Heavy Loads Lifted

Scripture Focus: Matthew 6.24-34
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

Reflection: Heavy Loads Lifted
By John Tillman

Christ’s moral teachings are the most popular thing about him.

The Sermon on the Mount is recognized worldwide as an aspirational description of a beautiful way to live. Even non-Christians recognize the Sermon on the Mount as the most astute moral teachings ever produced in the history of the world.

It may be a beautiful way to live, but isn’t it impossible? Rich Mullins confronts this humorously in the bridge of his song, “Hard.

“Well His eye’s on the sparrow
And the lilies of the field I’ve heard
And He will watch over you and He will watch over me
So we can dress like flowers and eat like birds.”

It is hard to be like Jesus describes in these teachings. 

Jesus generally commended the Pharisees’ moral teaching. “Do what they say…Don’t do what they do.” He critiqued the Pharisees for tying up “heavy loads” of moral requirements but not lifting them themselves or helping people live them out. (Matthew 23.4)

Aren’t Jesus’ hard moral teachings “heavy loads”?

Who can dress like a flower?
Eat like a bird?
Continually turn the other cheek? 
Go the extra mile? 
Give unrestrainedly to the needy? 
Surrender our security for another’s shelter and safety?

In Mammon’s empire, how can we survive without accumulating wealth? In a world that denigrates the poor, how can we be unconcerned with clothing, food, and shelter? In a world where governments fight for the right to end the lives of the defenseless in the womb, the defenseless in war zones, and the defenseless in borderland river crossings, how can we not worry about our lives and the lives of the vulnerable God commands us to protect?

Who can carry this load? Who can “be perfect” as our Heavenly Father is perfect? (Matthew 5.48; 19.21) Not us. Only Jesus.

Jesus tied this load for his own back. He carried it perfectly. He carries it for us. The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount glimpses the Kingdom of Heaven. One day, we will arrive.

It is too simplistic to say, “We don’t have to do it. Jesus did it.” However, we can say, “Jesus did it for me, and he is doing it within me now.” Together with the same power that raised Christ from the dead, strain toward heavenly living today. (Ephesians 1.19-21; Philippians 3:12-14) Don’t walk away discouraged or sad. “With God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19.21-26) Heavy loads can be lifted.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lesons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Hosea 1 (Listen 2:08
Matthew 6 (Listen 4:35)

Read more about Hope In the Tree of the Cross
At the roots of the tree of the cross, we find healing, peace, and power. As we follow Christ, we will become like this tree.

Read more about Pause To Read
Listen to our bonus Easter episode that came out Sunday morning! Subscribe and share some episodes with friends.

The Shema and The Lord’s Prayer

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 6.3-9
3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Matthew 6.9-13
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: 
“ ‘Our Father in heaven, 
hallowed be your name, 
10 your kingdom come, 
your will be done, 
on earth as it is in heaven. 
11 Give us today our daily bread. 
12 And forgive us our debts, 
as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
13 And lead us not into temptation, 
but deliver us from the evil one.’

Reflection: The Shema and The Lord’s Prayer
By John Tillman

Many people today pray daily using The Lord’s Prayer which Jesus taught his disciples in the New Testament. Jesus and his disciples however, already grew up saying a daily prayer. It was a prayer taken from Moses’ speech to the people about to enter the land and was, in Jesus’ day, said twice daily. Jesus answered using this prayer when he was asked what the greatest commandment in the law was. (Mark 12:28-34; Matthew 22.36-40)

This prayer is called, “the Shema.” The Shema takes its name from the first word of the prayer. The Hebrew word shema is sometimes translated to listen or hear. In this prayer, and elsewhere in scripture, hearing and obeying are intrinsically linked in the Hebrew language. Shema implies not just hearing words but carrying them out. 

In The Lord’s Prayer, action is also implied. Praying “your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,” is not intended to be a passive wish with no participation on our part. In both the Shema and The Lord’s Prayer, we are expected to engage in concrete actions once we stop praying.

We will pray today, combining these two prayers from scripture. Before you rise from prayer, ask God to guide your feet and hands to enact his word.

Hear, Listen, Obey
We ask you to hear us, God, but we need to hear you.
You alone are God, our only Father in Heaven
Your name is holy as we are to be holy.
Father, Son, and Spirit are one, as we are to be one.

You alone are the provider of our bread.
You alone are the forgiver of our debts.

In return, Lord, we love you with all our heart, showing your love to others in forgiveness
In return, Lord, we love you with all our soul, opening our inner being to your indwelling
In return, Lord, we love you with all our strength. The strength of our body and mind, we give to you for your service and will.

Tie your Word to us that…
In your strength, may we resist temptation.
In your love, may we rescue the falling.
In your Spirit, may we speak the gospel with our words, carry the gospel with our feet, and enact the gospel with our hands.

Video: (Shema — The Bible Project)

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and reveal myself to him.” —- John 14.21– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 6 (Listen – 3:13)
Psalm 89 (Listen – 5:29)

Read more about Lewis on Prayer Without Words
For many years after my conversion I never used any ready-made forms except the Lord’s Prayer… — C.S. Lewis

Read more about Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest
Daniel prayed in defiance of an unjust law. He was guilty before the law of the land, but blameless before God.

The Floodlight of Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Genesis 6.11-13
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

Matthew 6.22-23
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 

Reflection: The Floodlight of Epiphany
By John Tillman

Today is Epiphany. Epiphany follows the twelfth day of Christmas and is the end of the Christmastide season. 

Epiphany means manifestation and is a day of revealing. It is a day of light. It is a day in which the prophecy of Isaiah 9.1-2 begins to see its fulfillment. All peoples of the Earth, represented by the Magi who visited Jesus, are blessed by the appearance of the Christ. Epiphany is celebrated on a day but is also a process. Matthew refers back to this prophecy (Matthew 4.12-17) to describe the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

On the people living in the land of deep darkness…a light has dawned.

Today is an Epiphany—one of many celebrated over the centuries. The light of Epiphany continues to reveal the evil of humanity and the goodness of God’s mercy and justice toward them.

Jesus addressed inner darkness directly when he taught the parable of the eye and the lamp of the body. Noah experienced how dark the world can be when people give themselves over to violence. Light becomes darkness. Good becomes evil.

Today, we will pray that the light of Christ would dawn, exposing darkness.

Let Light Dawn
Oh, Christ, let your light dawn on us!
Heal our darkened eyes that light may enter our bodies.
Light our lamps with the oil of your Spirit, warming our hearts and driving out our darkness.

Reveal yourself to the nations through us as a dawning light.

Lord, at dawn the day is only beginning.
At dawn, the light glows softly. May it grow brighter.
At dawn, we have a choice to make:
To work and walk in the light or hide in the shadows of selfishness.

Let us leave the shadows.
Let us work the fields while there is light.
Let us walk in the light and call to those in darkness to join us.

May evil be exposed.
May hatred be bleached from our souls by the burning light of the sun.
May lies and liars be exposed.
May truth shine, expelling every dark, deceitful shadow.
May the darkness of violence have no shelter in our hearts.
May peace and mercy be made known by our words and actions.
May our love be a warming light that draws people to you.

Flood the earth again, Lord—this time with light.
Healing, cleansing, warming, revealing light.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let all flesh bless his holy Name forever and ever. — Psalm 145.22

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 6 (Listen – 2:48) 
Matthew 6 (Listen – 4:35)

Read more about Into His Light — Hope of Advent
The corruption of this world deepens the darkness we live in each day and, in sinfulness, we prefer darkness to light.

Read more about Becoming Light — Hope of Advent
May the fruit of the light shine from us.
May goodness, righteousness, and truth beam from us.

A Restoring Sabbath

Matthew 4.1-2
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

Reflection: A Restoring Sabbath
By Dena Dyer

I’m sick of the constant “ding” of Facebook messages, tweets, and emails. My shoulders ache from the tension of trying to fit too much into an already-packed schedule. And my head hurts from trying to remember all the people who need something from me.

What about you? Are you tired of 24/7 restaurants, instant messaging, and the strain of trying to pack one more thing into a week full of obligations? If so, you’re not alone…and our numbers are growing.

Peter Smith of the Courier-Journal reports that Dr. Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room physician, is encouraging stressed-out folks to consider an ancient principle: keeping the Sabbath. Sleeth is the founder of the Christian ministry “Blessed Earth” and the author of several books, including the new release, 24/6: The Prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life.

The biblical Sabbath God commanded his children to take in the Ten Commandments included “not just work-free days, but also allowing pastures to rest and not harvesting a field completely, leaving gleanings for the poor and hedgerows as a sanctuary for wildlife,” says Sleeth.

He notes that a day of rest doesn’t necessarily mean “a day of just kicking back. It can involve such deliberate activities as walking and light gardening. What it does mean is powering down the laptop and smartphone. And slowing down enough to listen.”

*This devotional was originally posted as a part of The High Calling devotional series.

From John:
Many key leaders in technology have been public about taking strong measures to reduce technology use by their families and especially their children.

As you begin this year, think and pray about ways in which you can abstain from technology’s addictive elements, while still using its powerful tools to spur your spiritual growth.

Weekly sabbaths teach us that the sabbath doesn’t condemn the week of work, but it blesses it and redeems it. Sabbath is not a punishment to be endured but a blessing. Use a fast or sabbatical this month to reset your ideas about technology and how you will use it in 2019.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34:4

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 4 (Listen – 3:54)
Matthew 4 (Listen – 3:09)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 5 (Listen – 3:18) Matthew 5 (Listen – 6:03)
Genesis 6 (Listen – 2:48) Matthew 6 (Listen – 4:35)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Value of Words
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