Tuesday September 30 2014

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Scripture: Luke 5:12-26
Key verse: Luke 5:23 “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?”

Reflection: Some men carried a paralyzed friend to see Jesus and when they arrived where he was staying; the house was too full to enter. They went on the roof, cut a hole, and lowered the man down on his mat to Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith he told the man that his sins were forgiven. The religious leaders in the group were offended. To offer forgiveness was blasphemy! Only God can forgive, so if this Jesus forgives sins he must be speaking on God’s behalf or equating himself with God.

Jesus knew the questions the religious leaders were asking so he asked the question above. Which is easier, to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “stand up and walk”? That’s an impossible question to answer. To forgive sins is spiritually powerful and might be blasphemy. But to say “stand up and walk” is risky because the person might not be able to get up and walk.

Every Sunday in worship, we pray together a prayer of confession and a pastor proclaims the good news of God’s forgiveness. For me it’s the most powerful moment in the worship service. I’m afraid that many worshipers think of this as humdrum and yawn through the moment. But they would be so impressed if a paralyzed person stood up and walked away from our worship service! Jesus is reminding us that forgiveness is the greater message. Forgiveness is at the heart of the good news and brings a healing that is more powerful than any physical healing. When you hear words of forgiveness in worship this Sunday, listen carefully and let those words into your heart. Forgiveness is the most dangerous, risky, gracious, wonderful news at the core of the gospel.

Prayer: O God, I confess that sometimes I am enamored with the wrong things, the showy things, and not the hidden powerful good news. Your forgiveness is the best gift possible and the greatest news ever. When I hear words of your forgiveness, let those words transform my heart. Through Jesus Christ 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].

 

 

Monday September 29 2014

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Scripture: Luke 5: 1-11
Key Verses: Luke 5:8-11 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Reflection: This is the calling of the first disciples. They were not found in the synagogue or the seminaries. They were ordinary people struggling in their day to day lives. Jesus chose normal people as his disciples. People like you and me. Frederick Buechner writes, “Jesus made his church out of human beings with more or less the same mixtures in them of cowardice and guts, of intelligence and stupidity, of selfishness and generosity, of openness of heart and sheer cussedness as you would be apt to find in any of us.” Buechner goes on to add, “The reason he made his church out of human beings is that human beings were all there was to make it out of. In fact, as far as I know, human beings are all there is to make it out of still. It’s a point worth remembering.” (Secrets in the Dark, p. 147)

They left everything and followed him. This was a call to an adventure full of miracles, rich characters and powerful stories. It is also an adventure full of transformation, hope and love. The adventure is not just for the few, but for all of humanity. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: You call even me, God. Here, I am. (Breathe deep in several moments of silence as you listen for where God is calling you today.) In the name of the one who called normal, everyday people. 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].

 

Friday September 26 2014

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Scripture: Acts 19:21–41
Key verse: 23 About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way.

Reflection: The Way was the name given to the earliest followers of Jesus. Before they were Christians they were called the Way. The followers of the way of Christ spread out from Palestine into the Mediterranean basin and into Asia Minor and beyond. The spread of the Good News was not without controversy. Or, as today’s passage puts it, “About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way.”

The followers of the Way in Ephesus (modern-day Turkey) became a significant threat to the economy of that great city. The followers of the Way were telling people that the God seen in Jesus Christ was alone worthy of worship and honor. All the artisans who made a livelihood of creating shrines for Artemis (Roman Diana, goddess of the hunt and protector of girls and women) saw their business drop off dramatically. The Christian Way was impacting the market economy.

What would we do if we realized faith commitments were threatening our livelihoods? Would we, like the Ephesians, try to run the troublemakers out of town? Would we double down on the status quo? Would we start a protest? Instigate a riot? That’s what the Ephesians did. Until one man calmed things down with some calm reasoning.

Except the result was the Apostle Paul was run out of Ephesus into Greece where he continued to get into trouble.

If the Christian Way offends no one, troubles no tradition, and supports the status quo is that a sign that followers have lost their Way?

Prayer: Lead us O Lord, in the right way, following you even when we are messing with success. In the name of Jesus, the troublemaker. Amen.

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].

 

Thursday September 25 2014

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Scripture: Luke 4:14-30
Key Verses 16-19: 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Reflection: Jesus made waves when he returned to his home region of Galilee. He had been gathering a following, and people were praising him. When he stood up in his home synagogue in Nazareth, and read from the prophet Isaiah, he spoke familiar words of prophecy. They loved his teaching. It was only when he indicated that miracles might not come to all his hearers that they got upset at him. They wanted the flashy healings and the miraculous food they had heard about. They completely missed the stunning words he had just uttered about good news to the poor.

This is the same call we have as followers of Jesus, and as those who have been given his Spirit. We, too, have been anointed to share the good news we know. We are called to declare “release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” It might not be a physical recovery of sight in a miraculous healing. It might be an even deeper vision that is available to those who follow Jesus. We have good news about freedom from oppression, and it means freedom from all kinds of oppression, including those that might hit close to home and shake up our own prejudices. Some of our words about Jesus might be popular and accepted. Others might bring us into tension with those who seek a certain kind of savior. May God grant us the grace to share God’s good news with all those who need to hear it.

Prayer: Lord, your Spirit is upon me, and calls me to share your good news. Open my mouth to proclaim it. Open my eyes to see your kingdom. Open my mind to where my own vision is too narrow. Open my heart to those who might disagree with me. 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].

 

Wednesday September 24 2014

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Scripture: Acts 19:1-10
Key Verses: Acts 19:1, 8-10 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 8 He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

Reflection: I’ve had the good fortune to visit the ruins of Ephesus on several occasions. It’s an incredible place. It was a very sophisticated Roman port city. The strategy of the disciples to build the church in these places was extremely effective.

What I admire is their persistence. The opposition to Christianity has always been there, and it continues to be there today. For whatever reason, the world doesn’t want to hear it. Maybe everybody thinks there’s too much to lose. Maybe it sounds like hocus pocus. Maybe it’s a threat to our esteemed individualism. For whatever reason, the resistance continues.

The persistence is what is admirable. Paul just doesn’t give up. He argues “persuasively” but it doesn’t always work. He continues on in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. And it says, “This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.” (19:10) That’s no small feat!

How persistent are we in being the church in this modern world? How persistent are you at being Christian in every aspect of your life? It’s not about piety or self-righteousness. It’s about identity. It’s about who we are. The persistence is admirable.

Prayer: Lord there are places in my life where I want to give up. I’ve tried to reconcile with so and so but it doesn’t work. I reached out a couple of times and nothing happened. I’ve tried to help so and so but they don’t want it. I’ve invited this person or that person to church or Bible study and they won’t come. Maybe I need to move on. Or, maybe I need to dig in. Either way, inspire in me the persistence to love in the face of opposition. Through Christ, who persevered through the cross to bring us life. 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].

 

Tuesday September 23 2014

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Scripture: Luke 3:15-22
Key Verse: Luke 3:16 “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; . . .He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Reflection: Baptism is powerful. It is a sign and seal of God’s claim on our lives. Most people in the Presbyterian Church were baptized as babies. They have no recollection of their baptism. In other traditions (and sometimes Presbyterian), people wait until they are able to make a profession of faith before they are baptized. Either way, baptism starts with water, administered by a pastor, but the power comes from God. It is God who shapes and transforms a person’s life from the inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit. This power is like fire – refining and purifying.

When we read the story about John the Baptist in the wilderness, we are reminded of our desire to be cleansed by God – to receive forgiveness for our mistakes and the gift of grace and love for our daily lives. There is a longing in every person to be made new. We want to be closer to God and find true hope and joy. Every day the water of baptism reminds us of our connection to God – a connection that can’t be broken.

When I came back to the church at age 23, I wanted to be re-baptized in order to experience more fully God’s power in my life. But, I was reminded by my pastor that baptism is once and for all. I couldn’t re-do what God had done. I realized that God had already begun a good work in me, and that there was still more God was willing to do as part of the transformation process. Once I remembered my baptism, I recommitted to it. The water had already been poured on my head and the Holy Spirit was at work.

I invite you to remember your baptism today. Embrace it. Give thanks for it. Then, give God your consent to transform you. Surrender to God’s loving will and pursue God’s hopes and dreams for you.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks for the power of baptism. We thank you for the faithfulness of John the Baptist and the prophetic message he had then and now. Help us to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Jesus’ love and the courage to live out of his transforming power. In his holy 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 September 22 2014

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Scripture: Esther 4:4-17
Key verse: Esther 4:14b “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

Reflection: This verse is the most familiar, pivotal verse in the book of Esther. Did you know that God is never mentioned in the entire book of Esther? And that book is still included as part of the canon of Holy Scripture! Apparently God sometimes works through faithful people and their circumstances without a speaking part in the play or recognition in the acknowledgements.

Esther was a Jewish woman who became a queen with the foreign king Ahasuerus. One of the king’s advisors, Haman, was appointed over all of the kingdom’s officials (almost like “chief of staff” for the king). Haman played an evil trick, getting the king to issue an edict that all Jews must be killed. Esther faced a horrible situation. Would she go against all royal protocol and go unsummoned to the king to plead for her people, or would she go along with the king’s edict that meant all of her people would be killed and likely she also would be killed?

Esther’s cousin Mordecai acted as her advisor and challenged her to go to the king on behalf of all Jews. He suggested that she had become queen for just such a purpose at “such a time as this.” Esther was in the right place at the right time with the right connections to save God’s people.

“For just such a time as this” doesn’t apply to everyone, at every moment, but does it apply to you today? Are you in a particular circumstance to make a difference for God’s kingdom? Are you in the right place at the right time with the right connections to do something great for someone? It’s a question we should ask ourselves every day.

Prayer: O God, guide my life so that I see the way you might use me to do great things for your people and for your kingdom. Give me courage to speak up, step forward, and go against the expected protocol so that somebody else can benefit. 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].

 

 

Friday September 19 2014

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Scripture: Acts 17:1-15
Key Verses: Acts 17:6-7 6 When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”

Reflection: Paul and Silas were preaching the good news of Christ in Thessalonica and people were being transformed. There were others who were not so happy with the changes and their outcry is found in verse 6, “These people who have been turning the world upside-down…” These words were meant as accusation and condemnation.

As we read on in the book of Acts, we soon realize that the task of proclaiming the Risen Christ was not easy then and will not be easy today. The world we encounter is a rich and vibrant mosaic of diversity right in our own backyard. We understand the widespread apprehension and uneasiness over religion because we carry the same feelings of fear, suspicion and assumptions. It is also intimidating to realize we don’t know as much about our own faith as we should.

Paul offers us a good example to follow. He entered the Synagogue, then went to the lecture hall and stayed in for two years. He didn’t turn their world upside down overnight. Paul was bold in his proclamation, but he also showed a willingness to enter into the heart of inter-community dialogue, eating, teaching, learning within the heart of the city. Encountering others, he was also transformed.   Let us continue to go into the world, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ — but with love and compassion for our neighbors.

Prayer: God, give me an opportunity to share the good news today and may the world be turned upside down — the whole world, and my world. In the name of your Son, who is the good news. 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].

Thursday September 18 2014

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Scripture: Acts 16:25-40
Key verses: 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Reflection: The jailer was an unlikely convert to Christianity. No telling how long he had been in that job or what he thought about the daily grind of keeping the prisoners in jail until they were handled by the magistrates. The fact that he went to sleep suggests that he had checked all the cells and all the restraints to make sure all the prisoners were secure. But it was not a normal night.

Imagine his shock, like many people who have lived through such a thing, being awakened by the ground moving beneath his feet — an earthquake! He immediately checked the jail since his livelihood, even his life, depended on keeping the prisoners secure. Every cell was opened and every chain unbound. In his world that only meant one thing: he was toast. No excuses would be sufficient to explain this major failure in cellular coverage. So he grabbed his sword and was going to end his life when a voice came from one of the cells.

Paul, one of the two men jailed the previous day, called out, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Relief flooded the jailer. But this was not the world he knew. Prisoners escape when they can. No one stays in jail. Everyone saves themselves. In an instant he realized these prisoners were never captives of chains and cells, they had been freed already. They had been saved in a way that transcended this world and all its cells, swords, and judicial sentences.

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” the jailed dared to ask. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And so he did. Bondage is more than cells and chains. Freedom is more than liberation from bondage. Salvation is being right with God, free from whatever binds us. Could it really be as simple as believing — putting your trust — in the Lord Jesus?

Prayer: It takes an earthquake to wake us up, O Lord. Whether our bondage is physical, mental, spiritual, whether it comes from the outside or internally of our own making, break through the night, break through the walls, break through the restraints and free us, liberate us, save us. In the name of Jesus who makes every day new. Amen.

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].

 

Wednesday September 17 2014

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Scripture: Acts 16:16-24
Key verses 16-18: 16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Reflection: Following Jesus isn’t easy. The story of Paul and Silas in Macedonia shows us that it’s not. In some places their message of the gospel was well-received and many converts to the faith followed. In others they encountered trouble with officials and common folk, and even among themselves. In this story we see Paul trying to spread the word about Jesus. Some heard his message and joined the movement. A slave girl caught the vision and followed Paul for days shouting out “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Her proclamation was true and might have been welcomed, except she kept at it for days! And Paul, “very much annoyed,” performed a sort of exorcism to get her to stop. You’d think that might be the end of the story. The girl quiets down, Paul and Silas can keep sharing the Word in peace, and all is well. But the slave girl’s owners had counted on her for her fortune-telling capabilities, and whatever Paul did to her took away that lucrative use. So they bring the two evangelists up on charges of disturbing the peace. The crowd joins in and Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown into jail.

Even Paul, who did more than anyone else to advance the kingdom of God in those early days; even he had trouble following Jesus. He got annoyed and acted rashly and found himself in all sorts of trouble. It would be convenient if loving God and our neighbor were straight-forward and simple. Instead, we sometimes have to sit in a metaphorical jail cell with our hands bound and think: how did I get HERE, and how can I follow Jesus FROM here? The good news is that there is always a way out. Paul’s story (and the rest of this story in Acts 17) shows us that. Paul’s faithfulness and trust in God, in spite of his own failings, shows the real power of the gospel.

What is it that is tripping you up as you seek to follow Jesus? What is the way out God is showing you? If all else fails, sing a hymn, as Paul and Silas did from their jail cell.

Prayer: Lord, help me to follow you. Even when the way is troublesome, even when those around me are annoying, even when I may annoy others, even when others don’t want to hear it. Teach me to trust in you. In the name of Christ 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].