Tuesday January 31 2017

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Scripture: Isaiah 52:1-12

Key verses: (7-9)

7    How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8   Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
9   Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.

Reflection: Sometimes you need a change of perspective to learn something new. As I write this devotion I am descending from 8,500 feet at Highlands Camp and Conference Center outside of Denver Colorado. I’ve been at a meeting of church educators, and spent an extra Sabbath day with a small group at the Presbyterian retreat center. Mount Meeker greeted us in a glorious morning show at sunrise. The mountains of Colorado are so different than the Blue Ridge mountains I am used to. We took a walk through the deep snow, the kind of snow that makes a native Floridian like me giddy. With deep drifts covering the trails and roads, we stumbled along, sinking deep with each step. Less oxygen in the air, and the effort it took to walk, meant our plan for a nice long hike got curtailed. It was slow going. Beautiful, but slow.

Isaiah exclaims about the beauty of the feet of those who bring good news on the mountain of the Lord. My trek in Colorado makes me think that mountain steps take real effort. Sharing the good news is not easy, when the environment around you is deceptively demanding.  What might seem at first like a pleasure, can turn out to be enormously difficult and tiring. Announcing God’s message of peace can seem like an uphill climb through deep snow. Having companions to pull you out, keep your spirits up, and remind you of the message you are carrying, makes all the difference. May we support one another as we keep our eyes on God, the One who walks with us, and whose message of peace, justice, and grace we carry.

Prayer: Holy One, you have given us a message of good news. Send us out as a community of faith, dedicated to taking it to all who need to hear it. Walk with us when the going gets tough, the terrain is difficult, and the path unclear. Keep our eyes on your glorious kingdom. In the name of Christ we 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].

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Monday January 30 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 62

Key verses: (1-2) “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from God comes my salvation. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken. “

Reflection: Do you trust in God no matter what is happening in your life? When life is going well, it is easy to trust in our own strength.  Our stuff, our money, our position and our power all conspire to draw us away from God.  But, when we suffer our trust is put to the test.  The way we view our security changes when we struggle.  It is possible for trials to strengthen our faith, especially when we are reminded that God is a refuge for us.

There are always crises around us – some we experience directly and some we only observe in another person’s life. Every day, no matter our circumstances, we are called to place our trust in God.  Sometimes we only do this when we have been driven to despair over our losses.  Loss of health, loss of life, loss of innocence, loss of security, loss of relationships, and loss of our dreams are just some of the losses we face.  We try to handle everything on our own – in our own strength – only to find out we don’t have the strength or resources to hold up under every stressful circumstance.  This psalm reminds us: to lay our burdens down and hope in God; to rest in God’s deliverance and learn to trust; to let God’s strength lighten the load and change our perspective.  Let us encourage one another to trust in God’s power to transform our lives in the good times and in the bad.

Prayer: Faithful God, help us to trust in your loving kindness during times of challenge.  Through your power may we find rest in 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].

 

Friday January 27 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 6

Key verse: (2) Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;

Reflection: Dying.

That’s what the Psalmist is telling us.  He’s dying.  The subtitle in my NRSV affirms that by describing this psalm as a “prayer for recovery from a grave illness”.  Indeed, I fear it is the gravest of illnesses that our dear psalmist is afflicted with:  he is broken-hearted and distraught.  He is a lover who has been too long from his beloved without knowing when there will be a reunion.  Will they recognize each other?  Can intimacy once shared be lost? Reclaimed? His heart is both empty and full and his distracted, fragmented thoughts are a mile a minute.

Why this diagnosis of heartache?  Look at his language, it’s bold and desperate.  In the first three verses he demands four things: do not rebuke, do not discipline, be gracious, heal me!  He challenges his beloved: what good am I dead?  He begs for his lover: how long?  And the word languishing, it is love language.  Languish means to pine, to fade, to wither; like a flower without water or sun, so is this lover without his beloved.  He speaks of his life using the word nepesh (verse 4), it means his breath, his chest.  He is praying for it to be made light, filled with air, that the crushing weight of absence and anxiety be lifted.  He cannot sleep, is undone and drowning in tears. And who is this lover that has brought such ecstasy and agony?  In 10 verses the psalmist utters the cherished name eight times: the Lord.

God is love. Yet, we can feel unworthy of that love.  And in our distress, when we neither trust nor claim God’s love for us, the world becomes a dangerous place where enemies lurk and disaster awaits at every turn.  Without the assurance of God’s love we waste and wither.

One thing to note is that we can only pine for something we once had, we only miss what we once knew.  The psalmist knew God’s love and blessing once. Assured that such tender love was real, the psalmist trusts that God’s love must still be present and active.  God knows that to be true and maybe is grateful that the psalmist is finally able to accept it too.

Prayer:  Thou, O Christ, art all I want; More than all in Thee I find;

Jesus, lover of my Soul, Charles Wesley.

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 January 26 2017

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Scripture: Mark 6:30-46

Key verse: (38) “How many loaves have you?”

Reflection: Do you ever find yourself worn out by the demands of life?  Sometimes the needs for your time and attention can be incredibly overwhelming.  When you add to that the challenges facing our community, our state, our nation, and even our world, it can lead to exhaustion and exacerbation.  There are bills to pay, events to attend, teams to register for, deadlines to meet, reports to be done. The list is endless.  Add to that the challenges facing our community: lack of opportunity for children in poverty, need for affordable housing, re-segregation of public schools, inequity between “The Wedge & The Crescent.”  And what about the challenges facing the nation?  Political polarizations, racial tensions, economic opportunity for the rural poor, evaporation of the middle class, wealth disparity the likes of which has not existed since the roaring 20’s.  It’s overwhelming.

In today’s reading, the disciples have returned from their first successful missionary journey.  They’ve been casting out demons, healing the sick, and proclaiming the good news. They want to tell Jesus all about it.  Jesus suggests they take a retreat—get away from it all for a while.

Unfortunately they can’t get away.  The crowds continue to come.  The needs continue to present themselves.  Problems persist that demand their attention.  Jesus is not overwhelmed by the people or the problems they bring; rather, he has compassion for them.  His steadfast love endures forever.  The apostles, on the other hand, seem worn out. They’re trying to put an end to the day by having Jesus send the people away so they can get home for supper.  In response, Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”

At this point, the apostles lose it. “What do you think, Jesus, that we’re made of money?  You want us to go out and by $25,000 worth of food for these 5,000 people?”  Can you blame them?  I’ve been there.  You’re doing the best you can, and the needs just keep coming and you’re at your wits’ end, overwhelmed by the problems. How does Jesus respond?

“What do you have?” he asks.  He calls them not to focus on what they lack, but rather on what they have.  They don’t have much in the face of the demand.  “Five loaves and two fish,” they answer.  They offer what they have to Jesus, and Jesus takes their offering and turns it into a feast for 5,000, with 12 baskets of leftovers.

What a wonderful model for us.  In the face of overwhelming challenges when all we do can feel like a drop in a leaky bucket, what would it mean to take inventory of what we have, what we can do, what we can offer.  Then see what Jesus can do with it.

Prayer: In the face of life’s demands, O God, help us to see not what we lack, but what we have.  Give us faith to offer ourselves and let you take it from there. Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[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 January 25 2017

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Scripture: Galatians 2:11-21

Key verses: (19-20a) For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

Reflection: When we baptize someone in worship, the pastor makes the audacious claim that in baptism we are united with Jesus Christ.  Somehow, in the symbolic act of water dribbled onto the bald head of a sleeping baby or the shy head of a teenage confirmation student or the carefully coiffed head of a believing adult, we see the power of the Holy Spirit at work to unite us with Jesus.  The sacrament of baptism acknowledges a step forward on the lifelong journey of discipleship.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, he used himself as an example of this audacious claim.  Paul has been crucified with Christ and now Christ lives in him.  What in the world does that mean? Paul uses the perfect tense of the verb here.  It might better be translated “I have been and continue to be crucified with Christ.” This is something that happened in the past and is still shaping the present, still unfolding, still evolving.  An old self, with old sins and old weaknesses and old habits and old ideas, has been crucified and continues to be crucified with Christ.  And a new self, a self that is like Christ, is now alive.

Many days I am very aware of my old self.  I see my own selfishness rise up and lead me.  I realize that I see the world through my own judgmental lenses.  I admit that I keep saying and doing things that I know are wrong, and I fail to do things I know are right.  But I give thanks for the audacious claim of my baptism, that I have been united with Christ in his death and also in his life.  It’s a lifelong journey instead of a magic pill or an instant transformation.  My old self has been, and continues to be crucified, so that it is Christ who now lives in me.

Prayer: Open the heavens, O God, and pour out your Spirit upon us, that all who have been raised to new life with Christ in baptism may, by word and deed, show forth the risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(prayer from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship, p. 473, #3)

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].

Tuesday January 24 2017

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Scripture: Mark 6:1-13

Key verses: (4-7) Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

Reflection: We are coming to the end of confirmation with our eighth grade class and our discussion moves to what next? We know we will follow Jesus the best that we can.  Jesus calls us to follow, provides encouragement and inspiration.  The eighth graders also know that it is hard.

Jesus lets us know that it is a hard journey. In this passage from Mark, Jesus gives advice for times when people turn their backs on you. There will be times when people are not ready to hear the good news.  Jesus knew we would get frustrated.  Listen to his advice: Don’t think you need fancy gadgets or the latest resources. You are all that God needs to help bring about the Kingdom.

We are to bring light into the darkness. We are to offer grace. We are to share the good news. We are to claim our role not just as children of God, but as disciples of the son of God who called us to follow.  Just like the disciples that Jesus commissioned in Mark, we too have been commissioned. Are you ready for the journey?

Prayer: With joyful urgency, I am following your son today. God, give me the courage and conviction of a bold disciple reaching out into the broken places of your world. 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].

Monday January 23 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 85

Key verses: (10-13)

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.

Reflection: Some of the Psalms express the people’s lament over things that have gone wrong. They lament the lack of beneficent leadership, the reversal of good fortune, oppression at the hands of evil forces, and the apparent loss of hope.

Psalm 85 is one such psalm that seems to be set at a time when God’s people were lamenting the need to rebuild the Jewish Temple after its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. Even though there was much to lament, the psalmist ends his hymn on a magnificent affirmation of God’s sovereign love and care.

“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.”

Into the midst of human yearnings and longings comes the promise that God will lavish upon us steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace. God will not only bring such things into our needy lives but will powerfully connect and bond them, transforming evil into good and lament into praise.

That’s the kind of God we worship. That’s the future God has in store – where steadfast love and faithfulness will meet and righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.

Prayer: You transform lament into praise, O Lord. Give us courage not only to appreciate your transforming work, but also the resolve to join you in making it happen. We give you thanks and praise.  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].

Friday January 20 2017

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Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

Key verses: (37-39) 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

Reflection: Storms come in many forms: A medical crisis. A broken relationship. Suffering at home or abroad. Division in a family, a church, or a nation. I picture the disciples in the boat frantically bailing water, hoping that they could hold out until the storm passed. Or perhaps they were stunned by what was happening, and paralyzed by fear. More likely their reactions were mixed, as peoples’ often are.

When Hurricane Matthew made its way up the coast of Florida this summer, my parents and two sisters were hunkered down in my childhood home in Jacksonville. One sister and her family had heeded warnings to come inland, and evacuated from near the coast. They felt safe. According to the city maps, however, they had left the coast and moved into a mandatory evacuation zone on the river. My older sister, in town from Chicago, grew increasingly worried as the storm approached. She had left Illinois and flown into a hurricane. I took a slightly hysterical call from her in the middle of the long day the storm moved north, thankfully further offshore than predicted. The difference in my sisters’ reactions stemmed mostly from their perspectives. One felt safer at my parents’ home. The other felt more vulnerable.

When Jesus stood up in the boat with his disciples and calmed the storm he asked, ““Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The storm they were experiencing was frightening at the time. But it was nothing compared to what was still ahead of them, as they made their way towards Jerusalem. The answer to weathering the storm on the sea, and whatever storms came next, was to keep their eyes on Jesus. It wouldn’t always be clear what he was up to, or if he was even awake and paying attention. And it would require action on the part of his followers. But mostly it meant keeping the right perspective, and keeping their trust in Jesus. Trust in the one who can still the sea, open the eyes of the blind, feed the hungry, heal the hurting, and lift up the oppressed. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord, you know we don’t like storms. When they come we are frightened and worried. Be with all those who are in the middle of one. Attune our eyes and ears to recognize the suffering of others if they are afraid and we are not. Help us focus on you, trust in you, and follow you through whatever lies ahead. We pray in the name of the one who says “Peace,” our Lord, Jesus Christ. 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 January 19 2017

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Scripture: Isaiah 45:5-17

Key verses: (5-6) “I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no God.  I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. ”

Reflection: It is amazing who God will use for God’s purposes. King Cyrus was a great Persian conqueror.  He wasn’t an Israelite and he didn’t worship the LORD.  He didn’t even know of or about the God of Israel.  Cyrus was, however, a different kind of conquering king.  He allowed nations he conquered to continue their religious practices and he helped Temples and houses of worship rebuild.  Even though he was a worshipper of Marduk (an ancient Babylonian god), he was not inclined to extreme brutality or cruelty.  He was tolerant and known for his high moral and ethical values within his religious tradition.  Under Cyrus, the Babylonian captivity ended and God prompted him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. We can only imagine the shock of the Israelites when God declared that Cyrus was God’s shepherd and would perform according to God’s will.  How could this be possible since he was a foreigner and not a Jew?   The LORD reminded them of who the LORD really is.

This prophetic passage reminds us that there is no one like the LORD.   God can use anyone to fulfill the LORD’s purposes.

Prayer: Almighty God, in this time of cynicism and suspicion, we confess it is hard to believe you have the power to use those who are our enemies or are different than us to affect change.  Help our unbelief in your amazing power to transform. Forgive us for our prejudice and bias. Guide us as we embrace the salvation that can only come from you.  Give us hope.  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 January 18 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 147:1–11

Key verse: (4) He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.

Reflection:  Henry Draper (HD) 95735.

Bonner Durchmusterung (BD) +5°1668.

Catalogue Astrographigue (AC) -24°2833-183.

Such are some of the names in that great canopy of stars overhead that delight your eyes at night. Historically, we utilized the Greek alphabet for celestial nomenclature but with 300 billion stars in our galaxy we ran out of letters and resorted to several different strategies including astronomer’s names, location of the star in the sky, and so on. The good news is that the psalmist declares God, who created all of the stars, also named them, though what God has named them has not been revealed. But we trust they are vastly superior to the names we have come up with.

The first and brightest star is the morning star (though it is the planet Venus we are often looking at) and it is a name that is claimed for Jesus in the book of Revelation. It is a powerful and poetic reminder that in the darkest of night, before the dawn yet breaks, we yet see the light and presence of Jesus Christ. In a galaxy more vast than we can comprehend, filled with stars that we cannot manage to count or name, there is one star, the morning star, that shines with us and over us, for us and ahead of us.  That star especially reminds us of what is so absolutely true and certain, that though the nights can be long and dark with no end to the worries that plague us and the fears that confound us, the light that shines in that darkness can never be extinguished by it.

Prayer: O Christ, our Morning Star,
Splendour of Light Eternal,
shining with the glory of the rainbow,
come and waken us
from the greyness of our apathy,
and renew in us your gift of hope.

Amen. – Bede the Venerable, 7th Century

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].