Friday April 29 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 96

Key verses: (1-2)

1   O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2   Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.

Reflection: This is the time of year our Weekday School children are preparing for their Chapel Sing program. All year in our weekly chapel service, they have heard the stories of God, and learned songs of faith. They are excited to share some of their favorite songs with their families. As we choose which songs to share we have to consider multiple factors: Which songs have their parents probably heard them singing at home over and over again? Which songs do they know well enough to sing in front of a large crowd? Which songs have motions that are safe enough to do on the stage risers?

We also consider this as we choose songs to sing all year long: Which songs teach them something about God that they need to know, deep down? Which songs help form a faith in them that they can draw upon for the rest of their lives? Just as scripture we memorize can help sustain faith in us in dark times, so too can songs of faith. That’s why we end up teaching and singing Jesus Loves Me, My God is So Great, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, and more.

We hope for a successful Chapel Sing program, where the singing is joyful and the love of God is evident, and the pictures come out great. More than that, though, we pray that the faith proclaimed in the songs may truly live and grow in the children their whole lives long.

Prayer: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Holy God, help me sing my praise to you. May the words of scripture, and of songs and hymns, live in me and in all your children. In Christ’s 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].

Thursday April 28 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34

Key Verse: (30) “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith?”

Reflection: Charlotte is gorgeous in springtime.  The azaleas.  The fresh green leaves of the canopy of trees throughout the city.  The lush lawns.  There is a stunning display of God’s creative imagination before our eyes everyday.  How could all of this be imagined?  What intricate care stirred in the heart of the Holy One to call forth such beauty?  Yet what happens to each little flower, each tiny blade of grass?

More and more I believe we are people becoming trapped by fear.  On the way to work this week I heard a story about how a generation ago parents let their children run outside into the backyard and play on their own.  No more the story continued.  No more do most parents allow children to play unattended anywhere, even in their own backyard.  No more — because of fear.  Marketers play on our fear to sell us everything from bottled water to security systems to life insurance to houses within gated communities with guards on duty twenty-four seven.  Many of our politicians play on our fear to gain our votes promising us security which they cannot ever provide.

Fear.  It is killing us long before we die.

In our reading today from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, it is evident Jesus knows how it is with us.  He knows we are trapped by fear.  Why else would he say, “Do not worry about your life”?  Yet in the face of our fear he points to the wondrous birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the grass of the field.  All of these are exquisite creations of God which last for but an instant.  If God so clothes these in glory, exceeding the lavishness of the glory of Solomon, will God not much more clothe us, care for us?

As you and I will inevitably be grabbed by fear this day, when we are, let us take a glance at the flowers of spring, the fresh luscious grass, the flittering birds so beautifully colored and say to ourselves, “How much more!  How much more is God attentive to us!”  “How much more does God treasure and clothe us!”  So doing, we may actually live more fully this day as God intends us to do.

As the Brief Statement of Faith of our church declares:

“In life and in death we belong to God .

With believers in every time and place,

we rejoice that nothing in life or in death

can separate us from the Love of God

in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Prayer: Holy God, remind us over and over this day that in life and in death we belong, always belong, to you.  We pray this in the name of Jesus, whose hands, though bloodied on the cross, survive to hold and heal and carry us through death to life.  Amen.

Prayer adapted from the hymn, We Cannot Measure How You Heal, by John Bell, Glory to God, #797

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].

Wednesday April 27 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 118

Key Verse: (1) “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”

Reflection: This is a song of victory most likely sung after winning a battle. The first verse is a familiar one.  It is found in many hymns and songs of praise.  It reminds us of who God is and how God loves.  There are so many times in life that we need to know God will not leave us.  There are battles in life that don’t involve armies or war.  These battles are experienced within and without.  Worry and anxiety or fear and uncertainty can rob us of joy.  The Psalmist writes:  “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me…”   What wonderful words to remember when the tough times come.  And they will.  So I invite you today to meditate on the words below then ask yourself:  Where do I put my confidence?

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.

With the LORD on my side I do not fear.

What can mortals do to me?

The LORD in on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in mortals.

It is better to take refuge in the LROD than to put confidence in princes.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks that nothing can separate us from your love.  Come to our assistance today and take away our fear that we might live confident lives of 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].

Tuesday April 26 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 6:7-15

Key Verse: (9) Pray then in this way…

Reflection: Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray. Often, and for good reason, we focus on the what of prayer — the words Jesus gave us to give to God. A devotion on the words of the prayer are plentiful and commendable, but this isn’t one of those. Lets talk about the how of prayer for a moment. A classmate once commented that our Hebrew instructor must have an especially gifted mind to be so proficient in the ancient language. Overhearing this our instructor said, “Do you want to know how I do it?” We leaned in close, ready to discover the secret formula, the tricks of the trade.“I get a Hebrew book,” he said “and I sit and I read it. And when I get to the end, I read it again. That’s it. That’s why I can read Hebrew. Practice.”

So it is, I think, with prayer. If you make yourself, if you set yourself to the task, you can find the will and the time and the place to pray. It may be in a lonely place, it may be in the midst of a crowd. It may be for an hour or for just a few moments. It may be with beautiful words or awkward pauses. But you can enter into the sacred space that prayer creates, no matter your schedule or resistance, if you just keep at it. Don’t give up. Pray whether you want to give thanks and pray when you want to curse. Pray when you are found and pray when you are lost. Pray because you want to and pray because you have to. Pray because your faith is strong and demands that you pray, or, in the words of Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel, pray because you don’t know how to. Pray like the man in the gospel of Mark: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Discover that prayer is not only for the faithful but also for the uncertain, the unsure, and the uneasy. And if in the arena of prayer we work and sweat, applying the same principles we use at the gym to our lives of prayer, we will discover how prayer breaks down the barriers we put up between each other and the barricades we have built to separate us from God. Every time we pray we make it that much easier to find ourselves, every time we pray we make it that much easier to find each other and our God.

What we pray is important — Jesus teaches us that in the prayer. But that we pray, that we find ourselves often and always seeking God is essential. For in seeking we find and, most importantly, in seeking we find we are found.

Prayer: Our Father, Who is in heaven, Holy is Your Name; Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 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].

Monday April 25 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verse: (1) I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

Reflection: Praise! Over and over again in Scripture we are called to praise God, expressing our respect and love and thanks to God with joy.  Did you know that offering praise has been shown to lower your blood pressure, increase your positive emotions, and encourage your generosity and compassion?   Science now shows that the call to praise evokes our best selves and strengthens our own well-being.

Today’s psalm is a hymn of praise, written as an alphabetic acrostic.  Each verse begins with a successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet.  The psalm testifies to God’s enduring reliability.  We can count on God! The psalm recognizes that God’s care is powerful and constant.  The writer makes no requests and offers no complaints.  The entire psalm is praise.

I challenge you to write an alphabetic acrostic of praise to God today.  Or maybe you could think of an adjective to describe God for every letter in the alphabet (awesome, benevolent, courageous, dependable…).  This would a great exercise to share with a friend, or with your family.  Here’s a little bit of an alphabet acrostic to get your mental wheels turning:

Amazing and glorious is the power of God’s love

Bountiful are the blessings God has given

Creation reveals the majesty of the Lord…

Creatures are made to praise their Creator.  May your day be full of praise and thanksgiving!

Prayer: “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.” Amen. (Psalm 145:21)

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].

Friday April 22 2016

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Scripture: 1 Thess 3:1-13

Key verse: (12) And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

Reflection: To this Christian community relationships mattered. As they figured out what it means to follow Jesus these relationships gave them support. As they faced suffering the love found in this community would ensure their survival. To be rooted in love and to have that love abound for one another allowed their faith do more than just survive and increase.

A life of faith does not mean that life is without difficulty. The church that Paul was writing to in Thessalonians needed to be reminded of this fact. We need to be reminded of this fact. I am not sure where we get the idea that a life of faith equals happiness. Parents tell children all of the time that if you work hard and be good then you will be happy. In the mind of many people going to church and being faithful are important steps to being good.  We jump quickly to the idea that being good equals faithful and faithful means happy. That equation will certainly disappoint and unravel.

The idea that the Christian life is inevitably filled with love and joy and thankfulness and peace is, of course, wrong. And yet there is no hiding the reality, that in this letter, love, thankfulness, joy, and relationship are not only evident, but are central. The text also says to strengthen our hearts in holiness, through earnest prayer.

Paul, the author of this letter, also made that radical claim in 1 Corinthians 13:2 that, without love, we are nothing.  Jesus himself, made clear that the only thing that mattered is to love God, and to love one’s neighbor as you loved yourself (Luke 10:27-28). To be rooted in love and to practice love is transformative.  This journey of life and faith will bring difficulty and maybe even suffering. The good news is that we will not endure it alone.

Prayer: God, your love is unconditional and persistent. Move me to be transformed by that love so that, whatever I face, I will live for you and my love may abound.  This I ask in Christ. 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].

 

Thursday April 20 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26

Key verse: (21-22) You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Reflection: As was the case for the people Jesus addressed in his Sermon on the Mount, I am encouraged by the blessings in the Beatitudes, challenged by the metaphors of being salt and light, and convicted by the call to righteousness in following the Law. But I can get over all that. I can convince myself that I am not a bad person because I really try to be a good person. Jesus, however, can’t leave well enough alone and moves from preaching to meddling in my personal life.

I get the Ten Commandment admonition: You shall not murder.  I’ve lived my whole life without murdering someone. That’s something, isn’t it? But Jesus ups the ante and says that the way I deal with my anger puts me in the same league as murderers. What?

My anger at a brother or sister subjects me to the same judgment as if I murdered him or her. If I publicly insult someone or call them a fool (and who hasn’t at some point?) then I am deserving of hell.  Isn’t that a bit radical, Jesus? Surely there is a big difference between taking another person’s life and being angry with them.  What do you mean there isn’t?

If I had to worry not just about what I do to other people but also about how I treat them, I’d have to change a lot of things. Can we go back to the Beatitudes?

Jesus, if you make the Law not just about our external actions but also about what’s going on in our hearts and minds, then who of us could ever be worthy of your love and acceptance? We’d have to pray every day for the forgiveness of our sins!  What? Oh. Now I get it.

Prayer: Our Father in heaven, forgive us our sins, whether obvious or hidden, and lead us always away from temptation. Deliver us not only from the evil of our actions, but also from the evil of our desires and intentions. In the name of Jesus, I humbly 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].