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Daily Devotion – September 30, 2013
09.30.13

Luke 17: 5-6

 

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

 

In Luke 17, verses 5-6, the apostles ask for more faith. In reply, Jesus scolds them for lacking even mustard seed faith and suggests they should not expect reward or praise for their service. Perhaps, however, there is more to this story.

 

When Jesus’ followers ask for faith, what do we want? Some might desire that faith brings a kind of certainty, perhaps even superiority. Faith, then, becomes an accomplishment. Some seek a mystical experience, a faith that works like a drug and helps us get through life’s ordinary challenges. Some aspire to faith as an antidote to struggle. What is faith to you?

 

To me, this is one of the most powerful metaphors in the Bible. The symbolism is almost overwhelming. Something as tiny and insignificant as a mustard seed is used to demonstrate the extraordinary commitment it takes to kindle your faith. And when there are times of question and doubt or difficult trials and tribulations, will your faith be compromised? Or will it grow ever stronger and more defiant so you can stand as a rock, a beacon in the darkest night? Do you have that kind of faith? Do I?

 

Prayer:

 

Dear Lord,

Strengthen my faith and commitment to you so that I may face the challenges of life with confidence and purpose.        Amen

 

 



Daily Devotion – September 29, 2013
09.29.13

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life.  I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families.  Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”?  That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God.  

I Corinthians 1:26-29 (The Message) 

 

Reflection by Randy Hyvonen 

Interim Conference Minister, Southeast Conference, UCC

 

Paul’s letter to new Christians in Corinth is a good reminder to all of us as we face the barrage of voices telling us that bigger is better, that the costliest is the best.  It’s so easy to get drawn into wanting to possess more than we need and into wanting to climb the ladder to prove that we are “somebodies.”

Fortunately we have the chance in the midst of Christian community to occasionally meet “nobodies” who remind us that God takes notice of those who are overlooked, exploited, and abused …and calls us to do the same.  For me such people have been the saints of my faith journey, and together they form the cloud of witnesses that continue to guide me as I strive to live according to God’s will.

One such saint was Dorothy, a veritable model of the widow in the story of the widow’s mite.  I first visited Dorothy in her small studio above a decrepit garage.  She was very accepting of her situation, but it was clear to me that she longed to live in a nicer apartment and in a better location. But to her that dream seemed unrealistic since her income was so limited: a meager monthly social security check.

I learned of a nice subsidized apartment in a nice neighborhood not far from our congregation, and we were lucky that there was an opening and Dorothy qualified with her low income.  I helped her make the move, filled her cupboards with food, and picked up additional furniture to make her new home as comfortable as possible.  Dorothy was thrilled, and her smile was enough to propel for me for weeks!

A short time later she called to see if she could come to my office to visit.  When she arrived she got straight to the point.  She wondered if she could borrow $20.  She said she would be getting her check the next week and would pay me back right after it arrived.  I told her I would gladly loan her that amount, but I wondered if something were wrong – she had seemed totally set in her new situation. Her response stunned me.  She planned to make her tithe to the church that coming Sunday, and she didn’t have enough left to buy the heart medicine she needed.  Her tithe came before her own medical need!

Then true to her word she returned the next Monday with $20.  I told her that in my experience she was a rare borrower who returned to repay what she had borrowed.  I accepted the cash and then asked her if she had a secret compartment in her wallet.  She said she did and showed it to me.  I placed the $20 in that compartment and told her it was now a gift – in case she ever needed it again.  It was a very small thing for me to do in light of what she had gifted me.

 

Prayer: 

May we notice the “nobodies” of the world and realize that In God’s eyes they are “somebodies” – people capable of healing hearts and minds in a hurting world.

 

  



Daily Devotion – September 28, 2013
09.28.13

Psalm 29

 

A Psalm of David.
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
   ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
   worship the Lord in holy splendor. 


The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
   the God of glory thunders,
   the Lord, over mighty waters.

 

Reflection by Rochelle Lofstrand

 

One day I was caught in a storm.  I was trying to get home as fast as I could in order to put my dog out before the rain really hit.  The sky was green and the wind was blowing the trees so they danced around in the air waving their branches, and their leaves were flying off in record numbers.  I arrived home, put my dog out, and waited for the flood of the rain to come.  It was then as I sat safely inside my home looking out at the deluge while lightening lit up the sky that I began to think about the power of Mother Nature; the power of God. 

 

As we explore God’s creation, we need to take time to sit in awesome wonder of the power of the storm – the thunder, the lightening, and the rain.  God’s creation can be the soft breeze through the trees or the water lapping on the shore of a sandy beach, but creation can also shake the earth with it’s loud thunder or light up the sky with bolts of electricity.  It is all from God and God said it is good!

 

Prayer:

 

God, I praise your creativity, as you created all that we know.  Thank you for the rain that nourishes your flora and the glory of the thunder with a sound that reverberates over the earth.  The glory and wonder of your creation are truly unimaginable.  AMEN.



Daily Devotion – September 27, 2013
09.27.13

 

I Corinthians 1:21-24

 

21 For since in the wisdom of God the world(AP) through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save(AQ) those who believe.(AR) 22 Jews demand signs(AS) and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified:(AT) a stumbling block(AU) to Jews and foolishness(AV) to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called,(AW) both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God(AX) and the wisdom of God.

 

Reflection by Don Tawney Sr.

 

The message preached by the apostles was foolishness in the eyes of worldly-wise people.  The gospel of Christ crucified is still foolishness to those blinded by “the god of this world (who) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the Light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

At His baptism and transfiguration, God said of His Son, Jesus, “I am well pleased.”  To save those who believe the “foolish message” of the gospel is also well pleasing to God.

 

Prayer:

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. (Isaac Watts)    Amen

     

 

 

                                                                        

 

                                        



Daily Devotion – September 26, 2013
09.26.13

1 Corinthians 1:20


Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Reflection by Lynne Buell

What makes humans think that they are the ones with all the answers?  Who are we to pursue argument in order to prove a point? 

 

Show of hands:  How many have at least one person (either family or friend) who you cannot talk with about religion and politics?  Yup.  We all know someone who thinks he knows it all.  He always HAS to have the last word.  How about the one who says, “Because it’s in the Bible!” then proceeds to quote a specific verse to prove his point?   You become exhausted as you run out of counterpoints, right?  Why do politicians debate?  Let’s not even go there.  Too much controversy.

 

True, sometimes varying viewpoints can be a good thing.  It can encourage folks to consider alternative solutions which can be more beneficial to resolving problems.  But often, disagreeing will end up without conclusion.

 

So back to my original question and my take on today’s scripture.  God is our Supreme Being.  Who, but God, created this awesome world that we live in?  God expects us to learn from life and the scriptures in the Bible.  Viable ethics will form for Christians who form a true relationship with God rather than in a world of human righteousness.

 

Prayer:

 

We ask for guidance to turn to you for amiable conclusions to daily dilemmas and worldly problems.  Bring us back to you and fill our minds with your wisdom.  Amen.   



Daily Devotion – September 25, 2013
09.25.13

 

 

Luke 8:22-25

 

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, 23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

 

Reflection by Ugena Whitlock

 

Special Note: As some of you know, I have started working on my MDiv at the Candler School of Theology. This semester I’m taking a course on Martin Luther—about whom I knew nothing before this class. Although I did see a movie about him one time. This week, I wrote a very short, informal paper on a letter he wrote to the leaders of his country about misuse of power in the Catholic Church. I want to share what I’ve written with you as today’s devotion not only because some of it still applies to the narrow-mindedness of today’s conservative groups, but also it tells you a little bit about my own religious background. I’ve tweaked it a bit for our devotional, hoping it won’t sound quite so stiff and dull. All in all, I’m liking Martin Luther, but I must say, it helps that I saw the movie.

 

The “Three Walls” of Christian Fundamentalism: A Modern Look at Luther’s Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation

 

I consider myself a re-formed fundamentalist Christian. That is, I grew up within the structures and faith of the fundamentalist Church of Christ. By re-formed (the hyphen is intentional) I mean that I reject what I consider to be its intransigent, patriarchal structures while reaffirming the notions of faith and grace instilled in me as part of the community. What this means to me as a theology student is that not only do I approach to theology—here, Martin Luther—from a fundamentalist perspective, approach it from this perspective on purpose. I use my filter deliberately, intent on further developing that faith and grace to which I refer. Realizing Luther’s abhorrence of the Anabaptists, the fundamentalists of his day, I do not want to force his thinking onto modern contexts inappropriately; however, as the editor notes (Three Treatises, 1960), in the Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, “we meet Luther the German (p. 5). I therefore take the liberty of bringing Luther the German into conversation with the 21st century United States. It seems to me that conservative Christian fundamentalist groups, which I will refer to as the Christian Right, have erected certain protections around themselves to maintain the political power and influence they have enjoyed since the 1980’s Regan Era. So I thought I would compare these walls to the “three walls of the Romanists” (p. 12) that Luther ascribes to the papacy and the medieval Catholic Church: 1) “temporal power has no jurisdiction over them,” 2) “the interpretation of the Scriptures belongs to no one except the pope,” 3) “no one can call a council but the pope.” Using Luther’s “three walls” as a frame, it occurs to me that the Christian Right sequesters itself within the fortress of claims of freedom jurisdiction from secular authority, interpretation of Scripture, and insular structures of doctrinal governance. I would note that many brands of fundamentalisms exist with varying degrees of difference; what most hold in common is a literal interpretation of Scripture and social conservatism. I will generalize for the sake of coherence of the larger argument, but I come at it from my background in the non-instrumental Church of Christ.

 

The presidential election of 1980 marks the involvement of the Christian Right in politics that continues today—from the Moral Majority to the Tea Party. And although clearly the Religious Right does not parallel Catholic Church/Holy Roman Empire of Luther’s day, it has as a group influenced policy on large issues that affect multitudes of people such as marriage, taxation, and the economy—the same kinds of issues discussed by Luther in the Open Letter.    Not only does the Christian Right consider itself outside the jurisdiction of secular authority, that is, the government, it holds civic government to be under its jurisdiction. While Luther’s instruction on the first wall assumes that the temporal estate is made up of Christian Germans who are qualified and entitled to keep the medieval Catholic Church in check, if this thinking extends to an ethical rather than religious, moral citizenry, then there exists the possibility for challenging the Right on the basis of what is socially just. Just as the Church’s offenses were unrestrained and oppressive toward the German people in Luther analysis, the fundamentalist Right wields its political influence to maintain structures of inequity for marginalized groups that include the poor, LGBT people, and women.

Luther calls the second wall “more flimsy and worthless” than the first; it was the claim by the Church that it had the sole authority to interpret Scriptures. Christian fundamentalists take the interpretation of Scripture to be literal (in most cases) and insist their interpretation is the true one. Since the 1980s, the two primary political issues the Christian Right has sought to influence have been gay rights and abortion. These are familiar, so I will not go into any detail; they are examples in which can be seen the organizational, financial, and media structures the Right has set into place to create a political voting base. Despite ecumenical and inter-faith councils that have offered interpretations of scriptures that bring organized religion into the modern world surrounding social issues, the fundamentalist Right insists upon its interpretation and further, lobbies to have that interpretation codified into law. Luther fights with scripture, but makes the final punch with his own words. “Therefore it is a wickedly invented fable…that the interpretation of Scripture or the confirmation of its interpretation belongs to the pope alone” (p. 21), or in our case, the Right alone.

         

Luther’s third wall is perhaps less applicable in particular to 21st century contexts, yet it might also be combined in thinking about the first two. A church or group that does not self-regulate to ensure a continued focus on love and caring and the sharing of faith falls outside of civic jurisdiction. However, when the unregulated Right seeks to regulate civic behavior, the citizenry is free and entitled to object. According to Luther, “But all their boasts of an authority which dare not be opposed amount to nothing after all. No one in Christendom has authority to do injury, or to forbid the resisting of injury. There is no authority in the Church save for edification” (p. 25). The United States, bound traditionally and constitutionally to a separation between “church and state,” has only indirect and private means to influence organized religion, ways not unlike the secular laity of social consciousness in this country.

 

Naturally, the United States is not a Christian State in the sense of medieval states. The inter-relations between people of faith (and I include all spiritual citizens here—even secular ones) is more complex than it was then. Because there is no unified state church, there is no citizenry unified in that particular faith. Therefore, we might turn to ethically, socially, and civically just authority of the people not only to guide the direction the government takes toward equity and equality, but also to keep in check a Christian Right that, like the medieval Church, has lost sight of the grace and faith found in Jesus.

         

                    



Daily Devotion – September 24, 2013
09.24.13

Psalm 29: 4-9

 

The voice of the Lord is powerful;
   the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 


The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
   the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. 
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
   and Sirion like a young wild ox. 


The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. 
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
   the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 


The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
   and strips the forest bare;
   and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’ 

 

Reflection By Duke Yaguchi

 

The scripture speaks of the power of the Lord. He is more powerful than nations and the animal kingdom and the sturdiest of trees. It seems that mankind is obsessed with the idea of taming the wild and overcoming God’s power. We think we can make levees to ward off floods and buildings to withstand earthquakes. But it seems the harder we try the harder the Lord flexes His muscles as if to say no, man did not create the heavens and earth, I did.

 

I remember years ago visiting a friend in California. He lived in a beautiful home built on a side of a mountain overlooking Los Angeles. It looked like you could lean on it and it would fall over. I asked him if he was afraid of earthquakes. He said quite confidently, “Oh no. Our house is double-bolted to the foundation.” Well, thankfully, perhaps by the grace of God, all of the homes in his neighborhood are still standing.

 

At some point as a species we need to let go and let God. Because when we think we can control the world, that’s when God reminds us that He’s in control. The voice of the Lord is great. How great does it have to be before we hear Him?

 

Prayer:

 

Dear Lord, I pray to hear Your voice. In the whispers of the night and the cries during the day, I listen to hear Your voice. But when You shout with wind and fire and water, my fears shut my ears and it is difficult to hear You through the calamity. Let me hear You during these times too. In Jesus’ name I pray.

 



Daily Devotion – September 21, 2013
09.21.13

Psalm 150

Praise for God’s Surpassing Greatness

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty firmament! 
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
   praise him according to his surpassing greatness! 


Praise him with trumpet sound;
   praise him with lute and harp! 
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
   praise him with strings and pipe! 
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
   praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

Reflection by Quinn G. Caldwell

When the ancients tilted their heads back and contemplated the night sky, they were filled with the same kind of wonder you are when you do the same thing.  Which is why they thought God lived up there.

But they hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.  Twenty years ago today, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched.  Take a minute right now and do a Google image search for “Hubble.”  Those are real.  The universe actually looks like that.  Just try to look at those images and not praise the Lord in the firmament.

Now do an image search for “Hubble ultra-deep field.”  All that you see there exists in a field the same size as a 1mm by 1mm piece of paper held up a meter from your face.  Because of how long it took the light of those celestial bodies to reach us, seeing them is like looking back 13 billion years.

One of the best lines in all Christian hymnody is from “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”: “Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began.”  Go back and look at those images again.  Those stars have been chanting “Holy, holy, holy” since time began.  Don’t you think you ought to join in?

Prayer:

The whole universe sings of your glory, O God most high, these 13 billion and more years.  Don’t let it miss a note because I wasn’t there to sing my part.  Praise you, praise you, praise you.  Selah.

 

 

About the Author


Quinn G. Caldwell, a United Church of Christ minister, is the co-author, with Curtis J. Preston, of the Unofficial Handbook of the United Church of Christ, published by The Pilgrim Press.

 



Daily Devotion – September 20, 2013
09.20.13

John 6: 43-51

 

Jesus the Bread of Life

 

Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

 

Eternal life?  There is no greater promise. Yet, those who heard it had doubts and questions. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever,” says Jesus. How would the Christians of today react to such a statement? A statement followed by the words, “…and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Sadly, many would probably turn away in disbelief, labeling the speaker delusional or crazy.

 

Just how strong is your faith? Just how strong are your beliefs? How many times have you or I questioned the existence of God? We have never seen Him? We have never seen Jesus in the living flesh for that matter. We have only read about him or heard of his wondrous deeds and miracles in Sunday sermons. Yet, here is this man, this spirit, this humble carpenter offering us eternal life. If that’s not enough to make one a believer and follower, I don’t know what is.

 

We are all human, however, and the spiritual side of life is not the day-to-day reality that confronts us. Sometimes it’s pretty difficult to think about eternal life when we struggle with the one we have here on earth. Yet, what would happen if we did invest some time thinking about it. Would it not make our day-to-day lives more meaningful, more satisfying? Would it not confirm that we have been put here for a universal purpose? Would it not strengthen our faith and our resolve to open ours eyes and our hearts to a greater sense of being?

 

That… is the eternal question?

 

Prayer:

 

Dear God,

Help me to open my eyes and my heart to believe in you and your only begotten son so that I may lead a more fulfilling and rewarding life on earth.   Amen

 

 

 



Daily Devotion – September 19, 2013
09.19.13

John 6:41-42

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, I am the bread that came down from heaven. They were saying, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?

 

Reflection by Jim Kennedy

 

The Jews murmured at Jesus when they found that he spoke of himself as the true bread, the bread of God, and bread of life, and as descending from heaven. As such Jesus was to be fed upon in a spiritual manner by faith, which the Jews were ignorant of and had no desire to do. The Jews harped upon bread from heaven and asked “What can this mean? Do we not know all about him—where, when, and of whom he was born? And yet he says he came down from heaven!”

 

In The Historical Jesus (HarperOne, 1991) John Dominic Crossan wrote about the hierarchy of Roman society. Rulers were at the top, followed by the governing class, the retainer class, merchants, priests, peasants, artisans, the unclean and degraded, and the expendables. Joseph and Jesus were carpenters and artisans, at the lower end of Roman society. So how could Jesus have come from heaven?

 

Was this an early case of bait-and-switch? Say to be one thing to get in the door and then increase your stature once you are inside? How can someone like this be trusted?

 

Jesus’ words were shocking coming from a Galilean carpenter. He was either the incarnate son of God who could bring eternal life by his words and deeds, a premeditative liar, or a lunatic.

 

Scepticism was sometimes good, particularly when rulers or priests told how things should be done, so should one also be sceptical when another says that they are the bread that came down from heaven for God to feed those on earth? The Jews were not interested in bread from heaven. They wanted fish and barley loaves. Would it be wise to believe such a thing could occur in the cosmos?

 

The Jews did not “see” Jesus because their emotions had reached the pitch of dissatisfied and sullen grumbling. They were saying to each other, “We have known him since childhood. How does he expect us to believe him?” They were not taking his words in and believing and assimilating them as part of themselves for use in improving the quality of their lives. So much was their loss.

 

We sometimes miss God because we simply cannot believe God would do anything unusual in our ordinary circumstances. We have to be on guard all the time so we do not miss the day of our visitation. God may do something special in our midst, but we look around us and we think, “God can’t do anything in this place! We know everyone here; we know where they came from and all about them. Therefore God could not rise up anything world-changing from this group!”

 

Prayer:

Dear Lord I pray that I may always believe in you and trust in you to bring humanity your world-changing love, even though we may not recognize it in our midst, thinking that we already know where everything comes from.