Friday January 30 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: For Derek Macleod, our newly installed Director of Outreach, as he attends the Synod Meeting in Cuba on behalf of our Cuban Mission Team.

Scripture: Mark 6:47–56
Key verse: (50b) But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Reflection: Sometimes the only thing we can see is the chaos around us. So much so, that even when Jesus does show up we don’t see him. Even if we do, our response is not relief, but fear.

This passage from the Gospel of Mark is another story of Jesus, the disciples in a boat, and the threatening chaos of a storm.

Jesus sees the disciples struggling against the wind and goes to meet them — by walking on the water! When they finally take notice of this figure walking across the waves they are terrified.

They don’t see Jesus, they see something that strikes fear into their hearts. Jesus appears to them so outside the box (boat) that whatever help Jesus might be for them is drowned out by fear, not of the chaos around them, but of the unexpected way Jesus comes to them.

The disciples, especially in the Gospel of Mark, come across as clueless. Their difficulty in recognizing Jesus was repeated in the Church in the decades following Jesus’ resurrection. But, to be fair, how can anyone expect the unexpected?

The disciples—and the Church—found themselves in chaotic and threatening times. Yet Jesus showed up for them all.

What winds of storm threaten you? What chaos pushes against your efforts to move forward? Do you see that movement in the corner of your eye? Does it look like something impossible? Does it go against every expectation you have for how the world works? Does it frighten you and fill you with fear?

Take heart. Do not be afraid. The God who created the wind and water and waves sends his Son to calm our fears and set us back on course. “It is I” shows up in unexpected ways, but, thanks be to God, always shows up.

Prayer: You know the things that threaten us, O God. In those times when chaos surrounds our lives open our eyes and hearts to see you, even where we least expect you. Calm our fears and give us courage for the rest of our journey. In the name of the one who walks on water we pray. 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 January 29 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is:  Our Upper Room Devotional Team at Urban Ministry Center, as they lead devotions with homeless men and women during the lunch hour.

Scripture: Mark 6:30-46
Key verses 30-32: 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Reflection: This is the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5000. A crowd listens to him teach late into the day. The disciples get worried that the people have nothing to eat. Jesus sends them to find provisions and they return with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus multiplies the food to feed the entire crowd, with more leftover. It’s a great story of an amazing miracle, and of sharing, and of trust. It also teaches an important lesson about our own needs as disciples, in relationship with others.

At the start of it the disciples themselves are tired and hungry. They have been busy with many people and “had no leisure even to eat.” Jesus calls them to come away and rest. He is good at heading off by himself when he needs to rest, rejuvenate, and pray. Perhaps he wants to instill the same balance in his followers. Imagine the relief of the disciples when they get into the boat with Jesus, headed for dinner and a nap. Instead, when they arrive onshore, they are greeted by a crowd again. Jesus has compassion on the crowd and begins to teach them. So much for rest and food for the disciples. I wonder if their eventual suggestion to let the crowd go find something to eat is really about themselves. The story never does say if or when the disciples got their dinner. When they have served the whole crowd and gathered the leftovers, they immediately get into the boat again and head out on a windy sea. According to Mark, when the boat lands again, Jesus and the disciples are again immediately surrounded by a crowd, this time needing healing.

Sometimes our needs are eclipsed by the needs of those around us. Sometimes faithfulness means postponing our plans in order to serve. And sometimes it is in serving in faith, that our real needs are met as well.

Prayer: Lord, you have compassion on all your people. When I want to serve myself first, and take care of my needs while ignoring the needs of others, forgive me. Teach me that you provide. Teach me to give and to love with my eyes on you. In your name 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 January 28 2015

Refle

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Our Harvest Center volunteers, who prepare and serve meals, tutor, and lead devotions for our neighbors in need.

Scripture: Mark 6:1-13
Key Verses: Mark 6:7-13
7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Reflection: It is interesting how Jesus sort of stripped down the disciples before he sent them out on their mission.  It’s as if he didn’t want them to be over-prepared.  He sent them out a little bit needy and dependent on others.

Sometimes it’s possible to overshoot the runway.  If we over-think it, over-prepare for it, we can miss our dependency upon the Holy Spirit for something to happen.  We just do it ourselves.  When Jesus sent these people out he empowered them but he also ordered them to “take nothing for their journey” except for a staff, sandals and one tunic.  No bread, no bag, no money.  That’s either odd or it’s brilliant.  (I’m going to go with brilliance since it was Jesus.)  The church can have too many resources and not enough dependency on God.  Give us the task and we will do it.  Tell us the goal and we will reach it.  It’s a blessing and a curse.

I’m not sure how we can do this, but is there a way for us to be the church and at the same time to “take nothing for our journey?”  Something to pray about.

Prayer: Lord, I don’t think you need me to fix anything or to do anything.  I don’t think you are looking for me to impress you with my goodness or my abilities.  It’s a miracle that you’re even aware of me, but I’m aware of you and I’m in need of you for the very breath I’m getting ready to draw.  Help me to cultivate my dependency upon you and receive my thanks and praise.  Through Christ our Lord.  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 January 27 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Our Congo Mission Team, as they support the girls’ school and strengthen healthcare services in Tshikaji and local villages.

Scripture: Psalm 28
Key Verse: 6 “Blessed be the LORD, because God has heard the voice of my supplication.”

Reflection: This psalm is a prayer for deliverance attributed to King David.  David spent a lot of time in battle fighting those who wanted to destroy him or his country.  He regularly asked for protection and much of the book of Psalms chronicles his fervent prayers for deliverance.  The Psalms also include his joyful songs of praise.  Sometimes these two themes of deliverance and praise are woven together like we see in today’s psalm.   Notice the way David uses poetry to give voice to his personal struggles and those of the people of Israel.  Now consider how these same words, spoken across thousands of years, also give voice to our struggles.  These are words of comfort and strength that help us, especially when we feel like we are under attack by the challenges of life.   We have hope, like David, that God will hear our prayers in the midst of struggle.   Perhaps you are facing an “enemy” right now.  Read this psalm as a prayer to God.  Then, trust in the LORD and let God be your strength.

Prayer:  Almighty God, we need your strength.  Help us to trust you in every circumstance of life.  Remind us that you care for us and what happens to us.   We give thanks that you hear our cries and will not forsake us.  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 January 26 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Our Men’s Shelter Ministry, serving meals, leading devotions, and providing job skills counseling to homeless men.

Scripture: Isaiah 48:1-11
Key verses: 9-10 For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, so that I may not cut you off. See, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity.

Reflection: In my coastal home of Halifax, right on the dock of the deep harbor in an old warehouse is the Nova Scotia Crystal Factory. They claim to make some of the most beautiful crystal in the world there and I have no reason to doubt them.  When you come to my home we will raise a crystal glass of something to your health and gaze upon their fine craftsmanship for ourselves.  The doors of this crystal factory are wide open inviting you as you pass to look inside and see how the crystal is made in the small workshop.  Making crystal by hand and breath requires raw material, tremendous skill and a lot of heat.  One furnace works at 2,588 degrees Fahrenheit in order to make a malleable material that can be blown and cut into a desired shape.    That something so beautiful and delicate can come from something so raw and intense is a marvel.

God is angry in Isaiah but, before we write it off as another image of the angry Old Testament God, let’s remember that anger is one of the ways our loved ones show their love for us.  God’s anger is real and fierce (and thank God it is contained in its intensity for our sake) but anger expressed in a loving relationship always seeks to correct not to condemn.  Anger can get our attention and help us redefine and recreate.   If anger was all we had in our relationship with God and each other it would be abusive.  But God’s anger acts like a furnace — the prophet Isaiah suggests — a furnace that refines and prepares us for the Creator who would lovingly fashion us to his way and will, for his purpose and people.  In the midst of struggle and adversity, in good times and bad we are being taught to trust the One who is at work in our lives.

Prayer: God my life is in your hands.  With your fierce and tender love, create me as a vessel of your grace and an instrument of your peace.  May what I am reflect who you are.  Amen.

Author: Derek Macleod

[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 January 23 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is:  Our members engaged in Meal Ministry, preparing delicious and well-balanced meals for others in times of need.

Scripture: Psalm 32
Key Verse: Psalm 32:1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Reflection: Every Sunday when we gather to worship, we pray a prayer of confession.  God already knows our sin.  We cannot hide our failures and our weaknesses from God.  We pray the prayer of confession, not to tell God new information, but to acknowledge publicly that we have fallen short.  We haven’t lived up to God’s ideal for us.  We have not loved God with our whole heart and mind and strength and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

After that prayer of confession, one of the pastors proclaims a declaration of forgiveness.  Again, that isn’t new information.  We have probably heard before that God forgives us for our sin.  Yet we need to hear it again and again, from different voices and with different words.

We repeat this pattern every week, confessing our sin and hearing the good news of God’s forgiveness.  This pattern is at the core of our faith.  The Lord is gracious and merciful.  Our transgression is forgiven and our sin is covered.  Thanks be to God!  Worship this Sunday to hear that good news once again.

Prayer: Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo.  Forgive us.  Set us free from a past that we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed; and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image.  Through Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.

(prayer adapted from the Book of Common Worship, p. 88, prayer #3)

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 January 22 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Our El Salvador World Vision teams, as they sponsor children and families and promote peace with a holistic approach.

Scripture: Mark 4:21-34
Key Verse: 23 “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Reflection: Jesus sometimes ends his parables saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him listen.” The problem was the disciples had a hard time hearing. The crowd did not always have ears to hear and we may have evolved only to hear the obvious.  Hearing the gospel is not simply about a human capacity. Having “ears to hear” is about possibility.

We are hard on the disciples for not being smarter, quicker or tuned into the message of Jesus.   They could not hear the message of the parables because it often took them out of their comfort zone. Our deafness continues to make us uncomfortable when we read parables.

I imagine the crowd, as they passed by Jesus, saying, “What a great story today!” or “I love the story about the seeds, since I am a farmer.”  I imagine those comments because I have said those words.  I am not always listening deep enough.  My ears hear the obvious.  The good news in this passage, for me, is that Jesus opens deaf ears so that good news could be heard. It is something we do not have the capacity to do on our own.    May we have ears to hear and may we pay attention as Jesus continues to disturb, comfort, challenge, invite and remind.

Prayer: Prompt me to listen, O God of parables and good news, and surprise me with your Word. I pray in the name of the one who continues to invite me to have ears to hear. 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 January 21 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is:  Our Billingsville Leadership Academy, assisting children in Grier Heights with tutoring and classroom assistance.

Scripture: Mark 4:1-20
Key verse: 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Reflection: I like control.  When things don’t go according to my plan, I can accept that.  But I want to make adjustments—control things—to guarantee success.  The thought of not being in control drives me to distraction. (I’m trying to control that, too.)

So when Jesus says “Let anyone with ears to hear listen,” I am all in.  My ears are open to hear what I need to do to be a good disciple / husband / co-worker / colleague / etc.

He told this parable about a sower who planted seeds by throwing them all around.  Some of them fell on the dry, packed dirt of the path and were eaten by birds.  Some fell on rocky ground and couldn’t take root.  Some fell among thorns which choked out the growing plants.  But some fell on the good soil and produced an amazing harvest.

I, of course, wanted to know how I could be the good soil so that seeds planted in me would be successful.  Then my ears began to tingle.  Maybe the parable is not about what kind of ground you are, but about the reality of sowing seeds.  In spite of our best efforts, most of the time our endeavors yield little result.  But occasionally, even though we have been sowing seeds a long time, we are surprised by the results.  Something, someone, other than the thrower of seeds is at work tending and nurturing the soil to enable the seeds to grow.  And that’s out of my control.

I have ears.  I am trying to listen.

Prayer:  God of sower and seed, famished and fertile soil, you know we like to be in charge, especially of things “out there.”  Open our ears to listen for and hear your guidance and grace.  Give us trust that some of what we do will fall on your good soil.  In the name of the God of seeds, soil, and sowers.  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].

Tuesday January 20 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Our Loaves and Fishes volunteers, who assist the working poor by sorting and distributing food.

Scripture: Isaiah 44:9-20
Key Verses 9-10: 9 All who make idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know. And so they will be put to shame. 10 Who would fashion a god or cast an image that can do no good?”

Reflection: No matter how much Bible Study I do there is always a passage to read and think, “I’ve never read THAT one before!” This is one of those passages. There are plenty of other places in Scripture where the people of God are warned about worshiping idols, and bowing down to other gods. In this warning, the explanation of why, and the silliness of idols, is laid out so descriptively.  Look at verses 14b-17:

[The carpenter] plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!” 17 The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, “Save me, for you are my god!”

Can’t you see that carpenter? He works so patiently for his craft, nurturing a cedar tree from a seedling. He harvests the wood to be used in his carpentry. Some of it he also uses as fuel for the fire to warm himself. The fire helps him bake bread to feed himself. He is warm and well-fed and satisfied. Then he takes the same wood and carves an idol, or god out of it. He bows down and worships, praying “Save me for you are my god!”

To worship something made by human hands is foolish. Nothing we make ourselves is worthy of worship. As wonderful and beautiful are creations of our hands and of art and science and all knowledge, they cannot save. Not like God saves. We can see the foolishness in the example of the carpenter, who makes a little god out of the same stuff he uses to heat his home. But can we see the same inclination in ourselves? Do we let other things take the place of God; things of our own creation, or someone else’s, that we think will save us? Do we parse out our worship of God in terms of time and money and energy along with our heat, our food, and our home?  Perhaps we are more like the carpenter than we care to admit.

Prayer: O God you are so much bigger than I can imagine. You created everything that is, and all that I create and do is only by your grace. Forgive me when I forget. Forgive me when I start to worship other things. Forgive me when I think I can save myself. Teach me to worship you alone. 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].

 

Monday January 19 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: MLK Day – We pray for all our members engaged in areas of social justice.

Scripture: Mark 3:7-19a
Key Verses Mark 3:13-19: 13 He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15 and to have authority to cast out demons. 16 So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Reflection: This is a list of the 12 disciples Jesus called to be with him in ministry. What the Scriptures tell you about these people is that they were extremely different from one another. Jesus didn’t call a particular type of person; he called a diversity of people.

How true is that in the Church today? We have introverts, extroverts, conservatives, liberals, males, females and Americans and Cubans, people of all races. There are a lot of seats at the table of Christ! Anytime we try to limit that seating we’re going to run into trouble.

Prayer: Lord, open my heart and mind to the diversity of your creation today. Help me see the beauty and the differences between me and other people around me. Help me to appreciate and value how creative you are in making such a wide array of people. You are not a boring God and you did not give us a boring creation. Help us to celebrate it, and to give thanks! 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].