Thursday July 17 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 26: 1-16
Key Verse: Matthew 13  “Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Reflection: The unnamed woman recognizes Jesus as the messiah and as a faithful act of discipleship, anoints his feet with a costly ointment. This story is told in all four gospels. In each version, the story reflects the same basic story: a woman anoints Jesus. The incident causes objections which Jesus rejects. Her actions were a powerful testimony to the significance of Jesus impending death. The disciples were not ready to accept that he would not be with them and so they could not understand.

Jesus stands up for this woman by honoring the risk she takes. There are not many places in scripture where Jesus honors an individual and the fact that it is a woman is significant. He states that…”wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her. “ Her testimony was extravagant and it proclaims good news again and again. It causes me to wonder if we have a testimony to share or the courage to risk sharing that testimony?

Prayer: You are the God from whom I receive unconditional love, consuming it as if it were a commodity. I trust your love but speaking about it is a risk and offering it to others is hard. Being transformed by your love is the next step that I take at this moment, knowing that transformation takes time. May your son transform me on this journey. 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 July 16 2014

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Scripture: Psalm 89:1-18

Key Verses: Psalm 1-2
1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens

Reflection: We are busy here at the church preparing for over 270 children to join us at Vacation Bible School next week. At least a hundred volunteers will be here each day, many of them youth who spend a week of their summer vacation with our children. My favorite part each day is the Opening Assembly when every person—child, youth and adult— is singing (with motions!) The songs aren’t complicated, since they are designed for children. They tend to stick in your head, though! This year the songs are all about how God works extraordinary things through ordinary people. We will marvel at “the God who works wonders.” (Psalm 77:14a)

We send a copy of the VBS CD to each family ahead of time so the children can begin learning the songs. Many of our parents tell us that those CDs are some of their family favorites. They keep them in their cars to sing on road-trips. They dance to them in the living room. Some parents and kids can even still sing songs from several summers ago. This year we are looking forward to teaching a couple of songs we sing in Celebrate worship. Be on the lookout for motions to show up for those on Sundays from the children!

I’ve had this year’s CD in my car for several days, so I can begin to learn the songs myself. I’ve noticed a real change in my drive to work as I listen and sing songs of faith instead of fixate on national news. Our Psalm today calls us to sing of God’s steadfast love. Not just think about it. Not just listen to others. Not just read about it, or even pray about it. We are to sing! What song of faith can you join in today?

Prayer: Lord, fill my heart with your love and grace. Open my mouth to SING your praise today. Through Christ the Lord I pray. 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].

Tuesday July 15 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30

Key Verse: Matthew 25:23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Reflection: You’ve heard of the parable of the talents? (If not, go back and read it in Matthew 25:14-30.) This is where we get the phrase, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” Jesus is teaching on the subject of stewardship. It’s not necessarily about money; it’s about all of life. What are you doing, with what and who you are? All of it?

The slave who buried his talent and gave his master back exactly what he received is scolded. He didn’t do anything to cultivate it. He didn’t take any risk. He played it safe and according to Jesus, this didn’t work out so well! The judgment is kind of harsh. “’As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (25:30) Nobody wants to hear Jesus say that to you.

A wasted life is a terrible thing. We are an endowed people. The question is not, “How much are you giving to the church budget?” The question is “What are you doing with all of it?”

Prayer: Lord, I often do feel like a “slave,” to the wrong things. I have to keep this going, and keep that going, and make sure this works, and fix that. Then there’s the whole model of perfection. Does everything have to be perfect? The stress of this probably works on me in ways that I don’t even know. You have given me my life. You have given me everything I have. I don’t take a breath without you. Could you possibly wake me up to the truth of that fact so that I might become the kind of steward of my life that you give me the opportunity to be. 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].

 

Monday July 14 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 25: 1-13
Key Verse: 25:13 “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Reflection: Years ago, I had a friend who was never prepared for anything. If we went shopping, she would forget to wear comfortable shoes and would need to borrow my flip flops. If we took our children on a picnic, she would forget to bring a lunch basket. There was always something I was lending her: tissues, lip gloss, gum, sunglasses, sunscreen, socks, toothpaste, hairspray.   She never paid attention to what she might need! Of course, I was her over-prepared friend who had everything! As long as she had me around she didn’t need to worry.

A lot of people approach their faith journey this way. They hope it will just happen -that somehow they will grow closer to God in Jesus Christ without having to do anything. They put off thinking about their relationship with God to another day. They think they have all the time in the world. Then, something challenging or tragic happens and they discover very quickly they don’t have the resources they need to face it. They literally thrash around looking for God’s comfort and strength and it eludes them.

Today’s scripture passage is called the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, but it is more like an allegory than a parable. An allegory is defined as a “rhetorical device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts.”   In this allegory the bridegroom is Jesus, the bridesmaids are the church and the oil (or having oil) is symbolic of “good deeds of love and mercy”. We are told at the beginning of the story that 5 of the bridesmaids are wise and 5 are foolish. Some are prepared and some are not.   They all fell asleep, but only the wise bridesmaids had enough oil for an unanticipated wait. Apparently, the foolish bridesmaids did not understand what was required of them. So, they had to make a mad scramble, at the last minute, to get more oil. Unfortunately, it was too little­­—too late. The door was closed on them and they were shut out of the banquet.

Jesus reminds us to be ready. Whether it is the second coming of Christ or the unexpected events in life, we are reminded to be prepared. Don’t miss out on the wonderful banquet you can enjoy now. Be prepared to meet God at any time and find out what confidence and joy this preparation adds to your life.

Prayer: Gracious God, we confess that we neglect our relationship with you. We are distracted by so many things in our lives. Please help us to change our ways. May we be prepared to meet you every day as we continue to give our time and attention to acts of love and mercy. 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 July 11 2014

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Scripture: Deuteronomy 31:7-13, 31:24-32:4
Key verses: Deuteronomy 31: 12-13 “Assemble the people – men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns – so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

Reflection: Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, going through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. As Moses aged and as the people drew closer to the Promised Land, he passed the baton of leadership to Joshua. God chose Joshua to be the one to lead the people for the next phase of their journey. Moses gave important final instructions to Joshua and to the priests. They were to gather the people every seven years to listen to a reading of the law from God. This regular practice would renew their memory of what God had done on their behalf and would ensure that God’s laws would be passed to future generations. This would also unite them as a people and rekindle the bonds of their community.

In a sense, this is what we do every time we gather for worship. We come together to hear God’s word read aloud so that we can be reminded of God’s love for us and God’s wonderful acts in the world. We bring our children to worship and to Sunday School and to Vacation Bible School so that this good news will be passed on to future generations. Gathering together to listen to God’s word is an important commitment of our faith. We can read the Bible in our own devotions, but we are called to gather together in community regularly. We hear and learn together so that we can grow in our faithfulness and our obedience. I hope you plan to gather with a community for worship this Sunday!

Prayer: “For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he.” All praise be to God! Amen. (Deuteronomy 32:3-4)

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 July 10 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 24: 1-8
Key Verses: Matthew 24:3-4  When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.”

Reflection: This passage begins with the disciples pointing out to Jesus the buildings of the temple. When I read this passage the first time, I just passed right by the verse without giving it much thought. On the second reading, I thought about how this strange verse reminds us of the incarnation. Jesus is God with us. The temple does not contain God but God exists in the world for all to see and experience—if we have eyes to see.

In youth ministry, we try to help our young people look for God in the world. We also find that we have to teach them some basic life skills. Tomorrow, a group of rising 5th and 6th graders from Myers Park will head to Outdoor Challenge where they will gain skills in rafting, caving and even repelling down the side of a mountain. We will also remind them to take a shower, put on sunscreen daily, and when someone is speaking, look them in the eye. We will often find ourselves saying, “Let’s Focus!”

If I could simplify this scripture, that is what I think Jesus is saying to the disciples “Let’s Focus”. They are asking him a hundred questions (just like youth!): When will this be? What are the signs? How will we know? Jesus does not answer the questions but warns them: “Beware that no one leads you astray” (vs. 4). Focus.

We believe the message for the disciples is the same message for us. FOCUS. Some search this passage for clues to an exact date, or particular storms and events so that we can be prepared for the last days. I don’t believe that is what we are asked to focus upon. We are being instructed to condition ourselves for a state of attentiveness. Let’s focus today so that we might see God who lives and moves among us and cannot be contained. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Light out of darkness. Hope out of pain. Joy from the depths of despair. Peace from crisis. God, you bring resurrection into every day. As I find my focus, speak a word of life. In each Holy Moment this day has to offer, receive my gratitude in name of your Son. 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 July 9 2014

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Scripture: Psalm 96
Key Verse 11: “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it…”

Reflection: It’s beach week for my family and I am reminded again of the dual reality of the sea. In scripture the sea is an image both of creation and of chaos. The same ocean that speaks of the constancy of God, also evokes the fierce power of God’s creation. In the sea there is delight and joy, watching cousins race one another on the waves, and hold long conversations at the water’s edge. At the same time there is also a line that crosses from power to fear, when the youngest cousin ventures out too far, and warnings of strong undertow and recent shark sightings reach us. In the face of both realities, the call is the same: give God praise. Offer glory and honor to the powerful Creator of the universe. Eugene Peterson has a wonderful version of this Psalm in The Message:

1-2 Sing God a brand-new song! Earth and everyone in it, sing! Sing to God—worship God!

2-3 Shout the news of his victory from sea to sea, Take the news of his glory to the lost, News of his wonders to one and all!

4-5 For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs. His terrible beauty makes the gods look cheap; Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags.

5-6 God made the heavens— Royal splendor radiates from him, A powerful beauty sets him apart.

7 Bravo, God, Bravo! Everyone join in the great shout: Encore! In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.

8-9 Bring gifts and celebrate, Bow before the beauty of God, Then to your knees—everyone worship!

10 Get out the message—God Rules! He put the world on a firm foundation; He treats everyone fair and square.

11 Let’s hear it from Sky, With Earth joining in, And a huge round of applause from Sea.

12 Let Wilderness turn cartwheels, Animals, come dance, Put every tree of the forest in the choir—

13 An extravaganza before God as he comes, As he comes to set everything right on earth, Set everything right, treat everyone fair.

Prayer: Bravo, God, Bravo! 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].

 

Tuesday July 8 2014

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Scripture: Romans 8:31-39

Key Verses: Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Reflection: This is one of those famous scriptures in the Bible. The apostle Paul is at the end of his life when he writes to the church in Rome. It is a mature Paul who has been tried and tested, who comes to this final conclusion that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:39b)

That does not mean that everything won’t try! Paul knows that better than anyone. Why is it we are so tested in this life? Why can’t there just be peace? And yet, if your life is like mine, there always seems to be something working against the good. It makes you tired. I have to remind myself that this place is not heaven. And Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, even though everything will try.

Wherever you are today, whatever state of mind you may be in, there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God. You’re not alone. You’re not isolated. God hasn’t forgotten where you are. You matter. The hardships are real, and the fatigue may set in, but this remains true, (nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:39b) Hang onto that!

Prayer: Lord, honestly, sometimes this sounds like wishful thinking. The circumstances around us can be so severe that we can’t imagine any relief in the near future. Remind us that your love doesn’t wait until the hardships are over. Remind us that your love keeps us bound to you in the midst of every storm of life. There is no separation. There is no place we can go where your love is not present for us. We are unworthy of such attention from the Creator of the universe! And yet, your word tells us this is true. We rest in the thought… 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].

Monday July 7 2014

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Scripture: Romans 8: 26-30
Key verse 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Reflection: Recently, I was re-reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. It was written during WWII when he was teaching in an underground seminary.   Bonhoeffer would meet his students in secret to avoid prosecution. We can only imagine how alone and isolated he and his students must have felt as they taught and learned in secret hoping to avoid arrest. Their lives were in constant danger. In the midst of their uncertainty, Bonhoeffer encouraged his students to read scripture, particularly the Psalms because they are a powerful reminder that “one who prays never prays alone.” Bonhoeffer’s quote about prayer reminds me of today’s scripture.

In the context of suffering, the Apostle Paul offers hope for the future. He reassures us that God hears our cries for help and even prays with and for us. God takes all things – good and bad – and works them into God’s purposes. Yet, there are times when we are impatient. We try to make the terrible things that happen better before they can be better.  We stumble around with our questions and fears forgetting that God is the one who will work all things together for good– not us. In the short run, the events of life can be awful. But through it all, God is present and the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” What a hopeful message!  We are assured that God knows our hearts and will pray our prayers with us. We are not alone.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for taking what happens to us and creating something new. Shape our lives in such a way that your likeness may be seen in us. Call us by name and place us on solid ground. Encourage us when we are down and lift us up when we pray for your help. Complete your work in us and stay with us, always. 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 July 4 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22
Key verse Matthew 22:21b: “Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Reflection: Today we celebrate the birth of our nation with parades and picnics and fireworks. We remember the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 that proclaimed our independence from Great Britain. This is a day to celebrate the ideals of freedom and democracy.

Sometimes contemporary disciples of Jesus have mingled their faith and their patriotism into a civil religion that might be unrecognizable to the first disciples. First century Jews, living under the oppression of the occupation of the Roman Empire, faced difficult questions about faithfulness and patriotism. When was obedience to the emperor contradictory with faithfulness to God? When was obedience to the emperor idolatry?

The leaders of the religious establishment, who apparently had “sold out” to the empire instead of remaining faithful, challenged Jesus with a tricky question about paying taxes. Was paying taxes compatible with faithfulness? Jesus responded by asking for a coin. Even having a coin was considered traitorous and impure, but those religious leaders had one! The coin had an image of the emperor on it. Jesus responded with the famous quote, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The coin had an image of the emperor. Where do we look for the image of God to know what belongs to God? According to the story of creation, every human being bears the image of God. If we are to give to God the things that are God’s, then God expects us to give our very selves with complete surrender. All that we are, do, and have belongs to God. Giving ourselves to God is much more difficult than paying taxes!

Prayer: Today, as I celebrate the fourth of July, remind me that my true allegiance belongs to you, O God. Empower me to live out my faithfulness and to devote myself to you above all earthly governments and all human commitments. In Jesus’ name I pray. 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].