Devotions for February 29-March 6, 2016
Monday, February 29, 2016
“’Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’” (Mark 12:29)
Abraham Lincoln is said to have coined the phrase, “You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” Kyle had not heard Lincoln’s words. He wanted to please everyone. Kyle tried to please his boss, his wife, his children, his friends and his parents. Attempting to be everything to everyone put a great amount of stress on Kyle. Joy and pleasure had seeped out of Kyle’s life and he constantly battled high blood pressure and depression. Turning to his pastor and a counselor for help, Kyle began to make changes in his life. While making those changes, Kyle’s pastor suggested that he meditate on the proclamation that the Lord is one and determine what it might mean for his life.
The people of Israel attempted to please many false gods and idols. The wanted to “hedge their bets.” They would worship the fertility god for good crops and many children. The rain god received their attention when things began to dry up. Another god would protect them from violence and strife. The Lord invited the Israelites to return to God and to only love God. As God, the Almighty God would care for them better than any false god or idol.
There are many things that claim our allegiance; many “siren songs” that draw us away from our relationship with God. In the middle of the cacophony and turbulence of life God calls out to us and proclaims that there is only one God whom we need to worship.
God you are a jealous God. Keep our will focused on your will and guard our hearts from wandering. Amen.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30).
There is an old story about a chicken and a pig who stopped by a diner to have breakfast. When their order of ham, eggs and toast was placed in front of them, the chicken looked at it with anticipation, but the pig started to shake with fear. The chicken asked the pig why he was so frightened. Pointing to the breakfast plate the pig replied, “For you this is an offering, but for me it is a sacrifice.”
Loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength is more than an offering. We can’t work at being a disciple of Jesus from 9:00 to 5:00. Neither can we stop and say to ourselves, “Well, I’ve done my fair share, now someone else can take over.” Ours is a love, commitment and sacrifice that is 24/7/365. Paul catches the essence of the greatest commandment when he writes, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
God of life, take what you have given us and use us to honor you. Amen.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
“’You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:31).
When Jesus was asked who was a neighbor he responded by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A Jew is beaten, robbed and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite (a religious official) see him but walk by. A Samaritan sees him and helps him even though there is animosity between the Jews and Samaritans. The point of the story is that our neighbor is anyone who is in need.
We know how we would like to be treated if we were in need. We would want someone to help us. The challenge of the second great command is to become involved and help those in need. We live in a society, though, where there is mounting fear and growing diversity. That makes obeying the commandment hard. Our neighbor is the nerdy kid in school who is always being bullied. Our neighbor is the kid down the block with bruises on her arms and legs. We think her parents might be abusing her. Our neighbors worship at the Muslim mosque a few miles away, whose walls are being spray painted with hateful words and whose members are being harassed. The list goes on.
Loving our neighbor means stepping in and lending a helping hand no matter who needs our help.
O Lord, you died for us even while we were yet enemies. Empower us to follow your example and to act in love toward all who are in need even though they are different from us. Amen.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
“This is much more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).
Humankind has tried to approach God and have some sort of a relationship with God in a number of ways. In Biblical times it was through sacrifices. Around the time of Jesus there was an emphasis on scrupulously keeping the law and observing religious rituals such as hand cleaning, fasting and prayer. Some people approach God through meditation. Many Christians nurture their relationship with God by regular worship attendance and involvement in the activities and ministries of a congregation. There is a better way to draw near to God and nurture our relationship with God.
The way is a path of action. It begins with a total, loving devotion to God and continues by living our lives in service to our neighbor. There are times when God feels so far away. Worship, prayer and reading the Bible are ineffective in making us more aware of God’s presence. Heeding God’s call to love our neighbor, we get off our knees, leave our sanctuaries and use our talents and abilities to serve others. God is most clearly seen in acts of love.
Almighty God, draw us near to you and then send us out. Amen.
Friday, March 4, 2016
“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Horseshoes is the only game where “almost” scores a point. Baseball players don’t score points by only getting to third base, nor do soccer players rack up a score by almost making a goal. Fishermen don’t count the fish that got away; the ones they almost caught. Professors don’t give high marks to exam answers that were almost correct. So, what did Jesus mean when he told the man that he was, “not be far from the kingdom of God?” Is it like horseshoes where the man at least had a point, or did the man fail completely?
The man understood that loving God with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength was needed. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is necessary, also. What he didn’t understand yet was the need for God’s forgiveness, love and grace. The kingdom of God is not earned. It is a gift. Like the inquisitive man, we can’t enter the kingdom of God by our own efforts no matter how admirable. The kingdom of God has been given to us and it is by God’s grace that we are able to live in the reality of the kingdom today.
Mighty King, thank you that you have made us subjects of your kingdom. May all of its privileges and responsibilities be a part of our lives. Amen.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
“To have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets” (Mark 12:39).
Lamar was recently promoted in his company. He received a healthy pay raise and his new position came with several perks. Lamar moved into a corner office, had his own parking space in the executive parking lot, hired a personal assistant and was able to use the company’s sky box during football season. Lamar appreciated and enjoyed the perks that went with his new position, but he knew that they were the “bling” of life. What Lamar found both exciting and fulfilling was being a servant leader in his company with his new team. Lamar also found meaning in teaching a fourth grade Sunday school class and helping in a Habitat for Humanity build.
The religious leaders didn’t get it. They lived for recognition, honor and perks that came with their position. They lived only for themselves and ignored the needs of the people they were supposed to lead. Jesus’ harsh words for these religious leaders serve as a reminder to all of us. Life may offer us many perks but that isn’t what life is all about. If we make such things the center of our lives, then our lives become empty. Life is about community, sharing God’s love and grace that we have received with others and serving those in need with our talents and gifts.
O Lord God, help us not be distracted by the glitter and flash of life. Keeping our eyes on you, lead us to opportunities to serve others and honor you. Amen.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
“A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins” (Mark 12:42).
There are different styles of giving. Some people give thoughtlessly. They will go passed a red kettle at Christmas and drop in their pocket change. They have no idea how much they gave. Other people give comfortably. They know how much they give, but the size of their offering doesn’t alter or impact their lives in any way. Sacrificial giving means that people give up something in order to give at the level that they do. These people may give up a vacation for which they had been saving or keep their car another year or two in order to support the congregation’s building efforts or the specific needs of a mission.
The widow’s gift was beyond sacrificial. It was an intentional leap of faith. The widow had no one to provide for her; she was all alone. Giving all that she had meant that she trusted that God would provide for her. The widow’s actions were not foolish, but rather they were motivated by total devotion and complete trust in the Lord.
We may never be lead to give in the manner of the widow. Her actions, though, remind us that God is our true provider and not our hard work. God provides for us not only so that our needs can be met, but so that we can also share with others. Giving is part of living in community. Giving intentionally and sacrificially is a step of faith and is what disciples of Jesus are called to do.
We give you but your own, whatever that gift may be. All that we have is yours alone, a trust oh Lord from you. Amen.