January 23

Micah 6:1-5

“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” vs. 3

The prophet Micah was very aware that Israel had not been acting in a way that was pleasing to the Lord. In this passage he imagines the Lord taking the controversy to the mountains and, in a court-like setting, presenting the case. In Micah’s vision the Lord sounds like a parent scolding beloved children. Some of us recognize the tone of the confrontation. We’ve done the same thing: beside ourselves with anger we recount all the wonderful things we’ve done for this ungrateful child. And when the child stands silent with head bowed we demand a response. “Answer me!” we shout, and because there is no adequate answer, the conversation ends. The hope in such situations is that there would be a change in behavior, and that’s likely what Micah hoped would happen with Israel. There are times in our lives when we need challenges from those who love us. Even when we live in Christ and trust in the forgiving word of Jesus, there will be times when chastising words are exactly what we need to hear. Sometimes our behaviors are reprehensible and only an “Answer me!” demand can pierce our stubborn hearts. It’s important though to remember that in Christ such exchanges take place in a context of love, and the last word will always be “I love you!”

Thought for the Day: How has the “answer me” tactic worked for me?

January 22

Matthew 4:18-23

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” vs. 23

According to Matthew John the Baptizer was like a one-trick pony. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and people came to him at the Jordan River. Jesus, on the other hand, called ordinary people as disciples and then led them through Galilee as he preached, taught, and healed in the towns and villages. In essence he was taking them on a training mission, a year of internship as they learned the art of ministry. At first they just watched and listened. Only after some months of observation were they sent out on their own to proclaim good news to hungry ears. After Jesus’ death, they were the ones who brought the gospel to the whole world. In their example we see the parameters of our own mission. None of them ran for office or formed militia groups to overthrow governments. They had a three-fold calling: to teach the way of discipleship, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, and to bring healing to hurting people. And that’s still the way it is for disciples of Christ. We are called to do it as individuals and as congregations, and we’ve been doing a superlative job! Teachers, preachers, and healers abound among us, and we’ve been a blessing to the entire world. The church is often criticized, sometimes rightfully so. Perhaps it’s time to start celebrating its successes!

Thought for the Day: What part of my mission have I done well?

January 21

Matthew 4:12-17

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee…From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” vss. 12, 17

After John had been arrested Jesus returned to the area where he had grown up to begin his active ministry. At first his message of repentance seems to be an extension of what John had been saying, and that’s not surprising. In any age those who wish to catch a glimpse of what God is doing in the world must begin by changing what they are doing. Otherwise there can be no transformation! So whenever we’re dissatisfied with the way things are or fed up with the symptoms of sin that so often make us blind to the joy of living, the first thing to consider is change, or in Jesus’ words, repentance. That shouldn’t be a strange notion to us–most people make some sort of attempt at self-improvement many times in the course of a lifetime. Of course what Jesus proclaimed was more than a primitive self-help program. We have a part in repentance to be sure, but as the people of AA have discovered, real change only comes with an infusion of Holy Spirit cleansing and power. It’s as we submit to our Higher Power that we begin the process of transformation, and can actually experience heavenly living! And as change becomes a reality, joy is restored.

Thought for the Day: What has repentance looked like in my life?

January 20

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” vs. 30

Paul sensed that one of the problems in the Corinthian congregation was that some of the people had begun to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. He reminds them that when they were called to become believers they were all nobodies, and none of them was in any position to boast. God was responsible for everything that they were and for all that they had become, and Christ Jesus, not them, was the focal point of their congregation. Paul pretty much hits the nail on the head here. We still tend to elevate the gifts of the more visible among us, the charismatic preacher or the supremely talented musicians, and believe that the identity of our congregation revolves around these chosen few. And sometimes those folks like being the center of attention! But the truth is that all we have and are is by the grace of God. Christ Jesus is the source of all wisdom, and in him we are made righteous through redemption and sanctification. We’ve been called to be his servants and continue the Jesus mission in our world, and if we’re going to brag about anyone, let it be about the one we serve. It’s not that we’re the scum of the earth, but apart from Christ, we really don’t have much to offer.

Thought for the Day: When am I most likely to boast?

January 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” vs. 18

Some years ago a new kind of evangelism strategy evolved in an effort to attract the large numbers of people who had come to be known as “searchers.” There was little concern about liturgy or creeds in worship. Instead there was a focus on music, not the old chorales, but adaptations of what were called “praise” songs, quick-paced and repetitive tunes without much depth. Bands were brought into the worship space and highly skilled musicians would lead the singing from a well-lit stage. Altars disappeared and holy communion along with them, as the focus of worship shifted from participation to performance. In some churches the changes also meant a decreasing emphasis on crosses–they would no longer be the focus of worship. Surveys showed that “searchers” found them depressing! To some extent the trends are understandable. If evangelism is seen as marketing there’s no doubt that a message centering on suffering and death is a hard sell. That’s certainly what Paul discovered in the course of his ministry among the Gentiles. But Paul didn’t back down–he didn’t care if his message about the cross was foolishness, he kept on proclaiming it anyway. Why? In his words, it was “the power of God.” And it was that message that was the core of the most effective evangelism strategy the church has ever known.

Thought for the Day: Why is the message of the cross so powerful?

January 18

Psalm 27:6-9

“Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” vs. 9

People of faith find it hard to remain steadfast through tough times. Even the psalmist’s fine words turned accusatory when the light of the Lord seemed to dim. When there was no response to his prayers for help he immediately assumed that the Lord was angry and had forsaken him. We can’t really blame him; it’s hard to stay upbeat and positive about our spiritual connections when pleas for intervention and help go unheeded. And of course our first reaction is to assume that we’ve done something wrong, and if we actually have done some shameful act, we’ll have little doubt that we’ve fallen out of grace. The truth is that our sin is no surprise to God. All of us are sinners all the time and if God really abandoned people who sin, there’d never be a sign of God anywhere. So if we’re feeling alone in our journey, guess who has wandered away? The key to a restored relationship continues to be prayer. As we keep on praying the connection is restored, and even if things don’t suddenly turn our way, we begin to notice the signs of God’s presence. There’s a little more light and a little more love and a lot more forgiveness and grace. And the joy of life returns.

Thought for the Day: Why is it hard to pray when we’re depressed?

January 17

Psalm 27:1, 4-5

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” vs. 1

The psalmist was in one of those periods in his life when the Lord seemed very near and he had supreme confidence in the direction of his days. He knew that all was right in his world and that he had nothing to fear. The Lord was the stronghold of his life! That’s a great feeling and some folks can identify with the psalmist’s convictions at many times in their lives. It’s wonderful to have our ducks in a row and to be confident that we’re on the right track. In those moments we are content in our congregations, finding comfort in our prayers, and daily walking in the light of God’s palpable presence. We have no fear about the future and simply know that no matter what happens we are going to be okay, both in this life and the next. Sometimes that confidence hangs on for a long time–occasionally for a lifetime. Some people with that depth and strength of faith live among us and are an inspiration for our own journeys. But for most folks the confidence ebbs and flows. It’ll be there for a season and then will dissipate among the vagaries and challenges that life brings. Such feelings are frustrating, but nothing to worry about–they’re part of a natural rhythm. God’s presence is not dependent on our feelings, and we are blessed when we take that knowledge to heart.

Thought for the Day: How’s my faith doing these days?

January 16

Isaiah 9:1-4

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” vs. 2

In August of 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech in front of a quarter million civil right marchers in which he laid out his dream of an end to racism and the beginning of freedom and equality in the United States. Today, on the day set aside to honor King, portions of that “I Have a Dream” speech will be heard again as people take time to remember his prophetic vision. His words of hope remind us of passages from Isaiah, one of his sources of inspiration, and describe the deep desire of captive peoples to be free. We can be grateful for his passionate oratory and his commitment to nonviolent resistance. Because of his leadership and of others in his mold we’ve made progress in dealing with every kind of racial injustice–the people who walked in darkness have indeed seen a great light. But there’s still work to be done! Laws have been passed, inequities have been addressed, but people’s hearts can’t be changed by legislation. There’s systemic racism that is difficult for people to acknowledge or confess–the demons of the past continue to make themselves known–sometimes at the most unexpected and embarrassing times. Thank God for prophets like Dr. King and Isaiah who are willing to speak truth to power even at the risk of their lives.

Thought for the Day: What are signs of systemic racism?

January 15

John 1:37-42

“When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” vs. 38

The question Andrew was asked is one that searchers of every age have been hard-pressed to answer. Certainly that’s true in our time. People are looking for something, but they often have no idea what it is. Some think they want material prosperity, but are disappointed when they achieve it. Others are looking for meaning or purpose, or more commonly just plain happiness, and find it ever so elusive. People will try hobbies or sports or travel, and occasionally check out a new religion. Some try meditation! Evidently Andrew found the question difficult too, and responded with a question of his own. At first “where are you staying?” seems a strange thing to say, but Andrew is no fool. He seems to intuit that whatever he’s looking for is connected to the person of Jesus, and if he can find his way to Jesus his search will be at an end. Though it’s easier said than done, Andrew’s insight still works well. Countless persons have found peace and serenity in a prayer-filled living relationship with Jesus. And when that happens it seems their search is over, and contentment fills their souls. They don’t seem to crave or need anything else. Hanging out with Jesus is enough!

Thought for the Day: What am I looking for?

January 14

John 1:29-36

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” vs. 29

The gospel writer John indicates that John the Baptist also had a moment of insight and inspiration on the day that Jesus came for baptism. Though he didn’t know Jesus, the appearance of the dove convinced him that the Holy Spirit had designated Jesus as God’s Chosen One. So the very next day, when John sees Jesus mingling among his disciples he points him out as the Lamb of God, thereby becoming the very first Christian evangelist! Ironically, John did not become a follower of Jesus but continued his baptismal ministry until he was arrested and thrown into prison. But his testimony was not forgotten. Some heard what he said and became followers of Jesus, the first among billions who have acknowledged him as the Word of God. In our small ways we can continue to point the way to Jesus as the Light of the World. It might be a phrase or two in the course of an ordinary conversation, but our words of witness can spark a whole chain of events in a person’s life. Sometimes we won’t even realize what we’ve done but the Spirit works in remarkable ways, and through our words lives can be changed. And when it’s our habit to point to Jesus as the Lamb, we never know who might be listening, or how they might be affected.

Thought for the Day: How has someone’s testimony changed me?