Friday July 29 2016


Scripture: Matt 28: 1-10

Key verses: (9-10) 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

Reflection: The pivotal word “suddenly” cannot convey the untranslatable truth that, in this moment, everything we thought we knew is changed.

This story contains two such moments: “Suddenly … there was a great earthquake” and “Suddenly Jesus met them.” In other words, when we meet Jesus it is as if the ground moves beneath you. Nothing remains the same.

Consider two other images that fill the spaces between the two uses of “suddenly.”. One image is fear, which we see often in the scriptures.  In our scripture today we read, “Do not be afraid,” and  “they left with fear and joy.” The other image is vision where we are invited to see something new. Here we are invited to “come, see the place,” knowing “you will see him,” or “they will see me.” Looking for and yearning, fearing and seeing are all connected to the holy.

This week, I have been with 36 youth and adults engaging in the CROSS program at our church. We have been sleeping in the Outreach Center and working at ministries around Charlotte. For many of them, this is their first time away from home or doing mission work. It takes the courage to step out to share their faith.  Just like the women at the tomb, they are still afraid. Courage is not simply throwing caution to the wind, as they say, but action despite danger.

Take a look at the fear of the women at the tomb. If we look closely at their fear we can see that it also contains joy. There will be fear and joy. Why is this important? It was as the women left the tomb “with fear and great joy” to go share the good news to other disciples that Jesus met them.

We went into this week of CROSS with both fear and joy. In all of our interactions, we have seen the presence of Christ. In the faces of the poor, in the laughter of the youth, in the sharing and receiving of Good News we have met Jesus. We should go into our day with awe, joy, and a bit of trembling, eager to see where and how the risen one will meet us in our neighbors and friends.

Prayer: With fear and joy, I move into my day knowing that along my path I will see you. Open my eyes, my heart, and my hands. In Jesus name I pray. 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 July 28 2016


Scripture: Acts 1:15–26

Key verse: (26) And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Reflection: You probably have not heard much about Matthias or Joseph Barsabbas (aka: Justus). We rarely hear about those who join the team long after the founders have made their mark.  But they too are important.

After the death of Judas of Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, the 11 disciples needed to elect a replacement. They decided the replacement would have to be one of the disciples who had been an eyewitness from the early days of Jesus’ ministry.

They came up with two names: Joseph, called Barsabbas, and Matthias – both qualified to serve as the twelfth apostle. To choose between them, they used the ancient method of casting lots, an objective way to make difficult choices.  The lots were cast and pointed to Matthias who was added to the eleven apostles.

Although Matthias became one of the apostles neither he nor Joseph Barsabbas are mentioned in the Scriptures again.

So it has been in the history of the Church. Countless disciples have been called to spread the good news of Jesus. Men, women, and young people – whose names are unknown to us – have stepped up to take on important but invisible roles in building God’s realm on earth. Some disciples get notoriety, even fame, for their role in doing God’s work.  But so many more, like Matthias, are the behind-the-scenes workers that fill out the team, do the work of ministry, and without fanfare proclaim good news to the world.

Remember Matthias today. And remember all the faithful disciples whose names are lost in the sea of obscurity. Remember those on whose shoulders we now stand.  And give thanks!

Prayer:  Lord God, we give thanks for the faithfulness of Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas.  We give thanks for all disciples who serve you without recognition, who seek only to be faithful to you.  Confirm in them, and in us, the value of hidden faithfulness that we may know our important roles within the great cloud of witnesses that make up your Church. In the name of Jesus the Christ, who calls us into service, 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].

Wednesday July 27 2016


Scripture: Judges 3: 12-30

Key verses: (15-22) 15But when the Israelites cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The Israelites sent tribute by him to King Eglon of Moab. 16Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length; and he fastened it on his right thigh under his clothes. 17Then he presented the tribute to King Eglon of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man.18When Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent the people who carried the tribute on their way. 19But he himself turned back at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” So the king said, “Silence!” and all his attendants went out from his presence. 20Ehud came to him, while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber, and said, “I have a message from God for you.” So he rose from his seat. 21Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglon’s belly;22the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

Reflection: Sometimes people think that the Bible is mostly full of spiritual advice about how to love God and our neighbors. And there is plenty of that. But if you ever wonder if there is something more real and earthy in the scriptures, here is a story for you.

In the time before kings in Israel, the people were ruled by judges. Some were better than others, and under their rule, the people of Israel tried to remain faithful at worshipping God, to varying degrees of success. At one point, when they had forgotten about God’s law, a Moabite king conquered Israel and ruled over them. King Eglon was in power for 18 years. When the people of Israel cried out in prayer, God raised up Ehud, a deliverer from the tribe of Benjamin, who kills King Eglon, then leads the Israelites to take back their land.

What strikes me about this story are the very human details included in the biblical text. Eglon is described as a fat man. Ehud is left-handed. Some commentators want to translate the uncertain Hebrew to say that Eglon was sitting on his “throne” (meaning the other kind of throne — a toilet) when Ehud killed him. The description of Ehud’s attack (in v. 22) sounds like a cartoon. After Ehud leaves, and locks the door, the servants of the king don’t disturb him because they assume he is relieving himself. I doubt we will ever teach this story in Vacation Bible School, but I know it would appeal to some of our kids.

What this story in Scripture says to me (besides that the writer is very entertaining) is this: Our faith is in a God who works in and through the lives of real and very human people. As people of God, we are more than what is in our heads and our hearts. We can’t ever separate that from our very human bodies. (People who tried to do that in the past developed what we now call heresies.) How amazing to think that God came to us in Jesus in human form. May we, as his followers, know that God loves our whole selves.

Prayer: Lord, you know everything about me. Throughout history you have used very ordinary people to serve your purposes, in weird and wonderful ways. Use me too. In the name of Christ, the Word made flesh, 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].

Tuesday July 26 2016


Scripture: Psalm 146

Key verse: (3) “Do not put your trust in princes, . . .”

Reflection: Princes. We don’t have them anymore in this country. Thank God. Yet when we read this word in Scripture it is good for us to substitute the word: leader. “Do not put your trust in leaders, . . .”

Leadership is a big deal.  We have leadership training all over the place, in our businesses, in non-profit agencies, and yes, in the Church. Leadership matters. We know that. As we experience the national conventions of our two political parties we are becoming more and more aware about how leadership matters.  And closer to home in this congregation, as we have elected a new pastor/head of staff, one of the things so evident about Joe Clifford is his stellar leadership. His leadership mattered recently in Dallas. His leadership will matter here.

Yet the psalmist says, “Do not put your trust in leaders . . .” If you do, you will never be happy, blessed, nor experience fullness of life and delight.

Why this warning about leaders?  It is because every one of them is mortal. Every one of them dies.

This means we cannot ultimately count on any leader for plans or an agenda that will make everything right — that will “bring in the kingdom,” so to speak.

This congregation has called a wonderful pastor. Yet, as good as Joe Clifford is, as important as his leadership will be, he will not make all things right!

“Do not put your trust in leaders, . . . Happy are those . . . whose hope is in the LORD their God, . . .”  The invitation of the psalmist is to never allow even the best of our leaders to become an idol.  Instead we are to always entrust our lives, this world, and the future to the LORD alone.  And notice why we are called to place our trust in the LORD.  It is not only because of the LORD’s permanence and power.  It is because of the LORD’s agenda.  Did you notice that agenda?  Listen to it: —

executing justice for the oppressed,

giving food to the hungry,

setting the prisoner free,

opening the eyes of the blind,

lifting up those who are bowed down,

loving the righteous — those living in right relation with neighbor,

watching over the strangers (read immigrants, aliens),

upholding the orphan and the widow,

bringing to ruin the way of the wicked.

The fulfillment of this agenda is the way history is ultimately going, regardless who the human leaders are.  History will go this way precisely because the LORD is God.

It is as we trust this LORD and trust this agenda, and align our lives with it, that we will be deeply happy.  Then we will know blessing.  Then we will experience fullness of life and delight. So today, how are you leaning into trusting this agenda — the agenda not of any human leader but of the LORD?

Prayer: Gracious God, give us the courage to trust you alone to make all things new.  In Jesus’ name 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].

Monday July 25 2016


Scripture: Joshua 24: 16-33

Key verses: (16-17a) “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight.”

Reflection: At the end of the book of Joshua the tribes of Israel renew their covenant with the LORD God.  This last chapter tells a condensed history of their journey into the Promised Land and the faithfulness of the LORD.  This happens right before Joshua, their leader, dies.

It is important at times of transition to review where you have been in order to know where you are going. The people of Israel recommitted themselves to the LORD.  They did this by remembering how they were released from a life of bondage in Egypt to become a free people united under God’s commandments and ordinances.  They were given new life and the possibility to live as a free people. The “rules” were put in place so that they might experience true freedom within boundaries.

Joshua encouraged the people to forsake the other gods they had been serving and choose the LORD. This was especially important as they moved into a new land.

How often have we created lesser gods to worship?  Gods of work, achievement, or possessions?  What might happen if we served the LORD God exclusively?  How might we be blessed as we renew our commitment to God and each other?

There are exciting days ahead. Will we be faithful?

Prayer:  Almighty God, you love us with a fierce love. Help us to remember that you have called us to have no other God’s before you. Help us to let go of the gods that we worship that can never satisfy.  May we always remember your faithfulness to us. 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].

Friday July 22 2016


Scripture: Romans 15:14-24

Key verse: (20) 20Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation.

Reflection: “You say I can’t do it because you can’t. But I’m not you.” I read this quote from Muhammad Ali in Carolinian, Davis Miller’s quirky new book about his relationship with the “greatest of all time.” Ali in many ways is as important as ever as he forces us to be honest about our racial divides, but I’m quoting him now because he sounds a lot like St. Paul.

“I’m going to Spain,” Paul declares in chapter 15.  No one had ever been there to preach the Gospel but Christians in Rome didn’t understand why he didn’t just want to stay where the rest of the world wanted to be: Rome. Paul says he doesn’t want to build on someone else’s foundation (never mind what he said in I Cor. 3 about partnership and Christ being the only foundation). Remember too that the Christian church in Rome probably had less than one hundred people in a city of close to a million people with many opportunities for new foundations to be built. But Paul felt called to something wild and wonderful.  Paul knew that God was calling him, using him for something that no one had seen before.  Without Paul the Gospel may not have made it to Asia Minor, Greece, Europe, Charlotte.  Paul was the greatest missionary of all time – even if there were times when only he was certain of his calling.

No one needs more encouragement to be obnoxious or convincing that they are God’s gift to this world, but there is something God might want to do with you and through you that could help heal and shape this world into something a little better, a little more the way God dreamed it would be. There is something that maybe only you can do where you are and among the people you are with.  Like Paul, like Ali, you may have to appear the fool and forgo the favor and applause of others. But in some simple, small, and perhaps strange way, you just might be the next author of a beautiful story God is longing to tell.

Prayer: I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me. 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].

Thursday July 21 2016


Scripture: Romans 15:1-13

Key verse: (7) Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Reflection: A roll of paper towels thrown across the family room because there were no napkins. That’s a favorite memory for me from a summer spent in northwestern Pennsylvania for a seminary internship. That summer I lived with two different families in the town where I was serving.  The first family was an empty-nest couple. She was a home economics teacher and he was a house painter. They were kind, salt-of-the-earth people and they welcomed me into their home.  Meals were carefully planned and grocery lists completed.  Nights were spent in front of the TV.  Just the three of us. Very quiet.

The second family was two parents, two teenage daughters, a loving golden retriever, and a barn full of horses. The house was chaotic and life was a little crazy.  Guests and relatives from out-of-town came and slept on the pull-out sofa.  Friends appeared for dinner. Games were played and the laughter was loud.  At the end of the summer, this second family hosted a farewell party for me and the first couple came for dinner.  The hostess had forgotten to buy paper napkins at the grocery store so when she realized there were no napkins she took the roll off of the dispenser and threw it like a football across the room.  The quiet home economics teacher was appalled but soon laughed at the nonsense of it.

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you. The roll of paper towels taught me that hospitality isn’t about having the perfectly decorated home or the gourmet menu or the matching paper plates and napkins. Hospitality is about welcoming one another with love and with care.  Listening and laughing. Playing and being quiet. Making room for others to be themselves as children of God.

Practice hospitality today.  Sit together for a meal and don’t look at your smart phone.  Invite someone to play a game or to go on a walk. Make some room to welcome someone the way you know Christ has welcomed you.

Prayer: O Lord, you are the host who welcomes all to your table. Thank you for welcoming me.  You are the guest who listens for my invitation. Open my heart to make room for you and for all your guests.  In Christ’s holy name 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].

Wednesday July 20 2016


Scripture: Matt 26:57-68

Key verses: (57-59) 57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. 59Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death.

Reflection: Matthew’s Jesus reveals who he is and who we know him to be. First, Jesus stands up the unfair charges and then truthfully reveals himself as the Messiah. The trial in Caiaphas’s home had a number of different players. The first is Peter, following Jesus only close enough to see how the story would end; then the High Priest who pushed Jesus to admit his true identity, anxious about the God they thought they knew; then the Jewish officials, chief priests, elders and scribes in the room; and also God. Who do you most identify with in this story?

Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, states that it is not easy to know that one is “still with Jesus rather than with Caiaphas.” This text invites us, like Peter, out of the shadows.  Jesus over and over again asks us to stretch in our faith journey and surrender old patterns of thinking.  This moment could have ignited a new conversation if the players were willing to take some risk.

This week, I am with over 1,000 youth at the Montreat Youth Conference. Myers Park has 72 youth and adults who I believe are willing to take some risks in their faith journey.  I believe that because it is summer and they have chosen to be here this week, not sitting in the shadows but right up front for worship and keynotes every day. The theme is “A World of Difference.”  As they follow Jesus into faith conversations and stretch in love, understanding and hope, I believe the larger church will see a world of difference.

This week, I encourage you to find a place to have some faith conversations that will stretch you.

Prayer: God, may your love stretch my heart,
Your light show the way.
Challenge my thinking.
Journey with me today. 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].

Tuesday July 19 2016


Scripture: Matthew 26:47-56

Key verse: (52) Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

Reflection: Just this weekend three more law enforcement officers were murdered by someone who saw brutal violence as a way to complete the anger that rose within him.  We all react with horror that someone would see such violence as a solution.  Yet modern social and political movements sometimes get so caught up in their desire to demonize their opponents that they advocate more than harsh words. Sometimes they advocate preemptive retribution.

I’d like to say that Christians don’t succumb to these temptations.  But that would be untrue. Christians, also, adopt violent words and actions to protect and preserve what they believe to be true.

We Christians may have gotten our capacity for violence from the might of empires, particularly in our early years, from Constantine’s Roman Empire who took us in and made us like them. Did you know that for the first three centuries Christians, and Jews, were exempted from military service? Only after Christianity became the religion of the empire did Christians begins to fight and kill their enemies. While violence is inherent in human nature and sanctioned by culture it is abundantly clear that it is not okay with Jesus.

The disciples heard Jesus say at the Sermon on the Mount that we should love our enemies.  They heard him tell a story (the Good Samaritan) that said even our enemy is our neighbor. You would have thought they had gotten the message. But, when Jesus and they were threatened, violence erupted.  It was the night of the Last Supper, after Jesus had prayed in the garden, when a crowd came to arrest Jesus. One of the disciples (unnamed) drew his sword (the disciples carried swords???) and cut off the ear of a slave of the high priest. That’s when Jesus gave his striking rebuttal to this impulsive act of violence.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said.  “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” According to Jesus, violence is no solution. It is part of the problem.  For those who take up violence will be destroyed by violence.

The cycle of escalating violence is visible all around us. And we want to strike back.

“Put your swords back in their place,” says Jesus.

What do you have in your hand?

Prayer: We carry our swords, O God, ready to strike back.  Restrain out violent impulses. Let the words we say and the actions that we take de-escalate anxious moments, not increase tension or cause injury.  Help us to see others and respond to them as you taught us in your Son, Jesus, in whose 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].

Monday July 18 2016


Scripture: Matthew 26:36-46

Key verses: (40-41) 40Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Reflection: When we tell the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in our Weekday School chapel, the preschoolers love to act out the parts of the disciples. While Jesus pours out his heart to God, they yawn and stretch along with the adult disciples, then close their eyes and fall asleep. Jesus comes back and asks his disciples to stay awake and pray with him, and they all wake up again. But as Jesus prays a second, then a third time, they yawn even bigger, and stretch even longer, and fall even faster asleep.

Preschoolers understand the literal meaning of falling asleep. They understand that Jesus’ friends were so tired, that they couldn’t stay awake while he prayed. It has not been long since they themselves fell asleep in their high chairs, even in the middle of their macaroni and cheese. What they don’t yet understand is how we as followers of Jesus can be wide awake, and yet sleepwalk through our faith, if we aren’t paying attention.

What is it that Jesus is asking of us? Where are we being called to follow — to stay awake with Jesus? What are the things we need to pay attention to—the things Jesus cares about? And are we awake enough to do what it is we have promised to do? Our intentions are often good. We want to stay awake. We want to follow Jesus. We plan to very soon. But we are tired, and comfortable, and we just need a tiny little nap before we get started… (yawn)… (stretch)…

Prayer: Wake me up, Lord! Help me pay attention to the things you care about. Keep me alert and watchful for your grace and mercy and love breaking in. Keep me awake enough to know when to get up and follow you. In the name of Jesus, the one who shows me the way, 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].