Thursday December 31 2015

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Scripture: James 4:13-17; 5:7-11

Key verse: (14a) “Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. . .”

Reflection: None of us know what the year 2016 will bring.  We pray and hope for peace and joy in our lives and the lives of others.  We make our plans with anticipation of a positive outcome, knowing that life can change in an instant.  Some people are starting the New Year with a sense of dread because of a recent diagnosis or unresolved issues that now need to be addressed.  The gyms will be full until about February.  The resolutions will be kept for a few weeks.  Old habits, cares and worries will creep back in because we try to change too much at once.

A couple of years ago I chose one word that would be my guide for the entire year.  My inspiration for this came from a book called My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen.  The premise of the book is that by choosing one word to focus on, a person is better able to make changes because resolutions are based on the type of person you are tired of being; not the person you hope to become. The word I chose helped me make decisions and better discern where God was leading me.  (If you want to pursue this you can find more information on-line at www.myoneword.org).  I found this approach much more successful than any resolution that I had ever made.  My one word kept me focused.

Today’s scripture is a reminder that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But, when we choose to follow Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, we can make our plans knowing that if they change, a compassionate and merciful God is with us.

My hope for 2016 is that all of us will grow stronger in our faith.  These are challenging times and the people that we come in contact with in this city, nation and world are hungry for the love, acceptance and forgiveness that God offers.  May we be the ones to offer God’s mercy to others.

Happy New Year!

Prayer:  May the Lord, who is our peace, give us peace at all times and in every way, this year and in the years to come.  In Jesus’ name. 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].

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Wednesday December 30 2015

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Scripture: 3 John 1-15

Key verses: (13-14) I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.

Reflection: I found some wise rules about emailing several years ago, somewhere on the web, here’s a few of them:

1) Read them before responding.

2) Don’t check them first thing at morning or last thing at night.

3) Remember that email is a public and permanent record.

4) Never criticize anyone in email and avoid technical debates.  Use face-to-face meetings or phone calls instead.

5) Don’t send them.

Some of these rules are probably irrelevant with texting and tweeting, and to be honest most of these rules I have honored more in the breach than in their observance. But, there is some wisdom here.  I tried in Advent to follow the 50/50 rule: don’t read emails 50 minutes after you get up and 50 minutes before bed. I failed. Or, maybe it was practice for a new year’s resolution?

The three letters of John are curious, tucked away, omitted from some Christian traditions (Syrian Orthodox) and often as forgotten as a Kleenex in your pocket on laundry day.  But a gift awaits you today if you take some time and read through them (God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them—I John 4). Though emailing was not on John’s radar, he understood the necessity to overcome screens and scrolls and put down the phone, papyrus or pen in order to be face to face.

It takes time to do that and you might have to adjust your time and schedule.  You might be able to have only one conversation instead of sending a dozen emails and you may have to listen as much as speak (email is pretty one sided after all), but what gifts will you receive?

More than just good advice here, we have a reminder of what God has done in Jesus Christ.  Born for us and with us so that we might see and know God.

Prayer: Blessed are you, O Christ child,

that your cradle was so low

that shepherds, poorest and simplest of earthly people,

could yet kneel beside you,

and look, level-eyed, into the face of God. Amen.

(Ugandan Prayer)

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 December 29 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 96

Key verses: (1-2) O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.  Sing to the lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

Reflection: The psalms call us to sing NEW songs six times.  We are never called to sing OLD songs.  I wonder why.  Maybe it’s because “new” represents a fresh start, a hopeful future, and a clean slate.  Maybe it’s because new songs take more effort.  You have to pay attention when you sing a new song.  Watch the notes. Read the words carefully.  You can’t sing a new song with a lackluster spirit.

Yet often we prefer old songs.  We find comfort in their familiarity. We are lulled by the ease with which the melody comes to mind. We have the words memorized.

In this week between Christmas and New Year’s what new songs are you called to sing?  What new thing is God doing in you?  How is God transforming your spirit to be more like Jesus Christ? What new challenge do you face in the weeks ahead?  How will God equip you and empower you to face that challenge?  Sing to the Lord a new song. Tell of his salvation from day to day in this week of transition to a new year.

Prayer:

“On those who sit in darkness the sun begins to rise,

The dawning of forgiveness upon the sinner’s eyes.

God guides the feet of pilgrims along the paths of peace.

O bless our God and Savior with songs that never cease!”

Amen and Amen!

(verse 3 of hymn #109 Blest Be the God of Israel, in Glory to God, The Presbyterian Hymnal)

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 December 28 2015

Monday

Scripture: Matthew 18: 1-14

Key verse: (5) “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Reflection: Greetings from CUBA! The high school trip to Cuba left the day after Christmas and left Christmas behind. We left our families to box up Christmas and are secretly hoping it is all done by the time we return.  At the airport, Christmas music was still playing which was a bit annoying.  We are on the go to our next experience.

In our society, we are always on the move. I read somewhere that there are always seven other places we could be at any given moment. Are there other places you could be or things you could be doing at this very moment?  It is consumption that compels us to want more, do more and know more.  We were excited at the chance to travel to Cuba at this time, to move to a place not many people have been and to acquire new experiences.  The Christmas music caused us to stop.

Christmas is not over. It is just beginning.  When we arrived in Cuba, we were treated to a Christmas play. We were invited to stop moving and sit with the story. This nativity had a princess and a frog and we found great joy.  We laughed when the prince came to the manger and it had us sharing stories of our bit parts in Christmas plays.  We sang Christmas carols loudly and badly but from the heart. We savored the innocence of children and welcomed their invitation to stop moving.

Jesus point may be that the children’s simplicity and authenticity is the greatest gift.  Join us in stopping and allowing the joy of Christmas and the innocence of children to surround you.

Prayer: God of laughter and hope, give me the courage of a child to follow the light of the star and the joy in the journey. 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].

Friday December 25 2015

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Scripture: 1 John 4:7–16

Key verses: (9-11) God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

Reflection: The cry split the night, disrupting the soft sounds of the baby’s breathing and quiet rest. Neither mother or father had gotten much sleep. The restless stirring of an infant trying to adjust to a new world did not make parental rest easy.  Normally they would have family to help, but here they were on their own. The father brought his wife a cup of water as the child nestled in his mother’s arms.

What an unbelievable journey this had been. The father was still trying to understand what all this meant. The pregnancy was…complicated. Yet his love for his wife and God’s nudging kept him moving forward and looking forward to growing a family. His eyes took in the mother and child as they both settled back in to sleep. He didn’t know how much bigger his heart could grow, but right now it was almost bursting with love. He looked up at the night sky and felt the awe of just being alive—holding a new life, being here with his family. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to protect them and keep them safe.  He couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this the way God the Father feels about us?  Does God love us as much as I love my son, my wife?”

His wife stirred and held up the baby to him. Cradling the newborn he sat down on the ground, back to back with his exhausted wife. They found their balance leaning on each other. In the distance a rooster crowed.  Soon a new day would begin.  As dawn began to light the horizon, the father kissed his sleeping son and, once again, staring into the heavens, offered a simple prayer: “Thank you!”

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”

Prayer: Father in heaven, as we look upon the child born so long ago may we see in him your amazing love poured out for us. In your Son, Jesus, your love is given flesh and blood that we, in our humanness, might never be separated from you. As our hearts enlarge to contain your love, help us not only to feel that love but to live it out for others.  This we pray, gathered around the manger, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Merry Christmas!

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 December 24 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Key verses: (21-23)

21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23″Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall name him Emmanuel,”which means, “God is with us.”

Reflection: Tucked away in a stairwell of our sanctuary balcony is a small trio of stained glass windows. They depict the telling of the incarnation to three people. On the left, the angel Gabriel gives Mary the startling message that she will bear the son of God. On the right side, Mary visits her relative Elizabeth, and shares her good news. In the middle, we see an angel speaking to a dreaming Joseph, as told in these verses. Joseph has his arms crossed, and looks doubtful, even in his sleep. A baby, by God’s Holy Spirit, who will save his people from their sins? It’s a crazy message! The whole thing sounds made up, and too amazing to be true.

And yet, we gather today in multiple services here, to proclaim just that. We are joined by believers across our town, across our country, across oceans and continents and time zones: children of God, lighting candles in the darkness, and giving thanks for Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us.

This Christmas Eve, may the startling, unbelievable message of God’s grace born in Jesus, be made real for you. May it help you hold your own candle a little higher.  May you break out into a carol of joy because of it. May it spill forth into good news that you can share with another. And may you wake tomorrow, as Joseph did, trusting that God is with us.

Prayer: O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us; abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel. 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 December 23 2015

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Scripture:  Luke 1:67-80

Key verses: (78-79) “By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness

and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Reflection: As a boy I used to ride in our car along the roads of my home county in Southwest Virginia and see signs ominously declaring:  Prepare to meet thy God!  It was scary.  And the fright was only added to when the boy who sat behind me in the fourth grade, after learning I was a Presbyterian, kept leaning over my shoulder and whispering loudly, “Are you ready for the judgment day?”

This ominous, stern god is still proclaimed in our culture.  But is this the god who is born into our world at Christmas?

Did you hear Zechariah when he finally found his voice?  Zechariah, the priest and father of John the Baptist, sang this song, our text for today, upon the birth of his son.  He knew his son was the one who had been sent to prepare the way for God’s birth into the world.  Yet this God for whom John the Baptist is to prepare the way — listen to the way Zechariah describes this God’s entry.  “Tender mercy,” he says.  That is how God comes — not in wrath, not to destroy, not in scary judgment, but in tender mercy.

Tender mercy.  Think today about ways God has come to you in tender mercy.  No scary roadside signs.  No threats of devastating judgment.  In tender mercy God creeps into this world beside us, bringing light to our darkness, lifting the terror of the shadow of death, guiding our feet in the way of peace, or whole-ness, or calm centeredness.

Tender mercy. Thank God today for coming to us in tender mercy.  And may we all share that tenderness with one another.

Prayer: “Be near me, Lord Jesus:  I ask thee to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.”  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].