Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Joe Duea.

“Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” —James 1:12

It’s important to point out here that these words were written by James the brother of Jesus! Not a mere witness, or a friend, or even a disciple, but Jesus’ BROTHER. He probably has a pretty good insight into what Jesus taught us! Even though he didn’t agree with his brother at first, James became one of the key leaders in the new Church. Here James is teaching on persevering through trials. 

This verse starts with good advice (not unusual from James): “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation…” In other places in the Bible there are pictures of what it means to be blessed. Jeremiah 17:7 says “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.” Of course, there are all the “Blessed are…” statements in the Sermon on the Mount. But here in this passage James is discussing wisdom and interspersed are these references to having the resolve to face tests and trials. So then does wisdom come from perseverance? 

James goes on to say in this passage that not just wisdom, but every good and perfect gift comes from God. As it says in later in verse 18, we were all born into God’s truth. At the end of this verse, James writes,  “…and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” So, we’ve been born in God’s truth and may receive the crown of life, because God promised it to us. We need only to trust in God alone.

But—what about that middle part? “Such a one has stood the test…” (my emphasis added). OK, here is where it gets hard for me, in the “test,” or the trials, or the temptations. I am a believer and a follower of Jesus, but I must remind myself of that every day, because I so often give in to temptation and that pulls me away from God. Too often I get distracted from my responsibilities by my phone, or have that extra snack even though I need to lose weight, or start work and skip daily Bible study, or have an extra glass of wine at night to relax. Also, my thoughts get pulled away from what is right, and my mind is pulled to the worldly things that Satan uses to tempt us. I slip like we all do. I need to learn to trust in God alone and ask God’s help to persevere through the trials, to endure the temptations. I know that it’s not me persevering; it’s only through trusting God that I can do that. In every situation I need to call on Jesus to help me to remember God’s promise—the crown of life “promised to those who love him.” That crown of life is living an eternal life with God, not receiving glory and honor here on earth. 

Lord, help to me to stiffen my resolve to face the tests and trials, and teach me to trust in you alone. In every temptation help me to remember your promise to all of us.

Monday, September 28, 2020

“Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’  ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.” —John 1:45-46

These two little verses capture the fascinating scandal of Christian faith. Followers of Jesus believe that God acted decisively to set the world right through a faithful Jewish man living in Roman-occupied Palestine. Not through an army. Not through a president or the Secretary-General of the UN. Not through a caesar. Through one member of an oppressed people on the margins of a great empire.

You can see why people—then and now—find it all a little hard to believe. That being said, for God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this really wasn’t out of the blue. God had told their ancestors that his rescue plan for humanity would play out through the Jews. God’s prophets had told of an anointed one, a messiah, who would be God’s instrument of rescue.

So when Philip came to believe that Jesus was this promised one, it was an enormous deal. His words to Nathanael point to the immensity of the news he’s sharing. This is not “This dude I talked to today at work seemed pretty cool.” This is “The one we’ve been waiting for our whole lives and didn’t know if we’d live to see, the one our people have been waiting for for hundreds and hundreds of years, that guy, yeah, I just met him. He’s here in town.” This is news like finding out you’re pregnant or a scientist found a perfect cure for cancer or we’re going to be able to solve climate change or the Cubs won the World Series—it’s like all of that news, but for everyone, forever, times infinity. (And that’s not beginning to do it justice.)

And what’s Nathanael’s reaction to this cosmos-changing news? He has trouble getting past the idea that Jesus is from Nazareth. It’s not clear exactly where Nathanael’s skepticism about Nazarene origins comes from, but the fact that Jesus is from there is some sort of barrier that must be overcome in Nathanael’s mind.

And how does Philip respond to this skepticism? It’s so simple and profound. “Come and see.” He doesn’t argue with Nathanael’s skepticism or prejudiced view of Nazareth. He trusts that an encounter with Jesus is all Nathanael will need in order to grasp what Philip has grasped.

It was in this one man that God’s plan for Israel was fulfilled. It was in this one man that the promises spoken to and through the prophets were made manifest. It was in one man that people near and far were invited to see and to know God in a new way. It was in one man that God reached down and made all things new, rescued creation, and reconciled sinners like us.

It’s scandalous. It’s hard to believe. And yet, in this man Jesus we have seen the Father’s love for us. Come and see.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Today’s post is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.” —Colossians 3:16

What a wonderful concept, letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly! I love that thought! I also know that when I don’t do this, I find myself feeling more stressed and worried about things than I should be if the words of Christ were dwelling within me. The words of Jesus are actually anti-stress, when you think about them. “Do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25,). “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). These are just a few of the words of Jesus.

I also like the second part of this verse, which was left out of the daily text. The full verse is this: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). I also find my heart is lighter when it is filled with gratitude for God and all that God does for us. Even on our worst days, we can still find things to be grateful for, and gratitude for all that Christ did for us, up to and including dying on the cross for our sins and redeeming us through his death and resurrection!  

So today, and every day, allow the words of Jesus to dwell in you richly and bring you peace. Amen.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Jade Schwich.

He will swallow up death forever.Isaiah 25:7

Jesus’ earthly ministry brought the Kingdom of God to us. Jesus showed us this Kingdom through the ways in which He healed and loved and forgave those with whom He interacted. And through His death and resurrection Jesus demonstrated God’s incredible love for us by dying on the cross for sins that were not His own, defeating death once and for all.

The Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated, it’s here already, but it’s not here in its fullness. It’s what followers of Jesus call the “already but not yet” reality.

This whole already-but-not-yet reality thing proves pretty difficult. Death doesn’t have the final word. We know that. But death still stings on this side of the resurrection of the dead. Loss still hurts and broken relationships aren’t pain-free. 

And yet…

And yet, in the darkest of times, God is with us. God is in the midst of our loss, our broken relationships, our grief. He knows your suffering and He knows mine and He’s not afraid to step into it with us and fight our battles, providing us with exactly what we need (whether we feel like it’s what we need or not). In fact, He loves us so much that He descended into death and rose again, swallowing up death forever.

May we allow God’s Kingdom to break through even in our darkest hours.

O death, where is your sting?

Monday, September 21, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Ann Waller.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.  Every day I call on you, O Lord. —Psalm 88:8-9

My whole life, I have struggled with depression. Growing up, I always felt alone even when with other people. My friends couldn’t understand why I was always “in a mood,” and, truthfully, neither could I.

As an adult, I still struggled, not knowing why. Sometimes it would get so bad that I just didn’t care about ANYTHING. I know this was hard on my family. I could see it in their faces. They would try so hard to cheer me up, ask questions to try to help, but it just didn’t matter to me. I hated that it didn’t, but I couldn’t change or shake it off.

I was raised Catholic but left the formal church because of what I perceived as their “man-made” rules. However, I used to go sit in the empty church and talk to God. I always felt His presence. I believe this is what sustained me all those years.

Finally, science caught up with my symptoms, and I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I was prescribed a light therapy that changed my life! I still struggle at times, but nothing like it used to be. I still talk to God, and while some days He seems distant, I always find Him! Sometimes it just takes longer.

These past six months have changed the way we live. We no longer have the face-to-face contacts that we’re so used to and dependent on. Our life rhythms are drastically different. There is an increase in fear, anxiousness, and despair for a lot of people trying to cope with this new way of living. We want our old way back. But let us not forget that God has not changed and will not change. He is still present with us through this uncertain time.

My faith kept me going all those years and still does today. I can look back and see where God intervened to help me even when I wasn’t capable of seeing it at the time. What a blessing to know God will NEVER leave us, no matter how we are struggling or what we are going through. He is a constant presence and the strongest anchor to cling to when we feel we have nothing left. He will not let us down. Thank you, Lord! 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing.” —Isaiah 61:8

The Lord loves justice, and so should we. Yet our world sometimes seems to have a distorted view of justice, such as when someone who steals food to feed their family goes to jail, yet someone who commits what we call a “white collar” crime, stealing from others through deception or manipulation, gets away with just a fine. Not that any form of robbery is okay—the Lord certainly doesn’t like that—but is there a better way for justice to be served? Are there systemic problems that need to be addressed?

So how then can we determine what is just and what isn’t?

For me, the answers are in the Bible and especially in the words of Jesus. If we love one another, as Jesus commanded us to do, we won’t do things that will hurt others. If we care for the needy among us, then everyone can have their daily bread. If we treasure our relationship with God over earthly riches, then we won’t be tempted to take advantage of others for our own gain.

Sometimes the problems in our society, such as racial and social injustice, are much deeper than we will ever understand, or are caused by years of injustice which will take many more years to amend. In those cases, we must pray for healing and insight, asking God how we can make a difference. How can we be there for those who need us to stand up for them?

Yes, the Lord loves justice and wants that justice to begin with us. God wants us to acknowledge where we have failed to stand up for others and try to do better. The prophet Micah says it best: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Let us act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God every day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Honor the Lord with your wealth. Proverbs 3:9

I think I was in sixth grade when I gave my dad one of the worst Christmas gifts I have ever given him. He wore a suit and tie to work each day, so when I saw the motorized tie rack at the store I knew it was just what he needed. This would give him the competitive edge to continue his ascent up the corporate ladder. While others were wasting seconds (maybe even tens of seconds) trying to find the perfect tie, my dad would already be putting his suit jacket on.  

One of the things that stands out to me as an adult is that the money I used to buy my dad’s gift was money that was given to me by him.  There was likely some sort of agreement that made me feel like it was something I had earned, but in the end I’m certain it was more than I deserved to receive for whatever terms had been established.

Today’s verse reminds me that to this day I receive more than I deserve. All of creation exists because God desired it to be so. This means that everything belongs to God.

Today was given to us by God and tomorrow isn’t promised. How will we use this day?

The money we have was entrusted to us by God. How will we spend it?

Let us give honor to God today by ensuring that the gift does not eclipse the giver.  

Monday, September 14, 2020

“Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” —Romans 5:11

Sometimes learning the way of Jesus means taking a concept we understand in one way and giving it a radically different (or sometimes just much bigger) meaning. This happened, for example, when Jesus talked about our “neighbors” and our “enemies.” Jesus said that, if we’re really going to experience life on his terms, we’re going to need to think differently about how we relate to people we might previously not have considered neighbors, or might previously even have considered enemies.

The good news of what Jesus has done for us means that our lives are going to be different. In the verse from today’s Daily Texts, the apostle Paul laid out what boasting means in a Jesus-is-risen world. Earlier in his letter to Christians in Rome, Paul had talked about other potential grounds for boasting. For example, a Jew might boast in the wisdom of the law given by God to his people Israel. In our own lives, we can think of boasting about our accomplishments or our character.

But Paul understood that boasting in ourselves, in our own traits, or in our own accomplishments was ultimately empty boasting. When we truly grasp what God has done for us—when we let it sink deep into our bones that God has deemed us worthy of salvation at great cost—then we truly have reason to boast.

For followers of Jesus, boasting is never about what we have done. It is always and only about what has been done for us and for every other person in the world. And that is such a more powerful and secure source of boasting. It doesn’t rely on how we’re doing on any given day. It doesn’t rely on continued success or excellence. It relies only on the firm foundation of what God has already done. And so we boast—with gratitude and humility and joy—in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have been reconciled to God and to one another.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not be silent at my tears.” —Psalm 39:12

Do you have something that you pray for every day, waiting for God to bring an answer or relief? Something that is weighing on you and making you wonder if God is listening or even cares? For many of us right now, we are praying every day for an end to this pandemic. We are also reminded this day of the horror that happened on September 11th in 2001. When we deal with things like this that are beyond our control, we can sometimes question whether God is silent at our tears.  

When King David wrote this psalm, he was reflecting on the fleeting nature of life, and after trying to be quiet and meditate on God, he found he could not hold his tongue (or his tears) any longer. He confesses his sins and asks for forgiveness. He reflects on his own mortality and the mortality of all those around him. He feels that his trials and tribulations are a punishment from God and that God has turned away from him. Yet we know from the Bible that David was chosen by God and God never turned away from him. Just as he never turns away from us, but instead takes the trials of this life and uses them as a way to draw us closer to him, wrapping us with love and grace when we need it most.

In verse 7 of Psalm 39, David reminds us what to look for when we pray: “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” God is our hope when everything feels hopeless around us. And remembering that will carry us even through the worst of times.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace. Hebrews 13:9

I have always had a lot of questions about God. As I grew up I discovered that some of those questions had already been answered while others hadn’t (and may never be answered in this life).

Pursuing answers to these questions is part of a healthy faith life. We should always seek to better understand who God is and who God says we are. But as we do this, we can be tempted to reduce God from who God is to who we want God to be.

Today’s verse points out that this was, and is, a common trap. God is bigger and more complicated than we can imagine. And yet, God’s nature can be summed up in one word, love. The love that wouldn’t leave us in sin but instead would come into this world to free us from it.

In the midst of all today’s questions, may we hold on to this fundamental truth.