Friday February 13 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 incredible Sexton team as they conduct their myriad duties.

Scripture:  Mark 10:32-45
Key verses: 41-45 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Reflection: But it is not so among you.  There it is: a Jesus ‘one liner’— as our current sermon series would put it.  As the disciples wrestle for position, fully embracing the lesser but unrelenting gods of competition and excess (who is going to get the most and be the best), Jesus says: But it is not so among you.

Notice it is not an invitation that Jesus offers as in “might it not be that way among you?” He doesn’t issue a command, “it must not be that way among you!”  It’s not a wish either, “wouldn’t it be great if it were that way among you?” What Jesus gives is a description.  Jesus is not telling us what to do, but reminding us who we are. The jostling, the winning at all and any cost, the lust for power, the taking no prisoners, the desperate craving to be special, the ends justifying the means and the not giving a damn, all of that, has got nothing to do with us.

So then what way is it among us?   Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall begins his book Thinking the Faith with this quote from a Canadian novel about the way it is among us:

Jesus says in his society there is a new way to live:
you show wisdom, by trusting people;
you handle leadership, by serving;
you handle offenders, by forgiving;
you handle money, by sharing;
you handle enemies, by loving;
and you handle violence, by suffering.
In fact, you have a new attitude toward everything, toward everybody. 

It is that way among you.

Prayer (from the hymn Lord, Jesus, You Shall Be My Song):   Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey; I’ll tell ev’rybody about you wherever I go; you alone are our life and our peace and our love. Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey.

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].

Thursday February 12 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 need to ask for forgiveness, and those who need to give it.

Scripture: Mark 10:17-31
Key verse: 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Reflection: Sometimes Jesus gets on my nerves!  And his words trouble me.  I find myself pondering them over and over again, questioning his meaning, and examining my own faithfulness.

This Bible story is rich with transformational power.  If it’s not familiar to you, take a moment to read the entire passage now.  This man wanted to know what to do in order to inherit eternal life.  That seems like a good idea but “doing” and “inheriting” are contrasting mindsets.  Jesus challenged him and reminded him about the commandments.  (Duh, you already know what God wants you to do so why are you asking this?) The man then asserted that he has kept all of the commandments.  (Really? I don’t think that’s possible.) Jesus responded with the line above, that the man was still lacking something and needed to rid himself of his wealth in order to follow Jesus.

Jesus loved the man.  Just when the man thought he had checked off all of the items on the spiritual righteousness list, Jesus added something new.  Just when the man thought he had arrived at the destination of eternal life, Jesus called him to stay on the journey. Jesus loves you.  How is Jesus challenging you to move forward on your journey of faith?  What are you lacking?  (See, sometimes Jesus gets on our nerves on purpose!)

Prayer: Dear Lord, staying on the journey with you is hard work. Show me my next step forward. Transform me with your gracious power so that I can be your faithful disciple.  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].

Wednesday February 11 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 D2.2 Deeper Discipleship Bible Wednesday Study.

Scripture: Mark 10:1-16
Key Verse: 9 “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Reflection: Divorce happens.  It is part of our world and we do not talk about it unless we are talking about someone. Normally, I would skip this passage and seek out an easier passage but why shouldn’t we in the church be able to talk about things that matter?

Divorce in the first century was not at all the same that it is in the twenty-first century. In Jesus’ day a man had a right to put away, dismiss, or divorce his wife if she displeased him in any number of ways.  They could divorce over burned toast! The Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, not out of spiritual concern, but to emphasize the political and legal dimensions. Jesus took the question of divorce out of a legal context and shifted it into the spiritual realm. Jesus encouraged them and encourages us to consider why we marry.

Jesus shifted the conversation. Marriage was no longer about a contract or property – it was a transformative experience for two people. Marriage is a covenant of life and love where two people are joined by God and with God.  Maybe this passage is about divorce and maybe it is about marriage.  The question I always ask is “where is the good news?”  The good news for me is that God is in all of life and that even Jesus was willing to talk about the hard things in life.

Prayer: God, in all of my relationships, be at the center guiding me with your 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 February 10 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 parents of children with special needs.

Scripture: Mark 9:42-50
Key verse:  42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

Reflection: If you are feeling judgmental and apocalyptical some day and need a little dose of fire and brimstone, this is one of the Bible’s go to places.

Mark’s Gospel holds up Jesus’ concern for the “little ones” – those who are not as mature in the faith or who are particularly vulnerable in their growth toward maturity.  The Christian way is especially mindful of these and, according to Jesus, we have a special responsibility to avoid creating obstacles for their growth in faith.

If you doubt how seriously the early Christian community took this responsibility you only have to read this text to hear some of the fire and brimstone warnings:  millstones around the neck and thrown into the sea, cutting off your hand or your foot, tearing out an eye, being thrown into the pit of fire and eternal punishment.  Talk about disincentives!  Wow!

Avoiding leading a “little one” astray is obviously a bad thing.  Avoiding the consequences of doing so is motivation enough, but we are also charged to be the salt (flavor enhancer, preservative) to benefit others and bring them peace.

We are responsible for the effect our actions have on others.   Beware when we cause others to stumble.

Prayer:  Help us, O God, live our faith in ways that nurtures the faith of others and doesn’t diminish their faith.  Make us enhancers and preservers of the growing faith of those around us.  Save us from millstones and deep seas.  Through Jesus the Christ who has shown us the way to live.  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].

Monday February 9 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 churches who are trying to stay alive in a secular world.

Scripture: Mark 9:30-41
Key verse: 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Reflection: The disciples spend a good bit of time confused. They don’t always get what Jesus is doing. They don’t understand what he is saying. They don’t know what their role is. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus sometimes says things like “tell no one,” and “be silent.” Scholars debate the reasoning behind this desire of Jesus for silence. Shouldn’t the followers of Jesus tell the good news far and wide? In their confusion, the disciples in this passage do grow silent. They listen to Jesus’ teaching, but do not ask him what he means. Later when Jesus asks them what they are arguing about, they grow silent again, and won’t answer him.

I’m not sure that is the silence Jesus wants. He may have occasionally wanted some silence about his mission until the time was right, or the message could be heard, or the gospel shown instead of explained. I don’t think he wanted his disciples to shut down. He puts a child in front of the disciples and tells them to welcome those who are like children. And children are anything but silent. Some of them talk nonstop! They ask question after question. Perhaps Jesus is holding the questioning child up as an example: “Be like this child of God. Ask your questions. Ask me, Jesus, especially. Create an environment where you talk freely with one another and with me, without arguing. And then when the questioning and the talking has gone on long enough, get out there and show the gospel in your deeds.”

Prayer: Lord, I don’t always understand. Sometimes I read and pray and have more questions than answers. Keep me asking. Keep me praying. Keep me learning. And keep me focused on you. Help me to welcome others, and to show the gospel. In Christ’s 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].

 

Friday February 6 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 seminary students supported by MPPC.

Scripture: Galatians 5:16-24
Key Verses: 22-25 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Reflection: One of my favorite sermon series here was the one on the “Fruit of the Spirit.”  It was a summer series and a great time to talk about “fruit!”  What we have here is a list of the characteristics of the Spirit of God!

…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (5:22b)

So is that what God looks like?  Are these the traits God brings into human life?  Can a person who surrenders their life to Christ expect for those characteristics to be manifested within them?  That’s what the Bible says.

In that sense, to yield one’s life to God is not to lose one’s life but to gain it.  What would be the downside of a life that is lived in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?  Think about all of the opposites of those.  That’s the life we want to avoid.

Prayer: God, we thank you for the gifts of your Spirit that you allow to dwell in us.  We are sinful creatures and yet you love us and fill us with your grace.  How hard you have worked to redeem us and to give us meaningful and purposeful lives!  Help us to surrender our wills to your will that the fruit of the Spirit may be born within us and in all your people.  Through Christ we pray. 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].

Thursday February 5 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 healthy marriages, and healing marital relationships where needed.

Scripture: Galatians 5:1-15
Key Verse: 1“For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Reflection: What do you think about when you hear the word freedom?  It will affect how you read this letter from the Apostle Paul.  If we read the highlighted verse above without looking at the context we might be tempted to think that freedom means we can do whatever we want.  Of course, we know this isn’t true.   Freedom has limits.

Paul is writing to early believers who were struggling to discover their identity in a new religion that was born out of the traditions of Judaism.  The people in the church in Galatia were struggling to understand their freedom in Christ.  Some wanted to return to the old ways, relying on works for salvation, rather than faith.

It may seem strange to us that circumcision was at the center of the discussion.  But, this makes sense in their context.  There were a lot of Gentile believers in the new church and they weren’t circumcised.  The Jews who had become Christians insisted that they needed to become Jews first (through circumcision) then they could become Christians.  Many of them believed that this custom pleased God.  Paul corrects them.

Sometimes we think that there are customs or traditions we need to follow in order to be considered faithful followers of Jesus.  These “conditions” can be very subtle, but they are present in our church community.   Paul reminds us there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor.  There is nothing that we need to accomplish before we can be followers of Jesus.  We are not made right with God through our own efforts.    We are made right by the resurrection love of Jesus Christ.  Let’s live today in the protective shelter of his grace remembering that Christ has set us free.

Prayer:  Gracious God, help us to use our freedom in Christ as an opportunity to share your love with others.  Help us to fulfill your law, through the power of your grace:  to love you with all our heart, mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.  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].

Wednesday February 4 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 Wednesday evening Youth Bible Study.

Scripture: Psalm 147 :1-11
Key Verses 1-9
1   Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2   The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3   He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4   He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5   Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6   The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

7   Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8   He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9   He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.

Reflection: Most of our household goods were still in boxes but after a trek to a local hardware store our children proudly came home with a brand new Yankee Whipper YCPW-180.  A rather dubious name given our new Southern context- what exactly was a Yankee Whipper and why would we want one- but I am referring thankfully to a birdfeeder, a rather glorious one in fact.  It comes equipped with a stainless steel perch calibrated for a bird’s weight (a cardinal weighs in at 2 oz.) so if a squirrel latches on to the perch, it gives way and the squirrel plummets.  There is a motorized version that will hurl a squirrel clear across your yard to your children’s delight, but I digress.

The feeder outside our little kitchen window has become the go-to destination in our home as we have seen more birds than we can name and plumages that rival any rainbow. The feeder hanging from that old Dogwood tree is as busy as a Krispy Kreme most days and a reminder that God’s creation is a show like no other and we are greatly blessed here in NC to have such an up-close view of it all.

The psalmist today speaks passionately and poetically of how God heals the brokenhearted yet also prepares rain for the earth. God binds up our wounds while also giving all the stars their names.  God’s work of redemption is tied up with God’s work of creation.  God sees creation and loves all of it, desires to nurture and redeem all of it.  There is no thing out of place here for every thing here has a place.

Notice how God even feeds the young ravens.  Ravens were a complicated bird for our spiritual ancestors.  They were seen as cruel and disgusting, pecking out the eyes of their food.  It was said the mother would quickly leave the young to fend for themselves after one feeding – such ‘ungainly fowl’ whose very name conjures images of darkness!  Yet God cares for even them and calls them his own.  “See how the ravens are clothed,” Jesus will later say in the Gospel of Matthew to remind us that if the birds of the air are remembered—even the ravens—how could the Lord ever forget you?

You have a place.  You have a purpose. You have a path.

There is a God in heaven who, through Jesus Christ, calls you his own and provides for your care.

No wonder the psalmist wanted to sing!

Prayer: Glorious God, deserving of more praise that we can ever muster, you see the smallest sparrow fall and you give the furthest stars their names.  Help me today to marvel in all that you do and in all that you have created.  Including in myself and in my neighbor.  In Jesus’ name. 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].

Tuesday February 3 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 Malawi and her people, as they recover from recent floods and earthquakes.

Scripture: Isaiah 52:1-12
Key verse: Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Reflection: These aren’t pedicured toes.  These are dusty, dirty, calloused feet after a long barefoot run.  These feet aren’t beautiful because they are pampered.  They are beautiful because they symbolize hope and joy and peace.

In today’s passage, the prophet imagines a messenger who would run with exuberance all the way from Babylon to Jerusalem in order to carry the good news that God has defeated the superpower Babylon and God’s exiled people will be set free to return home.  This running messenger is a beautiful sight for those waiting and watching.  After a long time in exile, wondering if God had abandoned them, questioning whether there was any hope left, the sight of these feet was an amazing image of a future dream.

What news does the messenger bring?  This messenger says “Your God reigns.” If you feel hopeless, stuck, uncertain, may this be good news for you today.  Your God reigns.  Watch for those beautiful feet running to tell you.

Prayer: O God, I look for good news in the wrong places. Open my eyes to see the beauty of those who bring me good news.  Give me hope in your future reign.  Teach me to trust you even now.  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 February 2 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 Malawi mission friends, Mwakana and his family, as they recover from a car accident.

Scripture: Mark 7: 24-37
Key Verses 24-30: 24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Reflection: Thanks be to God for this tenacious Syrophoenician woman.  She is bold in challenging Jesus and refuses to go away until she gets a response.  This woman believes that grace is available for everyone and she confronts Jesus’ own lack of mercy: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28).  This Gentile woman calls Jesus out for his prejudice and proclaims that God’s love is bigger, wider, more inclusive than any individual or nation. She reminds Jesus that even if the adults neglect to feed the animals, the children will often slip the pets some food under the table out of compassion.  It is in faith that she persists to challenge Jesus and expects him to heal and restore.

Look for the Syrophoenician woman in church this Sunday. Maybe she’s the one who slips out during the last hymn to avoid having to be seen as someone different or new.  She will keep coming back, not because of anything we do, but because of her faith.  She is fiercely convinced that if there is a bit of grace and truth to be found at church, then it is for her, too. May the faith of the Syrophoenician woman compel us to recognize a bigger, more inclusive way of loving and living.

Prayer: God, there are times I am insensitive. When I am at church I gravitate towards those I know and people who are like me. Guide me as I seek to reach out with God’s love and strive for a church that is inclusive.  In Jesus’ name I pray. 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].