Monday February 15 2016

Monday

Scripture: 1 Cor 1: 1-19

Key verses: (2-3) 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord[a] and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: My high school Sunday school class loved our teacher.  Mr. Bill was loud and a bit unorthodox in everything he did.  He showed up every Sunday but didn’t have a clue what he was teaching. Over king cake, we bombarded him with questions about where to find Lent in the bible and he admitted he didn’t know. He came clean to us and committed to learning together.  That season of Lent, we did more than eat king cake…we immersed ourselves in scripture, we shared prayer requests and fasted. We came every week and it changed us.

Mr. Bill was a saint. He stumbled into redemption late in life and walked with us on a journey to experience something holy during Lent.  I have thought about him many times over the years and used him as an example when I teach teachers. It is hard to explain a technique he used, because he didn’t quite get teenagers. We once had to train him to eat at fast food places instead of places that had white tablecloths!   When I read this passage I finally got it: Mr. Bill knew he was broken and flawed, but he also knew we were called to be saints, together.

Together, in all of our brokenness, our class grew together in our faith and life. We experienced God in the chaotic moments of life when we couldn’t make sense of anything and didn’t have words to fix the crisis. What we did have, was a group of people who came together every week at church: people who prayed for and with each other, like when our classmate died or Mr.Bill’s wife went into a treatment center.

The experiences of God at these moments of grace were not the result of perfecting our Lenten disciplines or some sainthood.  They grew out of the mundane, week-to-week religious life with the ritual of passing peace, sharing a meal and praying together.  It grew out of repetition, the gathering every week in community, a simple discipline. Maybe it started as a Lenten discipline but it became part of who we were.  We found that when we practiced that discipline and showed up, many times Jesus would show up too.

Prayer: God, may I see my role in the community of faith and your covenant people. Guide us on this journey of Lent to stretch our hearts individually and corporately.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 February 12 2016

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Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9

Key verse: (7) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Reflection:  What do you say to two people who are always in conflict? They are like family (maybe are family) but they can’t get along with each other. They just see things differently and can’t be in the same room without sniping at each other. Their animosity spills out into others and sours communal gatherings. They have an opinion on everything and are sure their perspective is superior to everyone else’s. Instead of finding good they find fault. What do you say?

The Apostle Paul dealt with two members of the church in Philippi who were like this.  Word of their disruption of the Philippian community had reached him and he felt compelled to write in response.  What is amazing about Paul’s response is that he doesn’t critique the individuals involved (which would have sparked defensiveness). He holds up a better way. He honors the preferred behavior and doesn’t even acknowledge the behavior that needs to be corrected. (Parents: “Sit up straight. Keep peddling!” versus “Don’t fall off the bike!”)

Paul’s advice is as valuable today as it was then. Focus on these things:

Rejoice in the Lord always.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
Don’t worry about anything.
Let God know what you need.
Think on these things:
whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise.
Keep on doing the things you have learned.

If we keep our eyes on these things, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  We and our community will sleep better at night.

Prayer: Help me to focus on things that build up and not on the things that disrupt, O God.  Keep my thoughts on what is worthy of praise and help me rejoice in you, every hour, every day, throughout all my life. In Jesus’s name I 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].

Thursday February 11 2016

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Scripture: Habakkuk 3:1-18

Key verses: (1-2)

1A prayer of the prophet Habakkuk according to Shigionoth.

2O LORD, I have heard of your renown,

and I stand in awe, O LORD, of your work.

In our own time revive it;

in our own time make it known;

in wrath may you remember mercy.

Reflection: I’ll admit, Habakkuk is not a book I know well in the Bible. I noticed in the wording of the title of this text something that was unfamiliar to me. A prayer of the prophet Habakkuk according to Shigionoth. I wondered, “Who was Shigionoth?” Was he someone who wrote down the prayers of the prophet? Do we have this book of the Bible because of him? Can I write a devotion about how we ought to share words of faith and prayers that speak to us, as a way to share the gospel with others?

Then I looked up “Shigionoth”. It’s not a person at all! It appears to be a direction for how to sing this hymn-prayer about God’s power and might. One dictionary says it means a “wild, mournful ode.” Another says it comes from a verb meaning “to wander,” so perhaps it is meant to be a rhapsody. Still another says it is marked by abrupt transitions. One calls it a description of a “song of trouble or comfort.” (Wouldn’t those be sung very differently?) My favorite definition says it comes from a verb that means “to reel about through drink.” So the poem-hymn-prayer was composed “under strong mental emotion,” with “impassioned imagination,” and is to be accompanied with suitable music.

Basically, we don’t know. We don’t know exactly how this song was meant to be sung by worshipers. I imagine they might not all have agreed about it either, even if they had someone directing them. Some might have sung with strength and assurance the verses that indicate God is in control. Others might have sung softly the verses that plead for God’s mercy. In this hymn are words both of trembling and of rejoicing, words both of awe and fear. So choose your own Shigionoth for these words, your own way of singing to God. How will you pray today?

Prayer: Lord, you know my heart. You know my needs. You hear me both rejoice and lament. Speak to me the words I need to hear from you today and direct my thoughts and my own prayers.  In the name of 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].

Wednesday February 10 2016

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Scripture: Amos 5:4-15

Key verses: (4b-5a, 15a) Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba…Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.

Reflection: God is speaking through Amos in our text today. God is speaking to the people of Israel, God’s beloved people. Did you grasp what God was saying? Today it might sound like this: “Seek me and live; but do not seek Myers Park Presbyterian and do not enter Christ Church Episcopal, or cross over to the Church at Charlotte. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the economy and in City Hall, the Statehouse and in Washington.”

Those are hard words for us who are faithfully religious. Those were hard words for those in Israel who were sure they were faithfully religious.

Bethel and Gilgal and Beer-sheba were religious shrines in Israel where people gathered to worship God. They worshiped regularly. They made their offerings. They gave alms for the needy, perhaps something equivalent to our loose offerings each Sunday. Yet, in the “gate,” that is, in the public arena — the marketplace — what did they do? God lifts up to them what God saw them doing. “You trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain.”

I doubt that those who gathered for worship at Bethel or Gilgal or Beer-sheba literally stomped on poor people or stole grain from peasants who were clinging to the edge of survival. Yet, those who regularly gathered for worship were living in an economic system that was benefitting them while it was constantly driving the great majority of their neighbors further and further into poverty. So God called them out. God declared, “I care nothing for your worship of me unless you are engaged in transforming “the gate” — the economic, social and political system — which is driving those already poor deeper and deeper into devastating poverty.”

We are living in “the gate” — an economic, social and political system — in which the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. Right here in Charlotte we are residents of a city which, out of the top fifty cities in America, ranks last in economic mobility.

Tonight many of us will be gathering for worship in our Ash Wednesday Service. Sunday we will gather again for worship as we gather for the First Sunday in Lent. Will God care that we so faithfully worship if we are not also attentive to tackling the issues in the “gate” of this city and nation, structural issues that make some of us more and more wealthy yet leave more and more of our sisters and brothers in growing poverty?

Prayer: You give us prophets, holy God, to cry out for justice and mercy. Open our ears to hear them, and to follow the truth they speak, lest we support injustice to secure our own well-being. Amen.   (Adapted from a prayer in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship)

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 February 9 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 42

Key verse: (1) “As the deer thirsts for the water brooks, so my soul thirsts for the living God.”

Reflection: Today is Shrove Tuesday.  It is the last day before the start of the penitential season of Lent.  The word shrove comes from the word shrive which means absolve.  We are more familiar with the term Mardi Gras which is French for Fat Tuesday. Historically, this was the last day of eating rich and fatty foods before the fasting of the Lenten Season. Like many of our traditions, this one most likely had pagan origins going back over 1,000 years. Countries around the world observe many different traditions around this day and many people who aren’t part of any faith tradition see this as the biggest party day of the year.

While parties and celebrations are fun, they don’t give us the strength we need when trouble comes.  They may divert our attention for a time, take our minds off of what’s bothering us, but ultimately we need something else to sustain us.

Today’s psalm is a reminder of where we place our hope. It invites us to ask ourselves what we thirst after – the living God or something else?  What is your deepest longing and how are you fulfilling it?

This may be the best time of your life or the worst.  You may be on top of the world – filled with joy — or you might be wondering where God is.  No matter your circumstances, what do you thirst for?  The season of Lent can be a spiritual time of self-imposed exile where you will discover the deeper recesses of faith. Enjoy today!  And when your appetites have been filled, return to God and place your hope in the One who loves you.

Prayer: Loving God, with joy and thanksgiving we give all praise to you. Remind us that you are with us in times of trouble and mourning and times of laughter and peace.  Cultivate a spirit of longing within us that we might seek 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 February 8 2016

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 5

Key verse: (3) O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.

Reflection: Following the gentle invitation in Psalm 4 to rest at day’s end and ponder quietly in your bed, Psalm 5 is the psalmic alarm clock letting you know its time to start your day. No longer need you ponder or contemplate, not now. Rather, the day has opened, the sun has risen and your voice, prayers and spirit are called to join the rising. Get up and speak up, declares our psalmist, lift up your hearts! Lift up your voice, the Lord is near. Rise from your slumber! A new day has begun and so have you.

But attend for a moment how Psalm 5 is not as different as our evening psalm, despite day being as opposite as night. There is yet an invitation to not just be active but be attentive too. By all means be quick to speak to God, get your brain and spirit in gear and be ready to engage the Living One who calls to you, but watch too. Watch for how God hears your prayers. Watch for how the day will unfold, how the fog will lift and a path appear. Watch, says the psalmist, watch. You won’t be disappointed. Surprised maybe, but not ever bereft.

In a very old and old fashioned Bible commentary filled with thee and thou and wherefore and verily, a wonderful name for God appears. The commentator christens our Lord with the name: Prayer-Hearing God. What an invitation to and description of the one who invites and inspires our prayers, the one whose very name indicates his very nature and inclinations. Prayer-Hearing God. That’s exactly the kind of God worth getting up for and speaking with.

Prayer: Prayer-Hearing God, you are what you say and you do what you promise. Help us to trust you, to follow you, to talk with you and in all things to love you. 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]

Friday February 5 2016

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Scripture: Hebrews 12:3-11

Key verse: (11) Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have trained by it.

Reflection: I don’t like this. I don’t like the entire passage (read it, if you haven’t already).  Like most stiff-necked, pig-headed people, I don’t like being corrected or told that I am wrong.

I don’t like the thought of God punishing human beings, probably because I associate that image with some pretty destructive behaviors.  And there are some folks with twisted theology who claim that God inflicts suffering on people as a punishment. Cancer? The death of a child? Natural disasters? I don’t believe that.

I do recognize that God has given humans free will, the ability to make choices.  I affirm that our human choices have consequences.  Sometimes bad choices have bad consequences.  And God doesn’t protect us from them.  Is that the punishment the writer of the Hebrews is referring to?  God allows us to face our consequences and promises to stand beside us the entire time.  For the faithful, God can use the suffering we face and the consequences we endure to shape us to be more like Jesus Christ.  I don’t like the process, but I know it’s true.  I have seen it over and over again in myself and in you too.

Prayer: Your power is gracious and your grace is powerful, O God.  When I struggle and when I suffer, help me to yield fruit of righteousness.  When I face consequences for my decisions, teach me to be more like Christ.  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 February 4 2016

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Scripture: Heb 11: 32-12:2

Key verses: (12: 1-2) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Reflection: Sometimes we speak of faith as if it’s agreeing to accept something that doesn’t make sense. We just have to have “faith.” It is true but not very descriptive of what we feel in our soul about faith.

I prefer Kierkegaard’s phrase “the leap of faith” because it makes faith more active and a bit adventurous.  Faith involves some risk.  Take a look at any of the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, escaped the edge of the sword and wandered in the deserts.  Faith takes us beyond ourselves, beyond what we know and trust on our own. In our faith adventure we realize that God holds our hand and takes the leap with us.

Our eighth graders are working on their faith statements right now, trying to put into words what they believe before they join the church.  They are claiming their faith. Many of them will tell stories about the great cloud of witnesses who have guided them along their faith journey. Stories of Paul, Rahab, Ruth, Moses or more recent witnesses like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa or Mahala. These heroes of faith have inspired them with their faith “leaps” and have done some great faithing.

Yes, “faithing.” A verb, not a noun. The New Testament word for faith, in all its forms, is active. Even the noun is more verb than noun. There’s no word for faith in the Old Testament. The closest concept is a cluster of words that mean “making yourself secure in God.”

In the New Testament God became flesh and blood, word and action, example and commandment. We come to know and dare to confess our truth about God through Jesus. We respond to that discovery with our lives. By Faithing — claiming our faith but then living it out together in the community of faith.  We turn our lives toward faithfulness and we reflect God’s faithfulness to the world.  We do this surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: God, on this adventure of faith, take my hand.  I am taking yours. 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 February 3 2016

 

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Scripture: Heb. 11:23–31

Key verses: (32-34) And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

Reflection: For time would fail me…

There are moments in my days when God breaks through my business and makes me aware of the debt I owe to so many people who have come and gone before me.

I can tell of Sunday School teachers in my youth who not only taught me about God’s love but showed it in such ways that it nested deep within me. I can tell of adults who saw past my gangly adolescence and encouraged me to grow into an adult faith. I can tell of professors who broke through my sometime apathy and lit a fire in my belly for learning more about the Scriptures. I can tell of gentle souls who took the meager offerings of a just-graduated seminarian and declared them good. I can tell of individuals and families who, in visible and in quiet ways, sustained struggling congregations. I can tell of pillars of faith who became models for me of what it means to live one’s faith deeply and with integrity. I can tell of acquaintances who became friends and friends who became like family. And what more should I say?

There are so many people whose lives have intersected with ours, whose presence on our journey has shaped and molded us to be the people we are today. Some are great heroines. Some are unsung heroes. But we owe a debt of gratitude to them that we cannot repay. Except, perhaps, by living our lives as faithfully as they modeled. We can repay them by living faithfully and by remembering, remembering on whose shoulders we stand.

Remember today someone who shaped your life and give thanks for them to God.

Prayer: Faithful God, you place on our journey guides and mentors and models. Help us not to be hobbled by the limits of our imagination but rather be inspired by the people of faith who have gone before us. Today, we give you thanks for them all. In your faithful name 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 February 2 2016

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Scripture: Genesis 21:1-21

Key Verses: (5-6)  5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.6Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

Reflection: This story reminds me of what it means to be human. We begin with Sarah and Abraham rejoicing over the birth of their son Isaac. In spite of their advanced age, God’s covenant promise to provide them a family has come to pass. Sarah laughed when she heard the news months ago. Now she laughs again in joy. They name the child Isaac, which means laughter, as a way to remind themselves and others of the unbelievable joy that God has brought them.

Then in the very next paragraph, Sarah’s laughter and joy turns to jealousy and pettiness when she sees Ishmael, the child of her servant girl, Hagar, playing with Isaac. Because Abraham is also the father of Ishmael, Sarah wants them cast out, so as not to threaten Isaac’s inheritance. From joy to jealousy, in a heartbeat. Abraham complies, and Hagar and Ishmael are sent into the wilderness, where they will surely die.

It’s a good thing that stories about the people of God are not only stories about the people. They are also stories about God. If we just had the people, there would be no laughter, and jealousy and pettiness would always triumph. Thanks be to God that God also shows up! God steps in and provides a way forward for Hagar and Ishmael, just as God stepped in for Sarah and Abraham.

Today may you keep your eyes open for where God is at work, even in the midst of human frailty and sin — perhaps even your own.

Prayer: Holy God, you are always working for peace and wholeness and love and joy, even when I can’t see it. Forgive my human sin and smallness. Open my eyes to your vision and your presence. 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].