Tuesday March 17 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 experiencing memory loss and progressive dementia, and for their families and caregivers.

Scripture: Romans 7:13-25
Key Verse: 19 “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

Reflection: There is an inner conflict within each of us between good and evil.  Even when we start the day with good intentions of living out our beliefs, we face the evil that lies close at hand.  We are not perfect people.  The Apostle Paul says we don’t understand our actions.  He is right!  We are human beings who are called to rely on God’s grace.  Jesus is the one who rescues us from the despair and struggle related to our sin.  Only God can transform or change us.  We are invited to cultivate a realistic understanding of who we are as fallible human beings.  When we can accept ourselves for who we are, then we can learn to rely more and more on God’s saving grace.  Certainly, we can amend our ways and try to do better, but without God’s help all our efforts will be short lived.  Every day we are faced with decisions – big and small.  Sometimes we will succeed in doing good, other times we will not.  Let us exclaim with Paul:  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  He is the one who will rescue us.

Prayer:  Merciful God, you know our weaknesses and our strengths.  Help us today to rely on you and give thanks for your saving grace.  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 March 16 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: Today, Lord, we pray for perspective on how to use our time this week. What is important?  What isn’t?

Scripture: Psalm 121
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.

Reflection: Here we have again our God, The Great Collector. Similar to Psalm 56 where we read how God collects our tears in a bottle (such a curious, tender image) and like Psalm 34 where we read a few weeks ago how God rescues us by gathering up our bones, Psalm 121 repeatedly sings of a God who is our keeper.  Five times we are told that God keeps us – keeps all of us and all of our days; God keeps how we end and how we begin; keeps us from all evil; from burning sun and long hard nights – we are kept.  It suggests that when we are falling apart, falling down, tripping up and losing out, we are also, always, falling in to a God who protects and preserves us- a God who keeps us.  It sounds magical though it’s not magic, after all so many things befall us.  The psalm doesn’t deny that we end and begin, that we slumber and sleep, that we are weak and mortal and vulnerable.  What the psalm makes great effort to say however, is that God is not weak or mortal nor does he slumber and sleep (lets add that one to our eclectic psalmic titles for God: the Great Insomniac).  God is the one who created heaven and earth and is the one from whom all help comes.  Even while we rest or when we fall, God gathers us and keeps us.  The word keep is a good, holy word for us.  Its origin is found in words like seize, hold and observe. It can also mean a high, strong tower.  In I Corinthians, Paul encourages us to keep the feast just as your parents might have encouraged you to keep the Sabbath, for in keeping we find that we are kept.  By keeping something sacred we find it is actually we who are preserved.  It matters what we keep, it can define and shape us.   It matters what we are, or whom we are, kept by.

As kids if we were lucky enough to have a friend give us a hockey card or a comic book or anything of theirs we thought valuable we would quickly say ‘for keeps?’ meaning ‘it’s ours forever??’  We didn’t know it but we were little theologians, repeating what God assures us of over and over again.  We belong to God- for keeps.

Prayer: God made known in Jesus Christ, your help is always near, your love is never weak, your mercies never late.  Undeserving as I may be, I accept it all and praise you!  Keeper of my life.  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 March 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 a release from burdens and for the grace to let grudges go.

Scripture: Romans 6:1-11
Key Verse: Romans 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Reflection: Do you remember your baptism?  If answering literally, I don’t.  I was an infant.  I have heard stories about it and I have a faded black and white photo from that day.  Spiritually, I remember my baptism every day.  My baptism is the foundation of my identity because in baptism I have been claimed as a child of God.  My baptism is the source of my calling because in baptism I was empowered by the Holy Spirit for service.

In today’s passage, Paul wrote to the Romans reminding them that baptism is the visible symbol of our union with Jesus Christ.  Paul saw the crucifixion and resurrection as the pattern for the life of a disciple. With Christ, we die to sin and to our old ways of being, believing and behaving.  With Christ, we are raised to new life, not just after death but right now.  We walk in newness of life with new ways of being, believing and behaving.  What new way are you called to embrace today?

Prayer: Gracious God, by water and the Spirit you claimed us as your own, cleansing us from sin, and giving us new life.  Renew in us the covenant you made in our baptism.  Continue the good work you began in us and send us forth in the power of your Spirit to love and serve you with joy, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
(adapted from the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship)

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 March 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 our CrossRoads board as they meet in Grier Heights today, working to build bridges between communities. 

Scripture: Psalm 27
Key Verse:  1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Reflection:  The “imposter syndrome” is alive and thriving. It is not just among our young people who struggle to be the best athletes, dancers, musicians, painters, and so on.  We all wonder if our work is good enough. Was the dance performance good enough?  Was I good enough on the soccer field, lacrosse or field hockey?  We feel like imposters.

All of this points to a deeper question, “Am I good enough?”   I think this phenomenon also has the potential to afflict us in our faith journey.  We come to church on Sunday and wonder if anyone can tell that we struggle with doubts or with our identity as a person of faith.  We are afraid and maybe filled with shame.

The psalmist gives us a verse that I hope everyone would memorize. It has carried me through my worst days, days when I felt broken and when I definitely felt like an imposter.

We are called to bring to God human thoughts and feelings about anything and everything.  This vulnerability can bring about confidence for living through the highs and lows of human experience.

Let us claim the Psalmist’s declaration that the Lord is our light, our salvation, our stronghold, our confidence and our Savior.  This is our hope. This is our strength. This is our confidence.

Prayer:  Lord, you are my light and my salvation, help me not to be afraid – afraid of failing or being really seen. You are the stronghold of my life.  Move with me into this day.  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 March 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 the gift of Christ’s peace that passes all understanding.

Scripture: Romans 5:1-11
Key verse: 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Reflection: If a young child is misbehaving and acting out in disruptive ways many adults will gently move away.  Some might even marvel at how much patience the parents have toward their rebellious offspring.  We might even acknowledge that only a parent could love such a child.

In the most extreme circumstances we might be willing to sacrifice our own lives to protect someone we love.  What parent wouldn’t do so if it meant her or his child would live?

But what kind of love is it when someone is willing to give up his or her life for the sake of someone they hardly know, someone who has done horrible things, someone who violates every standard of human decency?

That’s the kind of love God has for us.

While we still were sinners, caught up in our self-centered destructiveness, God demonstrates that love and claims us as God’s precious offspring, in spite of our sinfulness.

There is no greater love than this:  while we were sinners Christ died for us.

If you understand that, nothing in your life can ever be the same.

Prayer:  What can we say or do, O Lord, that even begins to thank you for the grace and mercy you have extended to us, your children.  Today, may we live in gratitude and thanksgiving, sharing the love you have shown us to others in all we say and in all we do.  In the merciful name of Jesus 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].

 

Tuesday March 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 teachers in classrooms, may they find joy and encouragement as this week unfolds.

Scripture: John 7:37-52
Key verses 37-39: 37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Reflection: The D2 Bible Study last week finished up a 2-week study of the Gospel of John. We read the other three gospels before it: Matthew, Mark and Luke. Reading them this way helps make each gospel story distinct. The writers have their own voices, and their own particular way of telling the story of Jesus. Many of you reading these email devotions have told us that you like to try and guess the author of each one. (Just so you know, we try and guess as well!) Our distinct voices are often identifiable. So it can be with the gospel writers. John’s voice is clear in these verses about the Spirit.

In John, the Spirit of God is a gift to the followers of Jesus only after Jesus is glorified through his crucifixion and resurrection. Other gospel writers mention the Spirit at work much earlier. In Matthew and Luke, the Spirit of God is said to be at work in Mary before the birth of Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit. But in John, only Jesus has a relationship with the Spirit until after he gives his disciples the Spirit following his death and resurrection.

John wants us to understand the Spirit to be at work in the life of those first believers, and in the community of faith today, as we continue the work of Jesus. The Spirit is an advocate or helper, a comforter, a guide and teacher, and is that force that sends us out into the world to spread the love and good news of Jesus. That good news only makes sense for John after Jesus is raised up and exalted in his death and resurrection.

It’s a good message for us during these weeks of Lent, as we approach the cross. We must live through those dark days again, but as those who have received God’s Spirit, we remember that Easter is coming too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Holy God, send me your Spirit again, today. Fill me with your living water. Guide me in your way. Empower me to serve. Help me to trust. In your Son’s glorious 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].

 

Monday March 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: We start this week Lord asking that you help us spot potential before seeing problems.

Scripture: Psalm 121
Key Verse: 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

Reflection:  It is very possible to have a sunstroke at certain times of the year in the Middle East.  In fact, some of the people on our last tour almost did!  And, the ancients thought that certain harmful influences came from the moon (i.e. “lunatics”).  So this says that God will not allow either the physical or the mental/spiritual things to ultimately destroy us.

That is not to say we live in a bubble.  We encounter natural disasters and accidents.  Innocent and guilty people suffer the consequences of violence and crime.  Children are abused.  Elderly are neglected.  Some people are starving and others don’t have a place to sleep.  So, is this verse in Scripture true or not?

A skeptic would have plenty of evidence to conclude that this portion of Scripture is nothing but wishful thinking.  In the moment, it could look as if the sun is striking you by day and the moon by night.  The facts are the facts.  As foolish as it may seem, faith looks beyond the facts.  My present circumstances may be difficult or even extreme, but my life ultimately belongs to God.  “In life and in death we belong to God”  (Brief Statement of Faith).  What is suffering now will be redeemed later.  Wishful thinking or hope?

Prayer:  Our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.  You are our keeper and you are the shade on our right hand.  You will keep us from all evil and you will keep our lives.  It is you, O Lord, who keeps our going out and our coming in from this time on and forever more.  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].

Friday March 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 wisdom to discern God’s will, and the fortitude to carry it out.

Scripture: Romans 2:25-3:1-18
Key Verse: 10 “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.”

Reflection: It is tempting to judge others, thinking we are better because of who we are and what we believe.  Just open the newspaper or watch T.V.  The criticism and name-calling is unrelenting.  As followers of Jesus, we are tempted to act like everyone else.  But the Apostle Paul reminds us that only God can rightfully judge who we are inside and out, regardless of our heritage or culture.  Who are we to think we are better than someone else, especially when it’s a fellow believer?  This portion of the book of Romans may seem peculiar to us as Paul discusses the merits and hindrances of circumcision.  But, for the Christians who were Jewish at that time, it was an important sign of God’s covenant with God’s people.

During Lent, we have the opportunity to discover humility.  It is only by God’s grace that we share an inheritance with the children of Israel.  How will we respond?  A good first step might be to compare our behavior to verses 1-18 in today’s text.  Have we failed to seek God while we declare we know God?  Have we failed to show kindness because we are gossiping and talking about others behind their backs?  Are we full of cursing and bitterness?  Do we lie when we could tell the truth?  Are we ruining our lives with complaining and self-inflicted misery?

Examine your life and faith today and ask for God’s mercy.

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for your unfailing love in the midst of our self-righteousness.  Remind us of who we are in light of your amazing grace.  Help us today to be shining examples of our  faith.  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].

Thursday March 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 those in business making ethical decisions that affect the lives of many people.

Scripture: Psalm 27
Key verse: 1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Reflection: Like most of us, the psalmist begins with great confidence and certainty, ready for the day ahead.  But his prayer is like this one:

Dear Lord,
So far I haven’t gossipped,
haven’t lost my temper,
haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.

But in a few minutes, God,
I’m going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I’m going to need a lot more help
.

I know, I know—an old corny joke— but the psalmist inspired it.  If he has nothing to fear, as he states so boldly at the start, why does he spend the rest of the psalm describing everything he is frightened of and everything he needs?  Ten times he petitions God as he describes enemies, adversaries and people who want to devour him (just your average Thursday at the office I guess).   Hear, be gracious, answer, turn not, cast me not off, teach, lead, give me not up.  Wait a minute!  What happened to the stronghold of your life? If this psalm were true shouldn’t it have ended at verse 1? In a perfect world, if we had strong faith, we would read the first verse, say Amen and get on with it.  Right?  Well, I don’t know.  Having never lived in a perfect world or been blessed with a cast-iron faith I am not one to say.  I only know what the psalmist knows: I need God.  At every corner at every turn, in every time and in every season, I need God.  In confrontations that I did not choose and in trouble that I started, I need God. When I do my best and when I can’t get it right, I need God. When I am loving and when I am unlovable, I need God.  And if the psalmist calls for God ten times in the psalm notice that God’s name appears fourteen times.  God’s presence is more than what is even requested.  The psalm is riddled with anxiety and fear yet all of that cannot match the fullness of God’s presence.  The psalmist already lives in the temple of the Lord!  God surrounds him, permeates his day and existence.  Oh, the psalmist can find trouble but he can’t lose God either.  Like the ground he walks on and the air he breathes, the Lord is there.  He concludes by saying “wait for the Lord.”  A more accurate translation is hope, hope in the Lord.  Why?  Because the Lord is the stronghold of your life.  And though there is sometimes much to fear, you don’t need to be afraid.

Prayer: Lord, in Jesus Christ you have come near and have never left us.  For the light that shines where no darkness can ever diminish it, I praise you.   Guide me with that light today.  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].

 

Wednesday March 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 the pastors and congregations of Antioch Baptist and Grier Heights Presbyterian churches.

ScriptureJohn 5:1-18
Key verse: John 5:13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.

Reflection: I hadn’t noticed this before.  Jesus healed the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years and then Jesus went on his way.  The man took up his mat and began to walk, not even knowing who it was that had spoken to him and healed him.  Later, Jesus saw the man in the temple and spoke to him again.  That’s when the man learned his name!

I wonder how often Jesus cared for people along the way and they never knew who he was.  Perhaps there were countless people across Jerusalem who had been healed by a touch or transformed by a word of grace but didn’t know who it was. I wonder how many times God has acted to bring healing and redemption and grace to me and I haven’t recognized who it was. I suspect God often works like that, incognito and receiving no credit.  That seems like something God would do!

I wonder what it means for those of us who follow Jesus Christ as disciples.  Perhaps we are called into the world to serve without concern for whether we get the gratitude or recognition we might think we deserve.  Some stories make the newspaper but most acts of service don’t.  Some people receive awards but most disciples won’t.  Let us follow Jesus, moving through the crowd with compassion, willing to be incognito and “under the radar” of the world’s attention.

Prayer:  Loving God, thank you for the ways you have worked in my life and I haven’t even recognized that it was you.  Use me in the world today, to serve someone in need, to speak a word of grace, to act with compassion, even if no one notices and no one recognizes it was me.  In Jesus’ name.  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].