Thursday January 31 2019

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Scripture: Mark 6:30-46

Key verses: (35-37) 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

Reflection: Jesus had been teaching many things to the crowd and it had become late in the day.  Since it was a desolate place, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away so they could go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat. This makes sense. Without anything around, what else were they to do? The disciples were concerned with the crowd that had grown to 5,000.

The disciples were waiting for Jesus to do something. They had seen him cast out demons, heal the sick and even calm a storm.  I am sure they expected Jesus to say, “I will give them something to eat.”  That is not what he said. He said, “You give them something to eat.”

This is bigger than the disciples. This is about you and me.  For reasons beyond our understanding, God chooses us to do something.  God chooses us to offer compassion and kindness.  God has decided to give us a role to play, not because he needs us, but because he has decided to do it that way.

Prayer: GIVE us grateful hearts, Almighty God, for your call to join in ministry. Keep us always mindful of the needs of others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 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].

 

Wednesday January 30 2019

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Scripture: Mark 6:13-29

Key verse: (20) “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”

Reflection: Today’s reading is a flashback in Mark’s gospel.  Word about Jesus has reached King Herod’s throne room, and he is convinced that John the Baptist is back from the dead to haunt him.  Then Mark tells us about the circumstances that led to John’s execution at the hands of Herod.  It’s a strange, sad, and horrifying story, yet it has something to teach us about the ways of the world and the way of the kingdom, and what happens when these two worlds collide.

Mark provides fascinating insight into Herod’s thoughts about John.  Herod sees him as “a righteous and holy man,” yet he fears him.  Why?  Because Herod is not a righteous and holy man, and John the Baptist was not afraid to confront him about that, calling him on the carpet about his immorality.  Yet Herod protects him, and “likes to listen to him,” even though John’s words leave him, “greatly perplexed.”  Herod’s not the only one perplexed by all this!

Herod is perplexed because he’s caught in the intersection of two very different worlds — the kingdom of Judea, and the kingdom of God.  In Judea, he’s the boss.  He rules with power and might and violence, doing whatever he wants to whomever he wants.  He parades his daughter around to dance before his courtiers, and then makes a lavish promise to give her whatever she wants.  The story drips with greed, capriciousness, and blatant abuse of power — so did Herod’s kingdom.  When she asks for the head of John the Baptist, Herod is sad.  But he can’t lose face, so he calls for the execution of a “righteous and holy man.”  That’s the way the world works.

John the Baptist embodied a different world.  He called for equity and justice, for those with two coats to give to those who have none.  He called for an end to extortion and for righteousness in their leaders.  He called for repentance, for a reorientation away from the ways of the world and toward the kingdom of God.  And he was not afraid to speak truth to power.  Maybe that’s why Herod liked to listen to him; because he spoke the truth, even if it didn’t make sense to Herod.

As Christians, we find ourselves in that same intersection of two very different worlds; the kingdoms of this world, and the kingdom of God.  Scripture is clear that we are to be “In the world, but not of it.” (John 17) We are “resident aliens,” as the apostle Peter describes us.  This world is not our home, God’s kingdom is.  Yet our lives are lived in this world, and this world operates by a different set of values, values that are not always consistent with the kingdom of God.  In the world, might makes right.  In God’s kingdom, blessed are the meek.  In the world, self-interests rule and “God helps those who help themselves.”  In God’s kingdom, whomever loses their life for Christ’s sake will find it.  In the world, we’ve got to protect ourselves from threat all around.  In God’s kingdom, we love our neighbors as ourselves, and welcome Christ when we welcome the least of these in our midst.  This tension creates discomfort for us.

At a seminar I recently attended on the impact of Jim Crow laws on our contemporary society, a challenge was issued to us.  “You must get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” the speaker told us.  Perhaps that’s true for all of us striving to live toward God’s tomorrow, yet struggling with the worldly ways of today.  It’s hard to speak truth to power.  It’s hard to challenge inequity, injustice, and immorality when you see it.  It’s not popular.  It makes people uncomfortable.  If history is a guide, it could get you killed.  Yet where would you rather live?  In this world as it is, or in the hope of God’s tomorrow that is the kingdom of God breaking into our world today?

Prayer: For all those times when we follow in the way of Herod, choosing the way of the world over the way that is the truth about life we know in Christ, forgive us, O God.  Help us to stand with our brother, John.  Help us to be faithful to our true citizenship in your Kingdom.  Help us get comfortable being uncomfortable.  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].

Tuesday January 29 2019

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Scripture: Mark 6:1-13

Key verses: (6-9) 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. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

Reflection: I wonder what Jesus would think about Marie Kondo and her bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” The decluttering expert now has a series on Netflix showing her process for helping people let go of many possessions and finally attain an organized home for the items they keep. The major question Kondo has people ask, as they hold an item in their hands, is: ‘Does it spark joy?” If it doesn’t, Kondo says to thank it, and release it to bring joy to someone else who needs it more.

I believe Jesus knew a lot about joy. He also knew how to live with few possessions. He tried to teach his disciples to focus on what matters most. When he sent them out to preach the gospel of good news, he told them to rely on the hospitality of others. Their ability to move from place to place nimbly is part of what helped the gospel spread in those early days.

What is it that keeps you from focusing on what matters most? What is in the way of your ability to follow Jesus nimbly, and see where God is calling you? Perhaps it is a multitude of possessions. Perhaps it is a schedule that doesn’t leave room for joy. Perhaps it is listening more closely to the voices of others rather than the One who created you. Maybe it is time to let go of some things and make room for whatever God is bringing into your life next.

Prayer: God, you know me inside and out. Help me to slow down and listen to you. Help me to see what matters most in a life dedicated to you. Teach me to let go of whatever gets in the way of the joy of your discipleship. In the name of 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 January 28 2019

Monday

Scripture: Galatians 1: 1-17

Key verse: (10) “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Reflection: The Apostle Paul found out that there were some in the Galatian community who were preaching that the Old Testament practices were still binding.  He was surprised they were so quickly deserting the gospel he preached for this different gospel.  Some preachers insisted that Gentiles who became Christians first had to become Jews.  Paul reminded the church that they were justified by grace; not by religious legal requirements. Legalism in the church was an issue. Even today it still can be. It is tempting to make a lot of requirements in order for someone to join the church when the only requirement is to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Even then, we don’t exclude anyone who wants to worship with us or serve in our ministries before they make such a profession.  It is by grace through faith alone that we are saved.  God knows our hearts and there is nothing we can do to earn salvation.  It is a free gift.  Apparently, Paul received push-back from some in the church, but he wasn’t going to back down on something so important.  If they were angry with him, so be it.  He was not seeking their approval, but the approval of God.  He was adamant about grace and wasn’t going to put any barrier up to keep people from Jesus.  We live in a world where we are taught we have to earn everything we receive. It feels more comfortable to earn our own way.  But, this isn’t the gospel.  Before we loved God; God loved us.  This gift of grace is freely given.  Praise God!

Prayer: God of grace, we give thanks for the Apostle Paul who had such a great love for you.  He is an example to us of faithfulness to the gospel.  May we continue to grow in faith, trusting in your great mercy, as we live out the grace of Christ in our everyday lives.  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 25 2019

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Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

Key verse: (39) He 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: Jesus was sleeping in the boat (Jesus took naps!) when the storm arose and the waves began to toss the boat around. The disciples woke him and he spoke directly to the wind and to the sea. In the ancient world the sea was a symbol of chaos. Storms came up quickly and violently, leaving anyone on a boat feeling out of control and vulnerable. Jesus brought calm to the wind and to the sea, reminding us that God is with us when we are vulnerable and afraid.

What storm has arisen in your life?

·         A diagnosis or a medical treatment

·         A death or a painful loss

·         Financial burdens that you can’t handle

·         Unemployment or stress at work

·         National turmoil and political unrest

·         Family strain, marital infidelity, parenting uncertainties

·         Questions about your future

All of those storms can leave us feeling out of control and vulnerable. Though our circumstances differ, we all feel vulnerable and frightened sometimes. We find ourselves, like the disciples on the boat, wondering if God cares. Take a quiet moment to imagine that Jesus is with you and listen for what Jesus might say in the midst of your storm. What words will Jesus speak to the wind and to the waves? Even if the storm doesn’t come to a dead calm, perhaps Jesus will offer peace to you in the middle of it. Jesus will remind you of his presence in your boat. You are not alone.

Prayer: Dear God, be good to me;
The sea is so wide,
And my boat is so small.  Amen.

(This is known as the Old Breton fisherman’s prayer and was given to new submarine captains by Admiral Hyman Rickover who gave a plaque to President John F Kennedy with this prayer. President Kennedy favored this quote and used in his remarks at the dedication of the East Coast Memorial to the Missing at Sea, May 23, 1963.  He kept the plaque on his desk in the Oval Office.)

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].

Thursday January 24 2019

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Scripture: Mark 4:21-34

Key verse: (22) “For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.”

Reflection: There is a difference between personal faith and private faith, though we tend to use those terms interchangeably.

Personal faith has to do with believing that following Christ is all about being in healed, whole relationships – with God and with others.  Faith isn’t so much about believing the right set of doctrines, or checking enough good deeds off your list to be considered in good standing.  It is a way of life that is rooted in trusting a living God, whom we can know, and talk to, and learn from – and letting this animate the way we live in relationship with all of God’s children.  When we talk about a personal faith, we are talking about our ability to be in direct relationship with God without the need for an intermediary.  It is the ability to call God, as Jesus did, by the intimate name, “Abba, which means, “Daddy.”

A problem arises when we say “personal” and mean “private” faith.  Private faith is something we don’t talk much about, something we are more prone to hide than to share.  Private faith is something we do quietly on Sundays, and then shelve for the rest of the week as we let other values determine our steps.  Private faith is secret faith, and therefore not much help to the world.  It is like a light that is hidden under a basket, or underneath the bed like out of season clothing.  It doesn’t make much sense.

God calls us to personal, but not private, faith.  The good news is that you don’t have to stand on the street corners and shout about your faith to move it from being something “private” to something “personal.”  You don’t have to be rude, or preachy, or judgmental to share your trust in a living and loving God with others (and, actually, it doesn’t make sense to do so).  You don’t have to dismiss the differing faith of others (or lack thereof, even).  Living a personal faith in Christ means seeking to love others as he has loved you (remember 1 John 4?).  It means cultivating relationships that are marked by grace, forgiveness, patience, and love with people who sometimes do not deserve it, because you know God has cultivated a relationship with you when you didn’t deserve it either.  We all do this in different ways, according to the gifts God gives to us.   Thanks be to God for that!

Prayer:  Dear God, give me the courage to love others as you have loved me, so that my life might be a reflection of my relationship with you.  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].

Wednesday January 23 2019

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Scripture: Isaiah 44:24-45:7

Key verses: (45:3-6)

3   I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4   For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I surname you, though you do not know me.
5   I am the LORD, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
6   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: The Holy Spirit was surely present when I was ordained as a Ruling Elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. I remember distinctly feeling the weight of the hands pulling my shoulders down during the ceremonial laying on of hands. I placed myself before God and was so overcome with emotion, I returned back to a different row than the one from which I came. I had forgotten where I was sitting!

The event was humbling as I felt called, but not qualified. God’s hand was in the prayer and conversations leading up to that moment. However, I didn’t feel my Bible knowledge was strong and while I knew many facets of the church, I certainly did not know them all. Did I even know God well enough?

Have you ever felt this way? Called, but not ready?

Cyrus was also called. The God of Israel called him by his name, the passage tells us twice. Scripture also tells us Cyrus does not yet even know God. “I surname you, though you do not know me…I arm you, though you do not know me.” (vs. 4-5). God has big plans for Cyrus to know our Creator and tell the people all about God. Cyrus has to trust God’s calling to share knowledge he does not yet even have.

What big plans does God have for us? How is God calling us to something that we may not yet even know?

Prayer: Our God, our Creator, open our ears and our eyes to your calling for us. Allow us to trust in you, the one who calls, for the plans you have for us, and be with us as we live into your calling. 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].