Wednesday August 14 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 1

Key verse: (3) “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not whither.”

Reflection: As I mentioned Sunday, I spent last week in the wilderness of Western Alaska on an amazing fishing trip.  Much of the landscape in this part of Alaska is tundra.  It’s the Arctic’s version of a desert, receiving very little snow or moisture through the year.  Here’s a panoramic picture of it:

alaska panoramic

The word “tundra” comes from the Finnish tunturi, meaning “treeless heights.”  The name certainly fits as the defining characteristic of tundra is the lack of trees. Scientists cannot point to a single factor that limits tree growth; rather it is a combination of factors: growing seasons that are too short for plants that produce wood, strong persistent winds, permafrost that prevents roots from reaching deeply enough into the soil to provide support, and cold soils that slow decomposition and nutrient cycling. What does grow on top of the permafrost are lichens and mosses, as well as a surprising number of other plants.  The propensity of lichen and moss makes tundra very spongy.  I described it as “nature’s tempur-pedic mattress!”

alaska ground

In the background, you can see trees in a line.  Those trees are not on the tundra.  They are formed around the Nushagak River, because by the river there is a supply of water to sustain the trees.   Here’s what it looks like on the river — very different from the tundra:

alaska boat

“Happy are those,” writes the Psalmist, “who delight in the law of the Lord, who meditate on it day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water.”  For the Psalmist, the Torah is as life giving to us as water is for trees on the tundra.  Sometimes life can feel like a tundra.  Good times don’t seem to last very long — like growing seasons to short for anything to grow.  Winds can keep us fighting to move forward in life.  It can be impossible to get below the surface of things, preventing any roots from growing in our relationships with one another.  Life can be a tundra.

God’s word can be like a river of life flowing through that tundra.  There are some passages of scripture that can melt the coldest places in me.  Romans 8:31-39.  Psalm 139.  Philippians 4:4-7.  John 15:15-16.  Psalm 23.  Psalm 46.  Psalm 121.  These passages provide me sustenance in those wilderness seasons of life.

What are some of yours?  If you don’t have any, I recommend finding some, and memorizing them.  Meditate on them.  Let their words roll through your soul.  By so doing, as the Psalmist promises, you will yield fruit in your season, your leaves will not whither, and you will prosper — even through the tundra times.

Prayer: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path,” like water in the wilderness sustaining me through each day.  Give me the word I need this day, O God, and let me meditate on it day and night that I may be like a tree planted by streams of living water. 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].

Tuesday August 13 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 42

Key verses: (1-2a) “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

Reflection: Today’s psalm invites us to ask ourselves what we thirst after – the living God or something else?  What is your deepest longing and how are you fulfilling it?

This may be the best time of your life or the worst.  You may be on top of the world – filled with joy — or you might be wondering where God is.  No matter your circumstances, what do you thirst for? Are you in a time of self-imposed exile trying to discover where to go next?  Have you hit rock bottom because of foolish choices?  Perhaps you are longing for rest because you have over worked and lost connection with those you love most. Whatever your circumstances, turn toward God.  Remember the promises that God has made to you and place your hope in the One who loves you.

Prayer: Loving God, with joy and thanksgiving we give all praise to you.  Remind us that you are with us in times of trouble and mourning and times of laughter and peace.  Cultivate a spirit of longing within us that we might seek you.  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].

Monday August 12 2019

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Scripture: Mark 9:42-50

Key verse: (43) If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

Reflection: This is one of those verses that we don’t take literally, thank goodness! Through history some Christians have taken this literally and have maimed themselves or others in their community in obedience to Jesus’ command. Jesus threatened that you might go to Gehenna, which the translators have chosen to translate as “hell.”  Gehenna was the name of the valley outside of Jerusalem where, in Old Testament history, children were sacrificed. Some scholars believe that by Jesus’ day, the Gehenna valley was a place outside the city wall where the garbage was taken and burned. The fire smoldered always at that garbage pile. Perhaps Jesus was saying “better to enter life maimed than to be thrown into the garbage heap.”

When we encounter a passage like this, we either choose to understand it literally or to consider a deeper meaning. What is Jesus saying to us? Perhaps Jesus is reminding us that the life of a disciple takes effort and sacrifice. If we say we are following Jesus, we can’t keep doing all of the things we’ve always done. We need to examine ourselves, our lives, our choices and our priorities. We need to let go of some habits and traditions in order to embrace Jesus’ way of living. We ask ourselves “does this help me to be more like Jesus or does it hinder me?” We question “does this activity show the love and grace of Jesus, does it promote peace and justice, does it care for my neighbors?” Discipleship is a lifelong journey, following Jesus and growing more and more to be the person God calls us to be.

Prayer: O God, push me to wrestle with scripture in order to learn your will for my life and for my world. Give me courage to be honest about myself and about anything in my life that causes me to stumble on the walk of faith. Empower me to let go of what holds me back so that I can draw closer to you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

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

Friday August 9 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 25

Key verse: (7) “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love, remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!”

Reflection: During the worship service at a recent Presbytery meeting, the leader called us to confession by saying, “We do not confess because God does not know who we are, but because we do not know who we are, and we trust that when we are honest with God, that God will bring us back to ourselves.”

I wonder if she might have taken her cues from Psalm 25:7, which is a prayer that God would remember who the psalmist really is, rather than reducing him to the worst things he’s ever done or the mistakes he’s made along the way.  It may be our human tendency to do this to ourselves and to others, but the psalmist’s intuition and hope is that God sees beyond these things, and still desires to be in relationship with us.  Even when we have lost our way, and along with it, a sense of our truest identity as beloved children of God, God remembers who we are.  God always remembers who we are.

Professor and activist, Bryan Stevenson, who works for justice for those who are wrongfully incarcerated, says that, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”  I think that’s how God thinks of us.  We are seen through the eyes of mercy.  We are loved even though we do not deserve it.  We are remembered for who we truly are: those who belong to – and are treasured by – the God who created and redeemed us.

Prayer: O God, when I begin to think that I am beyond hope, when I cannot see past my failures and all of the mistakes I have made, when I begin to think that I am the worst thing I have ever done, remember me. See me. Remind me.  For I belong to you, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[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 August 8 2019

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Scripture: Mark 9:2-13

Key verses: (5-7) 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Reflection: The bright light of the Transfiguration is a reminder of God’s presence. God’s love. There was an intensity in the moment and it was terrifying to the disciples. The moment was intimate and holy.  I think that describes love. We either want to run from it or cling to it.  We often don’t love well and sometimes we don’t love at all.  The transfiguration was a private moment and yet it was participatory and shared. God’s love and adoration was bold and displayed freely.  The love, adoration and celebration were not to be limited to that private moment.

We are invited to express our love for Jesus. We are invited to express our love for each other. I believe holy moments can be found when someone adores and celebrates another. Light shines in those moments. Light and love give hope.  It is the knowledge of beloved-ness.

This was not a private moment but a promise that Jesus can and will be noticed.

Prayer: God, remind me of my beloved-ness today. May your love surround me so that I may be bold in loving. 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 August 7 2019

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Scripture: Mark 8:34-9:1

Key verse: (34) “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Reflection: “Leadership is essentially about self.”  That’s how the teacher at the first family systems class I ever attended began his opening lecture.  I thought, “That’s the most un-Christian thing I’ve ever heard!”  At the heart of our faith is Christ’s call in today’s passage to deny ourselves and take up the cross and follow him.  How can any Christian leader think leadership is about self?

What my teacher meant is that leadership is essentially about self-understanding, knowing one’s self, being comfortable in your own skin, being clear in your own vision and values.  At the time, however, I couldn’t believe what he was saying.

After a back and forth intended to get me to answer that for myself we arrived at a conclusion that self-denial for a Christian was about refusing to impose our will, our wants, our demands on others.  Rather we should focus on answering our call — taking up our own cross, and following Jesus.  Taking up the cross is about living out our love for one another and for the world, but living out that love does not mean imposing our will on another.  When we can “stay in our own skin,” deny imposing ourselves on others, then we live into who we are called to be.  In the process we encourage others to do the same.

Who do you say Jesus is?  How will you live in response to your answer?

Prayer: Grant me eyes to see myself clearly, O Lord; not only my need for your grace, but the gifts you give me by that grace, and the call you have for me in my life.  Then grant me the courage to respond to that calling, to take up my cross and follow you in the way of self-offering love.  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].

Tuesday August 6 2019

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Scripture: Mark 8:22-33

Key verse: (29) “But who do you say that I am?”

Reflection: There is a book I read over 20 years ago entitled:  Who Is This Jesus?  by Michael Green.  One statement Professor Green makes in his book is that, “Modern people in the West are embarrassed by Jesus.”  I wonder if it’s not so much embarrassment, but ignorance.  Many people aren’t sure what to say when asked to describe him, much less describe what they believe about him. Early in my adult life, I struggled to articulate what I believed.  Having grown up in the church it was sort of just “understood”, but not really talked about except from the pulpit or in a children’s Sunday school class.  When I began to study the Bible and live out the forgiveness, hope, justice and love that Jesus offered, my ability to articulate faith increased.

In today’s passage, Jesus healed a blind man on the way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  Walking along, Jesus asked his disciples “who do people say that I am?”. The disciples told Jesus the answers they had heard.  Jesus doesn’t comment on these responses, rather he asked:  who do you say that I am?  Without hesitation they responded – the Messiah.  This long hoped for Messiah was the one who would bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty and release to captives and prisoners.  This Messiah would deliver them.  The disciples had seen with their own eyes the power of God in their midst through miracles and healing.  People’s lives were changed by the presence and touch of Jesus.  Have you ever seen the work of Jesus in someone else’s life or your own life, calling you to new ways of being and serving in the world?  If someone were to ask you – who is Jesus? what would you say?What do you believe about him?  If you don’t know or you don’t know where to start – don’t worry!  There are many resources for anyone who is curious and wants to know more.  I suggest beginning with the Gospel of Mark.  It is a short, straightforward account of Jesus’ ministry. Pairing study with devotion and service will carry you into the places where God is active in the world. It is in those places that you will see Jesus at work.

We live in challenging times.  This past week there have been three mass shooting where children, men and women have been murdered in Gilroy, CA, El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH. People are looking for signs of hope in the midst of devastating tragedy.  There are no words to describe what we see unfolding. What do we believe about Jesus in times like these?  Our faith isn’t an escape from the realities of life.  We believe, in the good times and the bad that we can share the hope that is within us with others through prayer, compassion, support and advocacy. Jesus asked the disciples and he asks us:  Who do you say that I am?

Prayer:  Gracious God, we give thanks for the gift of faith and the invitation to follow Jesus out into the world.  May your Holy Spirit move among us in such a way that our relationship with Jesus continues to grow.  Help us to share what we have seen and heard with others, so that others might know you.  Guide us to be your disciples in the world serving others in the name of Jesus. We pray all these things in His name. 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].