Accountable (Apr 8)

April 8

Accountable

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 50:1-6 | Deuteronomy 32:28-52 | Luke 12:35-59 | 

Proverbs 12:24

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 12:35-59

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns (Luke 12:42-43 NIV).

Everything we’ve been given—our possessions, our talent, our gifts—all of it has been given to us by God. We are stewards of his good gifts. One day we will give an account for how well we have managed what we have been given.  

Twice in my life I have been in charge of caring for a home while the owner was away.  In both cases they were beautiful homes with scenic views. I enjoyed both of those homes to the fullest. Yet I knew that at some point the “master” of the home would return and I would be accountable for how well I took care of the home.

In a similar way, Jesus tells us that we are accountable for the way we use the gifts of this life—and not just the possessions—we are also stewards of our time, our talents and our relationships.

Make the most of this life. Make the most of the gifts God gives. Be a wise and faithful steward of what God gives you. There are blessings that await those who prove themselves to be wise and faithful in this life.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessings you have poured out in my life. Help me to remember that I am a steward of all I have received from you—time, talents, resources, gifts, and the rest—help me to be a good and faithful steward. Amen.

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Where is Your Treasure? (Apr 7)

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

April 7

Where is Your Treasure?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 49:14-20 | Deuteronomy 31:1-32:27 | Luke 12:8-34 | Proverbs 12:21-23

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Luke 12:8-34

But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:31-34 NIV).

Nothing reveals the state of our heart like our attitude toward possessions. As Jesus put it: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is true for the one who has little and for the one who has much—and everyone in between.

Worry and anxiety are common to us all. Some wonder where the next meal will come from. Others fear that they won’t have enough money to pay the rent. Worry seems the natural reaction. Yet, Jesus tells us not to be anxious but to trust God—doesn’t he care for the birds and the flowers? Doesn’t he care about you? 

Of course, those with wealth and possession also have the worry that they might lose what they have. There is no foolproof way to provide security through wealth and possessions. Life takes unexpected turns. Markets often prove to be unpredictable. Wealth is easily stolen. Homes and possessions are easily lost in a fire. In any case, the end of life comes too quickly—and what do we do then?

Hold possessions lightly—don’t grasp on to them. Be quick to give when you see a need. Invest in people and causes that extend the kingdom and enjoy a storehouse of riches in the life to come.  This is the way to live this life abundantly—and prepare for the life to come.

Lord, help me to seek first your kingdom and righteousness knowing that all these things I need you will add as they are needed. Teach me to trust you and not to give in to anxiety or worry. When you bless, help me to remember to be grateful. Amen.

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Religious Games (Apr 6)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

April 6

Religious Games

Today’s Scripture Readings:

Psalm 49:1-13 | Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20 | Luke 11:37-12:7 | Proverbs 12:19-20

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 11:37-12:7

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? (Luke 11:39-40 NIV).

When it comes to religion, there are some who play the game better than others. They come dressed in their Sunday best. They never miss a service. They are there every time the church door is open. They work hard making sure that everything looks good on the outside. They never admit failure. They try to do all their “religious acts” out in the open so everyone can see. Scrupulous about the details of their performance; every “t” is crossed—every “i” is dotted.

Then Jesus shows up and tells the people in the lead that they are playing by the wrong rulebook. They are playing “charades” and doing quite well—but they are supposed to be playing “hearts.”  Play-acting might be fine for charades, but Jesus isn’t concerned about the external performance. He wants to deal with issues of the heart.

The Scribes and Pharisees had play-acting down. The other name for it, of course, is hypocrisy. It is never a pretty thing: Trying hard to impress others; using our privileged position to manipulate the rules in our favor; looking down our noses at others who haven’t learned the secrets of the insiders; working hard at keeping things looking good on the outside, all the while neglecting the more difficult work of dealing with our heart.

Jesus called the Scribes and Pharisees to come clean—to deal with the internal mess of their lives. Only then is it possible to “play the game” as it was meant to be played. Only then do we see the mess we are in and cry out to God for his forgiveness and grace—only then do we turn in repentance and faith.

Open your heart to Jesus. No holding back. No religious games. Authenticity is the road to life lived to the full.

Father, search me and know me, see if there be any wicked way in me. Then purify my heart and make it new. Cleanse me. Root out any hypocrisy. Let my words and actions flow from a pure heart that desires to follow you wholeheartedly and please you in every way. Amen.

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Reckless Words, Healing Words (Apr 5)

April 5

Reckless Words, Healing Words

Today’s Scripture Readings

Psalm 48:9-14 | Deuteronomy 28:1-68 | Luke 11:14-36 | Proverbs 12:18

Today’s Scripture Focus: Proverbs 12:18

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18 NIV).

The Proverbs are filled with wisdom regarding our words. This one is particularly insightful. Reckless words pierce and wound like swords. Wise words bring healing.

Reckless words come easily: When we’re tired; when we’re stressed; when we are caught off guard by the comments of another. As easy as they are to say, they are very difficult to take back. 

The wound of a sword doesn’t heal in a day. Neither do wounding words. It usually takes time—and more than that—it requires releasing forgiveness to the one who has wounded you. Further, healing is aided by words of affirmation and encouragement.

For some reason, we tend to hold onto reckless words that have wounded us. They are difficult to forget. Worse, they often cause us to retaliate with another set of reckless words. The battle of words—back and forth—cuts, wounds and, ultimately, destroys relationships. Such is the wounding power of reckless words.

Words also have the power to heal. Encouraging, affirming words of a friend are salve to the wounds left by reckless words. Wise words from a godly counselor can likewise have healing power. Wisdom and insight that brings affirming words through prayer by a seasoned, wise prayer warrior can bring deep healing to a soul wounded by reckless words.

In a world of reckless words, we do well to ask God to train our tongues to speak wise healing words rather than words that wound. When wounded we are wise to find the healing that comes through taking our hurt to Jesus who was wounded for our healing and who is able to strengthen our hearts to forgive so that we might find healing.

Heavenly Father, forgive us of our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. In particular, forgive us for wounding others with our tongue, and give us the strength to release forgiveness to those who have wounded us. Replace words that wound with words that bless and heal. Enable me to bring healing to the wounded through prayer and blessing. Amen.

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One Thing Is Necessary (Apr 4)

April 4

One Thing Is Necessary

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 48:1-8 | Deuteronomy 26:1-27:26 | Luke 10:38-11:13 | Proverbs 12:15-17

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 10:38-11:13

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV).

Martha knows that things need to get done. When you have guests, there are numerous details that have to be attended to.  All that is true. Life is filled with details and things that need to be done, things that require our attention.

Mary knows that when you have guests, they are there to enjoy your company. Details shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying time with those you love.

Martha consumed by practical details and worried about getting everything done right, sees Mary shirking her duties and she’s upset. She’s not helping in the kitchen. She is sitting at Jesus’ feet—enjoying fellowship.

Jesus reminds Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed-or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

It is good to follow through with the details of our life—to be responsible in the details of life. Yet often we crowd our lives with unnecessary things—our lives become too complicated. We miss out on the joy of what is most important.

Only one thing is necessary, according to Jesus. What is that one thing? It is time spent in the presence of Jesus.  It is enjoying fellowship with him through time in his word and in prayer. There is plenty of time for the other stuff—first things first.

Abba Father, I open up my heart to you today to spend time in fellowship. Thank you for the joy of your presence, the peace, the love, the hope that abounds as I spend time with you. As I move on into the details of the day, may I never walk away from your presence. Help me to focus my attention upon you throughout the day that our fellowship will continue. Amen.

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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 (Apr 1)

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)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

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

Interrupted

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

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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