Friday February 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: For all of our military personnel — for their courage, their wisdom, and their safety.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 10:12-22
Key Verses 12-13: 12 So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.

Reflection: I love this English translation of the original Hebrew instructions. What does the Lord require of you, O Israel? And here is the answer: “Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.” Only that!  Shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s all written down, there in the Old Testament.

But maybe the word “only” here doesn’t mean “merely” or “no more than.” Maybe it’s not a suggestion that loving God like that isn’t hard. Maybe the word “only” here in verse 12 means “solely” or “exclusively.” Just love God. Love God first and above all.  That too is not an easy thing, but maybe it’s not about difficulty. Maybe it’s a matter of priority.

Jesus said pretty much the same thing. When asked which law was the most important he said, essentially, “Love God.” Then he added, “Love your neighbor.” It’s not easy. Life gets messy, and people are difficult. But with loving God and neighbor as our priority, our guiding principles, perhaps we can get on with following the whole of God’s amazing and redemptive intentions for the world. Start there.  Only love God.

Prayer: God, help me love you only, first, and always. Turn my love of you into love of all whom you love, all my neighbors. In the name of the one who showed us what love is, your Son, Jesus Christ. 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].

 

 

 

Thursday February 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: For Edelberto Valdes, the new pastor of our partner church in Remedios, Cuba.

Scripture: John 3:16-21
Key Verse: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Reflection: Who hasn’t heard this passage?  You’ve probably seen “John 3:16” flashed on a big sign at a sporting event.  I suppose there is something in here that is meant to wake someone up to the truth.  The Church wants people to know this passage.  No one wants to “perish.”  It doesn’t say, “…so that everyone who believes in him may not be killed by God…”  God’s not going to kill us because we don’t believe.  Life just perishes when we aren’t connected to God.  We’re detached from the vine and so, like a branch, we wither and die.  It’s a law of nature.

You can be living today and be very busy and active but you’re in a state of perishing.  You’re disconnected from your Creator.  Where’s your sustainability?  Why are you here?  What are you doing?  Where are you going?  Without that attachment, I’m not sure you would know.  We perish.  We aren’t being punished.  Something diminishes, fades away, and loses its life and luster when we perish.  It happens when we’re disconnected from God.

Prayer: We pray for all those today, O Lord, who may be perishing because they have abandoned you or do not know you.  We pray for that part of ourselves that may be perishing because we have neglected our relationship with you.  Restore us to the joy of your salvation and grant to all of us your peace.  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].

 

Wednesday February 25 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 all families expecting a new baby.

Scripture: John 2:23-3:15
Key Verses: 23-25 “When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.  But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.”

Reflection: The verses above are often described as a transition from one story to the next in Jesus’ ministry.  Here we see the transition from Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple to the familiar story about the Pharisee Nicodemus who is challenged to be born again.  But, these verses represent more than a transition.  They remind us that many people in Jerusalem believed in Jesus based on the signs and wonders they saw him perform.  They didn’t necessarily see God’s glory in the things he did, nor did they have faith.  Their trust was based on what he did for them.

Is this the kind of faith that will sustain us through life?  Jesus didn’t seem to think so.  The text says that Jesus saw how their belief was based on what he was doing, so he didn’t believe the people’s belief.  He knew them.  He understood human nature.  It is easy to have faith when every prayer is answered the way we want.  But, what happens when there are no signs and wonders?   These 3 verses are the perfect set-up for the Nicodemus story in which Nicodemus is challenged to discover the meaning of faith.   Remember Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.   Where have you placed your trust?  What strengthens your faith – signs and miracles – or the experience of knowing that Jesus is with you?

Prayer:  O Lord, we thank you for the gift of faith.  Help us to trust more in you and the power of your Holy Spirit no matter what happens in our lives.   Confirm our faith – not by signs and wonders – but by your abiding presence in the good times and in the bad.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday February 24 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 our enemies, domestically and abroad, that we may reach reconciliation and peace.

Scripture: Psalm 34
Key verses: 11-20  Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.  18 The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all. 20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.

Reflection: This rich psalm, like the twenty-fifth one, is written as an acrostic.  The twenty-two lines of the psalm correspond with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and if we could read the Hebrew we would also discover the word ‘instruct’ highlighted through a clever sentence structure— poetic devices to inspire and encourage memorization. It doesn’t work the same in English obviously but the invitation to memorize and place these words deep in our heart is there nonetheless.  How long would it take us to learn this psalm by heart?

At its center, in verses 11 and 12, is the invitation to come and listen to what is good so that we might live a full life.  And what do we hear? By fearing the Lord, pursuing peace, loving what is good and departing from what is evil, says the psalmist, full life is found.  It sounds straightforward enough.  This psalm like the book of Proverbs is direct and clear.   It’s inviting isn’t it?

What is not offered however is a lesson in how to always succeed in that pursuit or how to avoid the hardship and difficulty that will find us as we try.   Often our journey of faith creates tensions as we try to reconcile the many demands and invitations before us.   Praying for our enemies, tending the sick, walking humbly while seeking justice, renouncing evil, seeking then trusting God’s will— that all takes imagination and work, more than we can ever muster.  But the Lord is near, declares the psalmist, the Lord redeems and offers refuge.  Only because God is with us can we strive to live life with God.  We can rest in God as we seek God— a holy mystery.

The day beckons us but there is much yet to study in this psalm. Allow me to highlight one last thing for now.  Note how God ‘keeps the bones’ of the broken hearted and crushed in spirit.  Another psalm notes how God collects our tears.  Such images reveal a God who keeps us whole while we are falling apart. God keeps our lives though we know they can ‘taken’ in disease and death.

As I write this, news is coming from Libya of a massacre of twenty-one Christians.  There is a link here to a letter written from a friend to our congregation in Egypt.  It is sobering but very real and calls us to prayer and to a confidence that God indeed rescues.

May this psalm be a friend for you today and a balm for the spirits of all who seek and struggle to live a good life.

Prayer:  Jesus, remember me.  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].

Monday February 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: For the Tuesday morning Men’s Bible Study.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 8:1-20
Key verse: Deuteronomy 8:17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”

Reflection: The idea of the self-made man (or woman) is deeply entrenched in our understanding of the American dream. Our nation was founded with the hope that hard work would result in an improved future.  It’s a wonderful ideal for a just playing field, but sadly we know it has become much more complicated than that.

In this passage Moses is warning the Hebrew people about a danger related to the self-made image.  We are easily tempted to attribute all of our success to our own power.  We forget that God has given us our gifts and our abilities.  God has cared for us along the way.  Our community has given us opportunities to work and to lead.

No one is a self-made man or woman.  We are grateful for all that God has done for us.  We are grateful for the ways we have been shaped by our families, our teachers, our friends, and our colleagues.  Our gratitude inspires us to serve and to give.  “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deut 8:18)  Remember and respond with gratitude.

Prayer: Thank you, O God, for the power you have given to me.  Thank you for the opportunities I have had to work and to use my gifts.  Thank you for the people who have taught me and helped me.  Show me how to live out my gratitude in service and generosity.  Through 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].

Friday February 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: For the Presbytery meeting tomorrow, as they vote on amendments to our PC(USA) constitution.

Scripture: John 4:43-54
Key Verse: 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

Reflection: It would be easier to trust and believe if we could just see Jesus do one of his amazing miracles.  However, Jesus is doing miracles in our lives and in the lives of those around us every day.  We just don’t notice them.  Many people saw Jesus perform miracles and they kept wanting him to do more in order to believe.  If they were in the presence of Jesus and remained skeptical, then what must Jesus do before we will really believe?

I’m talking about faith that transforms.  Do we trust enough to live our lives guided by the truth of Jesus?  This kind of trust leads us to lifestyle changes, a shift in our morality and radical changes in the way we interact with those around us.  In this season of Lent we have the opportunity to take some steps towards this type of faith.

What must Jesus do to help you believe?  Hasn’t he already done it?  The nobleman did not come to Jesus with arrogance or demands for proof of his divinity.  This was a man who was eager to find Jesus so his son could be healed.  He did not have time to be brought into a discussion. He put his faith in Jesus and left abruptly to confirm what he already believed.  Are signs and wonders truly necessary when we have faith?

Prayer: God of signs and wonders, take my skeptical nature from me and help me claim my faith. 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 February 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: For those who have no Faith or who have lost their Faith.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 7:6-11
Key verses: 7-8a  7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors…

Reflection: God loves us.  That simple truth lies at the center of our Christian faith.  God showed that love in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We are loved.  That’s amazing and good news!

With that knowledge, however, comes a subtle and perverse temptation.  We who are loved are tempted to think that God loves us because we are inherently lovable.  Somehow the creator of the universe recognizes our intrinsic value and honors us with love.

That temptation, left unchecked, can result in tragic mistreatment of those we don’t think are deserving of God’s love.

God’s people have always fought this temptation. Even in the generations following the liberation from slavery in Egypt, God’s people were warned not to think their liberation was because of something they had done.  They were told again and again: it’s not about you—it’s about God.  God chose you.  From all the nations of the world, God choose you.  Why?  Because that’s who God chose.

God’s love for us is a gift. It is grace—unmerited favor. It is always an opportunity for radial gratitude, never self-congratulations.

At those moments when God’s love is real for you (I hope they are many) remember this truth:  “…the Lord set his heart on you and chose you…because the Lord loved you.”  Remember, and be grateful. Share that gratefulness—be gentle with yourself and with others.

Prayer:  God of Grace, may the power of your love overwhelm us; may the presence of your love sustain us; and may the purpose of your love drive us into ever deeper discipleship.  In the name of the one who demonstrated your love, Jesus the Christ.  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].