Monday June 30 2014

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Scripture: Romans 6:12-23 Key Verse: 23″For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Reflection: When I was a child we belonged to a Presbyterian church in Virginia. The pastor there was a dramatic orator who loved to preach, especially about sin. He would pound on the pulpit for emphasis when he preached and I will never forget the way he said “The wages of sin is death!”   He made it very clear that sin was bad, very bad and we better stay away from it! But, I don’t remember him offering an alternative.

 The Apostle Paul in today’s passage asks an interesting question: Do you want to be slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness? Having heard more than my fair share of sermons on sin over the years, I hadn’t really considered the possibility of an alternative. But, we can be slaves to righteousness – slaves to the love of God through willful obedience to what we have been taught by Jesus Christ. We don’t have to serve destructive passions or compulsions. We can take our creative energy and let God use it for good. Paul writes: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.”   We can present ourselves to God for God’s purposes. We are offered another way away from sin. Of course, there will still be times when we struggle with temptation, but we will have the option of making other choices. Think what might happen if we put the same amount of energy into serving God that we put into the things we know we are doing wrong! When we whole-heartedly serve God we will be transformed and set free from the sin that clings so closely. We will have a chance to discover new life.

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for giving us choices. Help us to receive your grace in such a way that we might become obedient slaves to your love and grace. Walk with us as we turn away from sin and turn more fully toward 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].

Friday June 26 2014

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Scripture: Psalm 148 Key verse: 148:13 “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.”

Reflection: This psalm is a hymn of praise that calls all of creation to praise the Lord.  From the sun and moon in the sky to the creatures deep within the ocean, all of them praise the Lord.  I hope that this summer you have opportunities to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.  It might be a trip to the mountains or to the beach.  It might be listening to the birds on an early morning walk, or feeling the warmth of the sun in a chair by the pool, or watching lightening bugs at twilight in the backyard.

Poet Mary Oliver wrote a poem entitled “I Happened to Be Standing” that includes these lines:

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
      if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.  

Listen and look today for creation to praise the Lord.

Prayer: O God, creation shines with your glory. I praise you for the beauty and the majesty of creation, for the wonder of plants and animals, and for the moments of powerful grace when I listen and look. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see. 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].

Thursday June 26 2014

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Scripture: Romans 5:1-11
Key verse 2: “through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

Reflection:
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

Last week, we had almost 100 youth and adults in Washington DC and at the Heifer Ranch in Arkansas on Mission Experiences.  They have been able to do some incredible mission work and learn about global sustainability; but more than that, they have been able to step away from their lives and consider their faith.  In stepping out of everyday chaos, we are able to see the grace of God that is so utterly amazing. These youth and adults are coming to realize that it is through our faith that we come to be aware of God’s grace.  It is unearned and undeserved.  Newton wrote about this grace in his famous hymn, Amazing Grace.

Paul makes it clear in Romans 5:2 that Christians stand in this grace.  We are reminded we cannot win God’s love, but neither can we lose that love either. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, your love is more than amazing. With every breath, may I remember the gift of your grace. 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 June 25 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16
Key verse: 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?

Reflection: Imagine a homeowner, wanting to do some repairs to the home, going uptown early in the morning to pick up some day laborers.  A fair day’s wage is agreed upon and several pile into the car to begin work.  At 9 a.m. the homeowner realizes more workers are needed so more are brought to the job site.  At noon more workers were added and also at 3 p.m.  At 5 p.m. the homeowner made one more trip uptown to find people still waiting for work.  Several more workers were added to the crew.

Finally, that evening, the work was done.  The homeowner handed out the pay.  To everyone’s surprise the last workers to be hired got a full day’s wage.  Those workers were happy. But the ones that had worked all day were… perturbed, and they protested. The homeowner argued that they got what they contracted for, which was true.  But they were still upset.  Why, they wondered, did the undeserving people get as much as the deserving people?

The homeowner silenced them with a question that has perturbed humans from the beginning of time.  It still perturbs us when we think about God’s grace, especially toward those we think don’t deserve it.  It’s God’s not-too-subtle dig at our system of valuing people.  “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Prayer: O God, your generosity goes far beyond my own sense of fairness, far beyond our conventional sense of justice. Forgive our envy. Remind us again and again that the love and grace you show us is extended to everyone you love. Help us to mirror that grace with everyone we encounter. In the name of Jesus the Christ, the most gracious boss imaginable, we pray.

Author: Von Clemans

[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 June 24 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 19:23-30
Key verse 30: But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

Reflection: The theologian NT Wright tells a story about watching a magnificent fox hunt when he was a young boy. He describes the impressive sight of the leaders in their red hunting coats, on their splendid horses. These were the rich and wealthy from the neighborhood. Behind them were the slightly less wealthy riders, in brown and black hunting clothes on pretty good horses. At the back of the pack were a rag-tag bunch of riders looking sort of shabby and ordinary, on the least impressive horses of all. They all chased after a quick cunning fox who, in a brilliant move, hid in the bushes, then doubled back the way he had come after the hunters had passed by. One of the riders in the back spotted the fox and blew his horn, and all the riders had to turn 180 degrees around and go back after the fox. Suddenly, the hunt had changed. The misfits were now leading the way, and behind all the other riders were the rich ones, not at all used to being in the back of the pack, either in hunting or in society.

This is how it will be in God’s kingdom. Our regular rules no longer seem to apply. Instead, in God’s kingdom, what we thought was important and necessary will be worthless, and what we thought had no value may be what is most prized. Wright says this: “Those at the back, said Jesus, will find themselves at the front, and those at the front will find themselves at the back. There will be astonishment, embarrassment, delight and dismay. God is going to stand everything on its head. In the long human hunt for truth, wisdom, justice and salvation, the divine fox has doubled back, and is reappearing where we least expected him.”

Prayer: God of us all – misfit and king, rich and poor, cunning and foolish – teach us to value what you value, and look for what you see in all those whom we meet. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[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 June 23 2014

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Scripture:
Matthew 19:13-22
Key Verses 13-15:  13Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

Reflection: I have so many rich memories of being a child.  Erik Berne developed a theory of psychology known as “Transactional Analysis.”  This theory proposes that within each of us there is a Child, a Parent, and an Adult.  The transactions we have are in our connections to each other through these three components.  It’s just a theory.

The Child in us is apparently a valuable asset in our relationship with God.  There’s an innocence in childhood.  There’s a curiosity in childhood.  There’s a universal acceptance and trust in childhood.  There’s imagination and dreams in childhood.  There’s fun and playfulness in childhood.  There’s an absolute dependence in childhood.  Why wouldn’t Jesus say that we need to become like children if we’re to enter the kingdom of heaven?  It has to be true.

Prayer: Lord, help me to touch the Child within me today.  Allow me to taste the innocence and the joy that I once had.  Give me the curiosity and the unconditional love to be with all kinds of people, accepting them and appreciating them today.  I know I have to be an adult.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Author: Steve Eason

[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 June 20 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 18:21-35
Key verses: 21-22 ” Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you seventy-seven times.”

Reflection: The first sermon I ever preached was on today’s scripture passage.  I had just started seminary and hadn’t taken a preaching class yet, but confident that the Holy Spirit would do something with my interpretation, I forged ahead.  I think I was able to do this because the need for forgiveness is universal.  We all, at one time or another, have either needed to give or receive forgiveness.  The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant tells the story about a debt that would be impossible to repay. Yet, the gracious lord in the story is willing to forgive the debt that is owed.  This parable is Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question about how many times to forgive.

Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally.  When we are hurt or we hurt someone a debt is created.  If we are the hurt party, we may feel angry or helpless.  If we are the guilty party, we may feel remorse and regret.  The anger and the hurt make many people seek revenge or at least dream about it.  The remorse and regret makes some people withdraw into themselves and quit living.

People are going to hurt each other in the church community – it is inevitable.  The question is: how will they respond to each other when the sin occurs?  If we receive the grace of God with joy and then lash out at another member of the church without regard, we are little more than the ungrateful servant in the parable.  Forgiveness is something we need to keep coming back to.  We may need to keep trying to forgive the same incident over and over again until our hearts catch up with our minds.  We are called to show mercy and love the way God shows mercy and love.  This isn’t easy, but it is a worthy goal.  When we forgive, everything changes.

Prayer: Gracious God, forgive our foolish ways. Have patience with us as we seek to forgive, forgive, and forgive. Help all those who have been hurt to give forgiveness and move on with their lives. Help those who have hurt another to receive forgiveness for what they have done wrong. And, may all of us in the community of faith treat one another with respect, forbearance, and love. In the name of Jesus 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].

Thursday June 19 2014

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ScripturePsalm 16
Key verse:  Psalm 16:11 “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Reflection: One of my daughters went through a phase when she was obsessed with the board game ‘Life’.  She wanted to play every day.  That summer every babysitter played ‘Life’ with her.  And, of course, my daughter usually won!

In the game, you move your piece around the board on a path of life.  You choose your career, you purchase a home, you might marry and have children.  In today’s psalm, we are told that God shows us the path of life.  The psalmist is reminding us that we live our lives in God’s presence and God will guide us on our journey.

We face choices every day.  Some of our choices are relatively mundane and others set the course of our lives, and we don’t always know the difference at first!  What might appear to be a coincidence may instead be the guidance of God.  Along the way we are called to trust that God is with us.  Attuning ourselves to God’s presence, through prayer and study, will deepen our faith.  We will know true joy, regardless of our circumstances, when we are aware of God’s presence with us.

Prayer: Loving God, my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices because you are with me.  You hold me in your hands.  You are always before me and always beside me.  Thank you.  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].

 

Wednesday June 18 2014

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Scripture: Romans 1:28-2:11
Key verse Romans 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

Reflection: We are only on our third day of our High School mission trip to Washington DC, and we have served in 5 different facilities for the homeless. We directly served over 1,500 meals, bagged over 500 meals that will be delivered to those with medical issues, and prepared food for over 5,000 for today.  We walked through the park last night on our way to see the White House and gave out back-packs full of water and peanut butter sandwiches to people who had found a place to rest for the night on the street.

We were asked this question by a homeless man: “What are the hard words that we use to describe and understand the homeless?”  Pushed to use the words that we have heard over the years, the youth shared: lazy, selfish, dirty, rude, unemployed, addicted, depressed, smelly, greedy and entitled. Then he asked if we knew people in our families that could be described by those same words. Yes, I do! Do you?

Judgment is easy. We do it every day.  We are all bound together in our common humanity, and as people of Christ we are called to live in love, not judgment.

That same homeless man asked me if he would meet Jesus in my group, or would the youth of Myers Park Presbyterian Church just tell him about Jesus. I hope it would be both. Occasionally, we might not do either.

Prayer: God, may all I do be done in love. 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].

Tuesday June 17 2014

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Scripture: Numbers 11:1-23
Key verse: 23 The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

Reflection: How shortsighted we are!  We start off on a new journey in life, leaving behind the things that have held us back, find ourselves discouraged at the challenges of a new life and begin to complain about the hardship, yearning for the remembered good old days.

We take on new responsibilities and complain that the work load is too much. There is too much responsibility, too many tasks, not enough time and energy.  We start feeling sorry for ourselves and initiate a pity party.

That’s what happened with God’s people and Moses long ago.  It happens with us, too.  For them and for us the problem is a shortsightedness that focus so much on our own discomfort that we forget that God has resources to meet our needs.  We forget that God has been at work in our lives.  We forget to trust in God’s care and concern for us.

Back then, God’s people got the nourishment they needed.  Back then, Moses, got the help he needed to be an effective leader and to avoid inevitable burnout.  God provided all that in spite of the grumblings and complaints of the people. God cared even when the people were ungrateful.

If you have moments of despair or frustration and your sight can’t see beyond your discomfort, remember God’s answer to Moses (and to us), “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

Prayer: Hear our grumblings, O God, and let them evaporate our distress. Then show us your power – sustain us, lead us, support us, encourage us – until we can take the next step on our journey. In the name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.

Author: Von Clemans