Friday September 28 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 88

Key verses: (13-14) “But I, O LORD, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.  . . Why do you hide your face from me?”

Reflection: Have you ever been so low that you couldn’t see any way out?  Have the circumstances of your life challenged you to the point of despair?  Eventually, each one of us will face a struggle that feels like it is beyond our capacity to endure.  When that happens where will you turn?

Some people anesthetize themselves with work, alcohol and drugs.  Some isolate themselves from others and build a wall around their pain. We know that some people choose to end their lives because they want relief.  None of these things are good choices.

The Psalmist prays.  He cries out to God and begs for mercy and salvation from the darkness that lies heavy upon him. He doubts God’s presence and feels like he is drowning.  No answers come in this psalm.  Life is like this sometimes.  There are times when it feels like our prayers are hitting the ceiling and falling to the floor.  We want relief, but it eludes us.  We feel abandoned by God.

And yet . . . the psalmist doesn’t give up.  He persists in his prayer.  There is something therapeutic in saying what he is feeling.  We can learn from this example.  In the act of praying to God in our moments of deepest pain, we find strength and comfort.  It’s alright to complain to God about what is happening to us, especially if we can’t make sense of our suffering.  But, it’s been my observation that every prayer for help is followed by a waiting period.  Relief doesn’t come right away – but it will come.   So, I have taken great comfort in reading past Psalm 88 to the first line of Psalm 89 while I’m waiting.

I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. (Psalm 89:1)

This reminds me that God’s steadfast love endures forever – no matter what.  This is the kind of hope we can cling to in our helplessness.

Prayer:  O LORD, walk with us through our struggles.  Give us the courage we need to ask for help in our time of need.  Remind us that even when it feels like you have abandoned us, that nothing can separate us from your love.  While we wait, help us cling to our faith.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

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Thursday September 27 2018

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Scripture: Esther 7:1-10

Key verse: (9) Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.”

Reflection: The book of Esther is one of only two books in the Old Testament that never mentions God. As one friend of mine has said, “If you only recognize that God is speaking when the letters are red in your Bible, you’ll miss a lot of what God is saying and doing.” Perhaps we can imagine that God is the paper this story is written on and God is the ink that has written the story.

The Jews were scattered and living in foreign territory. Esther was a beautiful woman who became a queen, married to King Ahasuerus. When the king’s official Haman sought to destroy the Jews, Esther’s uncle Mordecai calls upon her to intercede on their behalf. Haman plots to have Mordecai hanged but the tables turn on Haman and Esther exposes his evil plans. The king then orders Haman to be hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordecai.

This fantastic story is celebrated at the festival of Purim. One of the highlights of the festival is when the story is read aloud. Imagine “Rocky Horror Picture Show” meets a Bible story – the audience participates fully. Children dress in costume like the story characters. Haman is the proverbial bad guy and every time his name is read aloud, the congregation makes raucous noise, with rattles and noisemakers, intended to drown out the sound of his name. Haman becomes a big joke, a laughing-stock, a caricature. (See a picture of a Haman costume mask below!) Maybe we could learn something about how to handle evil in our world. Rather than arming ourselves for a fight, pick up a noisemaker and drown out the evil with laughter and frivolity. And remember that God is always with us like the ground we walk on and the air we breathe, even when God doesn’t appear in the story.

Prayer: Dear God, give me wisdom to deal with evil in the world around me and remind me that you are with me always. Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

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[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 26 2018

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Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

Key verse: (4) “One does not live by bread alone.”

Reflection: I remember the first time in ministry that I wanted to turn a rock into bread. I was a student chaplain at a hospital in New Jersey, and was called to the pediatrics unit where a mother was trying to make a difficult decision about her son’s treatment plan. None of the options were ideal.  As I sat with that young mother and discussed what the doctors had told her, I remember so desperately wanting to be able to just fix the problem for her — or, better yet, make it go away entirely.

Ministers aren’t the only ones who know what that temptation feels like.  Any parent who has watched a child struggle through difficulty at school or with relationships knows in a deep part of their heart how good “turning stone into bread” would feel. All of us know that ache to be able to change circumstances we know we have no power to change — watching Hurricane Florence’s slow creep across NC recently being but one example of such a time that ache has cropped up.

It is interesting to me that Jesus resists the temptation to make bread from stone in the wilderness.  We tend to read it as a call to deeper willpower on our part.  And, of course, there are times in life when we are called to act as we are able.  But I wonder if this story is better read as yet another statement of Jesus’ solidarity with us.  When he resists the quick fix, it seems to me an example of the God who shares our humanity fully with us – people who are well acquainted with the desire to be in control of circumstances we have no power to change.  When he refuses to make things easier for himself, he is pledging himself, wholeheartedly, to his people, even in the midst of painful seasons. Actually, this is where so much of the life of faith is cultivated: in times when we are called to trust God with our lives, and the lives of others.  That’s hard to do, but here is our reminder that Jesus is with us all the way.

Prayer: Loving God, I am thankful that Jesus walks with me, even and especially in circumstances I’d like to control, but can’t.  Cultivate a deeper sense of his presence with me today. Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[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 25 2018

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Scripture: Esther 5:1-14

Key verses: (1-8) On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, opposite the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne inside the palace opposite the entrance to the palace. 2As soon as the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won his favor and he held out to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the top of the scepter. 3The king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” 4Then Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to a banquet that I have prepared for the king.” 5Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther desires.” So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared. 6While they were drinking wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 7Then Esther said, “This is my petition and request: 8If I have won the king’s favor, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them, and then I will do as the king has said.”

Reflection: The passage begins with Esther putting on her best robes and making an effort in her appearance to please the king. It’s a classic marketing strategy; she’s trying to get on the king’s good side to later ask for his help. She plans to approach him for help in saving the Jews in a planned plot from being killed. What the king doesn’t know at this point is that Esther is Jewish.

Esther is courageous and daring in inviting the king to a royal banquet. This is against all the culture as she is the one that is supposed to be invited by the king, not the other way around. She is taking a huge risk in her plan to save her people.

Fast-forwarding to today, I was recently charged by a pastor to, “Take risks! For the sake of the gospel.” While the story of Esther is being told long before Jesus’ birth, it certainly feels like Esther is taking risks for the sake of the gospel. She’s risking her life for the lives of her people. We are all one in the body of Christ.

As I continue to meditate and pray on the charge given to me, I wonder how each of us in the Myers Park community are taking risks for the sake of the gospel?

Prayer: Dear God, we pray that we are, in fact, taking risks for the sake of the gospel. Lead us into imitating your Son, Jesus Christ, and teach us how to take these risks as Esther did so long ago. Amen.

Author: Amy Speas

[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 24 2018

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Scripture: Luke 3:1-14

Key verses: (10-11) And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

Reflection: It is that time of year again. Take out the fall and winter clothes and put up some of the summer clothes. When I moved to North Carolina, this became a new ritual as October approaches. Living in Florida, we had one wardrobe for one season. I absolutely love living in Charlotte, but I miss my one wardrobe days. It also reminds me every year that I HAVE WAY TOO MANY CLOTHES!

This scripture is a call to repentance.  The audience who first heard these words wanted to know what they should do to repent. Perhaps the response is one we also need to hear. Repentance is turning from self-centered actions, to radical love of neighbor. “Whoever has two coats must share with those who have none.” Don’t hoard more than you need, be content.

In my first church, the pastor I worked with would continually challenge us with this scripture. Jim Bullock had a heart for children and would ask if anyone had a room empty in their home. An extra room would be perfect for one of God’s children living in foster care. Many responded and did just that, offering not only a room but room in their heart for children lost and alone in this world.

Jim’s words will always stick with me because it is not just about giving away the things we don’t want anymore. It is about repenting and living more simply. It is about opening our heart and loving our neighbor. It is about finding contentment in things other than clothing and possessions. Let us find contentment in God’s love and in loving our neighbor.

Prayer: God, source of all life and love, may we embody our thanks with generosity, may we offer our lives through acts of compassion for our neighbor, may we be always mindful of your gifts of love and life itself. 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].

Friday September 21 2018

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Scripture: Acts 9:1-9

Key verse: (4) “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Reflection: In Barbara Kingsolver’s powerful novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Rev. Nathan Price is frustrated that none of the Kilanga people he has come to the Congo to convert to Christianity are willing to be baptized. This is one of many frustrations Rev. Price has in his efforts to convert the Kilanga. For Price, conversion means getting the Kilanga to be more like him; dress more civilized, act more civilized, employ more modern techniques of agronomy and fishing, and of course, be baptized by immersion in the river.  The problem is that when Price calls for people to be baptized, the natives believe he is asking for people to be sacrificed to God, because the river is infested with crocodiles.  They think he wants to sacrifice their children to Jesus by feeding them to the crocodiles.  Price’s pridefulness ultimately becomes his undoing.  He can’t imagine that he might need to see things in a different way.

Rev. Nathan Price reminds me a little bit of Saul before the Damascus Road.  Like Price, Saul was zealous for the faith.  In his zeal, he was rounding up heretics who spouted nonsense about a crucified carpenter’s son being the promised Messiah.  He oversaw the stoning of Stephen.  Driven by his righteousness, now he was on his way to Damascus to do God’s work by arresting more of these trouble makers to bring them before the council in Jerusalem.  But on the way to fulfill his righteous calling, Saul is blinded by the light of God.  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  He has no idea who he is persecuting.  He’s defending the faith.  Who is this divine voice?  It’s Jesus. Saul discovers that in his zeal to protect God’s ways, he is actually persecuting God’s servants.  This moment changes everything for Saul.  Ultimately it changes even his name.

When Paul reflects on this experience in his own writings, he speaks not of “conversion,” but of “call.”  He came to understand God’s call upon his life in such a way that his zeal for protecting the faith was transformed into a radical gospel that proclaimed God’s love for all people; Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female.  What a radical change in understanding God’s will.

Have you ever found yourself challenged in such a way?  Have you ever discovered that in your zeal for the faith, you have actually done more harm than good in advancing the gospel?  Have you ever had an experience that left you blind to a world you thought you saw with such crystal clarity?  If so, praise God!  That experience was born of the risen Christ at work in your life.

Prayer: Open my eyes, Lord, that I might see; not with the clarity of my own vision, but with the steadfast love of yours. 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 20 2018

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Scripture: Acts 16: 25-40

Key verse: (25) “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God.”

Reflection: I continue to be amazed at how Paul survived so many beatings at the hands of the authorities.  This most recent beating in his ministry was in response to a complaint by local merchants over losing profits.  Paul had exorcised a demon out of the local merchant’s slave girl.  She was a fortune-teller who after being healed, no longer could tell fortunes.  Their profits dried up, so, they went to the chief magistrates to file a complaint.  Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten and shackled to the wall deep inside a prison where they prayed and sang hymns all night in praise to God. Over the course of his ministry, the Apostle Paul was in prison for 5-6 years in different prisons for different amounts of time.  I’ve never counted how many times he was detained, beaten with rods, stoned with rocks, or lashed by a whip, but it was a lot.  Just read the entire book of Acts. And yet, he was able to sing and praise God.  Everyone in the prison was listening, including the guards.  A little bit of solace in the terrible conditions they experienced.  Then, there was an earthquake and the prisoners were freed from their chains.  In despair, the jailer was ready to take his own life.  In ancient times if a prisoner escaped, the jailer had to take the prisoner’s place.  He rather die.  But, Paul stopped him.  “We are all here!”, Paul exclaimed.  In a moment of amazement and awe, the jailer fell down and surrendered in faith to God.  A new believer was born.

The part of this story that is remarkable to me is how Paul and Silas could sing and give praise to God in their dire circumstances.  This kind of faith is remarkable.  How often do we complain over far less, refusing to give praise to God until everything works out the way we want?  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminded them to give thanks in all things (5:20)   What might happen if we did the same?   Could we give thanks for God’s sustaining presence even when we are locked up in the prisons of injustice, suffering, and pain we experience?  I pray we will.  Think about how this might change us.

Prayer: Loving God, by your saving grace we are set free to respond in faith to you.  We give thanks for the witness of the Apostle Paul who teaches us to sing and pray in the midst of the unknown.  Help us to follow in the ways of Jesus Christ and offer others the same kind of hope Paul offered the jailer so long ago.  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].