Today’s devotion is based on Matthew 22:37. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
What does it mean to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind? I certainly want to love God in this way, but I also find myself incapable of doing so. Am I easily distracted, or is this command just impossible?
This is not so much instruction about what we have to do. It is an invitation to encounter God and to be in a relationship with him. God invites us to love him more deeply than we love our earthly treasures. When God draws us into his presence, we receive the one who is love. This experience of divine love transforms us. Only then can we start to practice what it means to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Please pray the prayer for today with me: Heavenly Father, gracious God, creator, and sustainer of all things; I long to be in your presence and see you face-to-face. Call me to be in right relationship with you, to think of you, and long for you more than anything in this world. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Today’s devotion is based on Philippines s3:17, Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
The Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Philippi to follow his example and to keep their eyes on “those who live as we do.” In other words, he wanted them to watch people who live in a God-pleasing way. God wants us to do the same. It’s essential to keep our eyes on and give attention to those godly examples and models he has placed into our lives, and then be that example for others. In doing so, we encourage and build one another up that we all may live God-pleasing lives.
Please pray the prayer for today with me: Heavenly Father, gracious God, creator, and sustainer of all things; I praise you for the many godly examples you have given me in the pages of the Bible and my life. Please help me to imitate those who look to you. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Today’s devotion for today is based on Philippians 3:20, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We probably all know someone who speaks with a foreign accent. We can tell that even though they are, maybe even citizens of the U.S., that the U.S. is not their home country. Christians, too, know that the world we live in is not our home country. We are just temporary residents here. We too can be recognized as being different from the people of this world. For example, we don’t talk the same way the world talks. At least, that is our goal. We want our conversations to be kind, gentle, and understanding. We want to speak of forgiveness and sacrifice. We want to talk about the hope we have in God. Through faith in him, you can know that this world is only temporary. And you can look forward to a permanent residence in paradise.
Please pray with me the prayer for today: Heavenly Father, creator, and sustainer of all things, seen and unseen, Do not allow me to be distracted by the things of this world, lest I fail to wait with eagerness for Jesus to return. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and take me to my true home. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Today’s devotion for today is based on Matthew 21:42, “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’”
There were so many reasons that people rejected Jesus. Some found his message was too exclusive. Jesus preached that he is the only way, truth, and life. His road was too narrow, and so they rejected him. For countless others, though, Jesus’ love became their source of guidance. His forgiveness and grace became the standard upon which God would build their faith. The work he accomplished made eternal life theirs.
While you may see many rejecting him today, that does not change the fact that he is still the cornerstone. Believe in him. Build your life around him. With him, you have everything. Without him, you have nothing. The forgiveness he won for you means your relationship with God is restored, and eternal life in heaven is yours.
Please pray with me the prayer for today: Heavenly Father, creator, and sustainer of all things, seen and unseen, you have done this marvelous thing in making Jesus the cornerstone. Please help me to trust in him alone. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Today’s devotion for today is based on the words of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Jeremiah is reminding Israel that God did not call them to be in this foreign country forever. Still, God did expect them to settle in and take their current location seriously. God encouraged them to build houses, cultivate gardens, and flourish in their family life even though they had been forcibly taken away to a foreign country. They weren’t to sabotage or overthrow it, but to seek its welfare, and especially to pray for the community they were in.
As Christians, we are to remember that even though we are not of the world, we live in the world. We, too, are to live as the people of Israel lived. We also are to pray for our leaders that they would be blessed, for when they are blessed, we are blessed.
Please pray with me the prayer for today: Heavenly Father, creator, and sustainer of all things, seen and unseen, thank you that in Christ, our citizenship is in heaven. We pray for our leaders and the cities, towns, and communities in which we live. Lead us by your Spirit to seek their welfare so that our lives are blessed. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Today’s devotion for today is based on Isaiah 5:1-4, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
God compared his Old Testament people of Israel to a vineyard. He did everything possible to make them produce excellent spiritual grapes. Here’s what he found: “When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?” God looked for justice but saw bloodshed. He looked for righteousness but heard cries of distress.
God saw that nation the way he sees humanity today; people in whom he has invested his greatest care, but they keep producing sinful deeds contrary to his holy will. How much Israel and we today need the Master Gardener, Jesus Christ! He alone produced the good deeds acceptable to God.
Please pray with me the prayer for today: Heavenly Father, creator, and sustainer of all things, seen and unseen, make a good harvest of good deeds from the good vineyard you have planted. Through the love of Jesus my Savior, produce in me the excellence that gives glory to you. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Today’s devotion for today is based on Matthew 8:5-9, “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terrible.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The Bible tells us that faith shows itself in the way people speak and act. The Roman soldier in our Bible reading for today is a good example. The centurion understood that Jesus could certainly order a thing and it would occur. When God commands something, it happens—whether it is the fall of snow or rain or the fall of nations. He knew this and simply asked for God’s grace and mercy to fall on his sick servant. His faith had the look of a man utterly and completely confident in God to answer any prayer.
That’s what faith looks like. Faith that is empowered by God’s Word trusts in the abilities of God to accomplish all things, even the most difficult and the impossible. God’s gift of faith instills confidence in the Lord’s promises. It comforts us with the peace of God’s favor. In faith, we walk in confidence in the way that God is taking us toward heaven. How precious is faith in Jesus!
Please pray with me the prayer for today: Heavenly Father, creator, and sustainer of all things, seen and unseen, give me a faith that trusts your power and helps me live confidently according to your loving-kindness.. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” These words of Jesus have become a sort of proverb, and those who know little of scripture may still have heard “Render unto Caesar.” Yet, digging beneath the surface of this short encounter helps uncover some of the deeper currents in the exchange.
First, the combination of people approaching Jesus is intriguing. Matthew tells us that the Pharisees come together with the Herodians. The Pharisees did not want to give money to their pagan oppressors and so were opposed to paying taxes to Rome. On the other hand, King Herod’s position of power came courtesy of the Romans, so even though the taxes were widely considered to be oppressive, the Herodians had a vested interest in keeping the Roman taxes paid. Therefore, the Pharisees and the Herodians each reflected one of the horns of the dilemma.
Then came the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?” This reference is obviously to Jewish Law, also called the Law of Moses. Clearly, it was lawful to pay the tax by Rome’s standards; the question was whether it was proper for a Jew to do so.
It would seem that they have presented Jesus with no way out. He can’t speak against the tax, for that would anger the Herodians and lead to a charge of treason against Rome. He could not speak in favor of the tax without alienating most of the crowds that followed him.
Jesus asks for one of the coins used in paying the tax. This is Jesus’ own trap, for it proves at least one among the questioners to be a hypocrite. For the coin used for the tax was a silver Denarius with the image of Caesar on one side, and on the reverse, the image of a woman named Pax or personified peace. The coins were against Jewish Law, which prohibited graven images.
You will recall the incident when Jesus chased moneychangers from the outer courts of the Temple. These moneychangers had a business because one was required to exchange pagan currency for Temple coins before going to do business in the Temple. Carrying the image of Caesar into the Temple was considered sinful. But note that when Jesus asks for a Denarius, one is quickly located and handed to Jesus.
Jesus then asks the question that everyone in Israel could have answered without a coin in hand. In our reading for this morning, we used the New Revised Standard Version, which said, “Whose head is this and whose title?” That translation misses the point of his argument. The word they translate as “head” is “icon,” a Greek word better translated as “image.” The word “title” is better translated as “likeness.” When they answer Jesus’ question, saying that the image and likeness are “Caesar’s,” Jesus replies that they are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Again, the translation covers something better revealed. It could also be translated as “give back” rather than “give” or “render.” Give Caesar back those things that are Caesar’s. It is his coin anyway, who cares if you give Caesar back his coin for the tax?
Then Jesus gives the most amazing line of the short encounter when he continues by saying that we are to “give back to God the things that are God’s.” It leaves everyone calculating what exactly is God’s that we are supposed to give back. And in case you were wondering, the clue was the word “icon” or “image” and the word “likeness.”
Jesus’ answer came from Genesis 1:26-27, which says, “And God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,’” and goes on to state “God created humankind in his Image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
The principle is this: Just as the coin has Caesar’s icon on it, so it is Caesar’s, we were made in the image and likeness of God, so we are God’s. Jesus affirmed the tax while making it all but irrelevant. Jesus implies that, though we do owe the state, there are limits to what we owe. Yet, Jesus places no limits regarding what we owe to God.
This text is often used to talk about stewardship in terms of what you give to the church. But this is no passage on the tithe. For if giving 10 percent of our income is all we do, we would fall well more than 90 percent shy of the mark. Jesus says that everything you have and everything you are is God’s already.
While this would certainly apply to the money you make, the formula is not that you give 100 percent of your income to God, for God knows you need the money for the necessities of life. The teaching is that once you have given God some of the money you earn, don’t feel that you have bought off an obligation. God wants to share in some of your time and energy, so the 100 percent formula relates to your calendar as well as your wallet.
What God wants is nothing less than to come and abide in your heart. The point is that you have been made in the image and likeness of God. God loves you. God keeps your picture in the divine wallet and on the heavenly refrigerator. Jesus did not care about the tax, for his real concern was that you live into the image and likeness of the God who lovingly created you.
You begin to live into the image and likeness of God by conforming your life to be more like Jesus’ life. Giving back to God through the church does matter, but merely giving money to the government, to this church or anywhere else is only part of the picture.
To live more fully into that image and likeness of God that is in you, give back your heart to God – for it is God’s anyway. When the time comes for communion in just a little while, I would encourage everyone, no matter what your denominational background, to come forward to receive the bread and wine of communion. And if you have not yet been baptized, then come forward for a blessing. For at this altar, we can meet Jesus anew every time we worship. For in answer to the question, “What are the things that are God’s which we are to give back to God?” the answer is, “You.”
Today’s devotion for today is based on Revelations 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
The question here is how we open the door. I would put forward that we do in when we have been made uncomfortable in our complacency, discarded the superficial, false garments we wear and are clothed in Christ. That is how the door is opened.
Please pray with me the prayer for today: Heavenly Father, creator, and sustainer of all things, seen and unseen, thank you for waiting for me to answer the door. Thank you even more for your presence at the table with me, and for teaching me how to be the human you desire me to be. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.