Friday March 29 2019

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Scripture: Romans 6:1-11

Key verse: (2)“How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”

Reflection: It’s spring break season.  As empty nesters, that’s not as big a deal as it used to be for the Cliffords.  Recently our kids returned safely from their college spring breaks— thanks be to God.  Each time we got the chance to talk to them we would utter one of our go-to phrases.  One is, “Make good choices!”  Another is, “Remember who you are.”  I didn’t make up, “Remember who you are,” as a phrase to say to my children.  I heard about a mentor who would do that with her kids and I thought it was a great idea, so I did it with mine.  My injunction for them to remember who they are was not to remember that they are the preacher’s kids and needed to protect my reputation — often that could be a bad thing.  Thankfully, with our kids it never was.  Nor was it simply to remind them that they were Cliffords and they needed to protect the family name.  It was more about remembering their primary identity: children of God.

In the Presbyterian Church, our Calvinist roots keep us ever mindful of the reality of sin.  We confess our sin together every time we worship.  Our reputation for emphasizing total depravity gives us a somewhat dour reputation in the wider world.  As the old prayer goes, “Our sin is ever before us.”  We emphasize this so that we can appreciate the depth and breadth of God’s grace, and our total dependence on that grace for our salvation.  We didn’t make that up; we got it from Romans.  Romans 3 is quite clear— “All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God.”  That’s truth.  And God alone can save us from ourselves.  That’s truth. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5.  But Romans doesn’t stop there.  Sometimes we Calvinist do.

In Romans 6, Paul asks the question, “Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  He realizes that all his talk about sin and grace in the first five chapters may open the door for some to believe that can live any way they choose.  He answers his own question, “By no means!”  The Greek is emphatic there—ABSOLUTELY NOT!  Then he asks another question, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”  Our justification by grace through faith is only the beginning of the story.  It is not an end, in and of itself.  We are saved for a purpose, to live life anew, “to walk in newness of life,” as Paul puts it.  This is the act of sanctification, and by God’s grace we know this blessing too.  Sin does not ultimately define us.  New life does!

Paul is working his way toward Romans 12, where we are called “to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”  We are not called to continue in sin.  God embraces us in grace and frees us to live lives holy and acceptable to God.”  Your primary identity is not as a sinner.  Your primary identity is child of God, holy and acceptable to God.  God’s grace frees us to live into this reality.  As the old saying goes, “God loves us just as we are, but God loves us too much to leave us that way.”

By Romans 12, Paul is detailing what new life looks like in Christ.  “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers.  Bless those who persecute you…rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Now that’s new life indeed.  May God’s grace free us to such newness today!

Prayer: Thank you for embracing us in your love, O Lord.  Thank you for freeing us to be who you created us to be.  Help us live into the new life you will for us this day.  In Jesus’ name. 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 March 28 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 126

Key verses: ( 1-6)

1   When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2   Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3   The LORD has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

4   Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5   May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6   Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

Reflection: This short Psalm contains a big prayer. Designed as a “prayer of ascent,” it is a psalm to be prayed or sung as the faithful made their way to Jerusalem for holy celebrations. It’s a song of a pilgrim. It looks back to the past, when God brought the exiles home and “restored the fortunes of Zion.” It remembers God’s faithfulness, and the pilgrim community’s rejoicing. There was laughter then, and shouts of joy. And the psalm also looks ahead, to a time when God will do the same again. The pilgrim prays for God to restore fortunes once again. And the prayer goes deeper—asking that tears be turned to joy, and seeds into armloads of blessing.

We are in the middle of Lent right now. In a way we are on a journey to Jerusalem for a holy celebration. Maybe you are at a point when your journey is feeling long. The destination seems out of reach. Maybe you’ve lost your way. Perhaps like the pilgrims of the Psalms, we can look back and remember the faithfulness of God. Perhaps we can look ahead and pray confidently that God will again be present with us. Perhaps we can see even now that God has been walking with us all the way, helping us into the good future that God already sees. The harvest has already begun. Keep walking, and keep your eyes and ears and heart open.

Prayer: Lord, help me on my pilgrim way. Keep me looking back, remembering your faithfulness. Keep me looking forward into your good future. Keep my eyes open right now, here, today, to see you with me. 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].

Wednesday March 27 2019

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Scripture: John 8:12-20

Key verse: (12) “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Reflection: This is the second of the “I Am” sayings in the Gospel of John.  The words for “I Am” in the Greek language, as they are used here, are directly related to the divine name used in the book of Exodus when Moses met God at the burning bush.  Jesus declared he was God – not a reflection of God. He was and is the light of the world; not a reflection of light but the light itself. Jesus invited people to follow him – to follow the light.  That invitation continues today. However, there are times, even when we are following, that we feel like we are standing in the dark and we don’t know where to turn.  Life events can humble us and drive us into darkness.  Even people of faith can struggle to see the light when life overwhelms them.  And, yet we believe that the light of life illumines the world, even when we can’t see.  God’s promises made throughout scripture continue to remind us that the “I Am” is with us. The light of life will light our way when we face hardship.  I like the way Jean Varnier, philosopher and theologian expresses this: “Jesus did not come to take away our fears, but he gives us a new strength through the Holy Spirit, so that we are not governed by fear, nor live in darkness.  Jesus cries out that whoever follows him will not be lost but will find the way.” [1]

May the light of Christ shine in your life today to comfort, to guide and bring hope to you and all whom you meet.

Prayer:  Light of the world, we thank you for your enduring presence with us.  May your light – the light of life – reflect in our lives as we seek to follow you.  In Jesus’ name. 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].

[1] Varnier, Jean The Gospel of John, The Gospel of Relationship, 2015 p. 53

Tuesday March 26 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 25

Key verse: (5) Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Reflection: The life of a disciple is a journey of constant learning. On this side of heaven, we never graduate, we never reach perfection, we never finish. We are “works in process.”

Many years ago I listened to a confirmation student read his statement of faith aloud and he claimed “my faith will never change.” He saw that as a wonderful declaration of his loyalty to God. I didn’t say anything but thought to myself “I hope your faith changes.” Imagine what life would be like if you only know now what you knew in the eighth grade! Instead you’ve had a wealth of opportunities to learn and grow and those have shaped you to be who you are today.

Sometimes learning is fun. Sometimes it’s not. We learn resilience through struggle. We learn to trust God when others let us down. We learn patience and perseverance when we face challenges. We have a choice – we can dig in our heels, avoid challenges, close our eyes, and decide we will never change or we can open our hearts, follow Jesus, and invite God’s transforming Spirit into our lives. How can you embrace spiritual learning today?

Prayer: “May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.  AMEN.”      (A Franciscan blessing)

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].

Monday March 25 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 121

Reflection: It is said that when the people of God went on a journey, they went singing. There was a beat, a rhythm, to their walking together, so that as they went, they were able to remember who they were.  Far from home and on unfamiliar terrain, God’s promises remained the same.

Psalm 121 is a journeying song with a steady, comforting beat: Keep. Keep. Keep.  Six times in ten verses, the song reminds the people that God keeps watch over them – God protects and cares for them.  God stays awake to watch over them.  Like a leafy canopy, God shields them from the scorch of the sun.  God watches over their (collective) life.  As they come and go, God tends to them.

As you read the psalm, notice how the promise comes again and again.  With every footstep, a reminder of the One who goes with them.  With every reminder, the courage to take another step.  The promise sets the pace.  Keep. Keep. Keep.

The promise is as sure for the people of God today as it was in the psalmist’s day.  As we accompany each other on life’s journey, we are to remind each other of who we are: people who walk by faith, and not by sight, trusting the one who keeps watch over each one of us.  Sometimes, we are the ones who sing this promise with loud conviction.  Other times, we trust the community around us to raise the theme on our behalf.  Always, it is the promise that binds us to one another in love.

Prayer: O God, you promise again and again to keep watch over your people.  Help us to remind one another of this good news as we seek to follow 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].

 

 

Friday March 22 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 148

Key verses: (3-12)

3   Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
4   Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

5   Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
6   He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

7   Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
8   fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9   Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
10  Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!

11  Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
12  Young men and women alike,
old and young together!

Reflection: Psalm 148 highlights the beginning of our world, reminding us of the God of creation. The sun and the moon, the waters above the heavens, fire and snow, fruit trees and cedars, and all people were created by our God.

All of creation is to praise the Lord: the shining stars, highest heavens, sea monsters from the deep, creeping things, and flying birds. Similar to Genesis 1, this list of creation culminates in humanity. It’s an inclusive Psalm. Nothing, or no one, is left out, not even the kings on earth, old people, or young people. We are all called to acknowledge the sovereignty and ultimate reign of the Lord.

The first question in the Westminster Catechism, from the Book of Confessions (Part I of the Constitution of the PCUSA) states: “What is the chief and highest end of humanity? Humanity’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy God forever.”

As we go out this day, let us remember that we are put on earth to glorify and praise God.

Prayer: God, thank you for creation; thank you for creating each one of us. Help us to remember to praise you in our daily lives. And forgive us when we forget. We pray all this in the name of the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. 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].

Thursday March 21 2019

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Scripture: John 5:19-29

Key verses: (28,29) Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and will come out — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

Reflection: In this scripture, John makes clear his identity with God. Jesus is Immanuel, God-with-us. It does not tell us where God is but it tells us where we are, in the presence of God. Our belief in Jesus brings us into God’s presence. It is for this reason that we can trust in the authority of Jesus to judge, and we can rejoice in the grace of Jesus to give life.

As we walk this Lenten journey, we carry with us the hope of new life. Jesus both assures us of eternal life in the future resurrection and declares that “the hour . . . is now here” when we who were dead in sin may have new life in Christ. As we wait and prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let us remember that we need not wait for the presence of God to bring life and hope and joy to our lives and our communities. We claim that hope today. We live into the hope of the resurrection every day.

Prayer: Almighty God, may we celebrate the resurrection not only as something that will come, but also as something that is already happening. 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].