Friday August 7, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 6:31-32
31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
32 So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.
In this passage from Mark we get the clearest example of Jesus making rest a priority for ministry. He’s intentional about taking himself and his disciples out of the daily flow of what they were doing to a place of quiet so they could rest.
I will admit to you that it’s hard for me to do this. I think it might be for a lot of people. Even if we are retired, we still can fill out lives with so much activity that there is little time to rest and recover and listen to what God might be saying. We must be intentional, like Jesus, and make rest a priority.
To that end I’m going to be taking a rest start next Monday. This means that next week (August 10-14) there will be no daily devotionals. I began writing the daily devotionals back when we first entered our lockdown. I seriously thought I would write them for a few weeks at the most! That was 21 weeks and 105 devotionals ago. I never really intended to have the devotionals go on indefinitely. However, I have found writing them to be a helpful discipline. I have enjoyed writing them and I hope you have enjoyed reading them as well. So, I do plan to continue writing the daily devotional after next week’s break.
I hope that you are also thinking about your own health and well-being at this time. What would it take for you to “go off by yourself to a quiet place and rest awhile?” We rest not just because our bodies and minds need it. We rest so that we can be our best self for Jesus to use in the Kingdom of God. Resting prepares us for ministry. So, take a deep breath today – and find a way to rest. If Jesus did it, so can we.
God thank you for the opportunity to rest. Help us to take it when we need it. May our rest give us energy and excitement about the ministry that you would have us do in the weeks and months ahead.
Thursday August 6, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 10:23-27
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
As I was thinking about this text, I was reminded that the phrase “Everything is possible with God” connected to rich people entering into the Kingdom of God. For some reason I had separated the two in my mind. When you put them together, as Jesus did, you realize that it REALLY is hard (impossible?) for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.
This is a little harsh don’t you think? I mean by the standards of the majority of the world you and I are super rich. So, are we excluded from the Kingdom? The answer is of course, no. But it’s hard. Really hard.
Why is that? Well for one, God is creating a kingdom that honors the poor and the outcast and the marginalized. That’s the way the Kingdom works. But the rich usually have self-interest at their core. This makes it harder to prioritize those who have little.
Also, the Kingdom of God is about justice. However, those who are rich often see justice for others as a threat to their way of life. If someone else gets justice or equality then that means less for me, right?
The rich, and yes, I mean all of us, are often distracted by consumption. What’s in it for me? What can you do to sell me this product? How can I have a better experience than my neighbor? This attitude of consumption is not just about buying things. It’s about creating a world that caters to our every want and desire and self-interest. But the Kingdom of God is not a product to be consumed. It’s a life to be lived. A life that is focused on the other instead of self, a life that is more about love than about money, a love of peace instead of the violence that often comes with consuming.
We need to take Jesus’ words seriously and ask ourselves if our wealth is hindering our participation in the Kingdom. Or, are we using our wealth in the service of the Kingdom? The answer may surprise us.
Forgive us for the many ways our wealth blocks are true participation in the Kingdom. Help us to focus our attention in life on the Kingdom instead of our consumption. Give us eyes to see where our wealth might be blocking us from fulling partaking in what you have in store for us.
Wednesday August 5, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 10:17-22
17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’ ”
20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
I wonder if anyone else is unnerved by this passage in Mark? Is it just me who gets a little twinge in the stomach thinking “I have possessions! Do I have to sell them all to have eternal life?”
Of course, this is one of the times in scripture when we must look for the meaning behind the meaning. What is Jesus really saying here?
I think a clue comes in the last phrase of the last verse: “he had many possessions.” In other words, what he owned was getting in the way of his relationship with Jesus. To follow Jesus, he needed to give up those possessions – something he was unwilling to do.
If we were the person in this story coming to Jesus to find out about eternal life and what it takes to follow him – what would be the thing we would be asked to give up? What is the thing in your life that stands in the way of you being a disciple?
It may be possessions – like this young man. But it may well be something else. Maybe pride, maybe a sin habit, maybe a relationship. Jesus does not ask all of us to give up all of our possessions. And yet he does say that to follow him we need to pick up our cross. Being a disciple is not a line one a resume or a weekend hobby. It takes surrendering all of who we are to all of Jesus. It’s a lifelong process. But so worth it.
Show us this day what it is we need to give up in order to follow you -even if it’s something hard for us to do. Help us to have the courage and the strength to be your disciples – even when it might be hard.
Tuesday August 4, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 10:13-16
13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.
14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.
There is a 4-year old boy in the UK who has just landed a book deal for his poetry. I know, astonishing, right? But there really is a talent there. Read this poem he wrote called “Coming Home”:
“Take our gloves off
Take our shoes off
Put them where they’re supposed to go.
You take off your brave feeling
Because there’s nothing to be scared of in the house”
Simple, yes. And maybe he did not mean to go deep into what it means to wear brave feelings when you are out of the house – but still – pretty impressive. You never know what a kid is capable of.
Our society places a lot of emphasis and importance on children. This was not the case in Jesus’ day. When some parents brought their kids to be touched and blessed by Jesus, the disciples quickly drove them away. You can’t let kids bother Jesus. They were just not important.
But Jesus saw what they were doing and immediately invited the children to come to him. In doing so he set the standard for how we should treat kids – but also for how we adults are to engage the Kingdom of God: with childlike eyes and simple hearts and wide-open wonder.
As a church we have committed to reaching out and caring for the children and families in our community. It’s what being the presence of Christ is all about. But we also need to commit ourselves to engaging the Kingdom as a child engages the world. We need to set aside our cynicism, open our eyes to the miraculous, and imagine the impossible is possible.
What poetry will you write today? How will you be a kid in the kingdom?
Forgive us for losing touch with what it means to be a kid in your presence. Give us a fresh understanding of what Jesus meant when he called on us to receive the Kingdom as a child. And help us to continue to serve and love and care for the children in our community.
Monday August 3, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 9:30-35
30 Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, 31 for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” 32 They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”
A couple of years ago I was really into the World Cup. I normally don’t follow professional soccer but for some reason I got into it this last time. One day I caught the match between Portugal and Spain. As I watched, the commentators became involved in a heated discussion about who was the GOAT, Christiano Ronaldo of Portugal or Lionel Messi of Spain?
At first, I thought they were talking about who smelled the worst after a match. However, I quickly learned (thank you Google) that GOAT stands for Greatest Of All Time. The debate was over who was the better player of all time – Ronaldo or Messi. (For the record I would say Ronaldo!)
Soccer, like most sports, is filled with super stars that get all the attention and press. And while I like to watch the super star perform at the top of their game like anyone does – it’s the utility player that really has my admiration. These are the guys who are not going to ever be GOATS, and yet the GOATS would never be where they are without them. They are the players who commit to doing their job, time after time, making sure the team is put in a position to win.
Sometimes in my life I compare myself to others. OK, I take that back. A LOT of times in my life I compare myself to others. Unfortunately, I also do this in my Christian walk. Why can’t I pray like that person or express theological points like that other person? Why can’t I love the way he does or know the Bible the way that she does?
But should there really be GOATs in the body of Christ? No.
In our passage from Mark, Jesus reminds his disciples that true greatness comes through being a servant. It’s not the flashy person with all the right words and the seemingly perfect life who’s the greatest. It’s the servant who keeps on serving – regardless of the accolades.
As you walk through your Christian life this week and in the weeks ahead I want to encourage you to keep the faith in the little things that make a difference. Love your neighbor. Put others first. Connect with God on a daily basis. And leave the GOATS for the soccer field.
God help us to not compare ourselves to others. And help us to focus on being a servant in your kingdom. Forgive us when we try to place ourselves or others on pedestals. And remind us that serving others in our greatest calling.
Friday July 31, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 9:17-27
17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”
19 Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
21 “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”
26 Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
This passage of scripture contains one of the most encouraging, in my mind anyway, sentences in the whole Bible.
This man’s son was suffering terribly. All he wanted to do was get him well. The disciples tried to help while Jesus was up on the mountain – but it was not working. A crowd was gathering and you can feel the dad’s anxiety growing. Would anyone help him?
When Jesus arrived he said that anything is possible if one believes.
And then the dad answered with the most amazing sentence: I believe! Help my unbelief!”
I think the reason I like this dad so much is that I see myself in him. In fact, I think I see all of us. We all have a mixture of belief and unbelief. There are times when our “belief tanks” are full and there are times when they are completely empty. Yes, we believe. And yes, we have unbelief. These two things can coexist.
Notice that Jesus did not get into a debate with the man. He did not say that he had to reach a certain level of belief over unbelief before he would act. He just healed. That’s what Jesus does. It’s almost as if just a tiny bit of belief will work. Maybe a mustard seed size bit?
If you are feeling out of belief today, do not worry. God takes what little belief you have and works with it to heal. Keep praying. Keep asking. Keep saying “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
God thank you for hanging with us even when we are full of unbelief. Protect us. Heal us. And help us in our unbelief.
Thursday July 30, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 9:2-10
2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 4 Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus.
5 Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.
9 As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.”
There’s been a lot of talk about monuments in the news lately. It’s stirred up some pretty passionate feelings and a lot of heated rhetoric. Why is this? What’s so important about monuments? Aren’t they just inscribed stone and marble? Why get so heated about them?
Humans are monument makers. We have been for a long time. The Old Testament is filled with individuals building stone monuments to remember or commemorate something important that happened. And of course, living in DC we see the effects of this human monumental tendency every time we drive into the city.
When something important happens – we want to memorialize it. When important people die we want to remember them. And so monuments are not just stone and marble public art installations. They are telling the story of what and who we think is important.
Peter is just like us in this story. Something amazing happened right in front of him so he wanted to build a monument. Who can blame him?
But God had a different plan. As soon as Peter outlined his memorial idea God, in a cloud, came over them and said “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
Listen to Jesus. That’s the memorial that God wanted.
We must be careful that we don’t build monuments and neglect the very monument that God wants: that we listen to Jesus. If we are focused on listening to Jesus, then we will act as he acted, love as he loved, and serve as he served. THIS is the monument that we should be focused on.
How is your monument building coming today?
God forgive us for those times we concentrate on the trappings of faith instead of faith itself. Reminds us to listen to the voice of Jesus and to follow that voice toward being living monuments to you and your kingdom.
Wednesday July 29, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 8:34-38
34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
I’m going to make some people mad with this statement – but here goes. The song “My Way” by Frank Sinatra is the worst song in the world. Told ya I’d make some of you mad!
The only thing that is redeeming about the song is the talent of the man singing it and the tune. The lyrics are horrible:
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
Too few to mention? You did what you “had to do” but let’s don’t talk about the consequences – after all, they’re too just too few to mention.
Or what about:
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows
I took the blows
And did it my way
Heaven forbid that one kneels! The only way to win apparently is to stand up -and do it your way.
The problem of course is not this song – it’s the attitude that is displayed in the song: that the most important thing in life is to do it our way – to not show weakness – to win at all costs and to heck with other people.
Unfortunately, this attitude is prevalent in our society. It exists in our workplaces – it’s a feature in our lives. And this makes sense. We are not ones to give up our way or to come in last or be a servant to all. Maybe this is why Jesus was so adamant in this passage that if you want to be his disciple you HAVE to “give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”
Let’s make today a day that we check our “my way” tendencies and commit ourselves to living as Jesus’ disciples.
God there are so many times throughout our day that we try to do it our way instead of your way. Forgive us for not taking up our cross and following Jesus. Forgive us for trying to hang onto something that is not even ours to hang onto. Help us this day and in our lives to set aside “our way” and follow your son in every way.
Tuesday July 28, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 8:27-30
27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”
30 But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
In this passage Jesus is walking with his disciples and asks about his PR. “Who do people say I am?” It’s almost like he knows people are talking about him and he wants some insight into their thinking.
The answers are all over the place: John the Baptist, Elijah, another prophet. This makes sense. Jesus has always been made out to be something he never claimed to be – even to this day. To some he’s just a figure from history. To others he’s a nice guy who founded a religion and taught us some ideas about how to live a good life. To others still, he’s a threat – someone whose name has been used to justify all sorts of bad things.
I get the feeling, however, that Jesus was not really interested in that particular question. I think he really was wanting to get to the next question: Who do YOU say I am? It’s the question Jesus is still asking us to this day. Who do YOU say Jesus is?
Peter gets this question and hits it out of the park. “You are the Messiah”, he says. Just to be clear in few verses Jesus is going to call Peter “Satan”. So, take heart – even Peter had his ups and downs. But in this moment, he got it – and whether he knew it or not, everything changed.
When we call Jesus Messiah (or Christ) we are saying that he is the one who will save the world. We are saying that he will be Lord over all we do. We are speaking the truth that through Jesus we have direct access to God. We are declaring that we will follow him no matter what.
It takes a lot of trust to call Jesus Messiah and to live as though we believe it. And yet, that is exactly who Jesus is – the Lord, the Messiah, the Christ.
Who do you say Jesus is? If he is the Messiah – then how is your life going to be different today?
God thank you for your son Jesus. May we live our lives in ways that acknowledge that he is the Messiah. Our Lord.
Monday July 27, 2020
Today’s Scripture: Mark 8:11-13
11 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.
12 When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” 13 So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.
The Pharisees get a lot of flak in the book of Mark – and rightfully so. They are constantly after Jesus on one point or another. They are the foils to the Kingdom that Jesus is trying to demonstrate.
In this particular passage they want some “proof” that Jesus is the real deal. They want a sign. Even though Jesus has already healed a lot of people and fed thousands with just a few supplies, they still were demanding that he prove himself by once more jumping through one of their hoops.
Those in prevailing power do this a lot don’t they? When someone comes along with a different idea or a call for justice that might rattle the status quo, the existing power structure demands some sort of “sign” that the new thing is legitimate. However, usually the sign they want is nothing more than a hurdle placed in front of the new thing. There is usually no desire to accept the new. Rather, just a desire to keep it at bay – no matter how many times the new thing actually jumps over the hurdle.
Jesus was having none of it. He just decides to go back to the other side of the lake.
I wonder where you might be today. Are you the one who is trying to jump over someone else’s hurdles? Or are you the one demanding a sign? Maybe even demanding a sign from God?
I believe when we come out of this pandemic life is going to be very different – and church life especially is going to be very different. We will be ready to join God in the new thing? Or will we be found putting up hurdles and demanding a sign?
God forgive us for the hurdles we place in front of the things you are doing. Forgive us for demanding signs when we should just be getting on with what you are calling us to do. Help us this day to see you and follow you – no matter what.