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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.

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Devotions

Celebration of Creation

Read Psalms 104:1-9, 24, 35c.

This psalm is a celebration of God’s creativity and wisdom in ordering a universe in which all things are connected in some way. Just as it is with the human body, when one part of creation is not healthy, it can throw off the whole balance.

Think about the ways your actions bless God’s creation and work towards restoring balance. Which of your actions might be doing harm to the order God has written into creation? Today, take some time to be in the outdoors. If it is during the daytime, notice the colors of the sky and the leaves, listen for birdsong, feel the breeze on your skin. If it as at night, marvel at the number of stars against the darkness of the sky. Offer a prayer of praise for the beauty and the wisdom of God displayed in what you notice.

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Devotions

Q & A

Read Job 38:1-7, 34-41.

For the first time since the second chapter of this book, we finally hear from God once again. In the intervening chapters, it has been a conversation between Job and his friends. His friends insist Job has done something to deserve the calamities of his life – that if he would only repent, his good fortune would once again return. Job is unwilling to accept the blame for what has happened to him and demands an audience with God.

Rather than answers, though, God responds with a series of questions that serve to remind Job that God is God and Job is not. Sometimes the answers are not for us to know. That can be hard for us to accept when we live in a world that demands answers to everything and when we have so much information right at our fingertips.

To what extent do you believe it is possible to learn to live with difficulties when there is no explanation for them? When answers cannot be found, how easy is it for you to trust that God is, in fact, in control of the universe?

Today in prayer, offer up situations – both good and bad – that seem to be inexplicable. Affirm your trust that even when these situations are beyond your control or understanding, God is still at work in them.

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Devotions

On Wealth

Jesus challenges the man to redefine his relationship with his material possessions, but he does it in love.

Read Mark 10:17-31.

In this passage, it’s clear that the man considers himself good, possibly on par with the Good Teacher. I wonder if Jesus’ objection to being called good is that he knows that no matter how good we think we are, if we look more deeply, there is room to grow and distance to cover. If we truly wish to embody the kingdom of God, we must look carefully at our relationship with our resources. We must consider whether we use our resources to bless others or whether we view them as meant only for personal enrichment.

A commentary on this passage by Luis Menéndez-Antuña points out that this rich man’s possessions would have included slaves. Even though he had done an excellent job of keeping the law, he held people as property, restricting them to a life of captivity and oppression, without freedom or choice. Even if he was a fair and honest businessman, he was still doing harm by building his fortune on the backs of others. When Jesus instructs the man to sell his property and give the money to the poor, he was inviting him to look at the collateral damage of his wealth.

Notice verse 21, where we read, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Jesus challenges the man to redefine his relationship with his material possessions, but he does it in love. We should not feel condemned for our relative wealth. Instead, we should feel lovingly challenged to consider how we use it and whether we could be unknowingly doing harm.

Today, do some research on how some of your possessions are manufactured or procured. Do your favorite brands treat their workers fairly and equitably? Are working conditions safe? Does the company use earth-friendly, sustainable practices? Is it worth spending a little extra to make sure that what you are buying is produced with values that align with your faith? In prayer, give thanks for all that you have and commit yourself to being more mindful about how you use your resources.

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Devotions

Confession & Grace

To receive grace as a gift, we must first acknowledge our need for it.

Read Hebrews 4:12-16.

The first half of this reading reminds us that before God, every part of our being is laid open. Everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do is within the bounds of God’s knowing. Yikes! The good news is, according to the second half of the reading, we have the best mediator acting on our behalf: Jesus. We don’t need to be afraid to confess our sin for two reasons: God already knows us inside out and Jesus is advocating for our redemption.

The last verse is important. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” To receive grace as a gift, we must first acknowledge our need for it. Confession is a vital part of spiritual practice and formation. It adds depth to our relationship with God, neighbor, and self.

Today, confess your sin to God, find assurance in the promise of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and commit yourself to realigning your thoughts and behaviors with the will of God.

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Devotions

Glimpses of Light

Even in our despair, God offers glimpses of light in the darkness.

Read Psalm 22:1-15.

Jesus, on the cross, echoed this psalm of despair. He had been brutally beaten, mocked, and abandoned by most of those closest to him. Yet his last words revealed his trust in God’s care. “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” In this reading, the psalmist calls out from the depths of suffering, but even in the midst of that, expresses trust in the One who knows and protects even before birth.

Where, in your life, are you suffering? Are you feeling lonely? Afraid? In pain? Angry? Hopeless? What signs can you see that, even in your suffering, God is still at work in your life, offering comfort or protection? In prayer, lift your complaints to God and trust that God is grieving the difficulties right alongside you, offering glimpses of light in your darkness.

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Devotions

If Only

Read Job 23:1-9, 16-17.

In this reading, Job has a case of the “if onlys”. If only he could plead his case with God, he feels, then God would see things his way and right the wrong that has been done to him. If only he could “vanish into darkness” and get away from his suffering.

Most of us find ourselves saying, “If only…” from time to time. “If only I had finished my degree.” “If only I had kept my mouth shut.” “If only I had spoken up.” “If only I had more money.” If only, if only, if only.

The truth is we cannot change the past, the consequences of decisions we have made, or things that have happened to us which are not our fault at all. We can, however, choose how we live and respond to the world around us today. We can ask God to walk beside us, giving clarity and wisdom, strength and courage, peace and patience. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of today.