Thursday February 18 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 126

Key verse: (5)  “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.”

Reflection: Recently, I saw pictures from the city of Homs in Syria. This thriving city was home to over one million people. Now it is a bombed out wasteland of destroyed buildings that once were apartments, businesses, hospitals, schools, parks and playgrounds, soccer fields and tree lined streets with outdoor cafes. As I looked at the pictures I wondered if this is what Jerusalem looked like after the Babylonians destroyed it in 567 BCE. Certainly it was a horrible sight back then. Vast numbers of people were slaughtered, the strong were taken as prisoners, the weak, sick and elderly were left to starve to death. Sounds like many places in the Middle East today.

It is difficult to imagine how the city of Homs will ever rebuild. But, one day, if the civil war ends, Homs might be restored to it’s original beauty the way Jerusalem was. If that happens, the displaced population of Homs might experience the same feelings that residents of Jerusalem expressed in today’s psalm. This psalm of ascents was sung by people as they travelled up to Jerusalem for the celebration of religious holy days. It was sung as a reminder of God’s salvation from destruction and loss.  When Jerusalem was restored and the people returned it was like a dream. No one thought it could ever happen, but it did.

Have you ever had something happen in your life that turned your entire world upside down?  At the time it may have seemed as if all was lost – there was no hope.  But, when you were set free from the pain of adversity, did it seem like a dream?  Life can feel very surreal when we emerge from suffering.  It is such a relief we might burst out laughing with joy. What seemed impossible comes true!  If you are exiled somewhere right now because of tragedy or destructive choices, pray that God will restore you. Remember God’s faithfulness in the past and cling to hope for the future. Be patient and know that the God of the captive ones of Zion is with you. One day you will be able to sing again.

Prayer:  Lord, be with us in times of exile and times of restoration. If we are unable to shout with joy today, remind us that our weeping won’t last forever. God restores. 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 17 2016

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Note: Yesterday’s excellent devotion (2/15/16) was accidentally posted last Friday (2/12/16). We apologize for the confusion. You should find it your inbox or at the Devotions blog

Scripture: Mark 1:29-45

Key verses: (35-36)  In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

Reflection:  Henri Nouwen was bold to write, “The secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning.” (Out of Solitude) It was early in the morning when Jesus sought a quiet, deserted place, in the midst of frenzied days, in order to hear God’s will and guidance for him. If Jesus didn’t find this time he would have not discerned God’s will as easily or confidently.

Imitating Jesus, many of us get up early in the morning, long before dawn, to find peace and stillness before the busy chaos of our day pulls us in. We may study the Bible, read a devotion, go all hot yoga, guzzle java or hit the gym hoping our body in motion will also put our spirit in gear. All of that is good and worthy and I pray you are blessed in your early morning endeavors. In the story however, we are more like the disciples than Jesus.  Jesus knew where he was going and what he had to do. The disciples though got concerned and anxious and began to ‘hunt for’ Jesus. There is some desperation in that word.  I hunt for things that I have lost and desperately need to find. I hunt for what I am deeply craving. I hunt for what is in my heart but not in my grasp.

The good news this morning is that every morning we hunt for Jesus, every time we pursue him because we are hungry or lost or in doubt or wonder- we find him. Just like the disciples early that morning long ago we, in our need and love and desire, search for Jesus and find him. In finding him he bids us not to leave him but to journey with him. And we go.

Prayer: Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you; let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you. Amen. (St. Anselm)

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 16 2016

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Scripture: Mark 1:14-28

Key verses: (14-15) Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Reflection: The gospel of Mark doesn’t begin with a story about the baby Jesus.  There are no shepherds, no angels, no wise men.  Instead, there is a man in the wilderness named John and he is calling people to repent.  The word “repent” literally means “to turn around.”  John was calling the people to turn their lives around, to turn toward God, to move in God’s direction instead of away from it, to walk with God instead of on their own.

When Jesus began his ministry, he carried on John’s proclamation of repentance.  Mark tells us he proclaimed the good news of God.  (Is the sentence above “good news” to you?)  The good news was that the time is fulfilled.  What you have been longing for has now begun.  God’s presence is now in the flesh in the world.

The kingdom of God has come near.  A friend once suggested to me that we tend to think of the kingdom as the goal at the end of our journey.  We might think we will find the kingdom when we cross the finish line.  My friend wondered if instead the kingdom is beside us.  I imagine it might be like when you are driving on the National Park Road at the Grand Canyon and, you glimpse the canyon through a break in the trees, realizing it has been right beside you all along.  The kingdom of God has come near.  Jesus is beside you.  Good news indeed!

Prayer: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.” O God, give me eyes to see your kingdom, give me courage to repent, and give me faith to believe the good news.  Through 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].

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].