Friday, July 03, 2015

July 3, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Mark 6:1-13
Jesus returned to his hometown after he started his ministry. He had been healing the sick, casting out demons, preaching repentance, teaching in parables, and proclaiming the kingdom of God was at hand. But when he returned home the people there were offended by him, nevertheless he sent out the twelve disciples to live by faith and to trust God to provide for them even if they were rejected, as he had been, in the towns they came to. By recording these events, Mark, guided by the Holy Spirit, shows his readers that the life of faith requires trust in God to provide all things: what is needed on the road, success, and strength in the face of rejection.
Teaching
There is a teaching among some Christians that if we have enough faith everything will always go well, we will never lack, struggle, or experience hard times. How does that square with Jesus’ and his Apostles’ experience? This passage teaches us that in this life there will be successes and failures, joys and disappointments. It teaches that some will receive the good news of God’s kingdom as we’ve learned it in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and others will reject it.
Life
How do you handle setbacks? How do you feel when you see people that you care about struggling spiritually or turning away from Jesus’ and his gift of forgiveness? It can be very painful. There may indeed be times that we must live with a separation between us and people we love. Yet we also find that God is faithful and he provides for us on the journey of life. And, much to our joy, we find that there are some that hear of the hope we have in Jesus and believe it. They receive the true miracle; not necessarily healing from sickness, but forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

Prayer

This prayer is written with the themes of Instruction and Thanksgiving.
Lord Jesus, we learn in your word that you and your disciples faced the pain and disappointment of rejection in your ministry. Help us to know that this will be part of our life as we follow you, too, but also let us keep firmly in mind that some will hear, believe, and be healed of their sin. Make us ever mindful that you provide all things for our bodies and this life so that we will not be over-burdened by the things of this world and slowed down as we seek to serve you. Help us to learn that it is okay to be rejected for Jesus’ sake. Help us know how and when to faithfully show your love and judgement to those you send us to as your witnesses.

Thank you for all you have given us, most especially the faith to receive your forgiveness and also the call to follow you as your modern day disciples. Thank you that there will be some who accept your word of grace as they hear it from us. But thank you also that we will share in the sorrows that Jesus experienced – even rejection – so that we can be more and more like him. Thank you for letting us lose our honor for Jesus’ sake in this life, but gain your glory in the life to come. We give you thanks and praise for bringing the kingdom of God to us, making us part of it, and allowing us to play a part in extending your kingdom in this world. Amen. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

July 2, 2015

Instruction
Some people in Corinth were calling Paul’s credentials into question, claiming that they were greater than him. Paul pointed to his life and ministry boasting of even greater faithfulness and revelations. In this section he continued to boast, but quickly turned to what kept him humble – a “thorn” in his flesh and God’s refusal to remove it from him. The message that Paul received regarding the removal of this thorn shows us the main point of this section: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Teaching
People are often boastful about what they are good at. We boast about the good things we have, too. But who would boast about trials, weakness, and frustration? Apparently, Paul did. In this passage he speaks of “the surpassing greatness of the revelations” he received from God. This is something we would be excited about, but what he goes on to boast about is his weakness. Why would he do that?
Paul had learned that his strength was insufficient. He needed Jesus’ strength. What did he need that strength for? His salvation. To overcome temptation. To endure suffering. To go about the mission God had given him. To evangelize. To preach. To teach. In all of these areas of his life, he found himself to be insufficient when he relied on himself. But when he accepted his weakness, then he found he was strong because Jesus worked in and through him. It is Christ’s strength that matters, not Paul’s or ours.
Even Jesus’ strength was displayed in weakness. He won the victory over our sin by dying for us. He humbled himself and submitted to his Father’s will and did not exert his strength, but wholly gave himself over to weakness and death to save us, trusting his Father to raise him up.
Life
We often beat ourselves up when we crumble under temptation. We try to live life and face our troubles under our own strength and we are left feeling guilty and shamed. So what do we do? Too often we set our chins and determine to be better, to be stronger, and to get it right next time.
What would happen if we accepted that we don’t have the strength to be the people God calls us to be? Not as an excuse for bad behavior, but just accepting the reality. And then what would happen if we, knowing our guilt, weakness, and insufficiency, clung to God’s word, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Would not our weakness be the very place that we see God’s power at work in us? The place where God’s glorious forgiveness is experienced?

Prayer

This prayer is written in the theme of Petition.

Father in Heaven, your power is made perfect in weakness. Help us to know our weakness and embrace it in such a way that we know your power more clearly in our lives. Let the power of Christ rest on us and on all your people, so that we will not rely on our own strength but only on the grace that you revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross. When we are tempted to boast, turn our eyes upon what you have done and away from our own deeds. Help us to be content in weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. We only ask that as we go through them we may experience your power and grace and that it may be revealed to others as you work in our lives. Amen. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

July 1, 2015

Instruction

Scripture: Psalm 123
Psalm 123 is one of the Songs of Ascents, songs sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. However, this one is unique. Most of the Songs of Ascent have a positive message in the end, so that even if they lament trials and suffering they confidently declare trust in God to rescue them. This psalm is the prayer of the downtrodden and those who are mocked for their faith and obedience to God. It is a cry for mercy. This psalm gives us words to pray when we, too, are worn out by the scorn and contempt of those who are of this world, and reminds us to keep our eyes on the Lord in the midst of our troubles.
Teaching
In sports, players are often urged to keep their eye on the ball. Here we are urged to keep our eyes on God. In the past, servants and slaves lived wholly at their masters’ will and they relied on them completely for every good thing in their lives. The same is true for us. Our eyes are fixed on God to see his mercy as he gives us what we need.
Yet the world scorns those who wait on the Lord. Those who are at ease find their comfort in earthly pleasures and feel no need for God’s mercy. Those who rely on God’s mercy are treated with contempt, as the proud of this world rely on their own power, wealth, or skill.
Life
Where are your eyes right now? Are they on the problems in your life? Are they focused on earthly things – pleasures, sorrows, comforts, insults? The world gives a two sided temptation to us as it places both good things and bad things before us. Either could be our focus, distracting us from the God who has had mercy on us.
So where do our eyes belong? On God. On the cross. It is there that we see God’s mercy so clearly revealed to us. The contempt that we experience because we faithfully follow Jesus may get us down, but God’s mercy is greater, and his promise is more permanent than the scorn and contempt we face here. Do not lose heart! God’s mercy is yours.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the theme of Confession.

O Lord, we confess to you that we grow weary of the contempt we bear because of our faith in you. Forgive us for the times we have given in to the temptations of ease and pride, comfort and power. Too often we take our eyes off of you and do not trust you to provide us with all that we need, and we long to solve our problems in our own power. Forgive us for not waiting patiently for your mercy. Forgive us for the times that your promises were not enough for us, and help us to be content in your forgiveness. Amen. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June 30, 2015

Instruction

Scripture: Mark 6:1-13

This passage follows after two great miracles in Jesus’ ministry – the healing of the woman with the flow of blood, and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. It could be said that this was a high point for Jesus’ ministry. In this passage we read about Jesus being rejected in his hometown, though. He then calls his disciples together to send them out and instructs them how to conduct themselves in ministry and he includes instructions for facing rejection. Mark records these events in a way that helps his readers recognize that when we take up Jesus message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins there will be rejection. We should expect the same rejection as Jesus received, but not lose heart for there will also be successes in ministry and people will be healed and blessed by God’s word.

Teaching

It cannot be denied that Jesus faced rejection in his ministry. When he visited his hometown they essentially asked, “Who does this guy think he is?” They had seen him grow up and they thought they knew him. They found the change in him from carpenter and commoner to rabbi and teacher offensive. Jesus took note of that and warned his disciples as he sent them out that they, too, would sometimes find that they would not be received. The same is true today. People reject Jesus, so they also reject his followers.
Yet Jesus also laid his hands on some sick people and healed them in Nazareth. Mark also records that the ministry of the twelve was successful as they proclaimed repentance, cast out many demons, anointed folks with oil and healed the sick. Even if the vast majority of people were to reject Jesus and his people, there will be some who hear his word and are healed – not just of illness, but of the destructive power of sin in their lives.

Life

Often we are fearful of how people might respond to us if we share our faith and hope in Jesus with them. We have seen and heard that what Jesus taught his disciples is true: not everyone will receive him. Their rejection of him often feels like a judgement against or a rejection of us.
We should not lose heart thought. Jesus has called us to be his people. He has made us his modern day witnesses. We might not shake the dust off our feet at people anymore, but we still have a similar saying. When bad things happen we, too, say, “Shake it off.” Shake off the fear and pain, and trust that God can use us to bring release and healing – physical and spiritual – in this world by the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Prayer

This prayer is written with the theme of Thanksgiving.

Lord Jesus, thank you for facing rejection. Thank you for taking the risk of entering this world knowing people would reject you. Thank you for coming to those who would receive you and creating faith in them. We are so grateful to be among those who are saved by your grace. Thank you for making us your followers to share the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. We rejoice to know that even as some will reject your word when we speak it, others will hear and you will deliver them from the devil’s power and the pains of this world. Thank you. Amen.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 29, 2015

Instruction

Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-5

Ezekiel was among the brightest and best of Judea who were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. He was a priest who was called to be a prophet to declare to God’s people that they had abandoned him, but that God would be merciful and he would, one day, restore them. This passage is his calling and commissioning as a prophet. This passage sets the tone for Ezekiel’s ministry, warning him that his ministry will be difficult and he will face opposition from them. Nevertheless he is to faithfully proclaim God’s Word.

Teaching

This passage does not paint a pretty picture of Israel. God calls them rebels, transgressors, impudent, and stubborn. This is due to the way that they disobeyed God’s Law, rejected his covenant, and took him and his grace for granted. We might be inclined to ask how this could be, however it is a reflection of the condition of all people. God repeatedly testifies about the sinfulness of people in his word, and that sinfulness is what leads to the rebellion, transgression, impudence and stubbornness.
God, then, is sending Ezekiel to testify to them what God has said. Much could be written about God’s Law and Gospel here, and the testimony God gives against his people along with the gracious promises he makes to them. Yet there is something else to note: God sends Ezekiel. He wants people to hear his word and to be confronted with their sin so that they may be comforted by his promises.

Life

It is never comfortable to experience rejection from others, but as we look at the world we live in we can see that people are no less rebellious than the Israelites were. The warnings given to Ezekiel speak to our hearts, too. Not only that, but we should note that those who call themselves God’s people can stubbornly refuse his word and will today.
What then should we do? What would God have us do? We cling to God’s word. “Thus says the Lord God,” becomes our source of authority and power as we engage the world. Not only that, but the word of God which reveals Jesus as our Savior and Lord is also our comfort and consolation to give us courage. God’s promise is certain, and our lives declare to the world that not only has a prophet been among us, but the Son of God has saved us and his Spirit dwells within us.

Prayer

This prayer is written with the theme of Instruction.

O God, you teach us with your word and call us to be your people. You sent Ezekiel to his own people knowing that they were rebellious, impudent, and stubborn. Open our eyes to recognize when we behave in those ways contrary to your word. Also, Lord, teach us to know that you have sent a prophet among us. The prophet we speak of if Jesus who proclaims your love and grace to us. Teach us to hear and to never refuse to hear your word whether is it read, spoken, sung, or however you deliver it. Teach us to recognize our transgressions so that what you teach us of your forgiveness might be all the more potent in our minds and hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

June 26, 2015

Instruction

Scripture: Mark 5:21-43

The miracles that Mark recorded in this section of his Gospel precede the account of Jesus’ rejection in his hometown, showing that the miracles themselves did not create faith in people, but only raised attention for Jesus to proclaim the word that creates faith. We return to this passage where the girl and woman were healed, this time looking more closely at the woman. Her healing was different than most healings as she initiated it and it took place, ostensibly, without Jesus’ awareness until after the fact. This healing shows the importance of faith in receiving the gifts God so generously gives.

Teaching

The woman with the flow of blood was desperate. Her illness separated her from her family and community as her touch would make a person ritually unclean. Her very presence in the crowd was risky, and would have been offensive to the people around her. We should note that her touch does not make Jesus unclean. In fact, it works the other way around. Touching the Holy One makes her clean, whole, and healed. This is how it is when a sinner with faith comes into contact with Jesus in the word, Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper; it makes us clean, forgives our sins, and marks us as holy. 

Life

Where do we touch the hem of Jesus’ robe? Where do we come into contact with him? As we read his word, his Spirit is there. When we were baptized, Jesus cleansed us. When we receive the Lord’s Supper, we touch Jesus’ body and blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. When we gather for worship and two or three gather in his name, he is there. Think on these things the next time you come to worship and see how Jesus graces you with his presence to heal you from your sin, shame, illness, and pain.

Prayer

This prayer combines the themes of Thanksgiving and Petition
O Lord Jesus, thank you for healing the woman with the discharge of blood. Thank you for having compassion on her, knowing her need, restoring her, and praising her faith. Thank you for your holy presence that is at work in us to make us holy. Thank you for not rejecting our unclean touch, but accepting us, you cleanse us of sin and its stain. Thank you. Thank you for giving us faith to take hold of your promises so that we too will be healed of all illness, cleansed of all disease, and purified of all sin; if not in this life, then in the life to come.

Lord, please grant us your Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith so that we will all the more boldly take hold of you in your word and Sacraments. Let nothing keep us from running to you to at least touch the hem of your robes so we will be healed. Help us to live as your present messengers to people in this world so that they too may take hold of you to be healed. Give us courage to not resist the touch of people that this world would shun; those that bear a wide variety of shames, stigmas, and sins. Instead, let us, filled with your Spirit, reach out to them, love them, have compassion for them, and offer them the word that creates faith so they may lay hold of you. Let us see healings in our lives: healings of broken hearts, troubled marriages, diseased bodies, fractured relationships, and sinful lives. Grant us the joy of seeing how you restore people through faith. In your blessed name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

June 25, 2015

Instruction

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15

Paul has been writing a message of restoration to the Corinthians. Now he turns to the topic of Christian living. There had been a famine in Jerusalem, and he was gathering an offering to support the fellow believers in their time of need. His purpose in this part of the letter is to urge the Corinthian believers to be sacrificially generous, pointing to the generous grace they had received through Jesus’ sacrifice as the model of giving.

Teaching

Paul’s teaching on generosity was both bold and rooted in grace. It was bold in the sense that he did not shy away from telling the Corinthians what he was looking for. He hoped to see sacrificial generosity. He commended the Macedonians, the Corinthians’ neighbors to the north, for how they gave. He stated flat out that this was a mark of genuine love, and urged them to grow in this aspect of the life of faith even as they excelled in other areas.
He also referred to giving as an act of grace. Paul places the Corinthians’ giving in line with the grace that was given to them by Jesus. Jesus became poor and gave up everything, even his life, because of his love for his people. He gave the most generous gift possible in order to make his people rich – not monetarily, but with his love and forgiveness. In a similar way, the believer’s giving of self, money, time, etc. is motivated by what Jesus has given her and flows from his grace.

Life

How does this reading make you feel about your giving? Volunteering? Helping? Care for others? The standard it sets for us is very high. It is an important area of our life in Christ that deserves careful attention. Our material blessings are not meant only for our comfort, but also to support ministry, help the poor, and care for the oppressed.
But giving is also referred to as an act of grace. This is something we do because we’ve experienced Jesus’ forgiveness in our lives. Giving is a matter of perspective when we perceive and believe how richly God has blessed us with gifts like forgiveness and everlasting life, and at what cost. It is also an imitation of God’s generosity when we give and a behavior that is Christ-like.
Look for an opportunity to give generously and sacrificially. See how it feels to give as Jesus gave to us.

Prayer

The theme of this prayer is Confession.

Lord God, Heavenly Father, I confess that this idea of giving sacrificially and generously makes me a little uncomfortable. Often I view my earthly goods as the fruit of my labor for the benefit of my comfort. Please forgive me for not seeing the bigger picture of how you have blessed me and how you use my blessings to protect, provide for, and love others. Forgive me for the times that I have wrestled with generous giving and come up wanting. Cleanse my heart of the fear of earthly lack, the doubts that question your gracious provision, and the hold that earthly goods have on me. Change my heart and forgive me for being stingy with your grace as well. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.