Friday September 29 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 6:7-15

Key verse: (11) “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Reflection: According to a recent Harris Poll, the happiness index in our nation for 2016 came in at 31, down from 34 the previous year.  What is the happiness index?  It is the average of the percentage of Americans who responded “strongly agree” to questions about life satisfaction, or “strongly disagree” to negative questions about discontent in life.  So on average, 31% of Americans are happy with their lives.  As reported in Time Magazine, women are happier than men, (33 to 29.) People whose annual income between $50,000 and $74,999 are happier than people who earn between $75,000 and $99,999 (32 vs. 30). The South is the happiest region (32), 65+ is the happiest age group (a whopping 37.) Eight questions were asked concerning various areas of life.  We are most satisfied with our family life.  We are least satisfied with jobs and money.  But in every measure it seems the majority of us are not content with our lives.

Jesus offers an antidote to our discontent in The Lord’s Prayer.  He calls us to focus first on God —“hallowed be thy name”— and on God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.  This moves our focus away from ourselves and from our own feelings of inadequacy that lead us to discontent.  He then instructs us to pray for our needs, for daily bread.  As Paul says to Timothy, “If we have food and clothing we will be content with these.” (1 Timothy 6:8) We are to remain humble, praying for grace and to extend grace to one another.  And we pray to be delivered from trials — perhaps even the trials of negotiating a world that breeds discontent in order to fuel constant desire for more.

Where would you locate yourself in that Harris Poll?  In God’s will, in daily bread, in grace received and given, may we be delivered from our discontent to know the joy of life found in God.  As Paul said to Timothy, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.”  May we know this contentment today.

Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.  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].

Thursday September 28 2017

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Key verse: (19) Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?

Reflection: God made human bodies and our bodies are amazing!  Did you know that your blood circulates inside your body each day traveling as far as it would take to cross the Pacific Ocean? Did you realize that you breathe 12-16 breaths a minute while resting, without even thinking about it? Did you ever learn about your hypothalamus, regulating your body temperature within a degree or two of 98.6 when you are healthy?

Paul wrote the Corinthians and reminded them that their bodies belonged to God.  God created our bodies, God loves our bodies, and God calls us to take care of our bodies. Apparently in Corinth, some believers thought that our bodies weren’t important to God and so they could do whatever they wanted with their bodies. They chose to visit prostitutes, an accepted choice in their society. If we are “free” in Christ, then can’t we just do what we want to do?

Paul says “no” and calls the Corinthians to remember that their bodies belong to God. Bodies are gifts given to us. We respond with thanksgiving (bodies are amazing!) and our thanksgiving leads us to care for our bodies. God cares about your blood pressure, your cholesterol numbers, and your BMI (if you don’t know what that means, look it up!). God cares about how we use and abuse our bodies. God cares about our body image and our failure sometimes to love ourselves as we were created to be. God cares about how our bodies interact with others in loving and respectful ways that honor their creator. Give thanks to God for your body, for the miracles that make it possible for you to read these very words! And commit yourself to respond with thanksgiving in action.

Prayer: Heavenly Creator, thank you for the miracle of my body. Thank you for the wisdom you give to health professionals who care for me. Enable me to honor you with the choices that I make and empower me to serve you with all of my strength. 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].

Wednesday September 27 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 65

Key verses: (1-4)

1   Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
2        O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
3   When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
4   Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple.

Reflection: Where is home for you? Is it where you live now? Is it where you grew up? Maybe it is some other place where you feel safe and welcomed, or a sense of joy out in nature, perhaps. Or perhaps it is where those you love are. Robert Frost wrote sort of cynically, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” The Psalmist in verse 4 writes about God’s house and family as a home where we are welcomed. There is a place for us there. It’s not a place where God has to take us in. It’s not a place we earn by being worthy of it.  God forgives our transgressions, calls us and brings us in, and then sustains us with all the glorious gifts of nature mentioned in the rest of the Psalm, and more. Thanks be to God!

There is much to be thankful for. Many things for which praise is due to God. Today, give thanks to God for the places and people that make up home for you. Take a walk outside and give thanks for God’s bountiful gifts. Give thanks for the goodness of God’s house, and the call of God to community. Then may we all be satisfied and grateful.

Prayer: Lord, we give thanks for all your blessings. We are grateful for your gifts to us. For the people and places that make up home for us, for the glory of nature, for the places you call us to worship and serve and learn, we give thanks. Help us be grateful in all we do. 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].

Tuesday September 26 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 5:27-37

Key verse: (27) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

Reflection: In a former church, one of my colleagues asked me to do something that was a little bit out of the guidelines.  It was something she believed the church needed to offer to a family, but she struggled with it being a non-traditional form of pastoral care. She liked the rules and the familiar road of tradition. My colleague also knew that I travel a different path and was willing to bend a rule out of a need for justice and love.  We worked together for years, love each other dearly, but we have a very different approach to faith and life.  She was a traditionalist and I was a nonconformist and we realized that Jesus actually invited us into a third way.

Jesus used this pattern, “you have heard it said…but I say…” and sparked the moral and social imagination of the people. Jesus directed the people beyond what tradition or justice required to what the Creator desired. The third way that is deeper and wiser than anything we could have considered. The issue may not even matter because love and responsibility are at the heart of this way of Jesus. Love was to be extended farther than we could imagine, to them and to us and even our enemies. God’s intention calls us to move beyond the place, stance or limits we have imposed. God is out ahead of us and calls us forward. Calling us out of our boxes and onto a journey that is not finished yet. One that is full of adventure and transformation for each and every one of us.

Prayer: God before us, behind us, above us and around us, call us into a third way of living and loving. Give us grace to learn and to humbly walk this journey with you. In your son’s holy name we 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].

 

Monday September 25 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26

Key verse: (23-24)  23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

Reflection: When asked what she wanted for Mother’s Day or Christmas, my mother would always say the same thing: one day of peace and quiet with no fighting!

Our house was never peaceful or quiet. Three boys made for lots of noise and daily disruptions.  When she told us what she wanted we would grimace and say, “seriously Mom, what do you really want?”

I don’t know if my Mom knew she was quoting the Bible but in expressing her wishes she was pretty much reading off of God’s wish list. It seems the best gift, the first gift, we can give God is to be right with each other.  Jesus is pretty direct. Notice too what he doesn’t say.  There is no stipulation made about whose fault it really was or who started it.  Jesus doesn’t say to make the constant, ever and over used apology that is no apology we are so fond of: I am sorry you were offended, etc.

No, Jesus could not be more to the point. When there is a break, repair it. Where there is sin, forgive it, repent of it. If there is a struggle, let go of it. If there is a wrong, right it.  If there is more hurt and hate instead of love between you and a brother and sister, get out of my house and get to their house. Make it better and then come back and see me. We give thanks it seems in God’s kingdom by saying sorry, by saying I love you.

In the spirit of Christ’s command — if you have read this devotion and felt like you have done your daily duty but are not reconciled to a brother or sister then we have not yet begun our holy work today.

Prayer: Lord who loves me more than I can understand or deserve, help me learn to love as generously with the ones you have blessed me with in my life. Let me make an offering this day of my confession of sin and love. 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].

Friday September 22 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 5:11-16

Key verse: (14) “You are the light of the world.”

Reflection: Today’s reading begins with the end of the Beatitudes. People remember “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are those who mourn … blessed are the peacemakers.”  We don’t often remember, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”  When you’re being insulted or persecuted or lied about because of your Christian witness, that does not feel good.  Yet Jesus says we’re blessed when that happens.

He goes on to tell the church that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Scores of thoughts have been offered about the meaning of these metaphors.  What strikes me about them is that Jesus is clear in saying the church exists for the sake of the world, not the other way around.  The world does not exist to provide members for the church.  Rather the church exists for the sake of the world; to offer salt to preserve and flavor and purify; to offer light to warm and comfort and enable us to see.  This is who we are.

Sometimes the world doesn’t want any salt.  Sometimes the world prefers to remain bland, or refuses the purifying agents we need.  Sometimes we’d rather stay in the dark than have our lives illumined by the radical call of Jesus to love God with all we are and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Sometimes when we apply the gospel to the situations of the world, it causes trouble.  Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable. And sometimes it leads people to insult and persecute and lie about you. Jesus says when that happens, we’re blessed.

Sometimes I don’t want to deal with that.  Sometimes I want to go along to get along.  Sometimes I prefer a low light environment—it’s easier on my eyes.  Yet what’s the consequence of that?  Ultimately the world will suffer because of our lack of witness.  The world won’t taste the salt it needs.  The world will continue to live in the dark.  Jesus doesn’t say, “You should be like the light of the world.”  He says, “You ARE the light of the world.”  We’re it.  If we don’t shine, how will people see?  “Let your light so shine,” says our Lord.

Prayer: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, Lord.  Even if the light hurts my eyes.  Even if it compels me to see what I’d rather not see.  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].

 

Thursday September 21 2017

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

Key verses: (3:6-7) I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Reflection: I have served with three different congregations during my time as an ordained pastor.  Notice the preposition “with.” I choose not to say that I served “for” them or even just served those congregations. I believe that God has called me to serve “with” lots of wonderful people.  Some are ordained colleagues, some are not. Some are my peers, and some are not. Some of them are easier to like than others.  Together we serve God.

The distinctions get muddy sometimes and we forget who is serving whom. That was true in the Corinthians church. They had become focused on particular leaders and clearly had their favorites. Some liked Paul best; others liked Apollos best. Paul was distraught by their divisions. He knew that faithful leaders aren’t competitors but are companions in service. He didn’t want a fan club. He wasn’t tallying his followers or checking how many people liked his sermon posts. Paul wanted people to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul planted seeds of faith in Corinth.  Apollos came along and gave those seeds encouraging water and fertilizer. But God gave the growth.

Pastors face this temptation.  Whenever a group of pastors gathers, we are tempted to slide into conversation about how many members we have, how large our budgets are, even how many services we must do on Christmas Eve to accommodate everyone (always said with a groan, like we are making a huge sacrifice). I wonder if that’s true for church members too.  Maybe we compare churches. Maybe we compare pastors. Maybe we have our favorites. Let’s remember who gives the growth. Only God gives the growth that helps me to be more faithful. Only God gives the growth that helps you follow Christ.

Prayer: O God, when I focus on the wrong things, correct my vision. When I fixate on the divisions, correct my steps. When I forget my calling to follow Jesus, correct my path. Keep my eyes focused on you, keep my faith fixated on your way, and keep my steps following only Jesus. In his 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 September 20 2017

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:1-13

Key verses: (1-5) 1When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Reflection: I’ve got a new Bible Study meeting weekly here at the church. With a great group of women, some stellar small group facilitators, and good material, we have a year of growing in faith ahead of us. I’ll admit to a little trepidation, however. It’s been a couple of years since I taught a weekly study to adults. I fear that my talking-to-grownups teaching skills are rusty. My instinct is to want to cram for the teaching portion of the study. I might need to refresh my memory on the origins and structure of the book of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, since I’m a little fuzzy on recent scholarship on the four-source theory I learned in seminary. And where exactly was Abram when God made that amazing promise to him for a people, and a place, and God’s own presence? Shechem, Bethel, Canaan? (But ask me about teaching Abraham and Sarah to kids, and I’m good.)

These verses from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians remind me that faith rests not on human wisdom, including my own or any other teacher, but on the power of God. While it’s part of my job to share teaching that helps bring God’s Word to life, it doesn’t have to be with lofty words, or a perfect grasp of centuries of Bible history. Instead, we come to our task in humility and faith. All that any of us teach must point to Christ, and any wisdom that comes is from God’s own Spirit. Paul knows that it is the Spirit of God that calls forth faith, and illumines the Word made flesh. If we bear witness to Christ on the page, and in our classrooms and worship spaces, and in our lives, we will all grow in faith and in wisdom, through the grace of God. Abraham himself set out on a journey with nothing but a promise that God would be with him. Maybe we can do the same in whatever tasks lie ahead of us all this year.

Prayer: Lord, you know what I worry about, my insecurities and fears. And yet you call me to tasks that further your kingdom. And you promise to be with me. Your Spirit equips me to do whatever it is you call me to do. Teach me, once again, faith and trust in you. Use me. In the name of Christ, the Holy One, 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 September 19 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 4:12-17

Key verse: (16)  the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.

Reflection: This is a verse that Matthew quotes from Isaiah. It is not quoted correctly. In the ninth chapter of Isaiah, we read of a people who “walked in darkness”.  Matthew tells us of a people who “sat in darkness.” Walking is active as if they are moving out of or through the darkness.  Sitting seems passive.

I think Matthew misquoted Isaiah on purpose. I have learned a lot of things in the dark that I could never have learned even in the daylight. We all want to walk through the darkness, if not run.  Sometimes, we need to sit down right in the middle of our darkness because that is the only place we can feel, experience or see the light.

Light is the promise that one day things will be different. Light is love that overcomes hatred. Light is peace.  Even when the world looks dark, we claim the hope that Christ offers to us in this verse from Matthew, “Light has dawned.”

Prayer: God of all times, may we know your presence and claim the hope your offer to us again and again and again. In Jesus name we 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].

Monday September 18 2017

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:1-19

Key verse: (17) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Reflection: I have seen more statues than I can count, one trip to any city in Europe will fill that bingo card, and frankly they are all pretty much the same.  Whatever side of history they fall on, statues always get it wrong.  Like Facebook that captures a picture on your best day, or thanks to filters and lack of context, what appears to be your best day, statues forever fix someone, quite literally, in a position of authority, elegance and power.  Despite memorizing Shelley’s famous Ozymandias poem in grade school, we still keep erecting statues and fighting for them thinking that they preserve something when statues can only ever distort something. They are fixed, and we my frail fleshy friends are never fixed, never still, never one thing forever.  Statues rob us of our history and humanity and I would vote for every one of them coming down. Well, except for one.  Find it on the corner of Queens and Providence (and Queens and Providence – lord have mercy).   Hugh Pharr McManaway dressed for every celebration and occasion, forever directing traffic with great intent and determination. He’s been knocked down but always gets back up on that semi eternal perch.

Some of you knew this curious man, he used to worship at Myers Park Pres, and I have heard several good stories about his hiding in trees, hopping in to cars and speaking in rhymes.  He was I think a holy fool, a jester, an odd duck.  And thank God we not only made room for Hugh, but we erected a statue to remember him and in doing so remember that we are all a little foolish, a little off, a lot imperfect.  It’s good for a neighborhood like ours to embrace some absurdity.  It’s good for all of us to remember that Hugh was trying to do and be his best and that made him look foolish.  God needs fools, people who will love recklessly, forgive liberally and give generously.  Let’s be fools for Christ.  As Frederick Beuchner quipped, at least we won’t be damned fools for once.

Prayer: Lord make me foolish for you.  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].