Thursday, July 30, 2015

July 30, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Ephesians4:1-16
Paul has been expounding the mystery of the gospel and delving into the incredible grace and salvation God has given to us through faith in Jesus. What is more, he has taught the Ephesians that whether they were Jew or Gentile they have an overarching unity in Christ.
In Ephesians 4, he turns to urging us to live in a way that reflects the grace and salvation we have received. The overall message is that God’s people live according to the salvation they have received from Jesus and that we are to grow and mature in the faith that unites us in love.
Teaching
Paul urges us to, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling,” to which we have been called. “Walk,” is a metaphor for, “live.” In fact, some English translations have this, “live in a manner worthy of your calling.” So what does that look like? Paul lists things like humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. He also talks about becoming more mature and Christ-like.
At the heart of all of what it means to walk in a manner worthy of our calling is Jesus. As Paul speaks of the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace he goes back to what he’s already talked about – the salvation Jesus won for us that we hold in common. There is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. But there are those – God’s enemies – who would twist this unity and love into something different. They would bring division. They do this by attacking Jesus, reducing his grace and exchanging it for our works, providing a different standard for unity, or defining love apart for the salvation and new life Jesus has won for us.
Life
In the late 1990’s, Charles Colson co-authored a book titled How Now Shall We Live? That quizzical title is at the heart of this reading. How do we live in light of what God has done for us? What difference does Jesus make in our lives? Where do our lives reflect the presence of the Holy Spirit in us? These are all good questions for us to ponder, especially to lead us into confession, because we will always see that we fall short on the front of living Christ-like lives.
The heart of Paul’s answer to this question lies in v. 15 where he writes, “…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ….” This means, firstly, living as his forgiven people, and then being changed in our priorities, lifestyle, worldview, and everything else so we become like Jesus. But forgiveness is first, because as we delve into the other things we will always fall short and need to return to the source of our hope; Christ crucified and risen delivered to us by faith.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the theme of Petition.

O Holy Spirit, help us to attain to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Help us to mature and become more like Jesus. Bless us with humility, gentleness, patience, love, and an eagerness to maintain the unity you have given us in the bond of peace – the common hope and faith we have in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Help your people to be more united be becoming more connected to Jesus, hearing his word, trusting in his salvation, and seeing one another in light of the cross. Amen. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

July 29, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Psalm145:10-21
The prescript on this psalm tells us that it is both a song of praise and that it was written by David. It is a fun fact that this is the only psalm in the Book of Psalms to actually be called a psalm in its title. For a psalm is a song of praise. The content of the psalm itself has to do with thanks and praise for good that God does for the whole world, and encourages the worshipper to make God known to others so they too will praise him. The psalm gives words and reasons for us to praise God and to make him known in the world.
Teaching
David writes in universal terms in Psalm 145. “All your works shall give thanks,” “to make known to the children of men,” “throughout all generations,” “The eyes of all look to you,” etc. He also covers a wide group of topics in his thanks and praise: glory, power, help for the falling, relief for the bowed, satisfaction for the hungry, righteousness, and God’s presence and preservation.
David would have us think much more broadly in our thanks and praise. He looks out at the world and sees all of it as God’s and in all of it examples of what makes God praiseworthy. And above all, what makes God praiseworthy is that he is God. What he does is rooted in who he is. He is creator, provider, sustainer, savior, and all things good.
Life
What do you thank and praise God for? Is your focus on things like family, health, and good things that happen to you and the ones you love? Perhaps you give thanks for God’s protection. Maybe your focus in giving thanks and praise is on Jesus and the salvation he won for you when he died and rose again.
These are certainly worthy topics for thanks and praise. This psalm challenges us to look even more broadly and to give thanks for how deeply interwoven God is in our existence and the many ways that he blesses our existence and makes it good. Indeed he brings us into his kingdom where we live as his people.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the theme of Confession.

O God, all your works shall give thanks to you, but all too often we are unaware of how vast your works are. We look at this world through our modern eyes and see natural processes, laws of physics, and the general working of the world, but too often we do not see you as the author of those processes and laws or as the one who keeps the world working. All of this is your kingdom which displays your power and glory, but too often we are so caught up in our day to day life or the troubles of this world that we fail to see that this is all yours, and that we ourselves belong to you and are part of your kingdom. Forgive us for failing to fully thank you for all you have done – upholding us, raising us up, feeding us, satisfying our desires, giving us righteousness, being kind, drawing near to us in our need, preserving us, and destroying the wicked. Forgive us for Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: John 6:22-35
John records the details of what happened after Jesus fed the five-thousand and walked on water. As one might expect people were amazed by the miracle and pleased to be fed, so they sought to follow Jesus. John records that it was even their intention to make Jesus their king. This reading records Jesus’ conversation with those who had come looking for him and his effort to point them in the right direction; to believe in him as savior. He also reveals himself to be the Bread of Life. Jesus’ purpose in this conversation is to turn his hearers’ attention away from the earthly benefit they had received and wanted more of, and to focus them on the eternal blessings he longed to give them which are only received by faith.
Teaching
Jesus is not who we want him to be. He is who he is. He does not conform himself to our desires. He confronts our desires with the truth and calls us to believe in him so that, in him, we may have real life; eternal life. This might seem like a rather obvious statement, but it bears some thought.
The people who came to Jesus in John 6 wanted him to be their king. Jesus came to be a king. So, why didn’t he embrace them, take the throne, and reign? He knew they were only attracted to the miracles, and not to what Jesus truly came to give. He had come to give life. And this life that he offered was not merely a matter of heartbeats and breathing. This life was given because people live in death because we sin. Jesus is the bread of life – the source and sustenance of life. This is what he has to offer; life. This was not what the people were after, though.
Life
When you think about what Jesus has done for you in your life – your earthly life, that is – have you ever considered that he has moved you from eternal death to eternal life? “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” How do you give life to the living? He is speaking of something greater than our physical lives. He is speaking of the everlasting life he gives to those who do the work of God, which is to believe in him.
There are many ministries that are based on the idea of self-improvement, personal growth, positive thinking, and other so-called benefits of following Jesus. Jesus’ message is that we are dead and what he wants to give is life. So what do you desire from Jesus? Perhaps we should take the crowds words on our lips as a fitting prayer: Sir, give us this bread always. In other words: Jesus, we need you.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the theme of Thanksgiving.

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving us yourself, not as we think you should be, or as we want you to be, but simply as yourself. You are who you are – the Bread of Life who gives life to the world. Thank you for stepping into our world of death and giving us life. Thank you for confronting our desires and pointing us to something so much better; the gifts you give. Thank you that in you we shall never hunger or thirst; we shall always be satisfied with the real eternal life that you have given to us. And thank you for revealing what the work of God truly is. The work of God is to believe in you. And we thank you that we do the work of God, because you made us alive and keep us alive in you. Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2015

July 27, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Exodus16:2-15
These events took place shortly after God had brought Israel out of Egypt. They had witnessed the plagues, experienced the first Passover and the Death of the Firstborn. They had walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. Now some of the logistics of being free were coming to mind. How would they eat? Where would they get food? These doubts led to grumbling – particularly against Moses and Aaron, the visible leaders of the group. God, however, heard their grumbling and provided miraculous food for them. This passage displays God’s grace and mercy to us in that he showed his kindness and provided food even as the people grumbled. There is also another lesson here: God gave specific instructions on how much food was to be gathered – enough for one day, or on Friday, enough for the day and the Sabbath. This required the Israelites to trust God and to obey him.
Teaching
God is good, even when his people are not. The people of Israel had seen great miracles and had been rescued from a life of slavery, yet when they ran into difficulty they did not turn to him, but instead grumbled about the leadership of Moses and Aaron. They did not trust God to provide for them, and did not even acknowledge that he had rescued them from Egypt! (They said to Moses, “…you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”)
Trust is central to the life of faith. God drove that point home in the way that he provided food for Israel. He gave bread from heaven in the morning; meat in the evening. They were to gather enough for the day, except for on Friday. Then they were to gather enough for two days so there would be no work on the Sabbath. And even the bread required a bit of faith to eat. They called it “manna,” which means, “What is it?” They had to trust that what God was giving them was for their good.
Life
As sinful people we, too, sometimes grumble. We grumble about the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer. We complain when it rains and when it’s too dry. We look into refrigerators that are filled with food and grouse that there is nothing that we want to eat. Grumbling seems to be a big part of our sinful human nature. At its core, grumbling reveals the dissatisfaction of our hearts and hints at a doubt we carry: Is God good? Grumbling implies that the answer is, “No, he is not. So I must take matters into my own hands.”
But how has God responded to that grumbling in us? Because he is good, he sent his Son, who called himself the Bread of Life, to die for our sins. That includes the sins related to grumbling. And he continues to feed us in strange ways, giving us Jesus’ body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the theme of Instruction.

O God, teach us to trust you and to not grumble. All that we have comes to us because you graciously provide for us. We may not see it as clearly as the Israelites did in the wilderness, but what do we have that did not come from you? Your provision is hidden within markets, economies, careers, skills, hard work, and talent, but none of these would exist without you. You are indeed, good. Amen. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

July 24, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Mark6:45-56
After Jesus dismissed the crowds who ate the miraculous meal from five loaves of bread and two fish, he sent the disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he himself when off to pray. Later in the night, as the disciples strained against the wind in the boat, Jesus came to them walking on the water. Mark displays Jesus as powerful but confusing to the Twelve, which serves as a warning to us against thinking we have Jesus fully figured out and that we know what he will or should do in every circumstance.
Teaching
There is so much strangeness in this text. Jesus sent off the disciples leaving himself stranded on the opposite side of the lake. He saw them struggling against the wind and went to them, but he meant to pass by them. His presence in the boat calmed the wind, similar to what they had experienced before, but the disciples were still utterly astounded and they did not understand. How could they? They were actually in the presence of the Creator of all things. Jesus is God who does as he chooses. He is also God who lays down his life to save his people. These things can only be understood by faith. These are things that can only be revealed by God’s word, otherwise Jesus might be another prophet, and not God incarnate.
Life
Sometimes our lives are confusing and God does not do for us as we think that he should. We expect healing but we continue on in illness. We desire blessings but feel like everything in our lives is going wrong. We yearn for God’s presence and yet he feels distant. The problem is not with God, but with our expectation. Jesus came to give his life to save sinners. Walking on water and calming storms are secondary for him. The real good news in this passage is Jesus’ words, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And this is what he speaks into all of our confusion as we follow him in faith.

Prayer

This prayer is written in the themes of Instruction and Petition.
Lord Jesus, teach us to hear your word so that we may know you rightly. You have shown us that despite seeing your miracles, the disciples were still hard-hearted and did not understand. This danger exists for us too. The miracles you did served as testimony to support your preaching and teaching, they accented and leant credibility to your words. Teach us to not focus on the signs you performed but to take heed of what you say. Enlighten our own confusion and help us to believe in you, help us to not mistake you for a ghost or some popular myth of who you are, but to know you for who you say you are.

As you came to the disciples you comforted them with your words. Your presence unsettled them and astounded them. Comfort us and all who go through difficult times with you word. When we think we understand you, unsettle us with your presence to drive us back to your word so we may know you all the better through it. Do not allow our hearts to be hard, and if they are, create new hearts within us that we might believe in you rightly. Defend us from attitudes that presume to fully understand you, but fill us so much with your love that even when we do not understand what is happening in our lives, we will still trust in you. Amen.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

July 23, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Ephesians3:14-21
After writing about the unity the believers have in Christ, Paul elaborated a little more about this mystery and also wrote about his calling to proclaim the gospel. In this section he wrote about his prayer for the Ephesians. He asked for the Holy Spirit to give them power in their “inner being” and that they be rooted and grounded in love – specifically the love of Christ. The force of the text is to move the reader to trust solely in the power of God to live the life of faith and to reveal the true nature of the love of Christ, having been filled with, “the fullness of God.”
Teaching
Christian athletes often like to refer to Ephesians 3:20 as a source of encouragement for their competitive pursuits. Paul has described a relationship with God in which we are powerless, indeed dead, but God has intervened and his power makes us alive, “in Christ.” Paul’s prayer is in much the same vein. He speaks of God’s Spirit in the believer’s inner being and Christ dwelling in the believer’s heart. This is power to animate the one who trusts in Christ. Moreover, this where the ability to comprehend how great this salvation is and how amazing the love of Christ is.
When Paul refers to being, “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask of think…,” he is really stressing how great a miracle it is for us to have faith and to know God’s love. It is bringing the dead to life. It is such a great thing that one must think of it in terms of breadth and length and height and depth. It surpasses knowledge. And this incredible life giving salvation is what God delivers to sinners who believe in Jesus.
Life
There is a saying that familiarity breeds contempt. While we certainly do not have contempt for the glorious salvation and new life that we have in Christ, our familiarity with it often dulls our sense of awe at the miracle God has made in us. This is especially true for those of us who grew up in Christian homes and have been Christians since we were little children.
When was the last time you pondered the riches of God’s glory? And I don’t mean the glory of heaven, but the glory of God who risks all, dares all, and gives all to save you? Have you ever considered how incredible it is that the Holy Spirit makes your soul alive and dwells within you? Is it not beyond our wildest imagination that God would give his Son to die for sinners like us? And he didn’t just die, but rose and gives us forgiveness, life, love, strength, and so much more!

Prayer

This prayer is written in the theme of Confession.

Lord God, we confess to you our slowness to bow our knees before you and to rely on the strength and power that you alone can give. Too often we try to live by our own power, or to take credit for some piece of what you alone can do. Please forgive us. We have become dulled in our sense of awe at how richly you have blessed us – giving us your Holy Spirit, Christ dwelling in our hearts, grounding us in love that surpasses knowledge. You have filled us with your own fullness, but we live as though these lives are ours to do as we choose and to pursue our desires. We call on you in time of need, but do not rely on you for every good thing that we have. Forgive us, dear Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

July 22, 2015

Instruction
Scripture: Psalm136:1-9
This psalm was probably used responsively in worship. Its simple response allows it to include all the people who were there who could speak; no reading or memorization necessary. The psalm directs the hearer to give thanks to God, repeating over and over again, “for his steadfast love endures forever.” So this psalm functions as a type of liturgy to lead the people to give thanks for who he is, what he has done, and, of course, for his steadfast love.
Teaching
The steadfast love of God is essential to his character. It is because of his steadfast love that God does all the good things he does for his people. It is his chosen attitude toward us: steadfast love. We should take note of those words. It is not merely that God loves us, but his love is steadfast, unchanging, and unbreakable. In this way we can understand this steadfast love as another way of speaking of God’s grace and the love that moved him to give Jesus to redeem us.
The psalm itself divides into five sections; verses 1-9 being the first two. The first section declares God’s uniqueness among the gods because his steadfast love endures forever. The gods of this earth may be fickle in the affection for people, but God’s is not! The second section describes God in regard to the glories of his creation, which are also attributed to his steadfast love. Even the beautiful things we see in this world are the product of God’s steadfast love.
Life
This psalm urges us four different times to give thanks to God. What do we have to give thanks for? How about these things that Luther includes in this definition of daily bread: food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
Even greater than these things, though, is the good news that God’s steadfast love endures forever. The one who is greater than all the gods and created all the marvels of this world has looked upon us and loved us in such a way that nothing can break that love. In fact, when we sin against him he continues to love us, and that is why he gave Jesus to redeem us and reconcile us to him. Give thanks, indeed!

Prayer

This prayer is written in the theme of Thanksgiving.

We give you thanks, O Lord, for you are good and your steadfast love endures forever. You are the God of gods and Lord of lords, and you have pledged your steadfast love for us will last to eternity. Thank you! You created this world and all its wonders: the heavens, seas, and land, and the sun, moon, and stars and you sustain them because your steadfast love endures forever. Thank you! When you saw mankind’s condition and knew our broken sinfulness, even then, your steadfast love endured and we give you thanks and praise! You did not leave us in our sin, but cleansed us with Jesus’ blood shed for us. Why would you do that? Because your steadfast love endures forever. Thank you, O God! Amen.