Friday April 28 2017

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Scripture: Daniel 3:1-18

Key verses: (16-18) 16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Reflection: I love this story in the book of Daniel. It reads like a children’s picture book: a testy king with a funny name, and three unlikely heroes willing to stand up to him. There are pompous advisors and repeating refrains of rules that sound sillier with each repetition: “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” The rule is stated. Then stated again as the people follow it. Then the advisors repeat it again to remind the king of the rule because three Jews haven’t followed it. Then the king states it again and asks why they haven’t followed it. He sounds smaller, needier, and more defensive each time.

In comparison, the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is strong and sure. They know whom they worship. And they trust God for their safety, no matter what. They don’t worship a golden statue or a king who demands fear and public adoration. They don’t have to make their God stronger or bigger or more ornate than the king’s. They don’t even try to defend themselves. They trust God to take care of the matter. And God does.

Nebuchadnezzar reacts true to character. Incensed, he orders the furnace heated seven times its normal strength. When he sees the men unhurt and protected in the flames, he is astonished. He makes a new decree that anyone who speaks against the God of the Jews shall be torn limb from limb. And he promotes the three men. Despite his recognition of God, he can’t understand what has happened through any lens except one of power. He can’t see any way to react but through more violence and threats. He completely missed the quiet steady faith that had saved the men before this story even began.

Prayer: O God, you are able to deliver us. Of this we are sure. Lessen our need for public affirmation. Break our reliance on power and violence. Strengthen our faith in you. 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].

Thursday April 27 2017

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Scripture: Luke 3:1-14

Key verse: (10) And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

Reflection: John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance.  “Repentance” literally means “to turn around.” John was calling for a 180 degree turn, a reorientation, an about-face. He knew that people were off track, focused on the wrong things, mistaken about their priorities. As the prophet preparing the way for Jesus Christ, he called people to faithful living.

In response to John’s preaching, the crowds asked “What then should we do?” If you tell me that I am doing the wrong things, help me know the right things to do. Sometimes we need clear concrete directions so we know how to be faithful and live in God’s way. John gave very specific guidance to the crowd. If you have more than you need, share. Treat people fairly. Be satisfied with what you have and don’t steal from others.

Faith is a verb, lived out in our daily lives. Faith isn’t just a noun, something we believe or hold in our hearts. Our faith is seen in our actions. The world looks at us.  Are our lives a living testimony of God’s love for the world? What specific concrete things can you do today to bear good fruit?  If you need some inspiration, watch this video to see how one of our young members responded to this call. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQysmNc8ucs

Prayer: “God of our salvation, you straighten the winding paths of our hearts and smooth the paths made rough by sin.” In whatever way we need to repent, give us courage today to turn around and move in the right direction. Show us clear concrete acts of faithfulness so that we can bear good fruit for your kingdom.  In Christ’s name we 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 April 26 2017

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Scripture: John 17:20–26

Key verses: (22-23) The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Reflection:  It is a great thing – being one with another. In marriage, two become one as one person shares hopes, dreams, and struggles with another. Saying the Apostle’s Creed together in church makes us one with people of faith across thousands of years of church. Screaming with the crowd as your team wins the finals unites you with something much bigger than yourself. We know, at least in part, what becoming one is about, just from our human experience.

But this is something more. Jesus is praying and saying that we can become one with God just as Jesus was one with God.  Whole religious traditions have evolved in devotion to the pursuit of oneness with the divine. Jesus says we can have that. In him.

The closeness that Jesus had with God the Father is available to us, not just for the sake of divine oneness itself. The oneness that Jesus offers is for a much bigger purpose – that the world will know that God sent his Son into the world to show God’s love for each of us. Our oneness is not because we have become one with God.  It is because God has become one with us, reaching out to us, redeeming us, loving us. Our oneness with God is so the world might see and believe that God truly loves the whole, wide world and all of us in it. In Christ, we become one with God so that when people see us and the way we live, they see God’s love for them.

Prayer:  Holy God, gracious Christ, expansive Spirit, we yearn to become one with you. Help us to get out of ourselves and into your loving embrace. Help us to live so fully into that embrace that the world will see and believe and know the amazing gift of your love for all of us. This we pray in the name of the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 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 April 25 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 66

Key verses: (8-12)

8   Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
9   who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
10  For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11  You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
12  you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

Reflection: Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has a new book out this week, called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. She writes about the sudden death of her husband, and the beginning of her journey through grief. I haven’t read it yet, and I have no deep knowledge about the faith of the author, or if she even addresses questions of faith in the book. But an interview I heard with her made me think about this psalm. Sandberg talks about resilience being like a muscle. When not used, it can atrophy. But when developed, which only happens through adversity, resilience grows stronger and more capable. Sandberg recalled her son’s recent basketball team defeat. Most of his teammates were despondent. Her son seemed fine. When she asked why, he said, “Mom, it’s just sixth grade basketball.” His experience of grief had built a muscle of resilience that helped him keep things in perspective.

In Psalm 66, the psalmist calls for songs of praise to God from a deep history of resilience. He recalls major events of the people of Israel that tested their faith: enslavement and the exodus. Bound up in those are hundreds of years of suffering, decades of wandering in the wilderness, and the loss of vision of what God was up to. Yet through those experiences of adversity, faith had been developed like a resilient muscle in the people of God. Even when not acknowledged, it is what kept them moving forward one step at a time, day after day. It is what enabled them to rejoice in God’s gift of “a spacious place” after all their trials. It is what keeps us praising God through whatever devastation or disappointment we may experience. May we exercise the muscle of faith, trusting that God’s ways are more resilient than anything that would seem to defeat them, even our own loss of perspective.

Prayer: Lord, your ways are not my ways. I see trouble and you see possibility. I see sin and you see grace. I see suffering and you see salvation. Open my eyes to see you walking alongside me through whatever comes my way. Give me the resilient perspective of the psalmist. Bring me to a spacious place where I can praise you always. In the name of the risen Christ, 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].

Monday April 24 2017

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 115

Key verse: (1) “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.”

Reflection: Today’s psalm is known as a Hallel psalm.  The word Hallel means “praise” and it is the first part of the phrase Hallel-ujah which means “Praise the LORD!”  Psalms 113-118 are considered praise psalms.  The themes in these psalms focus on giving praise to the LORD for God’s deliverance, sovereignty, and power which is seen in the grace and compassion God shows to all those in need.  Psalm 115 focuses on putting God at the center of our lives.  We are reminded that the LORD is not like other gods who are idols made of wood, silver and stone. Our God is alive and present.  Since we are prone to make gods in our own image, this psalm is a corrective to the notion that we are at the center of the universe.

It is so easy to worship other gods.  We get enticed by our possessions, our experiences and our position and power.  We often live for our own glory and not for the glory of God.  This is part of our struggle as human beings.  So, “not to us, LORD, not to us” is a helpful reminder to praise God for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. We can learn to be grateful for God’s presence in our lives as we embrace God’s love more fully.

Take some time today and think about ways you might re-order your life so that the LORD is at the center.

Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks for your great love.  Be with us today as we seek to live as people who belong to you.  Help us tear down all the idols in our lives that keep us from giving praise to 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 April 21 2017

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Scripture: Acts 4:1-12

Key verses: (1-2) While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead.

Reflection:

“A dead Christ I must do everything for;
a living Christ does everything for me.”
— Andrew Murray

Not a prescription to be helpless or lazy, or even worse: entitled, Murray instead is pointing out that a resurrected Lord is not something that we have to talk about and convince people of.  Nor, need we work hard to make sure we believe it ourselves; a resurrected Lord enables us to speak, act, live, pray, forgive, and love in ways we never imagined or thought possible.  The disciples spent those early Easter days running away, hiding away, whiling away the time — anything to forget about everything.  It was Jesus, crucified and risen, who kept showing up, reaching out and gathering in the frightened and fleeing ones by forgiving and feeding them, blessing and encouraging them to see what God was doing.  The encouragement didn’t and doesn’t stop.  Months, years, centuries on, God continues to work in and through his people.  See how Peter and John spoke up and spoke for their Lord, even to ones who could imprison them and take their life.  They discovered they were stronger, better than they knew, because they welcomed and trusted in the good news and the God who made it all possible.

We are an Easter people, not by working hard and making it so.  We are an Easter people because God is an Easter God and enables and empowers (and ferociously loves) us, even the likes of you and me.

Prayer:

This day be within and around me,
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
Amen.

-from the Northumbria community.

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 April 20 2017

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Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Key verse: (3) “Can these bones live?”

Reflection: I am embarrassed to confess something.  I’m hooked on a zombie TV show called “The Walking Dead.”   If it were something a bit more sophisticated, perhaps I wouldn’t feel as guilty, but it’s not.  It’s “The Walking Dead,” a gory, zombie apocalypse series based on a comic book, filled with gratuitous violence and unnecessarily grotesque scenes of zombies doing what zombies do.  I’m not alone in my addiction to this.  Though its ratings were off in season 7, it is still #1 among adults age 18-49.  In its history, “The Walking Dead” has broken all cable rating records.  What is it about zombies?  Why is our culture so enamored with the undead?  Commentator Nicolas Barber suggests we are drawn to zombies these days because they tap into a deep fear born of the uncertain state of our current world.  He writes, “It can’t be a coincidence… that zombies are in vogue during a period when climate change is playing havoc with weather patterns, and when both terrorist bombers and global corporations seem to be beyond the reach of any country’s jurisdiction.”   Our world seems to live on the edge of apocalypse.  What’s really scary about zombies is the threat of becoming one, one of the undead hordes mindlessly making their way through the world, driven only by a quest for consumption.  Perhaps what drives the ratings of the zombie genre is a hunger for a life of meaning and purpose.

Something about Ezekiel 37 makes me think of zombies.  Can these bones live?  That’s the question God poses to Ezekiel as he stands in the midst of the valley of the dry bones.  It’s a metaphor for Israel in exile.  All that remains of the world they once knew are the bones of what once was, the toppled stones of the wall surrounding Jerusalem they thought could protect them, the collapsed columns of the grand Temple Solomon had built, the crumpled remains of Zion’s glory. “Mortal, can these bones live?” asks the Lord. It is a question that continues to be posed in our world so fascinated with the undead.  It can be posed of our own lives.   Can I find meaning?  Can I find a life that really matters?  For too many it’s a question asked of relationships that have lost the life they once knew.  Exiled by some landmark event, or by years of wandering away from one another, or by the silence of the empty nest, the question comes, “Can these bones live?”  It’s a question many ask about institutional religion.  Every branch of mainline Protestantism is in decline, as are Catholics, Jews, and even Southern Baptists. With each new generation, fewer and fewer participate in organized religion, or in organizations of any kind.  Ask the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, and the Masons.  We’re in the midst of a cultural shift.  Can these bones live?

How does Ezekiel Answer?  He could say, “No, Lord, they can’t.  There’s no way.  We have to face reality.”  It’s tempting to give into the cynicism and nihilism of the day.  But that’s not what Ezekiel says. He could say, “You bet!  Power of positive thinking, Lord!  You must believe to achieve!  Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!  These bones can live, Lord!”  But that’s not what he says. What does he say? “Only you know, O Lord.”  Only you know.  How does the Lord respond?  Prophesy.  Prophesy to the bones.  What does it mean to prophesy?  So often prophesy is confused with prediction.  People read prophets like Ezekiel and try to turn him into Nostradamus filling in predicted details of what the future holds.  But this is not the role of a prophet in the Bible.  Prophets challenge present realities by proclaiming where those realities will lead people.  More importantly, prophets cast a vision of what God’s tomorrow will be.  This is what it means to prophesy—to cast a vision of God’s tomorrow.  “Prophesy, Ezekiel,” says the Lord.  Cast a vision of life and see what happens to those old dry bones.

Faithfully, that’s exactly what Ezekiel does.  He prophesies.  He casts a vision of God’s tomorrow and what happens?  Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones start to rattle; Hip bone connected to the thigh bone; thigh bone connected to the knee bone; knee bone connected to the shin bone; shin bone connected to the ankle bone… You know the rest.  Now hear the word of the Lord!  Then come tendons and ligaments and muscles and skin, and before Ezekiel can sing the second verse, there they lay.  Yet they are not yet alive.  They might as well be zombies.   Without the Spirit, without the Breath of God, there’s no power to make the vision a reality.  The Spirit brings life.  The Spirit brings power.  The Spirit transforms dreams into reality.    And when Ezekiel calls for the breath, for that Spirit of God that first breathed life into Adam and Eve, they live, they rise from their graves, they stand on their feet, a vast multitude.

Can these bones live?  Only you know, O Lord.  We know God shares the breath of life with us all. God’s breath brings rattling bones to life.  This Eastertide, we know God rolls away the stones that seal our graves and calls us forth to new life.  Because that’s who God is, and that’s what God does.

Prayer: “Come from the four winds, O breath, Come Holy Spirit into this world that too often lives in fear of death, wandering in search of meaning in a mindless quest of consumption. Breathe upon us, breath of God, that we may live.” 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].