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Daily Devotional

Reclaiming Jesus

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
     - 1 Corinthians 12:3

Since this week we've been thinking and praying about what it means to welcome the outsider, it seemed good to provide broader outlook on that process. A diverse group of church leaders have pulled together a statement of what it looks like to follow Jesus in our current day and age, facing the pressing issues of racism, misogyny, and political corruption. Here is a 4 minute video from some of those faith leaders.

Pray today for a fresh move of the Holy Spirit across our nation to enable us all to unite across difference, to authentically call on the name of Jesus, and to join him in the renewal of all things.

 

 

 

The Outsiders Come Streaming In

Jesus said, “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.
-     Matthew 8:10-12 The Message

In this passage, Jesus is speaking about the captain of a Roman military unit who has come to Jesus to ask for healing of a servant in his house. Jesus is so impressed with the man's simple, heartfelt faith that he makes the statement above. Notice that Jesus doesn't comment on how his morality or his politics need to change to be part of God's family. Notice that Jesus doesn't make him pray a certain way or read the Bible a certain way. Jesus seemed quite content to gladly welcome this 'outsider' into the family of God.

Then, Jesus comments on how it's not just this one outsider who is coming in, but rather that this guy is like a dam-break, and a flood of outsiders are going to be pouring into God's family and that it's going to boggle the mind of those who consider themselves insiders.

So do you consider yourself an outsider or an insider when it comes to matters of faith? What do you think makes you one or the other? What do you sense that Jesus might be saying to you about all of this?

Who Do You Not Like?

Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?”
     - Luke 5:28-29

Jesus had a habit of upsetting the religious people. I don't think he meant to do it. I think he actually just wanted to love everyone. But we're so hell-bent on excluding people that as soon as Jesus welcomes someone we've excluded, we get upset.

What kind of person would you prefer not to eat with? Are they a different culture or class, do they have a different political perspective or religion, or is it just a specific person who rubs you the wrong way? Think on that for a minute - this is important. It's those people that Jesus loves. And if you follow him long enough, you can pretty much be guaranteed that Jesus will lead you into relationship with the very people you would rather exclude.

Try this on: tell Jesus why you don't want to share a table with a certain type of people. Yes, that's awkward, but do it anyway. It'll work best if you can actually speak the words out loud. Jesus will be very glad to hear you finally say it, since he's known it's been on your heart for so long. And don't be surprised if he does not answer that prayer!

Who Is The Outsider?

I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out. - Luke 5:32, The Message

Jesus can't stop from welcoming in outsiders. It was his mission, after all, since we were all outside of God's grace and needed someone to remind us to come home.

But as Cody said on Sunday, there's something about being human that makes us create outsiders instead of welcoming outsiders. Throughout history, every single culture has created someone who is 'other' in order to have an enemy or to feel better about themselves or to help organize their society. And we still do this today, as is easy to see in how our political leaders often speak.

Jesus sees things differently. He doesn't see the 'other' in people, he sees their humanity. Today, as an exercise in seeing and celebrating the humanity in the 'other' we are going to take three minutes to watch this inspirational video, which is a picture of how Jesus would treat people today. Then pray about your day and how you might follow Jesus's example of welcoming the 'other.' 

Food Is Spiritual

After this he went out and saw a man named Levi at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” And he did—walked away from everything and went with him. Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. - Luke 5:27-29 The Message

In a culture where the dinner table was the cornerstone of society, Jesus redefined who was "in" and who was "out." Jesus would eat with anyone, and often did. He ate with the rich and the poor,  he ate with women and men, he ate with religious leaders and prostitutes, he ate with conservatives and liberals, he ate with nationalists and with revolutionaries and with turncoats. That's because the key criteria for Jesus to eat with you was if you were human. Period.

People often judged Jesus for eating with the wrong people. At one point they called him "a glutton and a drunkard." But Jesus didn't seem to mind. He actually seemed to really enjoy a good meal, good conversations, and being with all kinds of people. These days we forget that food is a very spiritual thing, but it is.

So today, ponder who you eat with. Who comes to your table? Whose table do you go to? When's the last time you took a risk around food - not in the kind of food you ate, but in the kind of person you ate with? What if you followed Jesus's example by sharing the table with a wide variety of people? Talk with God about these things.

 

God Never Lost You

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.'
     - Luke 15:31

The younger son got lost, stuck in lust and drinking. The older son got lost, stuck in resentment and self-righteousness. But the father never got lost. He kept an eye out for them, and could not help himself but to run out to them (if you notice, he does that once for each son in the story).

As the great African saint said, "You welcome all who come to you, though you never lost them" (Augustine of Hippo, 400 AD). The father is constantly welcoming us because he's never lost us. He keeps reminding us that "I am always with you" and "everything I have is yours." The father's great love cannot be overcome by the younger son's obvious sin or by the older son's religious sin. The father is always with them, always giving to them. That's just who the father is.

Take some time today and praise God - perhaps with a worship song - for all of God's goodness to you.

 

What the Father Says

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.' - Luke 15:31

Even though the older son has been blustering about, blaming his brother, ranting at his father, trying to power up to make himself feel better, and generally showing a lot of immaturity and insecurity, the Father refuses to be angry with him. The Father refuses to be the sort of father that the older son thought he was (one who was a harsh task-master and demanded perfection). And the father refuses to act like the older son, who dehumanized his brother, who played the victim, and who distanced himself from others.

Instead, the father calls him "my son" - just like he called the younger brother "my son." That's just what the Father does. He lays claim to us. He does not dismiss us or discard us. 

Perhaps you could take a few minutes in silence today, seeking to be aware of how much like you are the older brother and then seeking all the more to be aware of the father wanting to give you his blessing. Can you hear God calling you "My son"? "My daughter?"

 

Power over Love

The older son answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.' - Luke 15:29

The older son powers up on his dad, trying to justify his anger at his brother and trying to assert his own righteousness. But can you see behind all the bluster? Think about why he acts this way - and why we act this way. You can hear it in his language... he thinks of himself as "slaving away" for a master who gives "orders", not as a beloved son who is always in the loving presence of his dad.

This is a great summary of this perspective:

The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led. Those who resisted this temptation to the end and thereby give us hope are the true saints. One thing is clear to me: the temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love. - Henri Nouwen

So how about you - can you see the temptations towards control and towards power that come from your inability to deeply receive God's love? Talk with him about this, and vulnerably ask him to love you this day in a way that you can receive.

Do You Argue Like This?

Today we're going to look at how the older brother argues in unhealthy ways. As you read these lines, think about how you do this in your relationships:

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look!' (Luke 15:28)

The older son immediate reacts to the situation with anger. Then he plants his feet and 'refuses to go in' - being unwilling to allow intimacy. Then he raises his voice (Look!). Does any of this sound familiar to you in regards to how you conduct arguments?

All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends (Luke 15:29)

Then the older son plays the victim. He does so by exaggerating the facts ("all these years"), exaggerating the emotions ("it's so hard to be me! I'v been slaving away..."), and then by exaggerating the his own goodness ("I've never disobeyed once!"). Again, sound familiar to how you react sometimes? And don't forget to notice the word 'never' which comes up twice - that's inevitably a sign that we're playing the victim. 

But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him! (Luke 15:30)

The last form of unhealthy arguing that the older son engages in is that he dehumanizes his brother. He starts by disassociating himself ("this son of yours" as opposed to "my brother"), then he blames him ("he squandered your money!") then he demonizes him ("with prostitutes!" - even though he didn't know that). Again, sound familiar to what goes on in our culture today and in our homes?

Tomorrow and Thursday we'll look at some of the ways to get at the deeper things going on here, but for today, spend some time admitting to God that you often argue like the older son.

The Older Son

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
     - Luke 15:25-29

Jesus wraps up his most famous story, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, with the story of the prodigal son's brother, who is also lost. The older brother is lost at home. Renowned author and monk Henri Nouwen sees it this way:

The younger son sinned in a way we can easily identify.  His lostness is quite obvious. He misused his money, his time, his friends, his own body.  ...The lostness of the older son, however, is much harder to identify... I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment?  ...The lostness of the resentful ‘saint’ is so hard to reach precisely because it is so closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous.”
     - The Return of the Prodigal Son,  Henri J.M. Nouwen

Can you relate to the older son - are you more tempted by being judgmental than being wild at a party? Do you struggle with pride, wishing others wouldn't be so overtly sinful? Do you feel self-righteous because other people struggle with the sins you used to face? Ponder the religious sins you're tempted into and talk with God about those today.

Ultreya (Onward)

A poem often shared by pilgrims walking the ancient trails of the Camino de Santiago, to encourage us as well.  Why not read it over, then spend a few minutes with Jesus in silent gratitude for the long path he's walked with you already?  So glad to be on this journey with you, friends, with all its twists and turns.

Ultreya (Onward),
by Carli Di Bortolo.

Walk
Alone with others,
Thou thyself thy rivals
Thou thyself finding thy companions
Thou thyself seeing thy enemies
thou thyself making thy brothers

Walk
Thy head knows not where thy feet take thy heart

Walk
Pilgrim of the world

Walk
Thou art born for the way

Walk
Thou hast an appointment
Where? With whom?

Walk
Thy steps, thy words
The road, thy song
the fatigue, thy prayer
And thy silence, finally thy speech.

Walk
thou art born for the way
That of pilgrimage
That other way leading to thyself
and thy quest

Walk
So that thou may find
at the shrine at the end of the world
Thy peace
Thy joy

Walk
Already, God walks with thee.

Just Can't Wait

So often God feels far off from us.  Like the younger son in Luke 15, we sense ourselves to be in a distant country, far from home, far from our Father's love.  But the story tells us that the father sees his son from a long way off, is filled with compassion (such deep love!), and runs as fast as he can to welcome him.  God doesn't wait; he's always longing to close the gap between us, to meet us where we are.

Take a few minutes to read over this passage from Rom. 5.  How do you hear the heart of the Father running toward his poor, travel-weary child in these words?  Imagine yourself being held close with love pouring over you.  What are you hearing or feeling?

"... we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him." (vv. 5b-8, Message version)

Bonuses for the week

  1. A printable fingertip prayer labyrinth with instructions, HERE.
  2. An invitation to meet up with Brenna and anyone else interested TONIGHT, Thursday at 6pm, to walk the prayer labyrinth in the courtyard of Grace Brethren Church, 3601 Linden Ave.  We may grab coffee & pie at Bake N Broil afterwards!
This Child of Mine

On the journey home, the younger son in Luke 15 rehearses over and over his apology to his father. He wants to make it clear he doesn't expect forgiveness, to be recognized as a son; he is just hoping for a little work and a place to sleep.  Yet the father's response is to absolutely weep with joy over the return of his child, "this son of mine."

Isn't this part of our journey so often too, this struggle with feelings of unworthiness and shame?  What would it mean to you this morning to believe that God looks at you the same way - that you are fully forgiven, deeply loved, unconditionally received as God's child?  Paul puts in this way in Romans 8:

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 

Would you talk with Jesus about what "living in fear" looks like in your life these days, versus living as a much loved child of God?  If you were to cry out to God, “Abba, Father,” this morning, what words would come next?  What would you want to ask or tell God?

Bonuses for the week

  1. A printable fingertip prayer labyrinth with instructions, HERE.
  2. An invitation to meet up with Brenna and anyone else interested on Thursday night at 6pm to walk the prayer labyrinth in the courtyard of Grace Brethren Church, 3601 Linden Ave.  We may grab coffee & pie at Bake N Broil afterwards!
Showing Up to Ourselves

Reading through the story of the younger son in Luke 15 on Sunday, we noticed that what brings the younger son to the starting line of his journey homeward is that "he came to his senses," or to put it another way, he finally showed up to himself. (v. 17)  He stopped distracting himself with wild living or even with hard work, and started to admit what was really going on.  "He longed," v. 16 tells us, and this longing eventually led him home.  It's a word we heard in our reading in Hebrews yesterday as well, about pilgrims "longing for a better county - a heavenly one."

What if God cares about your longings?  What if getting honest about what you really want, what you really need, is the first step on the spiritual journey?  Take a few minutes to read this psalm and just sit quietly with Jesus.  See what stirs up inside of you.  Can you name your longing this morning?

Psalm 42

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

6 My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

8 By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Bonuses for the week

  1. A printable fingertip prayer labyrinth with instructions, HERE.
  2. An invitation to meet up with Brenna and anyone else interested on Thursday night at 6pm to walk the prayer labyrinth in the courtyard of Grace Brethren Church, 3601 Linden Ave.  We may grab coffee & pie at Bake N Broil afterwards!
On a Pilgrimage

On Sunday we talked about ways big and small that we can go on pilgrimage, on our own or with the help of others, intentionally creating sacred time and space to meet with God at the deepest levels of our souls. This language of pilgrimage, of spiritual journey, has been with us for thousands of years because we sense the truthiness of it as a description of what's going on in our lives.

Take a few minutes to read prayerfully through this passage from the book of Hebrews, chapter 11.  What words or mental images do you find yourself resonating with?  What emotions does this idea of journey bring up for you?  Talk with Jesus a little about these things.  

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God....  13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

Bonuses for the week

  1. A printable fingertip prayer labyrinth with instructions, HERE.
  2. An invitation to meet up with Brenna and anyone else interested on Thursday night at 6pm to walk the prayer labyrinth in the courtyard of Grace Brethren Church, 3601 Linden Ave.  We may grab coffee & pie at Bake N Broil afterwards!
He Is Able

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
     - Ephesians 3:20-21

In his sermon last Sunday Larry Dove ended by reminding us that "God is able." He did a classic call and response session with us, making us say it: "God is able!" That's because, in the feeding of the 5,000 which we've been looking at all week, when everything is said and done, God is the one who performs the miracle. 

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the simple truth that "God is able." Too many times we live in our heads, thinking and rethinking about what we believe and forgetting the very basic stuff of following Jesus, like God being able to do what needs to be done in our lives and in our world.

Today's passage is the ending of Paul's prayer for his friends in the town of Ephesus. He closes his prayer reminding them that "God is able" - to do way more than whatever we need. 

Spend some time today thanking God, praising God, and seeking God - because "God is able."

Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.
     - Luke 9:16

The Catholic monk and spiritual author Henri Nouwen reflects on this verse of scripture in his remarkable little book, In the Name of Jesus (If you haven't read it, here's where you can get it). At the core of what Nouwen says is that we are the bread, and the same four movements you see in this verse are the ways in which Jesus moves in our lives.

  1. Jesus takes us. He chooses us. He wants us. 
  2. Jesus blesses us. That's another way to translate "he gave thanks." Jesus adds his blessing to us, pronouncing his delight in us, full of joy over us.
  3. Jesus breaks us. He shows us the truth about our messy lives. He shines the light on the cracks that we've been hiding.
  4. Jesus gives us. He sees a hungry world, and he sends us into it to nourish those in need.

Take some time today to meditate on this verse - perhaps closing your eyes, perhaps envisioning Jesus taking, blessing, breaking and giving the bread, perhaps imagining Jesus taking, blessing, breaking, and giving you. Then reflect back to Jesus the thoughts and feelings that arise.

Thankful

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.
     - Luke 9:16

Jesus doesn't have much to work with, but he's thankful for it.

Imagine the noise, the kids crying and the disciples grumbling. And yet he's thankful. It's late in the day so his own stomach is probably growling after a full session of hiking through the countryside and preaching. And yet he's thankful. There's a massive crowd of needs in front of him. And yet he's thankful.

He takes the bread and fish and looks upward to God in gratitude. Again, it's not much. But it's what he has.

What small thing can you give thanks for today? Take a moment and actually look up - let your body be part of the prayer, too.

Jesus Involves Us In the Miracle

Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”
     - Luke 9:13-14

As Jesus prepares to feed thousands of people miraculously, he spends most of his words on talking with the disciples. He is absolutely committed to involving them in the miracle.

First, he tells them to give the crowd something to eat. Then, after they resist (remember when Peter basically told Jesus he was stupid for asking 'who touched me' - it's the same scenario here), Jesus circles back around and makes sure they get in on the miracle. He gets them to do the crowd control and eventually to be the waiters.

So many times, the very miracles our world needs are just around the corner, but Jesus is unwilling to proceed until he gets us, his people, on board. It might be a good time to tell Jesus you're sorry for so often missing what he's up to and asking him for the grace to participate with him in the miracles he wants to do through you today.

Not About What You Don't Have

       Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?
       “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
     - Mark 6:37-38

In his remarkable sermon yesterday, Larry Dove emphasized over and over how Jesus directed the disciples to focus on what they DID have instead of what they DID NOT have. The only thing that the disciples can see is the size of the crowd. Jesus, however can see the the size of the crowd AND the resources that the disciples have. 

Jesus had to direct them to go look at their own resources. They would not be responsible to give what they did not have, only what they had. And thus, Jesus invited them to participate in the miracle by inviting them to see what they had to offer.

How about you - do you focus more on your limitations than your resources? Do you miss the way that Jesus is calling you to participate because you’re so overwhelmed by the size of the task? And, most importantly, on this day will you listen to Jesus’s diction when he says to you, yes you, “What do you have to offer? Go and see!” 

Offer what you have to Jesus today.