Tuesday October 23 2018

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Scripture: Revelation 7:9-17

Key verses: (16-17) They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Reflection: My husband and I were on an airplane flying to visit family for a holiday. He was seated beside an unaccompanied girl who was on her first flight ever, flying from the home of one parent to spend the holiday with the other parent in the agreements of custody after a divorce. When the plane rose into the air and broke through the cloud cover, she looked out the window and turned to my husband and said “Is this heaven?” He is a wise man and responded “I’ve never been to heaven before.”

Is this heaven? What will heaven be like? The biblical writers describe heaven, trying to convey good news with images from their own contexts. John wrote Revelation, describing the kingdom as a great multitude of people from every nation, every tribe, and every language gathered before the throne of God. John echoes the language of Isaiah 49:10, “they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by spring of water will guide them.” For people accustomed to living in a hot dry wilderness, this is wonderful news!

We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives now. Revelation offers a vision of that truth, with Christ on the throne in the center of the kingdom. The diversity of God’s people gathered together in worship and God provides for all of them to have what they need. John’s vision of the kingdom might give us some clues for how we can live as kingdom citizens today – honoring Christ as Lord, welcoming a diversity of God’s children, and providing for everyone to have what they need. This is wonderful news!

Prayer: O God, by dying, our Lord Jesus Christ conquered death; by rising from the grave he restored us to life. Enable us to go forward in faith to meet him, that, when our life on earth is ended, we may be united with all who love him in your heavenly kingdom, where very tear will be wiped away. Amen.

(prayer adapted from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship, p. 944)

Author: Millie Snyder

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

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Monday October 22 2018

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verse: (8)  The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Reflection: If ever I need a reminder that God’s ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), I can simply remember this conviction of the psalmist: God is slow to anger.  Like most Americans, I like when things move quickly.  So, I have been known to utter some not-very-pastoral words over slow-moving traffic, to feel exasperation at an inefficient checkout queue, and my husband has started quietly laughing about my “calm parent voice,” which he alleges I employ when I’m about to reach my limit (hey, I admit it, that 4 p.m. hour requires a whole lot of patience and grace and fresh air).  I am a naturally impatient person.

That is why I find this word about God being slow to anger to be so comforting. Sometimes, I think we imagine God to be like an impatient judge, waiting for us bumbling creatures to figure it all out, finally get it all right, and actually live like people who know they are profoundly loved.  Of course, we should strive to, “live lives worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called,” which is to say we should live differently because of God’s love (Eph 4:1).  I wonder, though, how trusting that God is patient with us would free us to offer more patience to ourselves and others, even and especially when we find we’ve made a few missteps along the way.  What if remembering God’s patience with us could help us offer grace to one another when we disappoint each other or hurt each other?  And, what if it helped reframe the life of faith for us: life with God is about an ongoing relationship, not a race to perfection, and God is in it with us for the long haul.  Imagine a world filled with people who believe in what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called, “the slow work of God” (look it up!), seeing others as people to love instead of problems to solve – which is to say, seeing others the way God sees them.

Prayer: Thank you for hanging in there with me when I am prone to impatience with myself and others, O God.  Teach me, again and again, what a great gift that is, so that I can learn to share it with others.  Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday October 19 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 130

Key verses: (1, 5, 7)

1  Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

5   I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;

7   O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.

Reflection: Transition is a word often uttered from my lips. I left a somewhat stable job and career to go to seminary for three years, and now here, at Myers Park, for the two-year call as a Resident Pastor. There are likely many more transitions ahead. While these moves and unknowns are often front of mind, I think back to what I consider my stable life in Greensboro. For 17 years in one place, there were still transitions: new homes, new jobs, new roles at church, family weddings, adoptions, newborns, and the list continues. Ending in one apartment, and beginning in a new home; leaving one job and being promoted to another; finishing one role at church and trying a new one; knowing a single family member, and getting to know them as married; welcoming new children; these are just a few of the transitions I remember where I lived for the longest time, so far.

The psalmist offers a prayer for our continuous transitions. There is a conviction that God is with us even in the depths of grief as we may lament losses or endings. We can trust in God to be with us and come to us in our need as we may struggle with new beginnings. So we wait for God with our hearts and our souls confident that God will come with ever-present, unfailing love.

The psalm reminds us of God’s grace and love. It is refreshing to feel God’s presence in all transitions, and know the peace and joy our Creator brings.

Prayer: Wherever I am in transition, Lord; I call to you. Come, Lord, come. My heart and soul wait for you, and I hope for your presence in all of the constant beginnings and endings. Teach me, remind me, that you are my hope; you are the steadfast love like no other. Amen.

Author: Amy Speas

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Thursday October 18 2018

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Scripture: Luke 9:18-27

Key verse: (25)  What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

Reflection: What does it mean to follow Christ? Luke makes it clear that discipleship involves sacrifice.  Jesus calls for commitment.

The reason we keep asking the question is that we want to follow Jesus with as little inconvenience as possible. We will follow Jesus as long as he goes where we typically go in our everyday life. Let me be clear, Jesus is not following us.

We are invited on a path that brings renewal, offers hope and transformation. Yes, it requires some work but it is rewarding. So how do we do it?

Let’s start practicing our faith — Daily. This is a good time to start a practice of gratitude with your family or friends. Acknowledge God’s gifts in your life — Daily. Tithe. Take on a faith practice like hospitality and bring Halloween costumes for Hope Haven. Practice your faith by remembering to bring monthly items for loaves and fishes — Every month. Following Jesus takes work, so let’s get to it.

Prayer: God, you can and lived among us. Your son Jesus was liberator, Redeemer, Life. I will follow. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Wednesday October 17 2018

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Scripture: Acts 27:9-26

Key verse: (25) “So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

Reflection: Did you see the movie, “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”? Released in 2011, it tells the story of seven British retirees who respond to an online ad and travel to Jaipur, India, where they find a run-down hotel run by Sonny, a young, exuberant, and optimistic host. Suffice to say, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does not exactly live up to the advertising hype.  The hotel is literally falling apart and it desperately needs an investor to bail it out of trouble. As particular problems facing each of the travelers are brought to light, Sonny offers them counsel that usually includes a wonderful phrase:  “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”

In today’s reading from Acts, Paul seems to offer similar counsel.  He is being transported to Rome for a trial before Caesar.  On the way, they have encountered fierce winds that threaten their very lives.  Facing shipwreck, Paul delivers something of an “I-told-you-so” speech.  Then he offers his counsel.  “We’re going to lose this ship,” he says, “but not our lives.”  How does he know this?  Because a messenger of God has told him he will stand before the emperor, so he knows they will not die.  He knows the end of the story, and the end of the story is not their death by shipwreck.

Faith teaches us to trust God with the end of our stories.  The Bible ends with the vision of the New Jerusalem, a new creation where mourning and crying and pain are no more, a world where sorrow and poverty and death are no more.  This is the end of our story.  As a friend of mine once summarized Revelation, “It means God’s going to win.”  Some days that’s hard to imagine in our world.  Some days the challenges we face leave us feeling like we’re in a raging storm about to lose everything.  What would it mean to believe that everything will be all right in the end, and that if it is not all right, it is not yet the end?  What would it mean to trust that whatever tomorrow holds, we can be sure God holds our tomorrows?  What would it mean to trust God with that, no matter what?

Given God’s amazing love for us revealed in Jesus Christ, I believe God can be trusted. Together, let us keep up our courage!

Prayer: Give us faith to trust that whatever tomorrow holds, you hold our tomorrows, O Lord.  You are worthy of such trust, because you have shown your amazing love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday October 16 2018

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Scripture: Luke 8:40-56

Key verse: (48) “He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Reflection: Today’s scripture includes two wonderful healing stories.  It begins with a father’s plea for his dying daughter.  But, as Jesus moved through the large crowd that was pressing in on him, he stopped because he felt power go out of him.  “Who touched me?” he asked.  Remarkable, since there were so many people around him.  But, a woman who had suffered with a hemorrhage for many years had crawled along the ground believing that if she could just touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak she would be healed. What incredible faith!  This woman had used all of her resources to find a cure. According to the Jewish laws of the time, she most likely had been abandoned by her family and relegated to a life of isolation, unable to participate in everyday life because of the bleeding.  We don’t know this for sure, but the hemorrhage alone was debilitating.  She desperately wanted to be healed.  So, when she heard Jesus was nearby, she was determined to see him.  There were no friends to bring her to Jesus – only her faith.  She was immediately healed when she touched the hem of his garment.  She hoped to slip away unnoticed, but others saw her and they called her out.  So, she came through the crowd and fell at Jesus’ feet letting everyone know that she was healed.  Jesus’ kind words to her are found above.  At this point, bad news arrived — the young girl who was ill had died.  Asking the father to hold on to his faith, Jesus proceeded to the house.  The grieving had already begun and people were wailing in lament.  But, Jesus went into the house with her parents, Peter and John took the child by her hand and she rose immediately.  She was healed.  We can only imagine the celebration in both of these families on that day.

Healing is a wonderful gift from God.  Of course, we all know that not every story ends so happily.  There are times in life when our prayers for healing aren’t answered the way we want.  It is natural to wonder why God didn’t heal us or our loved one.  It is perplexing and can lead many to question their faith.  This is a natural thing to do when our lives don’t match these miracle stories.  Yet, I have seen healing happen in many people’s lives without a physical cure.  I have been privileged to be with people of deep faith as they died or struggled with chronic illness.   I have witnessed healing.  Our faith in Jesus Christ has healing power even when our mortal bodies fail.  This is an incredible gift from God who has promised never to forsake us.  In Hebrews 11 we are reminded that, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen.” None of us know in what form the healing may come; but we are assured it will.

In her book:  Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved), the author Kate Bowler writes:  “My little plans are crumbs scattered on the ground.  This is all I have learned about living here, plodding along and finding God.  My well-laid plans are no longer my foundation.  I can only hope that my dreams, my actions, my hopes are leaving a trail . . . so whichever way the path turns, all they will find is Love.”

Prayer: Loving God, assure us of your compassion for each of us.  Give us the faith we need to trust in you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday October 15 2018

Monday

Scripture: Acts 26:1-23

Key verse: (4) All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem.

Reflection: Today’s passage is Paul’s defense speech in the great hall of the praetorium in Caesarea. One commentator claims,  “One has the feeling that everything written in Acts points to this moment, a moment in which our narrator lets out all the stops.”[1] This is Paul, the hero of the book of Acts, at his rhetorical best.

Paul shares his faith journey, from his upbringing as a Jew in Jerusalem to his life as a Pharisee, a strict devotee of God’s law. Paul confesses that he once persecuted those who followed Jesus as disciples because he saw their faith as an affront to his orthodoxy. Paul then recounts his dramatic experience on the Damascus road when he encountered the risen Christ. In this encounter, Paul was commissioned to spread the good news of Christ to the Gentiles. He was obedient to that calling despite opposition from many people. Now Paul stands before Roman authorities to make this defense speech.

Likely we won’t be caught in the political turmoil that Paul faced in the occupied lands of the Roman Empire. Likely we won’t be arrested for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those around us. Likely we won’t stand before government officials and have to give a speech defending our faithfulness to our Lord.

But like Paul, we are given opportunities to look back at our lives and to share our faith journey. We might see earnestness that sometimes became judgmental self-righteousness. We might see mistakes made when we were one hundred percent certain we were correct at the time. We might see God’s intervention that turned things around dramatically or we might see gentle nudges of the Spirit that moved us along the way. God is with us on the journey, wherever we are. Hindsight gives us faithful 20/20 vision to see God’s presence.

Prayer: As I look back over my life, O Lord, I see the ways that I have messed up. Sometimes when I was rebelling against you. Sometimes when I was convinced that I was absolutely right. Forgive me. Help me see the ways you have shaped me along the way. Equip me now to share my story with the mix of boldness and humility that faithfulness demands. Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[1] Paul Walaskay in Acts Westminster Bible Companion, p. 227. 1998 Westminster John Knox Press.

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].