Thursday August 16 2018

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Scripture: John 4:27-42

Key verse: (29) “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

Reflection:  “Repent of your sins, you wicked woman!”  That’s what “Brother Jed” would always yell at the co-eds outside Haley Center at Auburn University in the late 80’s.  “You cigarette sucking sinner!” he would bellow if he saw someone smoking.  He and his wife, “Sister Cindy” could really gather a crowd with their unyielding rebukes of us college kids.  Drinking, smoking, and sexual immorality were their unholy trinity of sins.  Brother Jed calls it “confrontational evangelism.”  At Auburn, most of us thought of it as stand-up comedy.  I wonder how many people rejected Christian faith because of their judgmental witness?

Looking at Scripture, it’s hard to find many examples of this kind of evangelism.  On Pentecost, Peter certainly rebukes the crowds for their rejection of Jesus, but he never wails on any wicked women for their cavorting.  Paul could be a little edgy from time to time, but his barbs were usually reserved for religious folks, not the crowds.  In Athens, he certainly condemned idolatry, but never really laid into any individuals.  There’s not a single instance of Jesus ever shaming anyone into following him.

To the contrary, one of the most effective evangelists in all of the New Testament is the Samaritan Woman we meet in John 4.  Yesterday, the first part of the story was the gospel reading.  Jesus meets her at a well.  She’s been through multiple marriages.  Christian history often treats her the same way Brother Jed and Sister Cindy treated college co-eds.  Jesus doesn’t.  He meets her where she is and invites her to drink of the living water he offers.  When the disciples see them talking together, they put on their moralistic mindset — just like Brother Jed and Sister Cindy — but Jesus will have nothing to do with that.  For her part, the woman returns to her village and becomes the first evangelist to the Gentiles.  Many Samaritans believe in Jesus because of her testimony.

So what was her powerful witness?  “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” Not exactly, “Repent of your sins, you wicked Samaritans!” It’s so simple and straight forward.  It has three simple parts.  The first is an invitation.  “Come and see.”  This phrase appears multiple times in the early chapters of John’s gospel.  Jesus says it to Andrew in John 1.  Philip says it to Nathanael immediately after that, inviting him to come and see Jesus.  And here, the Samaritan Woman says it to her whole village. To this day, personal invitation is the most powerful way to encourage someone to get involved in their faith.  “Come and see.”  The second part of her witness is her own testimony.  She shares what Jesus has done for her.  She doesn’t tell them what he can do for them, nor what they need to do in order to know him.  She simply shares his impact on her life.  Finally, she asks a question.  “He can’t be the Messiah, can he?” This is nowhere near an exhortation.  It’s simply a question, leaving the listeners to consider for themselves who Jesus may or may not be.

What is your witness?  Presbyterians are notoriously bad at evangelism.  Our theology centered in the sovereignty of God, not our own decisions is an important reason why.  Yet, Christ calls us to be his witnesses.  What is yours?  The Samaritan Woman offers us a powerful example of what a faithful witness can be.  Invitation.  Testimony.  Question.  In the Bible, this approach is so much more effective than “confrontational evangelism” ever could be.  Ultimately, it’s much more faithful, too.

Prayer:  Thank you for claiming me as your own, O Lord.  Help me to be your faithful witness in the world.  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].

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Wednesday August 15 2018

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Scripture: Acts 6:1-15

Key verses: (3-4) “Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”

Reflection: This story in Acts is about the first deacons in the church.  After Pentecost, as the church began to grow, there were many people to care for in the new community and there were issues around this care.  The needs of the church were overwhelming the Apostles. So, there were seven men who were identified as having gifts to serve.  They were in good standing in the church, full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and faith.  They served others so that the Apostles could focus on prayer and preaching.

We continue to maintain this tradition of identifying men and women who are called by God and the community to be Deacons.  The word diakonia is a Greek word from which our English word deacon is derived.  It literally means, to serve.  Deacons are persons of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly and sisterly love, sincere compassion, and sound judgment.  In our church, they share in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless, the oppressed and anyone in distress.  It is an important ministry.  Deacons show the love of Christ through direct ministry with people both inside our church and in the larger community.  It is a quiet ministry that can go unnoticed, but without Deacons there would be complaints.  We would cease to be the community of faith if we didn’t care for one another.  In our community we hear the word of God preached and we learn how to show the compassion and love of Christ – all so that we can go out into the world to serve.  If we watch our deacons and become familiar with their work, we can learn how to reach out more effectively.  Our care of one another and our care for our ministry partners will be transformed.

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for those who quietly serve you behind the scenes.  Help us to learn from our deacons.  Remind us to encourage one another in the faith, so that we might show your love more effectively through acts of compassion and justice.  May we be a caring community of believers showing the love of Christ to all we meet.  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].

Tuesday August 14 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 102

Key verse: (11) My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.

Reflection: Who is the oldest person you know? Is there anyone in your family who has lived 100 years? I recently officiated at a memorial service for a church member who died at the age of 102. The next day in worship I served communion to a 96-year-old man who walked forward, a little slowly, dressed in his coat and tie. And then the next day I spoke with a 92-year-old in the church hallway who was here for a meeting about an upcoming church project. Wow!

I believe that faith gives us courage to face reality, including the reality of our aging and our mortality. Over and over again, scripture reminds us that we are human. Humans are mortal. We are born, we live, we grow, and we die. Every one of us dies.

As people who believe in the promise of resurrection, we have hope that this reality isn’t the final word. Death doesn’t have the victory. We age and we die but we are given the gift of new life in Jesus Christ. Sometimes we wither away like grass. Tall people begin to stoop over. Feet shuffle a little slowly. Wrinkles from laughter and from pain etch across our faces. Distant memories flood back and we forget what we ate for lunch (and maybe we forget that we ate lunch at all).

The next verse of the psalm reads, “But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; your name endures to all generations.” We trust in an eternal God who walks with us on the journey of life. The evening shadows grow long, but God’s light shines bright. We wither but God is strong and faithful always. Perhaps that faith and trust is what has sustained the 92, 96 and 102-year-old saints of the church!

Prayer: Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are ended, enable us to die as those who go forth to live. So that living or dying, our life may be yours. Amen.

(Prayer adapted from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship and I use it in every funeral.)

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].

Monday August 13 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 62

Key verses: (5-6)
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6   He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

Reflection: David was in a tough place when he wrote this psalm. His life was in danger and he had to deal with people who had betrayed him.  Hundreds of thoughts swirled in his head and yet he knew where to find strength and hope. David needed to stop, rest and find some quiet.  David seeks times of silence because he hopes in God.

Rest is super important. True rest offers peace when we can step aside from the chaos of life. We all need some silence. Silence purposely removes our attraction to the chatter, noise and busyness. Silence invites us to put away our phones and shift our eyes away from the computer. In that silence, we can be intentional about listening to God and claiming the hope that we stand upon.

Rest in God. Find some silence.  May our silence prepare us to hear not just our own thoughts but a word from God.

Prayer: Take a deep breath in and a long breath out. Follow your breath in and out. Notice your breath as it enters your body and as it leaves. Be aware. Be silent. Listen and find some quiet for 3 minutes. As thoughts enter, thank them and send them on and come back to your breath.  The peace of Christ be with you.

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].

Friday August 10 2018

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Scripture: John 2:1-12

Key verse: (1) “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…”

Reflection: I love this story from John’s gospel about Jesus turning water into wine.  I love it for many reasons.  I love the exchange between Jesus and his mother.  In the first place, it’s so human.  Even Jesus got embarrassed when his Mom told him what to do in public. And even Jesus eventually did what his mother told him to do!

In the second place, I love this story because it shows Jesus enjoyed wine—not just any wine, but fine wine.  This is not Boone’s Farm or White Lightning or Franzia in a box, or even Sutter Home White Zinfandel, which was pretty fancy for me and Jennifer when we graduated from college.  This was fine wine; the kind you see on the top shelf at the store—the shelf I never bother to explore.  We know this because the chief steward says to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  I love that Jesus made fine wine at Cana.

Most importantly, I love this story because it’s a resurrection story, an Easter story.  We know this because it all unfolds “on the third day.” Three days after what?  Whenever the gospel writers invoke “the third day” they expect us to think Easter.  What unfolds on the third day is transformation, water changed to wine, new life for the party to go on.  This is first of Jesus’ signs and it points to the final sign of John’s gospel, the resurrection.

Where in your life has the wine run out? Where in our world do we need transformation?  Can we trust God has the power to bring new life on the other side of every cross we face in our lives, in our relationships, in our world?  Can we believe Christ has the power to bring forth the best wine in our lives now?  Can we join the first disciples and believe in Him?

Prayer: Wherever the wine has run out in my life, in my relationships, in our world, come Lord Jesus.  May your resurrection power bring forth fine wine in my life that your glory may be revealed.  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].

 

Thursday August 9 2018

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Scripture: John 1:43-51

Key verse: (43) “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

Reflection: I have always been fascinated by the call of the first disciples.  It’s hard to understand how someone would follow a man they don’t know just because he said “follow me”.  Part of me wants to fill in the blanks and create the back story.  The original gospel writers don’t seem to be very interested in these details.  Just reading Jesus’ words makes me want to stop and say “hey, wait a minute.”  I have so many questions.  How does someone just walk away from their lives? This invitation involved a big decision.  They must have heard Jesus teach before or they went home one day after hearing him preach and prayed a lot about whether to go or not.  Nope.  None of that happened in these stories.  But, there is a bit more conversation involved in today’s passage when Jesus calls Phillip and Nathanael. I can relate to Nathanael.  He actually asks some questions and even makes a snide remark about Nazareth which, at the time, was a backwater town of no import located in Galilee.  Philip answers Nathanael’s questions with three words – come and see.

As I reflect on this passage, it occurs to me that these three words are the most important part of the invitation.  Come and see is the kind of invitation that we make all the time when we want to share something important with someone else.  Come and see is what happens when we go to a Bible study for the first time, or accept an invitation to church, or even go to a concert or event.  Come and see is the invitation followers of Jesus offer again and again to those they know.  Once you experience Jesus, it’s natural to want to invite others to discover what you have discovered.  Nathanael asks Jesus “where did you get to know me?”  And Jesus says “I saw you.”  When we realize that God sees us, we believe.  It happened in 1st Century Israel and it happens today.  Come and see what God is doing.  The invitation to follow continues.

Prayer: Calling Lord, we are grateful that you see us and know us.  Help us to see what you are doing in the world as we commit ourselves to follow.  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].

Wednesday August 8 2018

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Scripture: John 1:29-42

Key verse: (39a)  He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.

Reflection: Come and see. In this gospel of John, this is Jesus’ first conversation. He is approached by two of John the Baptist’s disciples (“disciples” isn’t a specifically Christian word; it means devotees or followers) who want to learn more about him. They ask “Where are you staying?” and Jesus responds “Come and see.”

A gracious invitation. If you are spiritually curious, if you have questions, if you long for purpose and meaning, come and see. Come and see what Jesus is doing. Watch him feed the hungry, heal the sick, challenge the powerful, forgive the sinful. Watch him give himself selflessly, loving the world to the end and then beyond to a new beginning. Following Jesus is an opportunity to watch the Master of Love at work and to learn his way in the world.

Come and see what the Body of Christ is doing today. Watch disciples care for one another, bring a meal when someone is ill, listen when someone is hurting, sit quietly with someone who is heartbroken. Watch disciples love their neighbors, laughing with teenagers at a block party in Grier Heights, reading with a student at Billingsville Elementary School, pouring the foundation for a home in El Salvador. Watch disciples lift their voices in song and pray for the world in worship. Come and see.

Come and see. Open your eyes to look for Jesus today. And follow him to live his way in this world.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, you invite me to follow Jesus. Give me the courage and strength to accept your invitation today. Show me where Jesus is at work and equip me to join him. Amen.

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].