Studying Scripture

Studying Scripture
by Joni
"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."
John 5:39-40
Jesus was astounded that people could devote their entire lives to studying Scripture and yet fail to know the One to whom Scripture was pointing.
I have a friend who, much like those religious leaders, gets a charge out of studying doctrine. He's compiled Bible studies on the subjects of predestination and the election of the saints. He's memorized the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed, and the Te Deum. My friend knows by heart selections from the Book of Common Prayer, and I once heard him recite the entire eighth chapter of the book of Romans.
This man diligently studies the Scriptures. But sometimes, after hearing him talk, I wonder if he realizes that creeds and doctrines, Scriptures and prayer books all point to Jesus. He labors over the Word, but does it aid him in knowing his Savior better? He knows about the Lord, but how well does he know Him?
I can't judge. But observing my friend has taught me something important about studying Scripture: Always ask the Spirit of God to illumine the Word to you. Otherwise, your study could end up a dry, intellectual exercise. God's Spirit is the one who makes Jesus, the Truth, come alive through the truth of the Word. Even Jesus Himself underscored this in John 16:13-14: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."
Lord, as I read Scripture, help me to remember to always ask the Holy Spirit to open up my eyes and my heart to Your Word. Let me see how every book, every chapter points to You.

Matthew 14:22-33

Matthew 14:22-33
What kind of hands did our Lord Jesus have? Thirty years a carpenter. He had thirty years of hard manual labor working with his hands, sawing wood, pounding nails, sanding lumber and planing doors. This man is 97. He spent his entire life working as a brick layer and a carpenter. He was known as the hardest worker around. In his words, "I never cheated nobody." Now his kidneys are failing and the day is soon coming when he will rest from his labors. Yet, when he shakes your hand, the firm grip is still there. Not too hard but solid, strong, a real firm handshake. Peter was drowning. The wind and the waves were pulling him under. Life has a way of doing that to us. Just when we think we can do it all on our own, we find ourselves slipping under. Terrified, swallowing water, flailing about. Then Peter felt a hand, a firm strong hand, holding him fast. He looked up. It was the master. Child of God, if the wind and the waves are overwhelming you this day, know the firm strong hand of the master holds you fast, and will never let you go.
Lord Jesus, be there for me today. Like Peter, I am sinking, terrified, flailing about. With the little faith I have left, I desperately reach out to you. In the midst of my terror hold me fast with your firm strong grip. Amen.
Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

So You’re Exhausted?

So You're Exhausted?
"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, 'This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.' Jesus replied, 'They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.'"
Matthew 14:14-16
Here is what happened in one twenty-four hour period: After a hot, dusty afternoon of preaching to the crowds, Jesus hears the devastating news about the death of John the Baptist. Rather than take time out to grieve, He attended to the needs at hand, feeding the five thousand. Long after sunset, there was the gathering of baskets of leftovers. Then setting sail, Jesus rescued His disciples when a night storm blind-sided their boat. By sunrise they reached shore, only to face more crowds.
And the Lord's response? "They do not need to go away" was always His encouragement. Although Jesus had not slept in a full day, He kept on loving people. He tenderly held the wrinkled hands of old people. He kneeled to tousle the hair of children. He lifted the face-shawl of a prostitute to give her His smile.
The love of Jesus can never be exhausted.
There are days when you will know you are at the end of your rope, physically and emotionally exhausted. Jesus remind you, "Come to me, you who are weary and burdened..."
He is able to carry your load because His shoulders were once weighed down. Even when He was on His last legs, He never lost His spiritual footing. That's why you can rest in Him and find strength to go on.
Lord Jesus, I praise you that Your love is tireless, infinite, always giving, always caring. May I find rest and refreshment in You.

Romans 10:5-15

Romans 10:5-15
He is a quiet, humble man, very nervous about public speaking. Yet he has changed the lives of hundreds while barely speaking a word When he was just 16 he met a Bible translator in the jungles of Brazil. From that moment on, he dedicated his life to bring the good news to people who had never heard about Jesus. He canoed rivers and hiked deep jungles to meet a tribe that did not even have a written language. So he listened and learned. A lifetime later, a tribe deep in the Amazon jungle now has a written language and the key books of the Bible translated into their mother tongue. They know the story of Jesus--and believe. The tribe confesses with their lips Jesus is Lord, and believe in their hearts God raised him from the dead. How beautiful are the feet of my friend who helped them hear the Good News!
O Lord, sometimes I am so tired of walking. Lift up my head, strengthen my weak knees and put a spring in my feet today, so others may hear the beautiful sound of the gospel, not in my language, but the language they speak. Amen.
Romans 10:5-15 (NRSV)
5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that "the person who does these things will live by them."
6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, "Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?' " (that is, to bring Christ down)
7 "or "Who will descend into the abyss?' " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame."
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
13 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"


by Joni
"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"
Isaiah 30:21
For me, the best part of a trip is always getting there. When I was little, I would clamor to sit in the front seat of the car. I loved sitting next to my dad so I could spread out a map on my lap and help him navigate. The lines on the map would turn from thick red to thin black when the road got narrow. We'd pass farms and villages, and I would always mark off on the map each milestone.
I've always enjoyed maps. I feel good when I have a decent idea of where I'm going and how to get there. A map allows me to mark off progress, to help me see how much farther I have to go.
That's why I enjoy my walk with Jesus. His Word is just like a map. Pick a verse, any verse, and you're on your way. God orders your steps. He points to the narrow road rather than the broad one. He says, "I am the way" and you certainly can't get lost when you tailgate the Lord. And if you're a little unsure of your directions, Isaiah 30:21 reads just like a road sign.
Look at the road ahead today as though it were a journey full of adventure. Remember that heaven is your destination. Just keep your eye on the Way. That's all the direction you need.
Lord Jesus, You are the Way, and I know that no matter what lies ahead today, I am safe and secure when I keep close to You. Thank You for being my guide and my map. Your Word tells me exactly where I'm going and how to get there. I love following You!

Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85:8-13
He had profound hearing loss and no money. His hearing aids had been broken so long ago he had forgotten what it was like to hear and secretly resorted to reading lips. We learned of a generous foundation and found a wonderful audiologist who cheerfully donated his time. Many weeks later the two new hearing aids were ready. On the way to the fitting he confessed he was nervous. In the chair he was trembling with fear, and said, "It's been so long. I'm afraid." Then came the miracle. When the new hearing aids were activated, his face overflowed with tears and a huge smile. Sin is like ear wax, it clogs our ears and prevents us from hearing the good news. Then the Holy Spirit opens our ears and we hear the joyous sounds of the gospel. What a song the psalmist sings to us this day! In the wondrous notes there is peace and a vision when "steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other." When our ears are opened, then we can hear again God's glorious song.
Lord, I'm ready. I want to hear. By the power of your Holy Spirit, open up my ears today so I might hear the wondrous sounds of the gospel. Amen.
Psalm 85:8-13 (NRSV)
8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

What’s Fair?

What's Fair?
"Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?"
Isaiah 40:13-14
Have you ever walked into a room halfway through someone else's argument and been asked for your opinion? It's impossible to respond. You don't have all the facts. You don't fully appreciate both sides of the argument and, therefore, you can't give a just verdict.
Trying to discern whether or not God is fair in any given situation is much like walking into a room halfway through someone else's argument. For one thing, you don't have all the facts, and you won't have them until you get to the other side of eternity. Besides, "fairness" is impossible to grasp because you are unequipped to appreciate the hidden purposes God has in mind.
Those who don't believe in God may be presumptuous enough to play the "fairness" game, but Christians know better. The world's definition of fairness is based on the sliding scale of society's values and the changing will of the majority. But God doesn't buy that definition. That's why He will never be "fair" from society's perspective. He will, however, always maintain justice. Justice, unlike fairness, is based on the unchanging principles of His Word.
The "fairness doctrine" is based on a person's limited value system and timetable. Remember, God is not fair -- He is just. He is loving. His values are higher, far exalted above yours. His timetable is different. So bow to His justice, trust in His love, and forget about fairness.
Lord, You will never seem fair from the world's perspective and that's why I praise You for being just, not fair. May Your purposes prevail and may You receive glory!

1 Kings 19:9-18

1 Kings 19:9-18
Have you ever crawled into a cave? Elijah felt like a total failure. The weight and responsibilities of his task overwhelmed him. Filled with discouragement, he cried out, "I alone am left!" Almost all of us have times of crushing stress and anxiety, darkness and despair. There are times when we just want to crawl into a cave, curl up and lick our wounds. In Jesus and the cross, God is there, present with us in our darkness. You are important to God. You do matter. Be assured, God is with you. Yet, there also comes the time when God speaks a strong word, "Go out." It's not easy. It's a real struggle to move out of our cave. Elijah waited through wind-splitting rocks, earthquake and fire, still no God. Finally, Elijah heard the sheer silence. Bliss. In the silence God whispers, "What are you doing here?" Here's the good news: "God so loved the world." You're not the only one left. Now that is a gospel that frees. You can let go now and let God. It's time to leave the cave, step out into the light and live again.
Forgive me, Lord, for forgetting I'm not the only one. Free me from this dark place and bring me into the light of your love, so I might reach out and trust others. Amen.
1 Kings 19:9-18 (NRSV)
9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
10 He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
11 He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
14 He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
15 Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.
18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."

"All Are Welcome" (ELW 641)

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:

All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak,
and words are strong and true,
where all God's children dare to seek
to dream God's reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
and as symbol of God's grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:  Refrain

Let us build a house where love is found
in water, wine and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground
where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us:  Refrain

Let us build a house where hands will reach
beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
and live the Word they've known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
bear the image of God's face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger:  Refrain

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:  Refrain

If you've read along with this week's devotions, you won't be surprised that this hymn was chosen for this final reflection. The hymn from yesterday introduced the theme of a place--or perhaps rather a time--in this world when all will be invited to one common table. Since the beginning of the Christian church this table has existed in the Lord's Supper. But even in the Christian church, the sacrament of Holy Communion has sometimes been twisted and misconstrued by the church to be an exclusive meal. But truly, as this hymn communicates, the house of God, the table of God, is a place where all are welcome. The metaphor for a church as a house in this hymn creates a strong foundation from which to build your congregation's identity in your community. So sing this hymn boldly, and take it's lyrics to heart when you discern new ways in which you can make all feel welcome in your congregational home.

Welcoming Lord, give us the courage to admit when we're not being hospitable. Inspire us with your Spirit to create a space where your love is found and we can proclaim from floor to rafter, "All are welcome in this place!" Amen.

“Let Us Go Now to the Banquet,”

"Let Us Go Now to the Banquet," ELW 523

Let us go now to the banquet,
to the feast of the universe.
The table's set and a place is waiting;
come, ev'ryone, with your gifts to share.

I will rise in the early morning;
the community's waiting for me.
With a spring in my step I'm walking
with my friends and my family.  Refrain

God invites all the poor and hungry
to the banquet of justice and good
where the harvest will not be hoarded
so that no one will lack for food.  Refrain

May we build such a place among us
where all people are equal in love.
God has called us to work together
and to share ev'rything we have.  Refrain

Vamos todos al banquete,
a la mesa de la creaciॾn;
cada cual con su taburete
tiene un puesto y una misiॾn.

Hoy me levanto muy temprano;
ya me espera la comunidad;
voy subiendo alegre la cuesta,
voy en busca de tu amistad.  Estribillo

Dios invita a todos los pobres
a esta mesa comৄn por la fe,
donde no hay acaparadores
y a nadie le falta el conquच.  Estribillo

Dios nos manda a hacer de este mundo
una mesa donde haya igualdad,
trabajando y luchando juntos,
compartiendo la propiedad.  Estribillo

Since many congregations celebrate the Eucharist on the first weekend of the month, encourage your pastor and/or church musician to use this hymn sometime. It's festive and filled with hope about a table where all are not only welcomed, but intentionally invited to share in the feast of the lamb. It is the "feast of the universe," a table where all have "gifts to share." In this early part of the season after Pentecost, this hymn celebrates the diversity we're called to embody as Christians the world over. The Spanish words to this hymn come first, because it was written by a Spanish-speaking person. This doesn't mean that English speakers should gloss over those words if they aren't bilingual. Find someone in your congregation who, if not fluent, can remember the basics from Spanish in high school. Have them teach the congregation how to pronounce the words and join in the cacophony of voices that come to the Lord's banquet!

God of the Universe, we give you thanks for the banquet feast in Christ that has no end. Open our hearts and our tables to all your children, where all are equal in love. Amen.