Monday September 16 2019

Monday

Scripture: 1 Kings 21:1-16

Key verses: (5-7) “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money.’ But he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard for money.”

Reflection: Sometimes when I read a text from the Bible, I think to myself, “Really, this is in the Bible, where is God in all of this, what is this about?” And then after I pause, it hits me, and the text is peering back at me reflecting my own life. I haven’t been in Charlotte long, but every day when I turn on the radio and make my way to work I hear about Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis, or displacement, or tearing down the old to build the new. Do you hear our story within these biblical words of 1 Kings? Do you hear the struggle of Ahab and Naboth in your life? Where do you feel the pull between development and family land, between the powerful and the powerless, between the individual and the systems that control them?

Even when it doesn’t feel like it, God is present in these messy situations. Most notably, God is present as sovereign over all of creation. As a theological talking point, God’s sovereignty is not necessarily a fan favorite, it is not often talked about as much as grace, love, mercy. However, remembering and living into God’s sovereignty is so important for our lives, especially as typically type A personalities who love to live into our plans. God’s sovereignty is something that we often forget when surrounded with good health, wealth, and power to make our own decisions. When it seems like we are in control of our own lives we are often tempted to forget that God is in control, not us. We see Ahab and Jezebel forgetting their place in creation, forgetting that God is sovereign, not them. And this forgetfulness comes to a climax in Ahab’s tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants, he storms off to his room, lies on his bed, and refuses to eat. Sound like any toddlers or teenagers you know? Sound like any adults you know?

Why is it so hard to hear no? When we actually stop and think about the “no’s” in our lives, I think they can be a helpful reminder that we are in fact not in control, that we have limits and boundaries. These boundaries are often in place to help us, and God’s boundaries are almost always in place to promote justice and peace and to protect the vulnerable. These boundaries also give us a break to rest, remembering that God who created heaven and earth is in control, and that we can rest in God’s capable and loving hands.

Prayer: Creator God, forgive us for the places we try to take over, to push you aside and be rulers of our own lives. Help us, O God, to see and experience your grace when we hear no, and guide us each and every day. May we rest in your sovereign grace, trusting in your goodness for all. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

Friday September 13 2019

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Scripture: Philippians 3:1-16

Key verse: (13) Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead”

Reflection: I was at the start gate. “On your mark!” While other kids began to kneel down to place their running spikes in their starting blocks, I timidly only crouched in a not-so-agile starting position. “Get set!” My feet began to shake. My heart was thumping out of my chest. “GO!” All eight runners sprang off the start line – seven racing out to an early lead.

I replay this moment of my life each time I read a passage that refers to the life of faith as a race. And the question that rang in my head at the starting line all those years ago comes to mind again: Am I good enough?

There are two words that stand out to me in this passage: forgetting and forward. These two words are heard by runners quite often. Long-distance runners, sprinters, and runners of all distances are told to never look back. When you look back, you lose momentum and lose sight of the finish line. Forget your last stride and face forward for the next. This runner analogy is quite fitting. Paul had a difficult past, but Paul does not look back at his past to dwell in his failures nor does he look back to boast about his successes. Paul explains that he cannot control everything that happens to him, but what he can control is the decision to dwell on the past or not.

The second word is forward. Paul says he strains forward (present tense) to what lies ahead. For Paul “what lies ahead” is the perfect knowledge of Christ, an upward call of God in Jesus Christ. Strain can be defined as “exerting oneself to the uttermost”[1] toward a goal. Paul is exerting himself fully in the direction of Christ. This is the race of faith. I do not think we will ever fully and perfectly know Christ on our own, but that is not the point. The point is that we strain forward in doing so knowing we rely on Christ.

Paul is urging the church in Philippi to forget the past and strain forward in the race of faith. Do not get distracted with what has happened, but fix your eyes on the prize: a more perfect relationship with Christ. If you are at the start gate—or in the middle of the race—and find yourself asking the same question I did, “Am I good enough?” Remember we do not make it on our own. Christ laid hold of Paul, and Christ lays hold of you. Run! For you are good enough!

Prayer: Holy One, who sets the path of our feet, we praise you for the race we run. Guide our hearts and fix our eyes on you, so that we may forget our past, the good and the bad, and strain forward toward you. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who lays hold of us. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[1] BDAG, s.v. “ἐπεκτείνομαι”

[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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

 

Thursday September 12 2019

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Scripture: Philippians 2:12-30

Key verses: (12-13) “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Reflection: Recently, I read these words: “What we believe is revealed in the way we behave . . .”  Another way of saying this is “our actions speak louder than words”.  We have all heard this saying.  Earlier in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he called believers to have the same mind as Jesus Christ and to act like Christ in the world – to show something of the compassion, love and justice of Jesus.  There are many ways we can show we belong to Jesus.  The question I often ask myself is – are we?  One of the chief criticisms of the church community from those outside of it is that we are hypocrites.  There is a fair amount of conscious and unconscious hypocrisy in the world and in the church.  We don’t always live up to our ideals.  Every day we have the opportunity to work out our salvation in awe, hopefully with a full measure of humility.  We are God’s witnesses in the world.  It is incredible the way God can work through a faithful community of people who respond to God’s call.

This Stewardship season we are focusing on taking hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6: 19) We are called to remember that God is working in and through us that we might be of earthly use.  Our response to God takes many forms.  How are you responding to the gift of faith?  Do others looking at you see something of Jesus?

Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks for Jesus who was born in human likeness, humble and obedient to you and a servant to all.  Help us to live out our lives in awe as we respond to your grace.  May our lives be a generous expression of all that you have done for us.  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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”

Wednesday September 11 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

Key verses: (1-2) In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

Reflection: On vacation, I watched the first episodes of Designated Survivor on Netflix. The show opens during the State of the Union address, bombs explode at the Capitol Building killing everyone there, and the “designated survivor” (in this case, the Secretary of Housing and Human Development) becomes the new president of a government in shambles. Almost immediately, Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent are targeted with suspicion. My daughter asked me “Is that the way it was after 9/11?”

I thought back. Yes, in some ways it was. 9/11 was a pivot point that shifted our culture. Fear was a strong motivator for personal and national security. The next time I flew, I tried to hide my suspicious glances around the plane as I looked for a potential terrorist.

Today’s reading is an odd one for September. The story of the wise men seeking the newborn king is traditionally read on Epiphany, January 6. Perhaps we can learn something from the story as we remember 9/11. This is a story about foreigners (wise men from the East – my translation uses a capital “E”!). This is a story about fear and national security (Herod was afraid that a new king would be a threat so he subsequently orders the death of every child under the age of two). And this is a story about God’s power. The foreigners were welcome in the presence of the child and were able to worship him and give him gifts. They were led home safely, “by another road,” to thwart Herod’s efforts. God was at work in the midst of a strange encounter.

As we remember 9/11, let’s ask God to lessen the power of our fear and to heighten the power of our faithfulness. Let’s ask God to free us from suspicions and prejudices so that we can see one another as God’s children.

Prayer: On this day, O God, we remember. We remember the people who lost their lives in acts of terror. We remember the brave, the first responders who showed tremendous courage. Do not let fear rule over our hearts. Set us free to be the people you call us to be. 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].

Tuesday September 10 2019

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Scripture: Mark 16:1-8

Reflection: I have an Easter-loving friend who rises early every year before the rest of us (even us pastor-types!) to send the same text message. “JESUS IS ON THE LOOSE!!!” it reads in all caps, and it is usually accompanied by a few emojis. This is no buttoned up Easter greeting – no “Jesus is risen…he is risen, indeed!” – just some obligatory call-and-response on the way to family brunch. It is quirky, a little irreverent, and best said with a wry smile.  Something unexpected is happening in the world, and it is something to be celebrated.

What I love about this annual Easter greeting is that it reminds me that Easter invites us into a whole new future with God.  We gather to proclaim Christ’s victory over death, yes, but then we are called, as were the women who came to the tomb that morning, to meet the risen Lord where he might be found.  The One who cannot be held by the grave beckons us into an abundant life.  In Mark, we are told that Jesus goes ahead of the women and his disciples to Galilee and he waits for them there.  The story is not over.  We are called to follow this “Jesus on the loose” in the world, wherever he might call us, so that we might participate in his surprising, resurrection ministry.

It is interesting to read this account in September, because while it is not Easter, it is a time of new beginnings for many of us.  Students are back in school, and church programs are beginning to hum into full swing.  I wonder how you might encounter the Jesus who cannot be contained by death, the one who us up to something unexpected and wild in our world.  Take some time to look and listen in the weeks ahead for his summons.

Prayer: Surprise me, O God, by your grace, that I might find you in the unexpected corners of my life, and there be encouraged to live creatively following your lead.  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].

Monday September 9 2019

Monday

Scripture: Philippians 1:1-11

Key verses: (9-11) And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Reflection: Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do? We do it every day!  Whether it is health, environment, relationships or any number of issues we have some knowledge we do not live out.  Love can fall into that category as something we have more knowledge about but we allow our habits to guide us.  We have traditionally seen love as a response or a habit. It is second nature to allow our love to direct us.  Paul is praying for this early church to have a love that overflows with knowledge and insight.  Love with intentionality.

LOVE is a word that is over-used. We love our cars so much we name them. We love food with deep passion, authors, TV series or even outfits.  What do you love? Do you have a favorite T-shirt that you love? Shoes? Magazine? We all have something that we say we L*O*V*E.  Maybe it is a sports team and you have certain colors you wear to let others know how much you love the team.  Love is used to convey our commitment and emotion about everything in life and sometimes it empties love of all value. It is love that gives meaning to our life and the fabric of our lives. Love expands and grows.  Love is more than an emotion or a verb, it is a state of mind. Imagine if love overflowed from everyone with knowledge and insight. Imagine if that love was the love of Christ within us that overflowed into our lives, our community and the world.  I can imagine that world. Can you?

Prayer: God of love, continue to work on us to love with all that we are and all that we have so that love is our intention every day. In the name of Christ 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].

Friday September 6 2019

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Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Key verses: (18-19) “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

Reflection: Reality TV is a fascinating phenomenon to me.  It all began in 1992 with MTV’s “The Real World.”  I was 26 when that show came out.  It struck me as far removed from what I experienced as “the real world.”  Real life wasn’t about living in a ritzy apartment with all expenses paid and absolutely no work demands.  It certainly wasn’t about partying and scripted drama manufactured by the show’s producers.

Today’s reality genre is led by shows like “The Bachelor,” and “The Bachelorette.”  How do these shows reveal anything about real life?  They certainly don’t reflect the reality of relationships and how challenging they can be.  That’s not real life.

In our reading from 1 Timothy 6, Paul urges his protégé, Timothy to encourage his congregation to take hold of the life that really is life. What is real life from Paul’s perspective?  It’s not about achievement.  It’s not about wealth.  It’s not about vocational success or attaining some level of recognition.  It’s about doing good, being generous and ready to share.  By so doing we store up a different kind of treasure than those measured by worldly standards.

For Paul, real life is found in relationship.  Faithful relationship is defined by generosity, by giving of ourselves in performing good works for each other, in sharing what we have with one another.  It has been said we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.  Paul would agree.  When we join God’s work in the world by sharing of ourselves and the resources entrusted to our care, we find out what real life really means.  Or as Paul would put it, we “take hold of the life that really is life.”

Prayer: In the midst of the demands the real world brings us, O Lord, help us to hear your call; to do good and be rich in good works, generous and ready to share that we might take hold of the life that really is life. 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].

“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”