Friday, September 04, 2015

September 4, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Mark7:24-37
These events took place as Jesus traveled. The first happened when He was in the region of Tyre and Sidon in the north. This area was Gentile territory, and Jesus’ interaction there is with a Gentile woman who begs for her daughter to be exorcised of an unclean spirit. When He returned from that region, He healed the deaf and mute man. The function of this reading is such that it challenges us to consider what right we have to be Jesus’ followers and to receive benefits from Him, and to recognize that it is He who opens us to receive His grace.
Teaching
“Ephphatha,” is a strange looking word in English, but its meaning is beautiful: “Be opened.” Jesus uttered this word when He healed a man who was both deaf and unable to speak. He opened the man’s ears to hear His Word and his mouth to praise God.
In the history of the church the word ephphatha was used in Baptismal liturgies, which emphasized that a person’s coming to faith was possible because God had worked in that person to open her ears to hear the Gospel and be saved. This emphasizes the point that whether it is a Gentile woman pleading for her daughter, a deaf man who wishes to hear and speak, or any person who experiences brokenness and the defilement of sin, it is the Word that the Spirit of God uses to make and keep faith in people.
Life
How has God opened you with His Word? He has brought you to faith. He has cleansed you. He has given you the opportunity to declare His praises. He has also opened you to love Him and your neighbor. How great and glorious God is!

Prayer

This prayer is written in the themes of Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, and Petition.
O Lord, You are teaching us that no one comes to You on their own. You must open our ears to hear of Jesus’ cross and empty tomb in such a way that it creates faith in us. You open our hearts and minds to understand Your Word and receive Your gracious release from everything that makes us unclean.
Thanks for proclaiming Your Word to us and for opening our ears to hear and believe. It is amazing how some hear of Your love and compassion, who know about Jesus’ suffering and death, but that Word does not lead to faith in them. Thank You for the grace You have shown to us so that we confess that we believe in Christ crucified, we belong to Your family, and Your provision of grace is sufficient for us.
We confess that sometimes when we read Your Word, we wrestle with it. We don’t always understand and we don’t want to believe what You are saying. Please forgive us for closing ourselves off to Your Word. Forgive us for believing that You should make Yourself clearer to us, when all we need is the forgiveness given to us through faith in our risen Lord Jesus.

God, please give us grace and strengthen our faith so that our ears would be open to hear Your Word in its fullness and to believe it. Grant us a humble spirit to receive what You give us and to rejoice in it; not placing ourselves as judges of Your gifts, but as unworthy recipients. And grant that Your Word would go out through Your people so that many will come to believe in Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

September 3, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: James2:1-10, 14-18
The book of James is a book that focuses readers on how they should live in light of the salvation they have in Jesus. It is not evangelistic in the sense that it does not seek to proclaim the Gospel to draw people to faith in Jesus. Instead, James’s focus is on those who already know the Gospel, but whose lives don’t reflect that faith. This portion of the letter reminds the reader that to break part of the law is to break the whole of it so that the whole law will be taken seriously. This reading also contains what is possibly the most famous passage in James where James says that faith without works is dead. The function of this reading is to urge the reader to love their neighbors – including the less loveable among them – and to do so with not mere words, but actions.
Teaching
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is the second greatest commandment, and it sums up all the commandments that deal with how we relate to other people. James was concerned that the early Christians were showing partiality to the wealthy in their congregations, and that the poor were being dishonored. Love would have both treated with the same honor.
James also focuses on works as a sign of faith. He wants us to take seriously that faith in Jesus changes the way we live, and one of those changes is to love our neighbors enough to actually do good to them. In that sense, good works are evidence of the faith that saves.
Life
Doing good for others matters. It is how we show people that we love them, and, by extension, that God loves them. Jesus gives us the ultimate example of doing good to show love. He could easily have preached and taught about God loving people, but He did more than preach and teach. He gave His life because He loves us so much. In doing that He, first and foremost, saved us from sin and death, and He also gave us an example so that we too might show our faith in Him by giving our lives (our time, money, interest, skills) out of love.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the themes of Thanksgiving, Confession, and Petition.
Lord Jesus, we thank You for loving us so much that You laid down Your life for us. Thank You for not showing partiality for people who might be smarter, wealthier, or better than us in some way. Thank You for choosing us and for lifting us up. And we thank You for the example that You have set before us so that we might show our faith not only with words but with actions that display Your love to others.
We confess that we do not always display our faith in You by the things we do, and that our actions are often selfish and require little to no sacrifice from us. We have also shown partiality for people who are like us or have something to offer us. Please forgive us! We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves!

Pour Your Spirit on us so that our estimation of others will be directed by His influence in our lives. Help us to learn to show no partiality – for rich or for poor, but to love all people for Your sake. And we pray that Your church would be full of good works and acts of love that display our faith in You to the World. Draw people to Yourself through us, and let our faith be declared in our words and deeds. Amen. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

September 2, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Psalm 146
Psalm 146 begins a series of five psalms – the last five psalms in the book – that begin and end with the words, “Praise the Lord!” In Hebrew, that beginning and ending is a familiar word for readers in nearly every language; it is the word, “Hallelujah!” This psalm begins with an exhortation to praise the Lord, and moves immediately to a first person singular commitment to praise Him. It urges the reader to not trust in earthly power, but in the full power of the Lord who did, does, and will do glorious things. It gives words to one who has experienced God’s salvation, recognizing the many wonderful things God has done and will do, so that one may join in praising the Lord.
Teaching
This psalm sets up two things that one might put one’s trust in: the Lord or temporal powers (princes). It quickly shows how ridiculous it would be to trust in temporal powers noting that any salvation they might offer is ephemeral for people die and their plans perish with them. Instead the psalm extolls the Lord’s greatness by declaring that He has created all things and provided for them, He does marvelous miracles and protects His people, and He will reign forever.
Life
People are often tempted to seek salvation from their problems by turning to earthly solutions. This is not entirely bad as we believe and understand that the Lord has created this world in such a way that we might have good things – including help – in it. The potential pitfall is when people no longer recognize the Lord’s provision in those earthly gifts, and when they long only for earthly salvation and not for the greater gift He has given in giving Jesus to free prisoners from sin, open eyes to see His love, to lift those bowed down with guilt, to watch over us as we sojourn here until He comes again, and to protect us from the wicked.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the themes of Confession, Petition, and Instruction.
O Lord, we get wrapped up in our earthly lives and all too often we fail to seek You in our need. We get sick and we go to the doctor. We see injustice and we write to our senators. We respond to our problems with earthly means, which in and of itself isn’t wrong, but we fail to lift up our hearts in prayer. We don’t see Your healing at work in the doctor’s craft, Your justice in the government’s laws, and Your provision in our earthly blessings. We give the praise that is rightfully Yours to the earthly vessel You have provided for our good. It is as though we praise the gift and not the giver! Forgive us!
Help us, Lord, to put our trust in You and to praise You in for all Your benefits: for princes who are Your servants to protect us, for Your creation, for Your faithfulness, justice, and compassion, and for all You do on our behalf. Especially help us to praise You for giving us Your Son, Jesus, that He might set us free by His death and open our eyes with His Word so we may believe and be saved.

Lord, You have shown us that the powers of this world are temporary. There is but one power that reigns forever, and that is You! You are the source of all that is good in our lives, and so we join the psalmist to says, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” Amen. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

September 1, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Mark7:24-37
Jesus had confronted the scribes and the Pharisees about what defiles a person: the sins of one’s heart. In the first half of this reading He is confronted by a person who would have been considered defiled because she was a Gentile, whose daughter had an unclean spirit. This is a difficult passage! It is followed by Jesus opening the ears of a deaf person. The function of the passage is challenging. If forces us to consider what makes us part of God’s family and how we relate to Jesus.
Teaching
The account of Jesus and the Syrophoenecian woman is unsettling. It appears that Jesus is being rude to the woman and callous to her need. It is helpful to know that as Jesus speaks of children and dogs, the word He uses for dogs is not the form that would be used to speak of wild or street dogs, but of a family pet. There is a question of belonging to God’s family here, and the woman understands that while the pet’s relationship to master is different than the children’s, the pet is still loved and cared for. In a similar way the Gentiles’ relationship with God is different than the Jews’ for they were his chosen people, but God still loved, cared for, and provided for them. It is a sign of faith that the woman is content, knowing she doesn’t have the prime place, but that she is nonetheless loved and provided for.
Life
It is hard for us to “hear” Jesus speak to the woman the way He does in this reading. We sometimes feel that we are children at God’s table and that we have every right to be there. There is truth in this because we are called the children of God. At the same time, there is a sense of wonder and awe in being welcomed and fed at God’s table. There is a realization that, because of our sin, we don’t belong there any more than a dog belongs at the dinner table. But how wonderful it is that whether we are pets or people God’s gracious provision is ours because He loves us.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the themes of Petition, Instruction, and Thanksgiving.
O God, welcome us to Your table although we are unworthy to have a proper place there. Give us faith to hear Your words of invitation and know that Your gifts as so marvelous that even if we were only to receive scraps that fall to us, it will be more than sufficient for our joy and salvation. We pray that You would open the ears of all to hear Your Word and believe it that they too may be fed from Your table and receive the healing from sin You have won for all who trust in You.
Teach us, Lord, that what You provide is sufficient. Indeed, it is beyond sufficient, so that when we receive Your Word and grace we would receive it with the enthusiasm of a dog who gets scraps that fall from the master’s table. You opened the ears of the deaf, and You have opened our ears to hear Your Word and to believe it. Keep speaking, “Ephphatha,” to our hearts and minds so that they will be open to You and to believe You.

Thank You, for giving us a place at Your table. We am thankful to receive even scraps of Your love and forgiveness, but You have not given us mere scraps but made us Your children to receive the fullness of Your gifts. Your goodness is overwhelming! Not only that but You have indeed opened our ears, hearts, and minds so that we may believe Your Word and have Your salvation. Thank You! Amen. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

August 31, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Isaiah35:4-7a
These verses are part of a prophecy of hope. Many of Isaiah’s prophecies up to this point have declared God’s judgement on His people because of their unfaithfulness to Him. At last God speaks words of comfort and hope through His prophet declaring that He will come and save them. The marks of this coming and salvation are in miracles of healing and renewal. This passage points us ahead to Jesus’ coming and ministry, and encourages the hearer to anticipate God’s salvation in the midst of their troubles and sinful deadness.
Teaching
This is a passage of pure gospel for God’s people. It lifts the eyes of the believer away from herself and on to God to find encouragement and hope. This is especially important as Isaiah often confronted the people with their sins. God wants to be very assuring: the consequences of sin are hard, but He will not abandon His people; not only that, but He will heal them.
One of the great promises in this passage is that the eyes of blind shall be opened. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there record of a blind person receiving sight. When Jesus heals the blind it is one of the signs that He fulfills God’s promise to come and save His people.
Life
It is easy to become discouraged in this world. The news is often doom and gloom. We see bad things happening and we wonder why. If that were not enough, God’s people often experience (rightly!) guilt and shame when we consider our sins. God’s Word speaks to us in such a way as to say, “I know your sin. I know your guilt. Take courage! I have rescued you, and I will come and restore you to the glory I intended for you from creation.”

Prayer

This prayer is written in the themes of Instruction, Thanksgiving, and Confession.
O God, You call us to strengthen those who are weak, feeble, and anxious because of their sin. Your Word to us is that You will defeat our enemies, save us, and heal us. We certainly are like the parched desert without Your gracious mercy, but now You have made streams run in the desert and brought life to us! We hear Your Word and we break forth in songs of joy, for You come and save us.
Thank You for this beautiful description of your salvation. Thank You for sending those who speak the words that strengthen us and keep us firm in faith. Thank You for taking vengeance on our enemies by rescuing us from the harm they do – especially those enemies that would lead us into sin. Thank You for opening eyes and unstopping ears so that we might perceive Your salvation. Thank You for the joy that leads us to leap and sing praises to You. Thank You for giving us life where once there was death.

We confess, O Lord, that we sometimes resist the good Word that would strengthen us, and we avoid hearing Your message that would make us strong and drive out our fear. Forgive us for living as though we were still blind and deaf; as though we never received Your Word. Forgive us for our shallow joy and praise. Forgive us for looking more like a spiritual desert than like a life-filled oasis. Come and save us at last and bring us to the glorious paradise You have promised us in Christ. Amen. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

August 28, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Mark7:14-23
Having been accused of breaking the tradition of the elders and eating with defiled, that is unwashed, hands, Jesus confronted the Pharisees in their hypocrisy. In this reading He taught the crowd what truly defiles a person, which has nothing to do with traditions or washing, but has everything to do with sinful desires in one’s heart that lead to sinful behaviors. This text teaches us about the human sinful condition and gives us direction to look deeper than surface behaviors to know our sin so that we get to the true heart of the matter.
Teaching
The Pharisees were obsessed with outward behaviors. They didn’t understand that outward behaviors, even good behaviors, done for the wrong reason are still sin. It is not the outward life that matters most, but what goes on in the heart. Once the heart is wrestled away from sin, good works will flow – even if they are good works that no one recognizes. God looks upon actions motivated by faith with much higher value than the world does.
Life
When we look at illnesses, there are symptoms and there are causes. If a person goes to the doctor’s office with a head ache, the head ache is a symptom. It could be caused by several factors. It could be a migraine, it might be a tumor or concussion, or it could be that the person didn’t drink enough coffee and was in caffeine withdrawal. Spiritually speaking behaviors are symptoms. Even if the behavior is sinful, it is a symptom of an internal cause; the sin that lurks in people’s hearts. Jesus came to cure the illness that is sin and did so by dying on the cross. He does not want us to misunderstand our condition and how deeply we are broken for he came to heal us wholly.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the themes of Petition, Instruction, and Thanksgiving.
O Lord God, change our hearts. Cure us of our sin and cleanse us with Jesus’ blood. Change us to value what You value, to rejoice in what You rejoice in, and to do good from a heart that is set on You.
Father, Your Son taught that what enters into a person does not defile her but passes through and is eliminated. What comes from the outside cannot make us sin. Instead, what causes us to sin is already within us. Help us see the defilement within so that we might know the forgiveness that comes from outside of us.

Thank You for revealing to us the true nature of our sin and its depth. Thank You also for the remedy that You give for our sin in Jesus’ blood shed for us. Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

August 27, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Ephesians6:10-20
Ephesians 6:10 begins a switch in the tone of this letter. Paul started out by writing about God’s grace and then moved to describing how one should live having experienced that grace. Now he focuses on the challenge to the life in Christ which come from spiritual forces and the protection God gives to His people to protect them from those dangers so that in the end they may stand. The function of this passage is to warn the reader of the danger we face, but also to encourage us because God has protected us and has given us a weapon that defeats our enemy.
Teaching
This passage is a favorite for many people because they love the image it provides of wading into combat with the spiritual forces of evil and claiming victory over them. However, we must be clear that the victory is ours because Jesus won it, not because of our own valor or strength. Indeed, mostly what we are encouraged to do in this combat is to put on the armor that God provides for us so we may stand under the temptations and struggles we will face.
The armor itself is telling as to how we are attacked. The belt of truth protects our sexual organs. From of old Satan has attacked God’s people with sexual temptations. The breastplate of righteousness covers our hearts, but this righteousness is not ours it is Jesus’ given to us so we know we are forgiven. On our feet is the gospel of peace. People often stumble when the path gets hard and stressful. God gives us peace to continue to follow Him. The shield of faith is a large rectangular shield, coated in leather, soaked in water to put out the flaming darts of the evil one. It is faith that sees and receives God’s gifts of salvation and deflects the devils’ torments and accusations from us. The helmet of salvation protects our head. Our thoughts can often be led astray, remembering Jesus’ salvation keeps us from sin. And finally the sword of the spirit – the only offensive weapon – which is the Word of God – is what we use to go forth and rescue sinners like ourselves, prayerfully speaking the Word that gives life.
Life
Ponder for a moment how the different pieces of the armor of God address our needs as we struggle to stand under temptations. How remarkable and comforting it is that God knows our needs so well! Not only that, but in His love for us He gives us what we need so that in the end we will be found standing firmly in the faith.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the themes of Instruction and Confession.
Lord, You protect us so magnificently. Because You know our weaknesses and our enemies’ strength so well You cover us to keep us safe sexually, morally, spiritually, and mentally. Not only that, but You have given us Your Word, the one weapon that our foes must flee from and which can be used to rescue captives from sin’s clutches. We pray that you would always keep and defend us.

Forgive us for those times we have neglected our armor, let down our guard, or in any other way given in to temptation. Forgive us for thinking that temptation was light or easy and we could handle it on our own, for we wrestle with powers which are beyond us. Forgive us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.