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Devotions

Civil Discourse

Read Mark 12:28-34.

Throughout Mark, the scribes are constantly scrutinizing, and then criticizing, Jesus’ action and words. Here, though, we have a scribe engaging Jesus in civil discourse. In our current cultural climate, civil discourse might well be found on the endangered species list.

How does this conversation itself embody Jesus’ commandment? What might we learn from this conversation about how to interact with someone we view as “other”? In prayer, consider how you might more lovingly engage with someone with whom you disagree.

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Devotions

Living Faith

Read Hebrews 9:11-14.

In this passage, we hear the author’s understanding of what the crucifixion of Christ accomplished. By the shedding of his blood, we are cleansed of the ‘dead works’ and freed to worship the living God.

I like this reference to sin as ‘dead works’. Often, when we examine ourselves for sin, we think of obvious sins like using hateful words or cheating or stealing or ignoring someone in need. Sometimes, though, I perform good works with a bad attitude or with the wrong intention. I might do the right thing only because it makes me seem like a saint or I might feel a measure of resentment or judgment when I’m helping someone. I wonder if this is what the author means by ‘dead works’.

Alternately, works grounded and rooted in the love of Christ, offered as a thank you for the gift of grace, are life-giving to both parties involved. Maybe this is what it means to truly worship the living God both in word and deed.

Today, consider the motivations or the attitudes that swim beneath your good deeds. How might you better perform them with life, good-will, and gratitude? Offer a prayer of confession, specifically naming any sins you identify in yourself, and find assurance in God’s promise of pardon.

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Devotions

Lifelong Praise

Read Psalm 146.

Evelyn Underhill, in her book The Spiritual Life, writes this: “[A] spiritual life is a life which is controlled by a gradually developing sense of the Eternal, of God and his transcendent reality: an increasing capacity for him, so that our relation to God becomes the chief thing about us, exceeding and also conditioning our relationship with each other…For, what it means for us is surely this: that we are meant, beyond the physical, to contribute to, indeed collaborate in, God’s spiritual creation.”

As you go through your day, be intentional about noting where you see God’s creativity at work. Each time you notice something, offer a quick prayer of thanksgiving.

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Devotions

Presence

Read Ruth 1:1-18.

The book of Ruth is a story about God working in and through people who are grieving, bitter, or without hope for a better future. It shows how God can take two outcasts – an elderly widow and her foreign daughter-in-law – and create an important link in the family line leading to the birth of Jesus.

There is something to learn in Ruth’s pledge to Naomi in verses 16 and 17. Notice that she doesn’t try to downplay Naomi’s pain. She doesn’t advise Naomi to pick herself up by her bootstraps. She doesn’t tell Naomi it’s time to move on. Instead, she offers her presence. She promises to accompany Naomi without expressing any expectations. What a gift it is to have people like that in our own lives – people who are willing to sit with us in our pain and celebrate with us in our joy.

Who have been your dearest and most faithful family members or friends? Who are the ones you can depend on? How has God worked through these people to bring about healing or to spark hope? In prayer, thank God for placing these people in your life and commit yourself to being that same presence in someone else’s life.

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Devotions

Blind Faith

Read Mark 10:46-52.

Bartimaeus may have been blind, but in one important way, he could see better than the people around him. He could see that Jesus was the promised messiah and had the power to heal. He could see that once he was healed, he would no longer need the cloak that had provided warmth, shade, and comfort as he sat by the side of the road. He had a vision for what his life could be if only Jesus would show him mercy.

What if he had just listened to the people who tried to shush him? Would he have just continued for the rest of his life, begging for scraps while the world passed him by? What dreams do you have or what healing are you longing for? Do you, like Bartimaeus, cry out boldly to Jesus for help or do you listen to the voices that tell you to quiet down and stay put? Do the voices that prevent you from receiving the mercy of Christ come from within or from someone else?

Today, be bold in your prayers. Ask Jesus for something big – whether it be healing of body, mind, or spirit. Maybe it’s healing of a relationship or what seems like a hopeless situation in our world. Don’t be afraid to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

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Devotions

On Prayer

Read Hebrews 7:23-28.

This reading serves to remind us that the work of Jesus didn’t end on the cross; it didn’t end with his resurrection; and it didn’t end at his ascension. Even now, Jesus continues to intercede on our behalf, offering the prayers we don’t realize we need and aligning our prayers with the will of God.

This is especially reassuring when we don’t know what to pray, when we feel we don’t have the right words, and when our prayers are completely off the mark. Think about some of the best “pray-ers” you know. How do they work prayer into their daily practice? What impact does their prayer practice seem to have on themselves and on the people around them? To what extent do you feel insecure about your own practice of prayer? Does it help to think that Jesus is taking your prayers and perfecting them on your behalf?

Today, offer a heartfelt prayer for yourself and for others, trusting that Jesus is acting as your intermediary.

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Devotions

Continual Praise

Read Psalm 34:1-8.

In verse 1, we read, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” The words that roll around in my mouth are not always words of praise. Instead, there are often words of complaint, words of criticism, or words of judgment.

To continually praise God does not mean we pretend everything is rainbows and butterflies. Instead, it means we view the tough stuff through the lens of God’s care, provision, and presence. We ask ourselves, “Where can God be seen in this?” We offer thanks and praise for God’s redemptive work in difficult times, for abundant blessing in the best of times, and for peaceful in-between times.

Today, make it a point to sing or listen to your favorite hymn of praise and reflect on all the ways God has answered you, delivered you, heard you, and given you refuge.

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Devotions

Seeing Clearly

Read Job 42:1-6, 10-17

In the closing chapter of his story, Job shows great growth. Both before and during his troubled times, Job had known about God, but now he knows God. He has moved from an understanding of God as distant and disconnected from the world.

Now he sees that living a life of faith isn’t about putting on a good show for the people around him. It’s not about earning some sort of reward in this life or in the next. It’s about relationship. It’s about a relationship with the One who created him, who loves him unconditionally, and who expects him to respond to God’s care and intention accordingly in his own life. It’s about knowing that even when things happen that we don’t understand, still God is at work bringing about some sort of good. No longer is God a concept to Job, but a reality.

Can you think of a time that God became very real to you? Has there been a time when you had a strong sense of the presence of God?

Today, find a time to be quiet and to be present to God. Close your eyes, take a few deep cleansing breaths, and invite God to come alongside you. Practice this breath prayer for a few minutes: As you inhale, repeat (out loud or in your head), “Open my ears.” As you exhale, repeat, “Open my eyes.” If you find your mind wandering, that’s okay. Continue to bring your focus back to your breath as many times as is necessary.

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Devotions

True Greatness

Read Mark 10:35-45.

How many times does Jesus have to correct his disciples’ understanding of true greatness, of what honor looks like in the kingdom of God, and of what he came to do?! He’s been describing to them his upcoming arrest and tortuous death, and they are still imagining some sort of regal scene in which Jesus has overthrown those in power. They can see themselves sitting in the places of honor at either side. That is what they believe will be the reward for following him.

Again, Jesus reminds them that greatness doesn’t come from the admiration of others. It doesn’t come from any of the titles we’ve earned or been given. In the kingdom of God, true greatness is reflected in the way we serve, in genuine humility, in paying attention to the needs of the world around us. True greatness comes in modeling our lives on the One who showed us what servant leadership looks like.

Think of the people you have considered “great”. What made them great? What characteristics and qualities did you admire? Which of their traits remind you of Jesus? Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the people who seem to reflect what you believe Jesus is describing in this passage and commit yourself to better serving others in the name of Jesus.

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Devotions

On the Sins of Others

Read Hebrews 5:1-10.

In vs. 2, we read that those who have been chosen as priests – as the representatives and mediators between God and God’s people – are “able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since [they themselves are] subject to weakness; and because of this [they] must sacrifice for [their] own sins as well as for those of the people.”

We all (including your pastor) struggle with dealing gently when it comes to the wrongdoing of others. We are often quick to point out the misstep of another, sometimes even name-calling or trying to shame. I wonder if remembering our own weaknesses, missteps, and mistakes would help us to be more gentle with others when they mess up.

Today, if someone cuts you off in traffic, remember a time you made a mistake while driving. If someone fails to respond quickly to a phone call or email, remember a time your day got away from you and it took you some time to respond. If someone says a careless word that hurts your feelings, remember a time you have done the same thing. Whatever the frustration, remember that you have probably, at least to some degree, done the same thing. At the end of the day, reflect on the impact that remembering your own sins has had on the way you respond to those of another.