Blessings and Curses

Photo credit here (I don’t always find a piece of art related directly to the text for the day, but today, we have found one! Read Deut 27:11-28:68)

S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 28:1 Now if you really obey the Lord your God’s voice, by carefully keeping all his commandments that I am giving you right now, then the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice…15 But if you don’t obey the Lord your God’s voice by carefully doing all his commandments and his regulations that I am commanding you right now, all these curses will come upon you and find you…

O (Observation): God’s people are established after having been slaves for so long…for generations! They have no understanding of healthy boundaries for a person or for property. So, God sets forth the boundaries and declares what types of things should be done and what types of things should be avoided.

They assume all good blessings and all bad curses come from God, so this only makes sense to God’s people. They need strong direction in their time of uncertainty. They got it!

A (Application): I think about my own children. When young, we set strict boundaries for them. “Eat all your food! No playing in the street! Follow directions and get a treat!”

In this way of looking at blessings and curses, God’s people needed what they got: treats and warnings. Yet, as God’s people became more and more established, the idea of blessings and curses became less and less about a strict way to live, and more a guide to healthy community.

In Jesus, we start to see the true intention behind blessings and curses: healthy community. And in Jesus, start to see that one’s blessings doesn’t necessarily coordinate with how “good” one has been and one’s curses don’t necessarily coordinate with how “bad” one has been.

Instead, filled with the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus as our Guide, we simply look to God to provide and we seek to serve others, first. May we all be strong in faith and humble in spirit.

P (Prayer): Lord, we look to you for guidance and love and mercy, whether we do good or bad – well…we do both…so…uh…have mercy on us, Lord. Amen.

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The Long Game

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S (Scripture): Luke 3:23 Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry. People supposed that he was the son of Joseph son of Heli…31b son of Nathan son of David 32 son of Jesse…34 son of Jacob son of Isaac son of Abraham…38b son of Adam son of God.

O (Observation): Jesus’ genealogy shows up here and a slightly different format shows up in Matthew.

Why is this genealogy here? Jesus is God’s new plan, right? Well…sorta…

The arc of salvation history runs long. In the beginning, God brought order and life out of chaos. God chose Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of God’s people. When God’s people were enslaved, God set them free. God assigned judges to speak on God’s behalf and to oversee the people in the Promised Land. When the people wanted a king, God let them have one, but then provided prophets to be God’s mouthpiece. A few kings were really good…some really bad.

Eventually, God’s people were so self-centered, God said, “Fine. Let me know how things work out for you.” But God never gave up…God simply let them figure things out on their own.

And eventually, Jesus comes along. In that great long lineage, comes the Savior. God never forgot the wrongs the people committed and God never forgot the joy of being with humanity.

Jesus – who was in the beginning – comes to earth…through the Great Lineage…to be hope for the hopeless, joy for the sad, corrector of the haughty, and raises those made low.

A (Application): Life can get us down. But what gives me hope is that God is working in many and various ways – much of which we cannot see. Evil may be hanging around, but it will not be the victor!

May God challenge us to move through the world with eyes wide open! Notice the special God-moments all around.

God is up to something. Can you feel it?

P (Prayer): Lord, we fail to notice your new life. Remind us that your reign works and grows around us. Help us to see it. Amen.

Called to Serve!

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S (Scripture): Luke 3:7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”

14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”

He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”

O (Observation): John speaks for God – he is a prophet. Many come come to be baptized by John to show that they wish to receive forgiveness of sins and wish to change their lives. No longer does John think it sufficient to be a Jew – from the lineage of Abraham and Sarah. That “status” is of little significance should one not change one’s life.

John says that God expects a changed life in response to the grace given to each.

Life in Christ gives ALL people a chance – even a pile of rocks : )

Jesus forms a new way of life with God, one that is open to all.

A (Application): Complacency is our biggest threat as Christians in the world. “I’ve done enough. I’ve done my part. There’s nothing I can do about it.” These words are our excuses.

Instead of relying on our baptism as our “ticket home,” let’s also think about our baptism as our call to serve and our being equipped for mission in the world!

Rest not only on what God has done FOR you…through prayer and community discern how God is working THROUGH you!

P (Prayer): Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Amen.

Like Falling in Love

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S (Scripture): Mark 13:14 [Jesus says: ] “When you see the disgusting and destructive thing standing where it shouldn’t be (the reader should understand this), then those in Judea must escape to the mountains. 15 Those on the roof shouldn’t come down or enter their houses to grab anything. 16 Those in the field shouldn’t come back to grab their clothes. 17 How terrible it will be at that time for women who are pregnant and for women who are nursing their children. 18 Pray that it doesn’t happen in winter. 19 In those days there will be great suffering such as the world has never before seen and will never again see. 20 If the Lord hadn’t shortened that time, no one would be rescued. But for the sake of the chosen ones, the ones whom God chose, he has cut short the time.

21 “Then if someone says to you, ‘Look, here’s the Christ,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 False christs and false prophets will appear, and they will offer signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, those whom God has chosen. 23 But you, watch out! I’ve told you everything ahead of time.”

O (Observation): What frightening words to be heard by those who follow Jesus and are assured of the grace of God!

This text seems to be a great way to make certain that God’s people are both assured of God’s love for them AND – at the same time – to make sure that God’s people are not falling asleep as Christians in the world. To both be assured and to stay awake!

The promise is that Jesus the Christ will come again. The time will seem perilous to those who experience Jesus’ return, but Jesus will be known again as he truly is….not just in bread and wine.

A (Application): Falling in love creates an alluring and also terrifying reaction in a person: alluring, because love is sensational, and yet frightening, because you want to to be ready to respond to the other in just the right way at any given moment.

This is like awaiting the parousia (the return of Christ). We anticipate what Jesus’ return will be like; we speak of his return in the creeds we speak and in the bread and wine. But he will come fully, one day.

And Jesus’ day of return might be a million years from now…or a thousand…or a hundred… or…today?

We don’t know. So, in this text, we are encouraged to be comforted and yet set on edge. That we should not worry, yet we can be prepared for his coming.

Anticipation. Like falling in love all over again. Or for the first time. Be ready. Receive grace. Receive the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, we may be nervous, but your Spirit – your Advocate – prepares us. Amen.

Changing Perspective

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S (Scripture): Mark 12:41 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. 42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. 44  All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

O (Observation): Jesus was all about reexamining the understanding of the Kingdom of God. Did God care more about the amount someone put in the offering plate? Or that someone was sensing that this money is first and foremost God’s money?

(Remember a few verses ago when Jesus was asked about paying taxes? How did he respond? Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s. Reevaluating. Perspective. One must struggle with what belongs to God.)

How was Jesus changing the perspective of the Kingdom for his disciples in this observation regarding the widow?

What is valuable in the Kingdom? What is valuable in the world?

A (Application): So money is an obvious connection here. My wife and I struggled to reach a point where we acknowledged that the money we have is indeed a gift from God. As such, we give 10% of our income. The weird thing is that as we reached this point, I feel like our capacity to give has increased even more! The perspective changed from “How do we get to 10%?” to “how does God seem to magnify the margin in my life?”

I think this is all about perspective. What is God’s? And in a way that is joyful, we have responded to God’s call to see that our finances are God’s.

Now, I am in a situation where I have money to give. (Odd perspective since I still have student loans…but God has moved us…).

So, what about those who have very little? Well…let’s remember perspective. If someone has less money…what can they do? They can also choose to discern – for themselves – what they can give. If it’s 1%, or 5%, or 50%…if that is what they sense is God’s…then so be it. (That’s not snarky…it’s acknowledging what God is up to in our lives.)

Please don’t take my application as a judgment based on amounts or percentages. Rather, I encourage you to know that God’s Kingdom is different than that of this world. Don’t let anyone tell you that your gift of time or money or resources is yours to exploit.

The world places expectations on our money and time. I encourage you to discern how to use the gifts you have for God’s Kingdom. You have to decide what that looks like for you and yours.

P (Prayer): God, take my life that I may be consecrated Lord for thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Amen.

The Jesus Way

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S (Scripture): (A little more verses than I normally use, but important for the point that strikes me today.)

Mark 11:27 Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. 28 They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”

29 Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 30  Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.”

31 They argued among themselves, “If we say, ‘It’s of heavenly origin,’ he’ll say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But we can’t say, ‘It’s of earthly origin.’” They said this because they were afraid of the crowd, because they all thought John was a prophet. 33 They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”

12:1 Jesus spoke to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. 2 When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again the landowner sent another servant to them, but they struck him on the head and treated him disgracefully. 5 He sent another one; that one they killed. The landlord sent many other servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. 6 Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. 7 But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10  Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”

12 They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

O (Observation): Normally, when we read scripture, the chapter numbers take on more meaning than they should. Notice that the transition from chapter 11 to 12 is not a change of setting or audience. The leaders of the church are trying to trap Jesus into an answer regarding his authority: if he says this is on God’s authority, perhaps Jesus will expose himself to criticism or if he does this ministry on his own authority, they can dismiss him.

Point is, they don’t see Jesus as being in line with God’s mission for the world.

But Jesus’ way is not to directly respond to the questions of those in authority. Instead, he turns the tables and asks the church leaders a question about authority. He makes them think. He exposes their desires. They just want to stay in power. So they are concerned with their own worldly authority gained by their position…not by the influence that God has on people through faith.

The parable Jesus shares seems to place Jesus in a long line of messengers, of which he is the Son, and John is one of the many prophets whom God has sent to God’s people. The prophets of old came before John. Jesus’ authority comes as one who is sent from God. God has been sending messengers to God’s people for a loooong, long time. And God’s worldly leaders have missed the messages time and time again.

Jesus never got defensive. Jesus didn’t attack his enemy. He simply bounced questions back and made people think…rather than just follow a doctrine or theology. Jesus asked people to discern their role in God’s mission in the world.

This is Jesus’ Way.

A (Application): How often do you find yourself following a theology…”just because”?

Probably quite a bit.

We all do it. We all fight off the landowner’s messengers and offspring coming back to collect and see how things are going. We fight off those with prophetic voices, because we don’t want to have our theology challenged. We’ve worked hard to get where we are. We are settled on lots of issues that have come to our attention. We don’t need to dust things up.

But as each day passes, we are called to reassess who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. How? Through prayer, meditation, studying Scripture. By bouncing ideas off of close friends and loved ones. By going out into the world to walk with your neighbors of all differing identities. In this way, you will receive the Spirit’s guidance.

The authority will be God’s.

This is Jesus’ Way.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and help us to bear fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.

Along the Way

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S (Scripture): Mark 10:46 Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road. 47 When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” 48 Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.”

They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.”

50 Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus.

51 Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.”

52 Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.

O (Observation): Jesus’ followers acknowledge a blind man, Bartimaeus, on the side of the road…calling out for the Son of David, Jesus Christ, to have mercy on him.

The crowd following Jesus, which included his disciples, tried to hush the man and dismiss him. They couldn’t be bothered. They were “on the way.”

Yet Jesus calls on Bartimaeus to be brought forward. Now the crowd encourages him.

Can’t they make up their mind? Discourage the blind man or encourage him. Either way, the man’s persistence pays off. And what is the result of Jesus healing the man? The man is now following Jesus along the way.

A (Application): How many times have you missed the opportunity to receive grace? Maybe you couldn’t find the strength to shout out to Jesus to help you.

How many times have others (from within the Church) silenced you or made you feel unworthy?

Somehow, through faith (made possible by the Holy Spirit dwelling in you) and through a supportive community of believers all around you, you can receive Jesus’ mercy.

You can be moved from sitting on the side of the road to becoming one who follows Jesus along the way. From the side of the road, to the journey with Jesus.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us faith and courage to cry out to Jesus. Surround us with a loving faith community. Amen.