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Today Daily Devotional
3 minutes | 10 hours ago
Can I Be First?
Scripture Reading: Mark 9:30-37 “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 Jesus again tells his disciples that he will be arrested and killed and then rise from the dead. But the disciples don’t understand. So instead of dealing with that very uncomfortable issue, they let themselves get distracted in a dispute about which of them is the greatest. In response to this, Jesus takes a seat. I love that little descriptive detail. In contrast to the disciples who are climbing over each other to play “king of the hill,” the Bible tells us that Jesus sat down. It was customary for Jewish teachers to sit down while teaching, and in this way Jesus showed his disciples that in the midst of all their jockeying for position, they really needed to listen to him. Jesus teaches that in the kingdom of God, the definition of greatness is reversed from what we would expect. Whoever wants to be first must be “the servant of all.” And by his life and death for our sake, Jesus shows that he, the Son of God, is the ultimate servant. This is a profoundly important and hard lesson to learn—and if you are like me, it’s taking a lifetime to learn. It is so easy to want to compare ourselves to others, thinking we can come out on top. But Jesus invites us to see that his mission was to serve God so faithfully that he would give up his very life for our sake. As we learn from Jesus’ words and example, our personal competitiveness turns to servanthood. In what ways are you turning from self to serving? Make me a servant, Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
4 minutes | a day ago
Scripture Reading: Mark 9:14-29 “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24 The disciples were not able to drive out a demon that was harming a young boy. That made them feel useless. They ended up dealing with their frustration by arguing with critics in the crowd. What went wrong? Did they need to think more positively? Sometimes we might hear someone say, “Just have more faith,” or, “Just visualize it into reality”—meaning that anything is possible if we truly believe it can happen. But that is just self-powered optimism and has nothing to do with godly faith. In contrast to the disciples’ ineffectiveness and arguing, we hear the father of the boy pleading with Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” And from that prayer new life arises. Faith is not first of all a matter of self-generated conviction, but a blessed mixture of a divine gift that is received and nurtured—as in this father’s prayer. Jesus is not put off by the man’s humble and honest plea. And he is not put off by ours: “I believe—but honestly, God, I’m not strong, and I’m not always certain. Please help me.” Faith and discipleship can be challenging. And we are totally dependent on the Lord to give us faith. Because he loves us, Jesus is delighted to have us ask him for help as we struggle in learning to live by faith. Dear Jesus, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief. Thank you. Amen.
4 minutes | 2 days ago
Scripture Reading: Mark 8:31-9:1 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34 In 2018 a team of boys in Thailand were dramatically rescued after being trapped for weeks in a cave. But one brave rescuer died in the process. As a trained Navy Seal, the man who died was well aware that the rescue mission was dangerous—and he did it anyway, along with the other rescuers. Jesus begins to teach his disciples what lies ahead—that he must suffer and be killed and then rise again—and Peter finds this mission to be harsher than expected. Jesus also begins to teach what it means to follow him. It is not about adopting a set of theological statements, signing a membership contract, or living by a moral code—although those can be good things. It is about sharing the good news that Jesus is Lord and is the only way to salvation. It’s about knowing that this path can be dangerous—and doing it anyway. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that a disciple focuses only on Jesus and not “the road which is too hard for us. . . . He leads the way; keep close to him.” In the Jewish tradition of following a rabbi (teacher) and going everywhere he went, the saying was “May you be covered in his dust.” That’s the effect of spiritual tailgating! As disciples, we are called to walk the challenging path of discipleship. And Jesus will always be right there with us. Lord Jesus, thank you for all you have done for us. Strengthen us to follow you faithfully, knowing you are always with us. Amen.
3 minutes | 3 days ago
“You Are the Messiah”
Scripture Reading: Mark 8:27-31 “What about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Mark 8:29 Jesus’ question is kind of like a midterm exam, when a test is given halfway through the course to see how far the students have come. After asking his disciples what they have been hearing from other people about who he is, Jesus gets to the real question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah,” and he is gloriously correct. This is the first time anyone—other than evil spirits—have properly and clearly identified Jesus. Peter gets high marks for this statement, but there is more to being a disciple than getting an answer right on a test. There will also be times when Peter tragically backs down from this shining moment. Sadly, he will later deny Jesus when it becomes dangerous to follow him: “I don’t know this man you’re talking about,” Peter says (Mark 14:71). Some days we can see clearly who Jesus is, and we are able to confidently confess his name. These are wonderful moments, and we should celebrate them. But on other days we can compromise our testimony, and those times can turn out to be quite painful. Thankfully Jesus isn’t finished working with Peter, even though he passes this test with flying colors. Jesus isn’t done with any of us yet either. There is still much to learn about Jesus, the Messiah! Dearest Jesus, thank you for showing me who you are and for helping me to understand. Help me to grow in knowing that you are the Messiah, my Savior! Amen.
3 minutes | 4 days ago
Scripture Reading: Mark 8:22-26 Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” Mark 8:23 When you learn a new game—maybe a card game or board game—it can take a while before you fully understand it. The first time it is explained to you, you begin to understand, but not fully, not right away. Discipleship is like that. It involves a learning process of coming to know who Jesus is and what he came to do. Today’s story about healing a man from blindness is a parable of sorts that also teaches us about discipleship. It is a curious story because usually when Jesus heals someone, it is like hitting a home run in baseball—you can run all the way around the bases on one hit. But in this story the healing is done in two stages. It goes part of the way at first, like a hit that gets you halfway around the bases—and then another hit gets the job done. Why is that? The disciples were beginning to catch on to who Jesus was, and it’s as if Jesus were asking them, “Do you see anything?” Well, they did see in part, but they were still not sure that they understood Jesus fully. And that is understandable because we are only halfway through the gospel of Mark. We are at the midpoint of the book of Mark, and it’s a good place to gauge how well we see Jesus, because there is much more to come. The first half is mostly about who Jesus is, and the second half will be about what he came to do. Jesus, help me to see and understand you more fully and completely. Please be patient with me as I learn more and more about you and your love for me. Amen.
4 minutes | 5 days ago
More Than Just a Crumb
Scripture Reading: Mark 8:1-10 “The people ate and were satisfied.” Mark 8:8 In today’s story, Jesus has compassion for a huge crowd of people again—and this time it’s simply because they are hungry! When the disciples raise the question of available resources, Jesus begins with a resource inventory. Seven loaves and a few small fish are way too few for feeding so many people. But what the disciples are not counting, of course, is the compassion of Jesus. What’s more, he only asks us to give what we have, and he will provide all that is needed. I often find that there’s a big gap between my available resources and the needs I hear about. Is that the case for you too? In effect, the disciples have asked a particularly critical question: How can the needs of the world be met? They see the gap and do not yet see that the answer is standing right in front of them. This is a lesson I am forever learning. I tally up what I have, and it is not enough for all the needs around me. I do not have enough time, patience, hospitality, skills, wisdom, energy, finances—you name it. But Jesus doesn’t ask me if I have enough; he asks what I have—and in his hands he will make it enough. What about you? I hope you know that Jesus will take and use what you have to extend holy compassion to others. Dear Jesus, I can feel as if I never have enough for what you need. Help me to concentrate on you and your power instead of the gap I cannot fill. Guide me to give you what I have. Amen.
3 minutes | 6 days ago
Just a Crumb
Scripture Reading: Mark 7:24-30 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28 Jesus traveled to an area outside of where his own people, the Jews, lived. And a woman came to him to ask for healing for her daughter. This woman, whose little girl was possessed by an impure spirit, came to Jesus with no credentials and no sense of entitlement. She was not looking for a reward or to make a point about worthiness. She came simply as someone who needed help, and she begged Jesus for what he had to offer. As we reflect on this story, we might well appreciate that Jesus sent no one away empty except people who were full of themselves. This woman knew she was not privileged to be born as one of God’s chosen people, the Jews. But somehow, with the help of God’s Spirit, she knew that God cared for her and her daughter. So she had faith that Jesus could make her daughter well. She didn’t expect to have special treatment. She wasn’t asking for a full loaf of God’s sustaining blessing; she knew that just a crumb would be enough. Are we willing to humble ourselves before Jesus and to ask for whatever he has for us? In this story it is not about privilege or degrees of holiness, but simply that people who humbly come to Jesus find that they receive and are satisfied. The impure spirit is gone! Thanks be to you, Jesus! Accept my humble plea and come to my assistance, for I am needy, and you are the bread of life. Amen.
4 minutes | 7 days ago
What’s in Your Heart?
Scripture Reading: Mark 7:1-5, 14-23 “It is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Mark 7:15 My mother taught me always to wash my hands before dinner. “And use soap!” she would say. She didn’t want any dirt or germs from my hands getting into my mouth while we were eating. The Pharisees were also careful about washing their hands before eating. But in those days they didn’t know about germs; their handwashing laws had to do with spiritual holiness. So when they asked why Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash, it wasn’t about hygiene; they were looking for a way to criticize Jesus, as if to say that he and his disciples were not spiritually holy. Jesus used this as an opportunity to teach. Spiritual impurity isn’t about what is on our hands or what goes through our digestive system, he said. Where does spiritual impurity come from? Our spiritual impurity comes from our sinful hearts. And then Jesus listed several examples. Handwashing could not take away greed, deceit, sexual immorality, hatred, and much more. We can try to obey all the regulations, cultural values, and expected behaviors in our society—most of which are for the good of everyone. And we can believe all the right doctrines and try to live pure lives—which can be very important. But none of that will cleanse our hearts. Only Jesus can truly cleanse your heart. Cleanse my heart, O God, and make me pure within. Thank you for the forgiveness and holiness that come only through Jesus. Amen.
3 minutes | 8 days ago
Not Just Water
Scripture Reading: Mark 6:45-50 “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Mark 6:50 After Jesus fed the huge crowd of thousands of people (Mark 6:30-44), he sent his disciples ahead of him in their boat to the next lakeside town. Later, in the deep of night, they were straining to make headway against a strong wind. Jesus had gone to a quiet place to pray, and then, just before dawn, “he went out to them, walking on the lake.” Now, to our way of thinking, it’s utterly amazing that Jesus would walk on water. But there is lot more going on here. In the minds of ancient peoples, he was walking on the fearful, untamable, uncontrollable, deadly sea. So he wasn’t just walking on water; he was trampling on chaos! Seeing their great trouble in the darkest part of the night (just before dawn) and on the deepest part of the lake (the middle), Jesus goes out to his followers, and they are terrified. But look at what happens: with great care he encourages and assures them not to be afraid. He is with them. And when he gets into the boat, all is calm. I can identify with the disciples. I sometimes struggle with believing God’s care and power are for me. But Jesus doesn’t reject his tired, confused, and fearful disciples. Instead, he helps them to believe! Even through the dark and from a great distance and despite our fear, Jesus comes to us and invites us to trust in him. Jesus, you are Lord over all that is dark and fearful and chaotic. Help me to take courage, for you come to me in my distress. With you, I need not be afraid. Amen.
3 minutes | 9 days ago
The Good Shepherd
Scripture Reading: Mark 6:30-44 “They all ate and were satisfied.” Mark 6:42 Sometimes it can be hard to know what we really need. On a windy beach, as a man tries to start his campfire, he may think he just needs more matches. But what he really needs is someone to help block the wind. The crowd that followed Jesus was full of people who wanted healing and people who were thrilled and amazed to see his miracles, but Jesus saw that they really needed to be taught many things. Jesus’ disciples, his closest followers, wanted to know how they could find food for the crowd, but Jesus saw that they really needed to understand that he was the good shepherd who provides. The disciples were distressed over how to feed the crowd, but they might have noticed that Jesus, like a good shepherd, had compassion because the huge crowd was like sheep without a shepherd. So in that quiet, remote place he had them all sit down on the green grass in order to be restored. If you read Psalm 23, you will see a picture like this one, with Jesus taking care of all these people like a shepherd tending his flock. And even if the disciples didn’t fully see what he was doing at the time, that’s what he did. Thank the Lord that he looks after us as the shepherd who knows what his sheep really need. Lord Jesus, help me to know what I really need. Thank you for always caring for me. Help me to rest in you and not stress out; help me to trust that all things are already in your hands. Amen.
3 minutes | 10 days ago
Just Do It
Scripture Reading: Mark 6:6b-13 “He began to send them out. . . .” Mark 6:7 The disciples are still very new to their calling to follow Jesus. They have watched and listened, but they have mainly been silent, and none of them has yet confessed to believe in Jesus as the promised Messiah. Instead, they have been described as afraid and as having no faith (Mark 4:40). It would seem that their faith still has a long way to go. Nevertheless, they are given authority to preach, drive out demons, and heal people who are sick. And they did! Can you be reassured by this? It is not a perfect faith that qualifies you to testify for Jesus. It is not the strength of your power to believe that makes you a credible witness to the truth. It is not your education, training, or experience that equips you for serving him. You can do all that because of who Jesus is, not who you are. Too many of Jesus’ followers wait to serve as disciples in the mission of Jesus until they think their faith is well developed and strong. The disciples’ faith was actually quite undeveloped, and yet they served not on the strength of their faith but on the sending of Jesus. Lord Jesus, when I consider my qualifications, training, and strength of faith, I can only imagine that you don’t have much to work with. But thank you for using me for your purposes anyway! Amen.
3 minutes | 11 days ago
So Much Unbelief
Scripture Reading: Mark 6:1-6a “He was amazed at their lack of faith.” Mark 6:6a People often like stories about ordinary people becoming highly successful or even becoming royalty—like Cinderella. It’s not unusual to hope for an escape from poverty to be blessed with prosperity. But the people in Jesus’ hometown didn’t seem to think that way. They figured that because Jesus was born into a carpenter family, there was no way he could grow up to be the Messiah. So when Jesus healed the lame and the sick, when he calmed the storm and cast out demons, it was difficult for the people who knew him growing up to imagine him as anything besides a carpenter. The trouble was that these people did not accept Jesus’ amazing teachings precisely because they thought they knew him—period. What a danger it can be for any of us who may think we know everything about Jesus. If Jesus is already familiar enough to us, will we expect anything really great from him? Instead of the people being amazed by learning who Jesus was, Jesus was amazed that they had so much unbelief. Mark is suggesting that what is more amazing than faith is unbelief! Unbelief requires an exhausting amount of denial and dismissal when we are presented with all the evidence. Jesus, I can be quite resistant to being impressed. Take away my doubt, my cynicism, and my not being willing to really consider what you have done for me. Forgive my unbelief, and help me to follow you. Amen.
4 minutes | 12 days ago
Just One Thing
Scripture Reading: Mark 5:21-24, 35-43 “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Mark 5:36 Jesus has controlled a storm, overpowered evil spirits, and healed a woman whose life was draining out of her. Now there is a greater test of Jesus’ power, because Jairus has learned that his daughter, who was sick, has actually died. But in the face of death Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Through gales and storms, dangers and demons, disease and now death, Jesus invites us to have faith in him. Going into Jairus’s home where the child was, Jesus says, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” His authority, tough on wild seas and raging demons, is also as tender as a shepherd’s hand lifting a little lamb. The girl gets right up, and Jesus tells her parents to give her something to eat. Jesus is inviting us to trust in him. This does not mean we have a fully formed faith or even a fully informed faith. He is simply calling for an initial trust, a beginning of faith. After all, as far as the story goes, we are only in Mark 5, and Jesus has not yet died and risen from the grave to pay for our sins and give us new life. At this point he says, “Just believe.” Let’s start with that, and then keep on trusting. Let’s go with what Jesus is showing and telling us about him—and see where it leads. As Mark is sharing the story of Jesus, he is building his case—who can deny that Jesus is Lord? Jesus, help me with this one thing—to keep believing in your power over all things. Open my heart to know that even when things seem hopeless, you have the power to restore and make new. Amen.
3 minutes | 13 days ago
A Touching Power
Scripture Reading: Mark 5:24-34 “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34 Many of us have difficult personal situations and histories that we cannot escape or change. And we would really like it to be otherwise. Somehow this woman, who was, in effect, dying for 12 years in her helpless condition, trusted that if she just touched Jesus’ clothes, she would be made well. Sure enough, she did—and she was healed. But then it seems she became worried. “Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.” Maybe she worried that Jesus would scold her for taking his power without asking, or that she would be in trouble for touching his cloak because she was “unclean,” or even that Jesus might take back her healing since she didn’t get permission. She came forward, though, and told Jesus “the whole truth.” And instead of fulfilling any of her fears, he addressed her personally as “Daughter” and reassured her with holy compassion and a word of peace. Notice again that contamination and defilement did not flow to Jesus, making him unclean; rather, power and healing flowed from Jesus to the woman, making her whole and clean. Though we tend to think that disease, death, and destruction have the upper hand, it’s good to remember that Jesus has come to reverse that notion. He has authority and power over the realities of our lives that we cannot change. Thank you, Jesus, for the healing that you bring to our lives. I cannot fix or heal myself, but I am learning that you have the power to bring life. Amen.
5 minutes | 14 days ago
What Do You Want With Me?
Scripture Reading: Mark 5:1-20 “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Mark 5:7 Yesterday we saw how Jesus dealt with a storm on the sea. Today Jesus and his disciples encounter a storm on the land. The raging man in this story is dangerous and uncontrollable, and his howling voice screams like the wind but with a remarkable truth: he identifies Jesus as the “Son of the Most High God.” The disciples themselves have not yet declared this truth about Jesus, and they are only slowly coming to realize who he is. They are still learning, and so are we. Just as he did on the sea, Jesus calms the furious storm in this man by using his authority. The man is freed from his torment by evil spirits, he returns to his right mind, and he goes home to tell his family and many others “how much Jesus had done for him.” This story has reminded people of God’s work through Moses at the Red Sea (see Exodus 14-15). The legion of destructive forces is drowned in the sea, evil is put in its place by God’s authority and power, and there is deliverance, salvation. These are big themes, and Jesus is right in the middle of them. When we correctly identify who Jesus is, we too may wonder, “What do you want with me?” May we learn who Jesus is, be delivered from the power of Satan, and be invited to faith and new life. Instead of chaos and damage, Jesus brings deliverance and peace! Jesus, Son of the Most High God, have your way with me. I thank you for bringing peace and deliverance. Help me to tell others how much you have done for me. Amen.
4 minutes | 4 months ago
Love and Not Knowing
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 13 Now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 This chapter of the Bible has often been read at weddings. Its poetic description of love is so universal that people everywhere are encouraged and strengthened by its message. The word for “love” in this chapter is the Greek word agape, which describes the deepest love we can imagine. This is pure, unconditional love, for which we would give up our life to save another. This kind of love is the truest expression of “dying to live.” The apostle Paul explains here that love is more important than all the other things we can do. And if we do anything without love, it means nothing. He also talks about knowing only “in part” and about someday knowing “fully.” In other words, there’s a lot we don’t know yet. What does not knowing have to do with love? Two thoughts come to mind: (1) the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know; and (2) the more certain I am of something, the freer I feel to judge others who don’t have the same certainty. The problem with that, of course, is that the freer I feel to judge, the less loving I become. An 80-year-old woman said to me, “For most of my life I wanted to be right. Now I’ve finally realized that being loving is much more important.” Lord, you know all things. We don’t. Help us to trust you to know what’s best, and to share your love with everyone for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
3 minutes | 4 months ago
Justice or Just Us?
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 42:1-4 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” Isaiah 42:1 Think about our world for a moment. Who could possibly bring justice to the nations? Isaiah 42 speaks of this person but doesn’t say who it is. Matthew 12:15-21, though, shows that Jesus is the one described here. He is the one who brings justice. In the Bible, seeking justice is the same as peacemaking (see Sept. 13). Shalom, the state in which everything in life goes the way that God intends, is a state of total justice. Seeking justice is central to understanding Jesus. In his teaching and healing work, Jesus ministered to people who were sick, poor, foreigners, and outcasts. He overturned unjust social structures—between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the healthy and the sick, and more. Micah 6:8 puts it this way: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus’ followers did the same. Roman rulers observed Christians feeding the hungry and caring for the sick during epidemics, and declared, “See how they love one another!” Through the centuries, communities of Jesus’ followers have built schools and hospitals, abolished slavery, improved health care, reformed criminal-justice systems, and much, much more. Justice means dying to “just us” so that everyone may live more fully. Lord Jesus, help us to serve you faithfully today, bringing justice in your world—at home, in our communities, and beyond. Amen.
2 minutes | 4 months ago
Quiet, Powerful Kingdom Work
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:13; Matthew 13:31-33 “You are the salt of the earth.” Matthew 5:13 Salt and yeast have a number of things in common. Both come in tiny granules and are used for enhancing food. By the time the food is eaten, they have pretty much become invisible, but the contributions they make are very noticeable. Yeast works well to make dough rise when you are baking bread, and salt is both a seasoning and a preservative. Here Jesus is teaching us about quiet, behind-the-scenes work in the kingdom of God that can make a big difference in people’s lives. I met a nurse who worked in a large city hospital. She was a fairly shy person who didn’t say much but loved her work, and she served with dedication and discipline. She told me that as she came off her shift one night at 11 p.m., a colleague said, “I realized tonight that whenever I’m on the same shift as you, the work seems to go better. That surprised me because often I hardly even notice you are there.” To Jesus, though, that’s not surprising. When we live out our calling to be salt and yeast, we leave noticeable blessings behind. A well-to-do friend asked me to quietly pass along a sum of his money to a struggling family in our church. They were greatly relieved and asked for the donor’s name so that they could say thanks. I urged them simply to thank God for the love and care they received. Dying to the desire to be noticed can leave behind powerful, unforgettable blessings. Thank you, Lord, for quiet, powerful kingdom work. May we serve you faithfully for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
3 minutes | 4 months ago
Lighting a Candle
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:13-16 “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 Have you ever noticed that when you turn on a powerful light in a bright, sunlit room, you hardly notice that the light is on? But when you light a tiny candle in a dark room at night, you can see so much more than you could before. Light makes a difference according to when and where it is used. My father-in-law was a pastor who continued ministering to others until the final days of his life. On the wall of his room he posted a simple proverb that summarized his life and legacy: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Everywhere we turn in today’s world, we can see and hear loud voices cursing the darkness. Anger and accusation are commonly accepted ways of speaking out, often with half-truths and even blatant lies. What are Christ-followers to do in such a time? We are called to light candles: offering words of encouragement; living out Jesus’ kind of meekness when manipulation and deception are often used to wield power godlessly; working to help others, advocating for them openly as well as serving quietly behind the scenes. Last year I entered semi-retirement, and I am amazed to find so many retired people (and younger ones too!) sharing light. They are teaching refugees, tutoring kids, mentoring teens, working with street people. An 85-year-old woman, for example, leads a group of young, single moms and she said to me, “As long as I have a pulse, I have a purpose.” Jesus, light of the world, let your light shine through us to break the hold of darkness. Amen.
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