Friday, July 14, 2017

Devotion for Friday, July 14

Matthew 6: 25-34
"Do Not Worry"
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

In a world and culture so filled with anxiety and stress, we are wise to heed these words.  Through faith, may we remember that God has promised to give us what we need.  No more, no less.
Yesterday, my daughter Leah asked my wife, "Mommy, how much money to we have?"  Heidi answered so wisely, "We have enough." 
Jesus asks us to trust that God will provide what we need in every given moment and every given experience.  This is at the heart of our faith, this ability to trust.  
When we are able to do so, we will find, I believe, that enough is indeed enough! Amen.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Devotion for Wednesday, July 12

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

Empty Me
(Poem by Ted Loder)

Gracious and Holy One,
creator of all things and of emptiness

I come to you full of much that 
clutters and distracts,
stifles and burdens me,
and makes me a burden to others

Empty me now of gnawing distractions,
of anxious imaginings, of fretful preoccupations,
of nagging prejudices, of old scores to settle, and
of the arrogance of being right.

Empty me of the ways I unthinkingly 
think of myself as powerless, as a victim,
as determined by sex, age, race,
as being less than I am, or as other than yours.

Empty me of the disguises and lies
in which I hide myself from other people
and from my responsibility for my neighbors
and for the world.

Hollow out in me a space in which I will find myself,
find peace and a whole heart, a forgiving spirit and holiness,
the springs of laughter, and the will to reach boldly 
for abundant life for myself and the whole human family.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Devotion for Tuesday, July 11

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8)

We have a few decorative plates at Bethel that share these words from the book of Hebrews.  I have one in my office.  I love these words because they remind me of a vital understanding for our lives of faith.

We never live merely in the present; for the realities from our past and the hopes for our future shape us in the here and now.  They both influence us in the moment.  Recognizing that our Lord is the Promise of our past, present, and future is life-giving and life-affirming.  

As heirs of the grace of God given in our past, we can dare to find healing for our past.

As recipients of grace witnessed today, we can dare to find wisdom for our present.

As ambassadors of grace that is promised for new days, we can dare to find encouragement for our future.  

For if Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, then all moments are ripe for the in-breaking of the Kingdom!  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Devotion for July 7 (Book of Micah)

Daniel SimundsonProfessor Emeritus of Old Testament
From the Luther Seminary online resource Enter the Bible

6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
   and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
   with calves a year old? 

7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

   with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ 

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6: 6-8)


Manger Square, BethlehemMicah is one of the eighth-century prophets--a contemporary of Isaiah and a little later than Hosea and Amos. Like these other prophets, Micah speaks against false worship and for social justice. He proclaims harsh judgments against his own people (the nation of Judah) and is particularly offended by the leaders in business, government, and religion. Micah comes from a small town outside Jerusalem and addresses the centers of power as an outsider. He even boldly predicts the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem. The book also provides words of hope beyond the judgment.


Micah would be worth our attention for the three best-known passages (4:1-4; 5:2-5a; 6:6-8), even if the rest of the book, with its harsh judgments, were left unused (as is usually the case). Harsh words of judgment are not what most people crave to hear, but these too come to us in the prophets as the word of God. Micah's critique of preachers who say only what people want to hear and society's general reluctance to recognize that there are consequences to bad behavior make Micah's words an important message for our time as well as his own.


Micah is the thirty-third book in the Old Testament. It is the sixth of the so-called "minor" (or shorter) prophets, the twelve books that make up the final portion of the Old Testament.


Micah wrote a good bit of what is contained in his book, but some passages, especially those that seem to be addressed to people who have already suffered a disaster, most likely come from a much later time.


Micah lived at the end of the eighth century B.C.E., about the same time as Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. The earliest words from Micah seem to come just before the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.E. (1:2-7). Other parts of Micah appear to be written in the time of the Babylonian exile (after 586 B.C.E.) and later as some of the exiles returned home.


Micah is a book of judgment against God's people, mixed with words of hope that promise the possibility of renewal even after disaster comes.


The prophetic books are often hard to read. Most have little or no narrative. They are a collection of messages from God to the people by way of the prophet. In Micah there are abrupt changes from condemnation to hope and back again that make it difficult to follow. Start with the three best-known passages (4:1-4; 5:2-5a; 6:6-8). Then pick and choose whatever section looks interesting, knowing that there is often no apparent continuity from one passage to the next.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Devotion for July 6 (Book of Jonah)

Rolf Jacobson
Associate Professor of Old Testament
From the Luther Seminary online resource Enter the Bible

He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing (Jonah 4:2)


Jonah, Coptic
God calls Jonah to be a prophet to the wicked city Nineveh, but Jonah rebels and flees across the sea in the opposite direction. When God sends a storm to stop Jonah, the prophet is thrown overboard. God sends a fish to rescue Jonah, and in the fish's belly Jonah sings a song of thanks. The fish spits Jonah up on the shore near Nineveh and God calls Jonah a second time. Jonah goes to Nineveh, preaches a short sermon, and the whole city repents. Afterward, Jonah admits to God that the reason he had fled in the first place was that he had known that God would be merciful to the city--and Jonah had wanted the city destroyed. God is not happy that Jonah is so selfish, so God uses a plant to try to teach Jonah that God loves all creatures.


The book of Jonah ends with a question. God asks Jonah, "Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?" Jonah does not answer. The question is left for the reader to answer. Should God be concerned even about such sinners as those who live in Nineveh? And if God is, shouldn't we also be concerned?


Jonah is the fifth of the so-called "minor prophets," the twelve shorter prophetic books that make up the final portion of the Old Testament.


The author of the book of Jonah is anonymous. We know nothing of the author other than what we can intuit from the book. Some people think that Jonah wrote this book, but unlike other prophetic books, the book of Jonah is entirely a story about Jonah and does not contain collections of messages spoken by the prophet. This makes it unlikely that Jonah was the author.


The date when Jonah was written is uncertain. Because of certain features of the language of the book and because of its theological themes, many scholars conclude that the book was written sometime between 500-400 B.C.E., after the Babylonian exile. At that time, there was great tension between Jews and Gentiles in Judah and that is a major theme of the book.


Jonah is about a prophet who rebels against God and flees from God's command. But God redirects the fleeing prophet, who ends up preaching a message that brings the wicked city of Nineveh to repent.


Jonah is a story. When a person reads a story, he or she pays attention to things such as plot and characters. In terms of Jonah's plot, one basic issue is, "What will God do with a prophet who disobeys God's command?" A second central issue is, "On whom will God have mercy--just the Israelites, or also Nineveh and other places and people of great evil?" There are two central characters: Jonah and God. The basic issue with God is the question of whether God will have mercy on rebellious and wicked people--such as those who live in Nineveh or a prophet who rebels. The basic question with Jonah is whether he can learn to accommodate his own sense of right and wrong to the realities of God's mercy.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Devotion for July 5 (The Book of Obadiah)

Kathryn Schifferdecker
Associate Professor of Old Testament
From the Luther Seminary online resource Enter the Bible

For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations (Obadiah 15)


Obadiah, one of the twelve Minor Prophets, announces judgment on the nation of Edom for its sins against Judah and Jerusalem. Specifically, the prophet denounces Edom for gloating over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E., and accuses Edom of looting Jerusalem and handing over her fugitives. For these sins, says the prophet, Edom itself will be destroyed. This prophetic book, the shortest book in the Old Testament, ends by speaking of the "day of the LORD," when the nations will be defeated, Israel will be restored, and "the kingdom shall be the LORD's."


Though a very short book, Obadiah gives us the classic prophetic vision of judgment and hope. Jerusalem has fallen; Edom and the other nations seem to be victorious, but that is not the end of the story. The "day of the LORD" is coming, when the nations will be judged, and Judah and Israel will be restored. Such is a powerful vision of hope for a people in exile.


Obadiah is the thirty-first book of the Bible, the fourth book of the so-called "minor" (or shorter) prophets, the group of twelve prophetic books that close the Old Testament.


The book is attributed to a prophet named Obadiah, but we have no biographical information about him. The name Obadiah seems to have been fairly common, as eleven other people by that name are mentioned in the Old Testament. None of them can easily be identified with the writer of this exilic book.


The description of Jerusalem's fall in Obadiah 11-14 places the date for the book's composition after 587 B.C.E. Given the detailed description of the Edomites' actions during the calamity, it seems likely that Obadiah was written not long after the events described, that is, sometime during the Babylonian exile (587-538 B.C.E.).


The book of Obadiah recounts the downfall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E., condemns Edom for its part in the catastrophe, and holds out hope for "the day of the LORD," when Israel and Judah will be restored, and Edom will be destroyed.


Obadiah is a prophetic book, rooted in particular historical circumstances but looking to a future time when God's reign will be established on earth. You should read it, therefore, both with some knowledge of its historical background and with an understanding of its future vision. Obadiah is concerned both with the events of 587 B.C.E. and with a coming age that is in God's hands. Like most prophetic books then, Obadiah calls its readers to have faith in God as they find themselves in an already-and-not-yet time, a time between what has already happened and what God has promised is yet to come.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Devotion for Tuesday, June 6

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13)

On this date in 1944, during the height of World War II, the Allied forces stormed the beaches at Normany, France -  Utah and Omaha (USA), Gold and Sword (Great Britain) and Juno (Canada) -- in what has come down to us in history as D-Day.  

The sacrifices that were made on that day by so many lives on as a reminder that freedom comes with a price.  

Just as our freedom in Christ comes with a cross, the values and freedom of our democracy comes with a price.

Let us remember the brave men and women of D-Day today who paid that price and give thanks for their sacrifice.

And lets us always give thanks and offer support for the brave men and women who serve our values today!