Friday July 31 2015

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Scripture: Mark 7:24-30

Key verses: (28) But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Reflection: Here is an example of Jesus learning from the people he encountered, in this case an assertive, gentile woman.

Jesus, according to Mark, initially limited his ministry to the Jewish people. So what was he doing speaking with this Syrophoenician woman — a foreigner, a non-Jew?

Actually he didn’t want to talk with her at all. He had taken refuge in a house, trying to hide from the crowds. But this woman sought him out, invading his privacy.

You see, her daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit and mothers have been known to go to great lengths to care for their children. She came to Jesus and begged him to heal her daughter. But Jesus (and this is not the compassionate Jesus we know and love) insulted her and refused to help! “It is not fair to take the children’s food (for the Jewish people) and throw it to the dogs (to the non-Jews).” But the woman was quick. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Whatever understanding Jesus had about who should eat the food he provided was brought up short by this desperate mother who challenged the limits of Jesus’ provision.

So, impressed, and corrected, Jesus healed the woman’s daughter at some distance without even seeing her. This woman/mother is the only person in Mark’s gospel who gets the upper hand in a conflict with Jesus. Her conversation changes Jesus. The next thing he does is to heal a blind man in a gentile area near the Sea of Galilee.

Is God/Jesus changed by our interaction? Does God/Jesus respond to our pleas when we make a case for intercession, even intervention? If Mark’s gospel is any guide, not only does God/Jesus respond to the pleas of God’s favored people, God responds to people we don’t favor.

We’re still talking about this Syrophoenician woman 2,000 year later!

Prayer: Hear our pleas, O God. Attend to our cries and heal all hurts, not only in us but in all those you love whoever and wherever they might be. In the responsive name of Jesus. 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 July 30 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 81

Key verses: (1-3) Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob. Raise a song, sound the tambourine,  the sweet lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.

Reflection: What are the sounds we raise today in praise to God? How do we sing aloud and shout for joy to God? On Sundays we hear our wonderful choirs and our Celebrate band praise God with music and song. In our worship we lift our voices as a congregation to sing. Sometimes there are special instruments that ring out, as well: bells and bagpipes, brass and drums and harps, quartets and ensembles and even whole orchestras for special occasions.

But how do we as individuals sing and shout aloud to God? I know some people who keep worship songs or hymns in their cars to sing along with as they drive. That’s one way to give praise to God. Many people (like you!) have a regular prayer time guided by these or other sorts of printed devotions. But often we keep these readings quiet, and pray silently. Is there a place for out-loud prayers and praises to God in our routines, as the Psalmist invites?

Try lifting your praise and prayers to God aloud today, either alone, or with someone else.  See if it feels different, or if God speaks to you in a new way. Start with this prayer, then add your own.

Prayer: Holy God, you are my strength. I lift my voice to you in praise today! Hear me as I pray aloud. I give you thanks for…….(add your own prayers aloud)…….in the name of Jesus, your Son, my Savior. 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 July 29 2015

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Scripture: Mark 6:47-56

Key Verse: (45) “Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side . . . . .”

Reflection: In Mark’s gospel, “the other side” means gentile territory. It refers to the place where people are not like us, where people do not share our values, where people who according to our understanding of God’s intentions for moral living do not measure up. “The other side” is where “unclean” people live.

Have you ever had to travel to “the other side”? That other side may have been a foreign land where Christianity is not honored. That other side may have been a different neighbor right here in Charlotte, an ethnic neighborhood, a neighborhood that is a mecca for LGBT persons. It may have been a group of conservative members of this congregation, or a group of liberal members. If we are a part of the company of Jesus, we will be made to cross over to “the other side.”  For to the persons on the other side is where Jesus wants us to go.

The passage to “the other side” is scary. It is stormy. It is rough. In scripture the sea always represents chaos, the unsettled, frightful arena in which we are literally out of control, at the mercy of the wind and the waves.

Jesus doe not let us off the hook when he demands that we cross over to “the other side.”  Nor does Jesus deliver us from the terror we experience in our hearts and minds as we embark on the crossing. But Jesus in the chaos “passes by,” comes up close and notices us. And as we cry out in fear, he climbs in the boat with us to calm the storm in our hearts.

To what “other side” is Jesus demanding that you travel in your pilgrimage right now? Are you frightened? Are you resisting the crossing? Jesus notices and will not let the chaos overwhelm you.

On that crossing Jesus’ disciples went on, they failed. Their hearts were hardened. They landed, not on “the other side” but in Gennesaret a place back in their home territory. Yet, Jesus did not give up on them. He kept trusting them to follow. And so he still does with us.

Prayer: Holy One, we are afraid to travel to “the other side.” Calm the storm within us, and even as we have failed, trust us again.  Amen.

Author: Pete Peery

[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 July 28 2015

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Scripture: Mark 6:30-46

Key verses: (41-42) Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled.

Reflection: What a stressful day Jesus’ closest disciples were having! They had just buried their friend, John the Baptist, after he was tragically murdered by Herod. After the funeral, Jesus suggests they leave for a while and rest. They get into a boat and go to a secluded place, but when they get there a great crowd of people meets them. These eager people followed them on foot around the shore of the lake. So instead of finding some welcome peace and quiet, they find over 5,000 people!

This is exactly what life is like. Just about the time you think you can’t do one more thing, another challenge presents itself. When Jesus saw the crowd, he wasn’t disappointed or frustrated that he wasn’t going to get a break. He didn’t get angry because he was tired. Instead, he felt compassion for the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So his fatigue faded and he began to teach them. The disciples wanted all of these people to go home. They ask Jesus to tell them to go. And Jesus tells the tired disciples to feed the crowd with what they had – five loaves of bread and two fish. Miraculously there was enough, and more, for everyone. No one went away hungry.

This story illustrates something bigger than one miracle. It shows what can happen when Jesus takes what we have and blesses it. Our weaknesses and deficits can be turned into something great. Our lives might seem small and insignificant, yet Jesus takes them and multiplies what we have for his purposes. When we are worn-out and discouraged by our circumstances, when we want to give up and go home, Jesus asks us, in the name of compassion, to give what we have so he can do something miraculous. This is the pattern of life when you follow Jesus. And, despite what happens in this story, there are times for rest and renewal. Take advantage of these times. Use them well. Don’t forget to get away to a secluded place, so that you will be equipped for the challenges of the long days.

Prayer: Compassionate God, you call us to serve you by serving others. Sometimes this seems more than we can bear and we just want to get away from the demands and pressures of life. Remind us to seek you in the secluded places of our lives so we might find rest. Enable us to experience renewed vigor so that we might be joyful disciples; not exhausted ones. Help us to rest in you. 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 July 27 2015

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 85

 Key verse: (10) Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Reflection: One of the first things I had to learn with my first congregation in Montreal was how to kiss. Still heavily influenced by its French-European roots, people in Quebec, when greeting you as a friend, will lean in and either kiss both cheeks or offer you their cheek to be kissed. WASPy as I am, this affectation took some getting used to and not knowing the rhythms of the practice I awkwardly went for a cheek only to land on an ear, nose and once memorably, a pair of lips. However, by the time we moved to Toronto it was so natural to observe this practice, I couldn’t figure out why every time I leaned in when greeting a woman they would lean back further away from me extending their hand that I was shaking. I imagined them at coffee hour saying the new minister is nice but a bit too familiar. Did he try to kiss you too?

In Africa when meeting together you might be kissed, embraced, or a man might hold your hand longer than you think another man needs to hold your hand. But once we move past our discomfort, if we can get past our discomfort, we discover the gift of touch and the gentle intimacy that is created when greeting one another in such a way. Friends are made faster and conversation flows quicker in such a tactile culture.

The psalmist today is a great poet but also one who was simply observing his daily culture. The psalmist would be very familiar with touch (many in the middle East will kiss you three times when greeting you!) and imagined that in God’s presence, mercy and truth, righteousness and peace were as familiar as friends and as close as neighbors. He describes them kissing, happy to be in one another’s company. If I could paint I would try to paint this evocative image. Maybe it would look like a Sunday morning when we pass the peace?  After all, the Bible does say more than once, that we ought to greet one another with a holy kiss.

Prayer: Lord, in this wonderful, yet weary world, let righteousness and peace kiss and may we be drawn into that holy, joyous embrace. 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 July 24 2015

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Scripture: Acts 15:12-21

Key verse: (19) Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God.

Reflection: The early church faced a major dilemma. Jesus and his disciples were Jews. Jesus was the Messiah for whom the Jews had waited and watched. Jesus ministered primarily among Jews. But shortly after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to be witnesses about Jesus all around the world, Gentiles (non-Jews) heard the good news, experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit, and asked to be baptized. Should the Gentiles be included? Could Gentiles be baptized and live as disciples?

So the leaders of the early church held a “council” in Jerusalem.This was the first Session meeting (governing board meeting). Some shared stories about their experiences with Gentiles who believed and wanted to be baptized. Others shared their concerns, believing that the only faithful way to follow Jesus as a disciple was to convert to Judaism (symbolized by circumcision) and live according to the Jewish laws. Finally the group discerned God’s will and made a decision. James announces that decision in the key verse above. The Gentiles would be welcomed into the church without demanding that they convert to Judaism first.

Likely you are a descendant of Gentile Christians so we rejoice that the early church discerned this to be God’s will. Over and over again, the church has faced major dilemmas and has sought to discern God’s will through prayer and conversation. In our own time, we seek God’s will with humility. Let us join together to pray that we might be faithful to God’s will when we face difficult decisions.

Prayer:  O God, you push us to welcome those we probably would choose to leave out. Teach us how to discern your will faithfully. When we disagree, transform our debates into prayerful, humble conversations that reflect your love and your grace. Through Christ we 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].

Thursday July 23 2015

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Scripture: Mark 5:1-20

Key verses: (15-20) They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Reflection: This is a commission to the healed demoniac and to us — Go home to your friends and tell them what God has done for you. We have a story to tell. Each of us and all of us have been transformed by the love of God. It may not be as crazy as this story, but our story is part of God’s story.

Everyone was amazed at the man’s proclamation. In verse 20 the focus is not on the healing but on the proclamation. His testimony is transformative for his neighbors because they can see his faith in the miracle. The man wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus told him to go home and tell his story. The most effective preaching is done by those who simply tell how much Jesus has done for them.

What is your story?

This week, we are in Montreat with 1,000 youth who are hearing the Word proclaimed but are also discerning how to go home and tell our story. God has moved in our lives but it often does not feel significant. However, the transformation is real. It is a holy change that has brought order, identity and peace to a life of chaos. Isn’t that the same story as the demonic? In the midst of a chaotic and alienated life Jesus brought peace to this tormented man. The contrast between the man possessed and cured is striking.

I wonder if people can see the transformation in our lives. It might help if we proclaimed with great joy what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives. We are working on how we tell our story, and we cannot wait to hear yours.

Prayer: O God, thank you for what you have done and are doing in my life. You have brought deep and abiding joy.  As a witness for you may I be willing to share my story in such a way that will draw others to your love and to your grace. In Jesus’ name. 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 July 22 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 4

Key verse: (1)

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

Reflection: Prayers are sometimes gentle appeals.  But there are times, in the midst of our anguish and distress, when they are impassioned pleas of great urgency.

I remember when our young children would complain, “Daddy, listen to me when I am talking.”

That’s the sense I get from this psalm. The author is trying to get God’s attention, trying to get God to focus on the current distress and do something about it. “I am talking, God. Listen to me,” prays the psalmist.

At those times when we are disturbed, distressed and dejected, when there’s a shadow across our faces, we can lift up our prayers to God.  We can share with God our longing for some action and even plead with God for an urgent response.  We do so trusting that God hears when we call. We dare to pray and trust because God is faithful and puts gladness in our hearts.

Listen to me, O God, when I am talking to you.

Listen to me and do something so I can lie down and sleep in safety and in peace.

Prayer: O Lord, you have set me apart for yourself. You hear me when I call. Calm my anxious spirit and give me peace. But please hurry! 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 July 21 2015

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Scripture: Mark 4:21-34

Key verses: (30-32) He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Reflection: Sometimes we think that the little things don’t matter. We look at big, monumental problems in the world, and wonder what we can do to change things. Or we see grand movements and inspiring actions of others and think that we can’t contribute much ourselves. We are only regular people. We aren’t particularly gifted or prophetic. What difference could we possibly make?

The Bible is full of stories of God using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Abraham and Sarah were just regular (old) people. Moses was called despite a problem speaking. David was just a small shepherd boy. Mary was just a young girl. Paul had some kind of problem, his “thorn in the side.”

Jesus tells this parable of a mustard seed, just a tiny little speck, the smallest of all. Yet it grows into the greatest of all plants, so great that birds find shade for their nest. He says that the Kingdom of God grows like that. God can use the smallest seed to birth a kingdom.

Maybe there is a word here about not measuring our personal success or ministry in huge numbers or gestures all the time. Perhaps there is something powerful happening when two or three gather together in God’s name. Maybe the kingdom is growing when even one person responds. Maybe the lemonade stand the children set up, that raises $23.75 for flood relief matters, not just in total cash, but in kingdom work. Maybe every penny donated for Loaves & Fishes this summer matters, one cent at a time. Maybe just one kind word from us, or one grievance forgiven, matters. Today, look for a small way to join in the work of God’s kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, I am only one person. I am not particularly gifted or brave. But I know that you can do great things. Use me somehow, in a small way, to build up your kingdom today. 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].

Monday July 20 2015

130801-dailydevovisualsScriptureMark 4:1-20

Key Verse: (3) “Listen!  A sower went out to sow.”

Reflection: This is a familiar parable.  If you are like me, as you have listened to the parable you have focused on the different types of soil on which the seed fell:  the path where the birds come and eat it up;  the rocky ground where the wheat springs up quickly, but in the shallow soil withers in the heat of the sun;  the soil full of thorns where the wheat is choked; and finally the good soil where the wheat grows into an overwhelming harvest.  Yet as Jesus tells the parable he does not begin talking about the soil.  He says, “Listen!  A sower went out to sow.”

Is this the parable of the four soils or the parable of the sower?  If it is about the sower what do we hear?

My dad gardened.  He made sure all of his children helped in the garden whether we wanted to or not!  One of my gardening tasks was to sow seed in rows for peas, for beans, and in little mounds of three seeds together about a two feet apart for corn.  I assure you if I had gone into the garden and tossed seeds everywhere paying no attention to the places where the seed fell I would have heard from my dad!

Yet consider this sower.  He scatters seed far and wide.  He sows seed with no regard for where it is going to fall.

Could this be a parable of God’s generosity, of God’s deliberate choice of not sparing the gospel, of wishing it to grow, yes, in the good soil, but also in any soil?

Perhaps you consider yourself hardened soil, or rocky ground, or thorn-infested ground.  Regardless, God showers you with grace just as God showers grace on the fertile soil.  What if we shared God’s grace in the same way?

Prayer: Generous God, in Jesus the Christ you shower your grace with abandon upon us regardless of the condition of our heart and will.  Lead us to share your grace in the same manner, leaving the growth up to you.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Author: Pete Peery

[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].