Monday, September 30
Theme for the week:
Disciples Sacrifice

Jesus warns His disciples that we cannot serve two masters (see Matthew 6:24).

Matthew 6:24

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.

One way to determine what or who has become your “master” is by asking this question: For what or whom do make the most sacrifice. We are, of course, not talking about animal sacrifices, but about time, energy, focus, money, resources, and relationships. Our desire as disciples of Jesus is to see that the sacrifices we make in life point to the One true Master – God the Father-Son-and-Holy-Spirit. Here is the week’s identity statement:

• Because I am already rich in Christ, I am willing to be sacrificial in my life of living and giving for God.

Ephesians 5:8-20

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Pondering Point

It matters how you live. To think that it doesn't matter is itself a lie from the pit of hell, from our enemy the Evil one. This above snippet of scripture reminds us that we don't live in neutral days. No, these days are evil. But in these evil days are opportunities for doing good in the name of Jesus. So it does matter how we live. God has a will concerning you for today. Consider this thought: today there will be opportunities for you to honor God in ways that include sacrifices of various magnitudes. For one, the magnitude might be small, simple, brief. Another sacrifice might require more, be longer, extending beyond today. Are you anticipating that God is going to provide opportunities for you to honor him? Are you looking for them? While your enemy is looking to neutralize your impact, the Spirit of God is looking to maximize your impact. Be filled with the Spirit and let him show you the will of God.

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Father God, let the truth sink in that these days are fraught with evil, but let your Spirit sink too, enabling me to see and take advantage of opportunities you give me bring the light of your goodness into my world. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Tuesday, October 1
God’s Mission

Luke 17:1-10

Sin, Faith, Duty

1 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

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Pondering Point

Often in life, one gives his or her time and expects payment or appreciation. You will see that very principle in action with Saturday’s Scripture Story.

But a different relational principle is being elevated in this teaching. As servants of the king, we don’t serve to GET from the king, but because we have ALREADY GOTTEN from Him. Let’s translate that into our life with God: we don’t live for God and serve Him to finagle blessings out of Him.

We serve Him because He has already poured out mercy, new life, salvation, and benevolent relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. As Luther put it at the end of his explanation to the first article of the Creed:

He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
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Father God, you richly and daily provide all that I need to support this body and life. This is most certainly true. I am happy to thank and praise You, serve and obey You with sacrificial living. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Wednesday, October 2
Biblical Teachings on Prayer

Matthew 5:44

I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

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Pondering Point

In tomorrow’s prayer for the week, we will hear the prayer of Stephen, first martyr of the New Testament. He follows in the footsteps of His Master Jesus by seeking mercy for his enemies while being put to death (by stoning).

He was willing to sacrifice his life in the cause of Jesus, the same Jesus who sacrificed His life for our sins and rose from the dead victoriously. Stephen took seriously the call to love one’s enemies, to live sacrificially, to commit one’s life into God’s hands – and of course to pray for those who persecute you. Go back and re-read the above verse and envision Jesus speaking it directly to you. Then engage with God through the prayer below.

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Father God, in the name of Jesus I pray that you help me to love my enemies, to live sacrificially, to commit my life into Your hands, and to pray for those who persecute me. As Stephen honored you, so may I. Amen.

Thursday, October 3
Prayerfully Re-Center Around God

Acts 7:59-60

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. 

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Pondering Point

For a week focused on living for God sacrificially, Stephen clearly fits in. But it does seem that his opportunity to serve sacrificially got shortened; then again, maybe not.

He was “all in” in all ways. Some people live a lot longer but never reach a place of sacrificial living, let alone getting to an “all in” level seen in the life and death of this first Christian martyr Stephen. But rather than being hard on ourselves comparatively, let’s ask a few questions about living sacrificially and prayerfully re-center our lives around God.

Review the week

Can you identify for what and how you make sacrifices? Who or what suffers for that which has become your master? (Think of the husband who bowls four nights a week while his wife and children are at home without him. Think of the wife who spends all of her energy on friends and outsiders and has none left for her husband and kids. Think of the gamer who spends hours trying to perfect a video challenge while other relationships and facets of living get ignored). Can you identify how and how often, how little, how much you sacrifice for God?

Repent (if necessary)

Repent for living sacrificially for masters other than God (health, wealth, position, self-image, glory, vengeance, etc.)

Return (as necessary)

Commit yourself to the One Master worthy of your worship and honor. With a nod to Jesus’ sacrificial inspiration, ask God to give you insight to live sacrificially in your situation.

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[Create your own prayer for recentering yourself in Jesus' eyes.]

Friday, October 4
Discipleship Point and Prayer

The prideful soul can be successful - at all the things that ultimately do not matter. He will have no success where it really counts... What is missing in his life is the power of humility. While humility sounds like an anemic word to some, in reality it unleashes divine power that can raise us to life on a new and higher plane.
p.157, The Prideful Soul’s Guide to Humility, Fontenot/Jones
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Humility Prayer

Father God, I don’t want to any ‘successes’ that I experience to come without Your approval. I would rather be less successful and more honorable in Your eyes than more successful and less honorable before You. Let humility lead the way as I learn to follow Your Spirit even in success. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Discipleship Point about Wealth

What is our role in discipling others? Discipling is the process of allowing God to use us to be a part of helping another disciple to grow. A sign of our maturity is the desire to pass on the "wealth" to the next generation.
~ Discipleship Essentials, Ogden, p. 214
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Discipleship Prayer

Father God, I know that there is much more ‘wealth’ in life than merely money. Remind me to take opportunity to invest my God-given wealth into others, be it money, experience, position, relational capital, or other things. May everything that I have and manage be run through the discipleship way of life You desire. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Saturday, October 5
Scripture's Story for the Week

Matthew 20:1-16

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Through the eyes of the hired workers, this parable unearths attitudes of envy and comparison that poison our ability to enjoy or appreciate blessings in our world.

From the perspective of the owner of the vineyard, we can see facets of the financial vision of discipleship covered these last weeks. From week one’s theme, the owner displays risk-taking by hiring people others have passed on. Week two’s theme, generosity, is evident in the willingness to pay high wages to workers who’ve worked few hours. This week’s theme, living sacrificially, might be a stretch, but could be seen in the owner’s willingness to bless others beyond their “merit” for the sake of benefitting those of his community with needs.

He had the capacity to help and took initiative to do so – over and over.

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Holy Spirit of God, drive from me all unhealthy attitudes of envy and comparison that ruin one’s ability to appreciate God’s blessings. Instead let me reflect the attitude of the vineyard owner – and by that I mean God my Father. I want to reflect His heart and attitude in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, October 6
Call to Gather, Pray and Worship God

God Bless You

Ephesians 6:23-24

Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. 

Peace is a regular concept in biblical blessings, but the phrase “love with faith” is rather unusual. The hope is for a love infused “with faith” or by faith, as opposed to a love without faith. Finish with this prayer:

Father God, this kind of blessed love, one that cannot be had without faith in You – this I want Lord – for me, for (friend A) and (friend B), (family A) and (family B) In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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