Invite them to church on your front porch or in your back-yard. Invite them to join you for morning prayer over zoom at 8 a.m. even if you are in different states.  Be unashamed of the gospel. The time is right.

Prayer: God, you have called us to be a priesthood of all believers. Empower us to proclaim your gospel message with our lives, with words and through invitations. In the name of the one who saved us. 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 June 15 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 17:14-21

Key verse: (Matthew 17:2)  “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

Reflection: Life is filled with liminal moments, those times when we find ourselves standing between what has been and what will be.  The word “liminal” comes from the Latin root, limen, which means “threshold.” Liminal space is the “crossing over” space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else.

The transfiguration is a liminal moment in the gospels.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him up the mountain to witness a metamorphosis.  His form shifts from human to heavenly, his face shining like the sun, his clothes dazzling white.  Then with him stand Moses and Elijah, figures of the past representing the law and the prophets, the guides of God’s people to this point.  Then they are gone, and the glorified Christ stands alone.  They hear the announcement made at an earlier liminal moment in the Gospel, Jesus’ baptism.  “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” and a command is added, “Listen to him!” It is a liminal moment, a threshold between the world as it was, and the world as it will be.

We are in a liminal moment in our society in many ways.  We stand between a pre-pandemic reality and whatever the post-pandemic world will be.  We stand in the midst of an awakening among many white people to the realities of racial injustice and how it distorts the systems of our nation.  Liminal moments can be frightening moments.  We know that what has been has ended.  Many fear the loss of what has been known.  What is yet to be is not defined.  That uncertainty creates its own fear.  So what are people of faith to do?

Remember that Jesus stands with us in this moment.  He is Lord of all creation.  Just as he stood on that mountain top, he stands with us all.  And we must remember his word to his disciples in that liminal moment, “Do not be afraid.” Whatever tomorrow holds, Christ holds tomorrow.  His love is the guiding light that calls us forward and will carry us through.  His power brings new life on the other side of every cross we face, every liminal moment where life as we have known it ends, and we await what life will be.

Prayer: Loving God, in this liminal moment we find ourselves in, may we trust in your presence to lead us forward  toward your vision for our tomorrows.  In Jesus’ name. 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].