Thursday September 10 2020

Scripture: John 11:17–29 

Key verse: (28) When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 

Reflection: At dinner each night, we check in to see how everyone is feeling. It is usually hard for me to identify a “feeling” word but I am working on it. I usually choose a noun or adjective and we have to get out the feeling chart (Yes, there is one right beside the dining room table!) and the feeling chart helps me find a word to describe where I am.  We are all over the chart from agitated to inadequate, furious to cheeky or creative to nauseated. Most days we find ourselves at some place of contentment. Regardless of where we are, we reach out to hold hands and take a deep breath to pray and we know we are held in the arms of God.

“The teacher is here and is calling for you.” In a few words one can read and maybe even feel the compassionate and empathetic nature of God. The invitation to not just go to Jesus but to bring every anguish, grief, anger, perplexity, and pain. Mary got up and went quickly to Jesus.

God doesn’t only empathize with our many pains and sorrows. God also acts. Jesus wept. John 11:35 is the shortest verse in scripture but powerful beyond words. Jesus wept when Mary came to him, out of compassion and I would even say love. These are his good friends grieving, in pain and Jesus was moved to tears. 

Whatever we are feeling these days, we can take comfort in this: When we suffer, Jesus suffers with us. When we grieve, Jesus grieves.  May you know that you are always held in the loving arms of a God who knows your deepest pain.

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for meeting us right where we are, even in the depths of our pain. Thank you for your tears, reminding us we’re never alone. 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 September 9 2020

Scripture: Psalm 1

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

[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 September 8 2020

Scripture: John 10:31-42

Key verse: (32) “Jesus replied, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’”

Reflection: What is your first reaction when you encounter something you don’t understand? Do you seek deeper understanding, do you take a posture of curiosity, or do you discount it, react in fear, or lash out in anger? Throughout Jesus’ ministry people reacted in all of these ways to the words and actions of his life. Miracles? Some followed in awe, others plotted Jesus’ demise. Parables” Some turned their lives around, others called Jesus crazy.

In our passage for today Jesus was confronted by an angry mob with stones raised, poised to kill Jesus. What had Jesus done to deserve this treatment? Jesus turned water into wine, healed people, and freed them from their sins. He also called out societal norms and gave a scathing rebuke of the temple system. In other words, Jesus’ actions and words were new, confusing, and didn’t fit into many people’s world view. While it’s easy to paint the Jews in this passage who want to kill Jesus in a bad light, we’ve all been there. Okay, maybe not with literal stones raised, but we’ve all raised the metaphorical stone to throw at that which threatens our understanding of the world, to that which confuses us. We’ve all been in the place where our first reaction to that which is different than us is fear and even anger. 

What would it take for us to put down the stones so often raised and respond in divine curiosity or seek deeper understanding when confronted by that which we don’t understand? What would it take? Faith. This is not a shallow faith in pithy sayings, but a trust in something and someone outside of ourselves, a faith that decenters ourselves and recenters Christ in our lives. When we take the leap to set the trust in our lives on Christ, we are free to be confused, we are free to be confronted by that which is different and new to us, we are free to be wrong. When we truly have faith in Christ, our lives are not based on our being right or wrong or our way of doing things. Instead, with eyes fixed on Christ we are free to trust that we are following the perfecter of our faith, the one greater than ourselves, the one calling us to a new future. May we put down our stones and open lives to the openness and curiosity of faith.

Prayer: Loving God, open our eyes that we may see your open arms, welcoming us into your loving grace. May our faith in you show itself as trust bigger than ourselves. By your faithfulness in the world, may we be surprised by your presence in our lives. 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 September 7 2020

Scripture: John 10:19–30

Key verse: (27) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Reflection: There is a fun group game that I love including in team-building initiatives. It is called “Blindfold Maze.” This is a team icebreaker where all participants will be blindfolded and have to get through an obstacle course with only instructions from one leader. All the participants that are blindfolded will begin in a straight line, one behind the next, with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The leader then guides the group through the obstacle course / maze. The leader shouts instructions like “turn left … walk 2 steps forward …” so on and so on. You can also do this as a partner team-building game, where one person is the leader and the other is blindfolded in the maze.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” It is not easy to listen. We get distracted by things around us, we sometimes focus on what we want to say, and sometimes we are concerned about the things we may run into without trusting our leader or partner in getting us through the maze. Listening also takes time and attention. To hear the voice of the Good Shepherd is to be attuned to his Word.

“I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” says the Lord. On this side of the phrase is the invitation to follow. We listen and hear, but do we follow? It sometimes feels as if we are walking through life just like we are in the Blindfold maze, not knowing where we are going. But we are called to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and hear the voice of the one who speaks of peace, the one consoles our heartache, the one who eases our fears, and the one who teaches us the way that is the truth about life. Who do we listen to in our daily living? May each day we wake and turn our ears to the Lord, saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Prayer: Lord, your words ease our aching hearts and calms our anxious minds. You know us; you lead us; you are the Good Shepherd. Give me ears to hear as you direct my steps this day. 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 September 4 2020

Scripture: John 9:18-41

Key verse: (39) Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.

Reflection: Have you ever changed your mind on something you were sure you were right about? I certainly have. In the Gospel of John, Jesus turns the tables on many of the preconceived notions that we have about faithful discipleship. Right before our passage for today, Jesus heals a blind man and then he spends our entire passage defending himself against the Pharisees. In Jesus’ time, blindness was considered to be the result of sin. He explains to them that things are not as they seem. The blindness of this man is not from sin but rather because he believes, he can now see. He tells the Pharisees that they might have the gift of sight but their sin remains.

I often find myself in the wrong and in need of openness to other perspectives. I wonder if my desire to be right cuts me off from relationships with others. As a Christian, I find that I am constantly challenged to open myself up to the other. Jesus has an amazing gift of taking something that we think we know and turning it on its head, forcing us to change our perspective and remember it’s not all about us. This verse is a perfect example of this.

I wonder what we are blind to because of sin – the injustices of the world, other ways of living, connections with others, etc. I wonder if we can be like the blind man and be healed by Jesus so that we too might regain our sight. We live in a world where certainty is key and yet we follow a God who only asks us for one certainty, belief. How might we live today open to our blindness and ready to receive new sight through Jesus?

Prayer: Healing God, we give you thanks for the gift of sight. We ask for your guiding presence to show us our blindness and lead us to new sight. In your Holy name. Amen.

Author: Savannah Demuynck

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

Thursday September 3 2020

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Scripture: John 9:1-17

Key verse: (10) “But they kept asking him, “then how were your eyes opened.”

Reflection: Miracles fascinate us.  True miracles suspend natural laws and can’t be figured out.  We use the word miracle to describe many things that are providential; but not miraculous.  At least, not miraculous in the way Jesus performed miracles. It made no sense that this man who was blind from birth could be healed and see again.  Infirmities in the ancient world were often looked upon as a curse from God for some kind of sin.  In this particular story, the disciples wanted to know what sins the parents committed that their child would be born blind.  Jesus tells them the blindness was not because of the parent’s sin or the man’s sin but another way that God was going to show that Jesus was the light of the world. He reminded them that he came to do God’s work in the world. The Pharisees, on the other hand, spend the rest of Chapter 9 investigating this healing trying to figure out how this man received his sight because scripture affirms only the LORD could open the eyes of the blind.

Today’s text reminds us of how blind we can be to God’s work in the world. Too often we try to box God in and decide what God will or will not do.  Jesus came to break down all of these barriers and fulfill the promises of scripture.  Jesus was and is the light of the world, even in the darkest times.  When we can’t see, Jesus offers us the gift of sight.  If we, like this blind man, have faith and go where Jesus sends us, then our eyes will be opened.  We will see where there is pain and offer compassion.  We will see where there is hunger and offer food.  We will see where there is injustice and stand up for the rights of others.  We will see our own shortcomings and rely more heavily on Jesus.  When our eyes are opened we will go where God sends us to offer love, acceptance and forgiveness to those who need hope.

Prayer: Eternal God, we give thanks that Jesus is the light of the world and that even today he opens the eyes of the blind.  Help us to be receptive to God’s work in the world.  May he continue to open our eyes as we live in service to Jesus Christ, in whose 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 September 2 2020

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Scripture: Job 12:1, 14:1-22

Key verses: (14:7, 10) For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease…But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they?

Reflection: Are you having a hard day? A hard week? A hard year? So was Job! He had lost his sons and daughters and all of his flocks. His body was covered with sores. His wife suggested “Curse God and die.” (In seminary a friend and I formed the CG and D club in his memory!) Three friends come to Job and offer their misplaced wisdom about the cause of his suffering and how he should respond.

Sometimes we have CG and D days, weeks or years!

There is a cultural idiom about the patience of Job but if you read the book carefully you recognize Job wasn’t very patient.  He whines. He complains. He laments. In today’s passage he laments what appears to be the futility of human life. Even a tree, if cut down, might sprout again. But, according to Job, humans don’t have even that hope.

As disciples of faith we might be tempted to argue with Job. We believe in resurrection. Eternal life is a stunning contrast to his lament about human death. But perhaps the good news here is that Job was able to lament in faithfulness. He doesn’t give up on his relationship with God even though his life is falling apart. He whines. He complains. And God can take it (and doesn’t strike him down for it!). Our ancestors in faith found Job’s story so powerful that they included it in the collection of sacred texts we know as the Bible. Job’s story reminds us that all people, even good faithful people, have bad things happen. Job’s story reminds us that, when bad things happen, we don’t have to turn away from God. We can complain all we want. God can take it.

Prayer: O Lord, this day will be a difficult day for someone, maybe for me. Assure me of your presence even when I experience loss and suffering. Hear my prayers, my laments and my longings. 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 September 1 2020

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Scripture: Acts 12:1–17 

Key verses: (1-5) About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

Reflection: The church has been growing, spreading throughout the land and beginning to reach the Gentiles. James was an important leader in the church and was the first of the apostles to die. I wonder if his death took the church by surprise.  There is no word about the church holding a prayer meeting for James.

In Acts 5, we are told that all the apostles were imprisoned, but an angel came at night to open the doors and let them out. So imagine their shock when James is beheaded, executed so quickly after being put in prison. Then Peter is taken to prison and they are concerned.  The church prayed fervently to God for Peter. The church is serious.

The Christians were praying with fervor, an intense and passionate feeling. Those people were on their faces before God.

When was the last time you prayed with fervor?

What are we praying for today as a church?

In a very dramatic fashion, Peter was released from prison and found his way back to where the church was praying. No one answered because they feared it was someone coming for them. When they did they were amazed. They believed God would hear their prayers but prayers are not always answered in the way we expect. This church could hardly believe it when it occurred. Prayer answered.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, hear our prayers today. All day. We pray for those we love and those we have yet to love. We pray for systems that are broken and people working to create new systems. God, hear our prayers today. All 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].

 

Monday August 31 2020

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Scripture: John 8:12-32

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

08 31 Joe

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

Friday August 28 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: John Magnuson

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