Friday February 28 2020

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Scripture: John 17:9-19

Key verses: (16-18) They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Reflection: Prepositions have tremendous power. As disciples of Jesus we do not belong TO the world but we have been sent INTO the world. Today’s passage is a segment of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples at his last supper with them before his arrest. Jesus’ prayer reveals his hopes for his disciples, then and now.

We are called to be in the world, just as Jesus was in the world. Faithfulness is not a bomb shelter where we hide from what is going on outside. We go into the world to share the good news by caring for the least among us, by offering hope to those in despair, and by loving the outcasts.

We are IN the world but we do not belong to it. Put another way, we are called by Jesus not to be OF the world. Our values will be values of the kingdom of God and sometimes those will conflict with the world around us. We will bless the ones the world dismisses. We will lift up the ones the world pushes down. We will offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us. We will love our enemies.

We are in the world but not of the world. As we journey through the season of Lent, what does that look like for you? Lent is a season of penitence, as we reflect on our own sins and seek God’s transforming grace. It’s intended to be a quieter and somber season of forty days. Did you know that the Sundays don’t “count” toward the forty days? The Sundays are IN Lent but not OF Lent. Every Sunday is a mini-celebration of Easter resurrection. Join us for worship this Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, as we seek together to follow Jesus faithfully, in and not of the world.

Prayer: O God, sometimes following Jesus is hard to do and it feels like I’m swimming upstream. Strengthen me to persevere. Give me wisdom to discern your will. And forgive me when I fail and find myself floating along with the currents of the world. In Jesus’ 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].

Thursday February 27 2020

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Scripture: John 17: 1-8

Key verse: (3) 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Reflection: What is your purpose in life? I think every young person wonders if God has a purpose for them, specifically.  At some point, when they deal with some kind of pain, trauma or emotional crisis, I think the question changes to what is the purpose of life?

John Calvin wrote a catechism in 1541 to instruct children to better understand the Christian faith. The first question was, “What is the chief end of human life?”.  This gets to the purpose of life. In response, there was a three-word answer, “To know God.”.

We are trying to make it harder than it is! Our purpose in life, know God.  The purpose in life, know God.   Lent is an invitation for us to be intentional about getting rid of all the stuff that gets in the way of this purpose.  Lent invites us into the practices that help us know God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent.

If you have given up something that gets in the way of you knowing God, keep focused. If you have taken something on so that you might know God better, stay focused. If you didn’t even know it was the season of Lent … it is not too late.  Accept the invitation.

Prayer: God, help us know you. In knowing you, may we love you and serve you. 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 February 26 2020

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Scripture: Luke 18:9-14

Key verse: (14) “… for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Reflection: “He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”  That’s how Luke frames Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee.  It is a parable told to a very particular group of people.  It is not intended for tax collectors, to convince them of their sin.  It is intended for those who “trust in themselves that are right and regard others with contempt.”

This parable has something important to teach us in our current cultural context.  Ours is a society defined by contempt.  Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer defines contempt as, “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”  It seems that’s where we are in our society.  In his book, Love Your Enemies, (Broadside Books, 2019,) public policy scholar Arthur Brooks describes our current climate this way, “Divisive politicians. Screaming heads on television. Angry campus activists. Twitter trolls. Today in America, there is an ‘outrage industrial complex’ that prospers by setting American against American, creating a ‘culture of contempt’ — the habit of seeing people who disagree with us not as merely incorrect, but as worthless and defective.”  A 2018 study by Hetherington & Weiler ANES data reported that over the past twenty years, the percentage of political partisans who view the opposing party with contempt has risen from less than 20% to 50%.

After sharing those statistics at a lecture at FPC-Charlotte last year, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt challenged us to consider three questions: What might happen if we stop seeing ourselves as good and those we disagree with as bad? How could we acknowledge our common humanity and our shared fate in ways that define us more broadly because of our differences? Are we willing to consider, instead, living from a place of moral humility?  In the parable Jesus says it is the tax collector, the one who viewed himself from a place of moral humility who went home justified with God, not the Pharisee. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Holding another in contempt jeopardizes not only our relationships with each other, it jeopardizes our relationship with God.

How do we move away from regarding those with whom we disagree with contempt?  Brooks suggests three ways.  First, don’t disagree less, but disagree better.  Don’t buy into the rhetoric of those who profit from the culture of contempt.  He writes, “As satisfying as it can feel to hear that your foes are irredeemable, stupid and deviant, remember: When you find yourself hating something, someone is making money or winning elections or getting more famous and powerful.”  Secondly, he encourages us to not treat others with contempt, even if we believe they deserve it. This is not just altruistic, it’s an appeal to self-interest. Contempt makes persuasion impossible — no one has ever been hated into agreement.  Finally, he encourages us to see contempt as an opportunity, not a threat. He writes, “If you are treated with contempt, it is a chance to change at least one heart — yours. Respond with warm-heartedness and good humor. You are guaranteed to be happier. If that also affects the contemptuous person (or bystanders), it will be to the good.”

Put another way, live from a place of moral humility.  According to Jesus, doing so helps us be in right relationship with God.  When we are right with God, we are much more likely to live in right relationship with one another.

Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” 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 February 25 2020

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Scripture: Philippians 3:1-11

Key verse: (4) “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more”

Reflection: When was the last time you put a resume together? I bet it was pretty impressive, I mean most resumes are, right? In these documents we place all of our accomplishments and accolades, we name our titles and degrees, we list our best selves. These resumes don’t just list our many endeavors, but they are the results of years of work, focus, and determination. Our resumes in some way are a summing up of our lives in a page. Our best selves put forward.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul was asking people to think of their resumes, of their best accomplishments. Paul then told them, if you think you can boast, I can boast more. Paul goes on to list his superior pedigree, abundant knowledge, and grand actions. But then, instead of holding it over the community, Paul says that all of his accomplishments are rubbish. Rubbish, literally translated this word means…. well let’s just say that the King James Bible translates this word as dung. Paul has acknowledged that he has the best resume of all the community that he was writing to, and even all that he has accomplished, the person he has become, the time and effort spent at becoming the best, is considered as dung. If Paul’s accomplishments are best and considered dung, then the accomplishments of the others must be whatever is of less value than that.

But Paul’s message is not one of self-flagellation or harsh criticism. Instead, Paul places these accolades in context of the importance of knowing Christ. Paul is willing to throw away everything else in his life so that he may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of Paul’s own but one that comes through the faithfulness of Christ (3:8-9). Here again we meet a translation issue. In most of our bible’s verse 9 is translated, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes through the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.” However, more accurately the verse would be translated with faithfulness of Christ.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, stop and rest in the faithfulness of Christ. May we stop trying to hold everything together, may we stop thinking that our actions and desires can accomplish all things, may we stop beating ourselves up for not being good enough, and killing ourselves in attempts to be the best. For whoever we are, whatever we do is dung if we do not rest in the faithfulness of Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we give you thanks for your great faithfulness. We praise you that your goodness is greater than our best. May we align our lives with you, following in your faithfulness. 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].

Monday February 24 2020

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Scripture: Philippians 2:1-13

Key verses: (4-5) 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

Reflection: For us today, we may hear Paul’s message right alongside those in Philippi. The message is still the same. We are not called to imitate the exact actions of Christ but instead imitate Christ’s attitude toward service.

Christ came not to be served but to serve. And we all are to serve through our own unique calling.

Jason Petty, a black poet and Christian artist known as Propaganda, tells of his life living in South Central LA, and how God spoke to him in a violent neighborhood of Mexican gangs. He speaks,[1]

Meanwhile, church service I was never missing.

Mama made me take notes to see if I was listening.

But I lived among the Mexicans, so I never did the Crip thing.

Instead they gave me cans to write my name up on the bricks thing.

All the while God was training me to hear His voice.

Because only He knew that I would soon make a choice.

I was this tagger, slash rapper, son of a black panther.

And they got high hopes for him. He gon’ be a pastor.

So should he run with the church boys, the backpackers, or thugs?

And it’s funny, it seems like the Lord’s answer was “All of the above”

We are called to imitate Christ, to have the same mind as Christ. The King of Kings washed the disciples’ feet. The Lord of Hosts invites the so-called wicked and unrighteous to dine at the Table. We are called to witness to the relentless love of God found in Jesus Christ.

In telling how God has provided all he needed Propaganda continues …

You is looking at a last born, rightful heir to the throne,

the son of a nobody, with poverty in his bones, and that’s beautiful.

See we ain’t never had nothing, but nothing was sufficient, it kept my belly full with stuff the rich was missing, and that’s beautiful.

God is self-giving for the sake of others. God is love expressed in self-sacrifice. We are called to express the love ourselves in the humble service of others. This narrative is not to shame us into thinking we can never live up to Christ. This narrative provides hope and a promise, so that we can live into Christ!

Prayer: Humble me, O God. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[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] This testimony comes from the I AM SECOND series. You may find it at https://www.iamsecond.com/seconds/propaganda/

Friday February 21 2020

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Scripture: John 10: 31-42

Key verses: (37-38) “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.  But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Reflection: At the time of Jesus, the Jews longed for the coming of the Messiah.  They had their own vision of what the Messiah would be like – a king, stronger than the Roman Empire, who would raise up the nation of Israel once again.  When the religious authorities saw the crowds that followed Jesus and heard what he was preaching and teaching, they accused him of blasphemy because they were unable to understand his message.  Their preconceived ideas of God got in the way of believing.

From our perspective, it is hard to understand how they couldn’t believe – they were eyewitnesses to his miracles and healings! But, before we are too hard on them, we might want to remember the times in our own history when we have been unable to understand what God was doing in the Church or the world.

How often has the Church resisted new voices and the movement of the Holy Spirit?  How often have we pushed our own agendas and interests ignoring cries for justice, mercy and compassion?  It isn’t hard to cultivate division in the community of faith over social issues, politics, and theology. But, we can’t hear the voice of the shepherd if we are listening more to ourselves than to God – no matter how noble the cause.

Jesus was showing God’s compassion and power through his teaching and healing, but he was doing this in a very non-traditional way. Some responded and some did not.

How do we respond to Jesus’ message?  Are we able to hear his voice or only our own?

Prayer: Gracious God, give us the grace to receive your word and respond to your invitation to follow.  Remind us today and every day that you and the Father are one. 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].

 

Thursday February 20 2020

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Scripture: 1 John 2:18-29

Key verse: (24) Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.

Reflection: True confession: When I read the various passages that are assigned readings for today, I didn’t like any of them. They are hard to understand and hard to accept. After earning a master’s degree and a doctoral degree, and serving many years in ministry, I still have a hard time understanding some biblical passages and a hard time accepting others.

I chose to focus today’s devotion on this passage from the first letter of John. In this letter the writer encourages the Christian community to be faithful to the core truth of the gospel. Apparently there were divisions in the early church. Factions were forming and breaking off from the community. We don’t have clear knowledge about the controversies but scholars believe the disagreement was about whether Jesus was fully human and fully God, or just human or just God. The letter writer labels some of his opponents “antichrists.” That’s harsh! The term antichrist is used only in the letters of John. Notice that it is plural here and the writer assumed the antichrists were already at work. The antichrist wasn’t a solitary figure in the future we should be watching for!

The writer calls the community to abide in the gospel. Abide in the mystery that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. Abide in the hope that the death and resurrection of Christ offers to us. Abide in the truth that Jesus is the incarnation and reveals God to us.

When pastors and officers are ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), we make a vow to further the peace, unity and purity of the church. Those three values (peace, unity and purity) are held in dynamic tension. If one becomes emphasized over the others, the church is led astray. A focus on purity without care for peace or unity becomes arrogant and self-righteous. A focus on peace without care for purity becomes a broad tolerance for evil behavior. A focus on unity without care for peace forces people to abandon integrity. Peace, unity and purity. For the early church this tension was real. For us, this tension is real. To be faithful to the way of Jesus, we live in this tension together.

Prayer: Dear Lord, give me courage to grapple with what I don’t understand. Give me strength to abide in you and your love. Give me wisdom to hold peace, unity and purity together as I live in my community. 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 February 19 2020

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Scripture: John 10:1-18

Key verses: (7-10)  So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Reflection: I have come to rely on a deep breath to help me be present and I know I share that with you … a lot. Mindfulness has really helped me to savor the holy in the everyday ordinary.  As part of that mindful practice, is a cycle of recognizing both gratitude and pain in my days.  In both of those practices, I am more aware of God.  I believe that God wants deep and abiding peace for all of us.  I do not think that I can bring about that peace through a deep breath, but I do have to remind myself of that occasionally.

Other faithful people hear the verse above and are willing to just sit and wait for the blessings to come.  Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly. They hear prosperity, riches and an easy life.  It is anticipation of a good life and the reward of heaven.

I don’t believe that is it either. The abundant life that Jesus brings to us is not about blessings. It’s not about what we get and it’s not even about living a good life so we can get eternal life.

Abundant life is choosing the way of Jesus. It is living right now with grace, truth and peace.  Abundant life is our shared life together as Christ’s body, choosing love for each other and for the good of the world.

Prayer: God, remind me that the chief purpose of humankind is to glorify you and enjoy you forever. That probably requires some laughter. And some deep breathing. And a whole lot of love given and received. Thank you for being patient. 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].

Tuesday February 18 2020

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Scripture: John 9:1-41

Key verse: (40) “Surely we are not blind are we?”

Reflection: Sunday evening I returned from an amazing vacation. We spent a week sailing in the British Virgin Islands, a splurge for us to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary coming up two weeks from today. It was an experience of beauty and Sabbath like none other.  Each day had its routines, including a little work to be done around the boat, but the majority of time was spent relaxing and taking in the beauty surrounding us, from snorkeling along coral reefs filled with the most vibrantly colored fish, to sailing electric blue waters powered only by the steady winds, to star gazing atop the deck at night. Slowing down like that gave me the chance to see in ways I often miss in the midst of the demands of life and work in everyday living.  Toward the end of the trip I found myself profoundly moved by the many blessings of my life.  Considering my marriage, my family, my call, the opportunity to take such an extravagant vacation, I was overwhelmed by God’s grace and mercy.  It was an opportunity to see the gifts of God much more intensely.

Today’s reading is about a man born blind who receives his sight.  It’s a long one, but well worth the few minutes it will take you to read. As the story progresses, the man born blind is not the only one who sees.  In fact, those who think they see come to understand their own blindness. The disciples are challenged to see in the man not a sinner, but a child of God born to reveal God’s glory.  The townspeople are confounded by his healing so much they don’t even trust their eyes to recognize him.  And the religious leaders, who believe they see so clearly, seeing sin so clearly are actually revealed to be blind to the grace of God unfolding before their very eyes.  They are so blinded by their fear that they drive the man out of the community for being healed.  Stunning.

In yesterday’s devotion, John Magnuson wrote, “God’s love through Jesus by the presence of the Spirit is among us all the time! Too often we just miss God’s presence. What would our days look like if we expected to see and hear God’s presence? … Notice grace, love, and hospitality. Name these moments as God’s presence.”  Reading that my first day back from vacation, his words perfectly articulated what I had experienced on that boat.

I hope you can take the time today to slow down for a moment and see the beauty of the world that surrounds you. See God’s grace flowing in your life, perhaps even through your life.  Together may we join the man born blind who was healed by Jesus that we might all say, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

Prayer: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  Thank you, Lord.  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].

 

Monday February 17 2020

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Scripture: 1 John 1:1-10

Key verse: (3) “We declare to you what we have seen and heard…”

Reflection: For the first followers of Jesus, the good news was spread by word of mouth. In scripture we read accounts of people engaging with Jesus, having a transformative experience, and then telling others. Much of scripture is a witness to these word of mouth stories being passed on until they were written down. Seeing, touching, and hearing were a large part of faith and believing that Jesus is God, that Jesus is the Messiah. Do you think it was easier for those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles firsthand to have faith? Were those who sat and heard Jesus’ teachings more likely to believe in him? Do you wonder if those touched and healed by Jesus were more deeply moved and committed to following him?

I often hear people wonder why it is that miracles happened more in the time of the Bible than they do today. Or, people may wonder why we don’t have the personal experiences with Jesus or the Holy Spirit like it happened in the Bible. Have you ever wondered this? The reality is, God’s love through Jesus by the presence of the Spirit is among us all the time! Too often we just miss God’s presence. What would our days look like if we expected to see and hear God’s presence? What would our encounters with others look like if we expected that the Holy Spirit was among us and active? How would we live with others if we anticipated that the love we experience daily is the love of Christ? We too have the opportunity to pass on stories of what we have seen and heard, what we have touched and experienced. Try this day, this week, to seek God’s presence in your daily physical reality, in what you see and touch and hear, and in those you meet. Notice grace, love, and hospitality. Name these moments as God’s presence. But don’t just stop there, but share your experiences, so like the early believers your joy may be complete!

Prayer: Loving God, we thank you for your presence throughout all time. We praise you for your love for all people. We thank you for your Spirit which moves among us. Open our lives to you in our midst and empower us to tell of your work in our world. 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].