Who Is My Neighbor? (Apr 3)

April 3

Who is My Neighbor?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 47:5-9 | Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19 | Luke 10:13-37|  Proverbs 12:12-14

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Luke 10:13-37

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? ”The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise (Luke 10:36-37 NIV).

What does it mean to follow Jesus? One way Jesus put it was this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and with you’re your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”  These two commands that were the heart of God’s way of life for his people in the Old Testament, are reaffirmed as central to the life of faith for the follower of Jesus.

But what does it mean to “love your neighbor?” Or as Luke’s gospel asks: “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells a story that gives an example of true love for neighbor, and includes a bit of “plot twist” that cuts to the heart of the problem in answering the question.

The story he tells is the familiar tale we call the “parable of the Good Samaritan.” A man is robbed, beaten and left on the side of the ride to die. A priest comes near the scene and to avoid getting involved passes by on the other side of the road. Then a Levite comes upon the scene and he too passes by on the other side of the road. Clearly these are two people that are intimately acquainted with the law—two people that knew they were to love their neighbor. Yet they passed by.

Then another man comes upon the scene. He goes out of his way to have mercy and help the man in need. He bandages him up, puts him on his donkey and takes him to the nearest inn to recover. He leaves money with the inn-keeper to pay for the man to stay until he is able to travel home. 

Now the plot twist: the hero of the story is a . . . Samaritan! Since we don’t live in the world of Luke’s readers, it is easy for us to miss the startling plot twist of the story.  Jews despised Samaritans. Jesus is confronting the prejudice of his day by making the despised Samaritan the hero of the story.

Who is our neighbor? In practical terms, it is the person we meet on the way who is in need. It is the person we meet in everyday life that we might be tempted to pass by because we are busy or afraid. All that is obvious enough from the story.

Jesus plot twist reveals something else about identifying our neighbor. Jesus tells us that the neighbor in the story is the Samaritan.  In so doing, Jesus calls us to confront personal and societal prejudice. He calls us to love to those we find it most difficult to love—those easiest for us to stereotype—those easiest for us to despise. 

Who is your neighbor? The person in need, yes. But more to the point: the person you find most difficult to love.

Loving Heavenly Father, pour out your love into my heart by your Holy Spirit. As your dearly loved child, help me to love and serve those you bring onto my path, especially those most difficult to love. Love them through me. Amen.

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Become the Answer to Your Prayers (Apr 2)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

April 2

Become the Answer to Your Prayers

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 47:1-4 | Deuteronomy 21:1-22:30 | Luke 9:50-10:12 | Proverbs 12:11

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Luke 9:50 – 10:12

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field (Luke 10:2 NIV).

Jesus calls us to follow him and to join him in his mission to go and proclaim the kingdom of God.  What is your response?

Some try to make excuses. “Let me go and bury my father” (9:59). I have to admit that when it comes to excuses that seems like a pretty good one. My excuses tend to seem lame in comparison. Yet the urgency of the kingdom message requires sacrifice: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 

A better response is to pray. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send forth laborers” (10:2). When we look at the immensity of the task and the hardness of so many to the message, we might be tempted to become discouraged and give up. Therefore we must pray.

The prayer response is a good start, but it is not enough. It is an important and essential beginning point to our mission. But notice that after Jesus calls them to pray, he calls them to go. He calls us to be the answer to our prayers.

Jesus gave us a big job—to share his message of the kingdom with a world of people who need to experience his love. Don’t make excuses. Don’t become overwhelmed or discouraged. Pray. Then Go.

Lord of the Harvest, send forth laborers into your harvest field. Send me. Amen.

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Stillness in the Middle of Chaos

April 1

Stillness in the Middle of Chaos

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 46:8-11 | Deuteronomy 18:1-20:20 | Luke 9:28-50 | Proverbs 12:10

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Psalm 46

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10 NIV).

I’m always struck by how noisy this psalm is: Mountains quaking and falling into the middle of the sea, water roaring, nations in uproar, kingdoms falling, the earth melting, desolations, wars. Yet, it is in the midst of all this noise and chaos that God says to us: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted.”

At first it seems ironic that a passage about being quiet and still before God is found in the midst of a noisy cacophony. Yet it is in such a place that we most need stillness, quietness and solitude. It is in the midst of craziness and busyness that we most need to slow down and be quiet. 

It’s when the world seems to be falling apart that we most need to remember that he is God and is still in control and that he will be exalted in the nations and in the earth.  It is when life gets difficult and we are most vulnerable that we need to remember that “the LORD Almighty is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Does your world seem to be falling apart? There is no reason to fear even if a mountain falls into the heart of the sea (2). Be still. Remember who your God is. Spend some time there in reverent awe meditating on his greatness. Slow down and put your trust in him!  He is the fortress to whom you can run to find safety and rest.

Lord God, help me to live in the constant awareness of your presence. For as I walk in your presence, you bring rest to my soul. As you are exalted, I find a place of stillness and peace. I trust you for the events of this day. Guide me as a loving Father and as a Good Shepherd and let me hear the still small voice of your Spirit. Amen.

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Who Do You Say I Am? (Mar 31)

March 31

Who Do You Say I Am?

Scripture Readings: Psalm 46:1-7 | Deut 16:1-17:20 | Luke 9:7-27 | Prov 12:8-9

Scripture Focus: Luke 9:7-27

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah” (Luke 9:18-20, NIV).

Jesus asks what is perhaps the most important question that can be asked, “Who do you say I am?” For the most part the crowds didn’t have a clue and even those closest to him seemed a bit confused. But impulsive Peter has it right this time: “God’s Messiah.”

All the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to this one who was the fulfillment of the promise: Jesus the Messiah. Yes, a prophet, priest and King—the ultimate expression of each—but yet he was more. Israel’s long awaited Savior, King, and Messiah would one day rule in glory and every knee would bow and every tongue would confess; wrongs would be righted; The King of Kings would bring justice and rule forever. But first, he would “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Before the glory, there is the suffering. Before the exaltation, there is the humbling. Before the resurrection, there is the cross.

To answer the question rightly, to understand who Jesus really is, leads us down a similar path. In the words of Jesus: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

How does one answer Jesus’ Question, “Who do you say I am?” Jesus seems to imply that the real answer to the question is found not so much in words as in our commitment to follow him wholeheartedly—denying our selves and taking up the cross daily.

Heavenly Father, help me see and understand the supremacy of Jesus. May the glory of who he is shine its light into my heart. As I know him more and more may I be transformed more and more into his likeness. Amen.

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Interrupted (Mar 30)

From Open Up Your Heart by jeff Syverson

March 30

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 45:10-17 | Deuteronomy 13:1-15:23 | Luke 8:40-9:6 | Proverbs 12:5-7

Interrupted

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 8:40-9:6

“Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace’” (Luke 8:47-48 NIV).

She was a desperate woman in need of a miracle. For twelve long years she had been “subject to bleeding.” She had gone to others looking for healing, looking for hope. Each time she went away without finding what she had hoped for. 

She had undoubtedly heard the stories of others who had been healed and when she knew that Jesus was in town, faith was rekindled. She set out with the courage and strength to try one more time. In a moment of desperate hope, she reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.

From the looks of the story, this woman was an unexpected interruption on a busy day. Jesus has already been recruited for a miracle—the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter. Yet somehow sandwiched between the two parts of that story, is this unexpected interruption—this healing of a woman who hadn’t given up hope after years of suffering—a woman with the faith to believe that if she just “touched the hem of his garment” that she would be healed.

Jesus senses that power had been released—someone had touched him. And for a moment this unintended interruption grabs his attention—”Who touched me?” She was shaken in awe-filled reverent fear at what had just taken place…yet undoubtedly filled with joy and delight at the long awaited miracle. She hesitated but then came forward and fell at his feet with wholehearted gratitude and devotion. She told everyone of her story how she had suffered for years and now in an instant had been healed. Where others may have found an interruption, Jesus found the faith of a dearly loved child of God: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Perhaps you have suffered for a long time and are tempted to give up hope. Don’t give up. Don’t lose faith. Press in close to Jesus. Reach out in faith and touch the hem of his garment. You may feel like an interruption. But Jesus sees you not as an interruption but as a dearly loved child of God—he delights in your faithful endurance, and sees you reaching out in desperate hope. Perhaps this is the day you will sense his power and hear his affirming words, “your faith has saved you.”

Good Shepherd, thank you for your loving care. Thank you for never treating me as an interruption. With hopeful anticipation I reach out for a fresh touch, meet me at the point of my deepest need. Amen.

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Passing it on to the Next Generation (Mar 29)

from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

March 29

Passing it on to the Next Generation

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 45:1-9 | Deuteronomy 11:1-12:23 | Luke 8:22-39 | Proverbs 12:4

Today’s Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 11:1-12:23

Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country . . . It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place  . . . but it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done (Deuteronomy 11:1-5 NIV).

In this text we are once again reminded that our love for God expresses itself in obedience to God and his word (1).  This is a key theme of Deuteronomy: The Torah—the law of God—was given to the people of God that they would be able to walk in the ways of God. True love for him was to be expressed in obedience. This basic principle remains true in the New Testament as well: “If you love me, obey my commands.”

Love for God also expresses itself in remembering what God has done and then passing on what we remember to the next generation. “It was not your children who saw . . . but it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done.” We are quick to forget the answers to prayer; we are apt to forget the ways he has blessed us. Taking the time to remember produces gratitude in our hearts. It strengthens our faith during times of testing. Passing on the stories of God’s blessings and his intervention reinforce not only our own faith but also the faith of the generations that follow.

As we pass on the stories of God’s goodness—his intervention, his answers to prayer, his blessings—our words of testimony become a strong incentive for the next generation to love, trust and obey.

It was not your children who saw these things…it was you…so pass it on!

Heavenly Father, may I be aware of your presence and blessings in my life and take the time to notice your activity on my behalf. As I see your hand at work in my life, help me to tell others as a testimony to your greatness, as a witness to those who need to know his love. Help me to pass it on to the next generation so that they, too, will be drawn to your lovingkindness and follow you. Amen.

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Fertile Soil (Mar 28)

March 28

Fertile Soil

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 44:17-26 | Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22 | Luke 8:4-21 | Proverbs 12:2-3

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 8:4-21

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown” (Luke 8:5-8 NIV).

Is God’s word growing and producing a bountiful harvest of righteousness in you? What is the condition of the soil of your heart?

Jesus tells us that God’s word sometimes ends up on a rocky path where it is trampled upon and eaten by the birds. This is a heart where the seed is stolen before it can take root and grow. The word doesn’t have a chance in such a heart.

Other times God’s word is planted in rocky ground. These hearts initially hear the good news, but their roots are unable to go down deep and they quickly dry up in the time of testing.  When things get tough, they haven’t allowed the word of God to grow deep and they quickly dry up and wither on the vine.

Other times God’s word is planted in thorny soil. The weeds of prosperity, pleasure and the worries of life come and choke the word. The pursuit of pleasure and things keeps the word from maturing, as it should. It stunts the growth and we prove to be unproductive in our faith.

But thankfully for others, God’s word takes root in good soil that represents “those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (15).

Don’t allow God’s word to be stolen from you. Don’t allow times of testing to choke out the word. Don’t allow the pursuit of pleasure or wealth or the worries of this life keep you from being productive. Open up your heart to God: hear, retain and persevere in obedience to produce an abundant crop.

Dear Heavenly Father, may your word sprout and bring forth fruit in my life. Help me to tend to my heart that your word will not be stolen by the evil one, or wither in times of testing or be choked out by the prosperity, pleasures and concerns of this life. I long to be fruitful, to bear much fruit. So by your grace and in the power of your Spirit, help me to grow and be fruitful. Amen.

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