Tuesday March 17 2020

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Scripture: Mark 6:1-13

Key verses: (8-10) He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.”

Reflection: Jesus sent the disciples out to minister in the world and he gave them instructions for the journey. They were to pack light, really light (only a staff – no food, no bag, no money).  I wonder how long I would have lasted on the journey. I might have turned away before we even started. No clean clothes? No way to buy what I might need? No provisions? Not even a pack of crackers?

Those disciples were sent out with a sense of vulnerability and dependence. They didn’t have what they needed to survive. They had to depend on the hospitality of strangers who would give them shelter and food. They likely were humbled, forced to ask for help along the way. They likely prayed for safety and for basic necessities. What a far cry this is from my travels! I take everything I need and then some.

Yet the times when I have been forced to seek help, I have been blessed. Kind people have given me directions when I was lost (and before GPS was on my phone!). Someone loaned me $1.45 when I only had cash and didn’t have enough at the cash register. A gruff older man helped me change a tire once. I left grateful.

Jesus also told the disciples, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.” How many times have I been somewhere physically but not truly been present? Jesus called the disciples to be fully present, not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually, until it was time to move. In our culture, the phone is a constant temptation to remove my presence from the people

Be vulnerable enough to receive blessings. And be present in those moments to know that God is there.

Prayer: Remind me, O Lord, that my life depends on you. No matter how much I am tempted, remind me that I am not self-sufficient. Teach me to trust in you and to be present with those I meet. 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].

Monday March 16 2020

Monday

Scripture: Mark 5:21-43

Key verses: (21-30) 21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”

Reflection: Sickness is a great interrupter of life. It enters without knocking, changing all plans without notice and mocking our idea of certainty and schedules.  I wrote this devotion a month ago when we most of us would have had no idea what this meant. We would read a devotion like this and think, yes, I am sure it does. Today, even my routine-loving-rule-following 9th grader completely understands it. We are not even sick but we get how sickness intrudes, touching every part of life. Mocking our confidence and maybe even our identity found in the calendar, to-do list and every event of our day.

Such an interruption occurred to a woman in Jesus’ time told in Mark 5. Her encounter with Jesus in on a narrow street packed with a crowd of excited people who are anxious to see this man. At the request of a man of prominence, Jesus is on His way to restore to health Jairus’ dying daughter. He is on a mission and the crowd is following to witness the miracle. Jesus stops right in the middle of the road, touched by someone in the crowd. The woman doesn’t have a name in this passage, her identity defined by her illness. Yet, Jesus called her by the name daughter. Boldly and desperately she reached out to touch Jesus and he saw her.  He saw her faith, saw her hope and saw her as family.  Right in the middle of the road, not in a church, Jesus healed her and sends her out in peace.

May the peace of Christ surround you on this day and always.

Prayer: God, with the loss of our regular routines this week may we find peace in you. May we find the opportunity to come face to face with the transforming love of Christ in the middle of whatever chaos surrounds us.  Trusting in you, always. 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 March 13 2020

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Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

Key verse: (40) “Why are you afraid?”

Reflection: Today’s lectionary reading is remarkably timely.  As I write this devotional, responses to the spread of the Coronavirus are intensifying. Notification that there are now two diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Charlotte has just come.  In the past 24 hours, I’ve had multiple meetings with church staff and clergy in the community to discuss how we are responding. “Why are you afraid?” asks Jesus to his disciples in the boat after calming the storm.  This was a question we considered in worship last month.  It’s not a hard question to answer right now.

We are afraid because we feel vulnerable.  We are afraid because of the unknown.  We are afraid because we’re being told this isn’t like other illnesses. It’s more contagious and it’s more fatal.  We are afraid of the economic impact this might have.  We are afraid for those who are already more vulnerable in our midst; for the aging, for those with compromised immune systems, for those who live on the edge financially.  We are afraid for those who require care now, for those battling cancer or heart disease or diabetes or other illnesses that require the need of a health care system that just might be overwhelmed by this pandemic.

“Have you still no faith?” asks Jesus after challenging the disciples’ fear.  It’s the question he asks us whenever we feel paralyzed by fear.  Can we trust that Jesus is in the boat with us?  Can we find the courage we need to recognize that we are all in this boat together?  What does it mean to have faith in the midst of this storm we face?

It begins by recognizing we are indeed all in this boat together, with the whole wide world.  So we must respond faithfully.  How do we do that?  Here are some possibilities:

1.       Washing our hands, avoiding unnecessary contact, and observing basic hygiene.

2.       Self-quarantining if we feel ill.

3.       Opening our hearts and minds to the potential impact this will have on others in the boat

4.       Putting the interests of others before ourselves.

5.       Not going to the doctor or emergency room right now unless it’s absolutely urgent.

6.       Cooking or shopping or running errands for people in vulnerable populations, or for people who have self-quarantined.

7.       Sharing resources so that those living on the edge financially might be sustained through this time.

8.       Finding ways to support local businesses that will be impacted by the collapse of normal activities

9.       Opening your home to out-of-town college students stranded in Charlotte if colleges here close

10.   Letting go of frustrations about cancellations and postponements aimed at “flattening the curve.”  For more on that see here.

11.   Praying for health care workers, for community leaders, for the vulnerable and the infirmed.

12.   Being generous in every way, with time, talents and treasure as you are able.

Storms have a way of calling forth great faith.  May Christ still the storms of our own hearts this day, that we might find the faith we need to face whatever tomorrow holds, remembering Christ holds tomorrow, and we can trust him with that, because his love is unfailing in the face of every threat.

Prayer: “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.”  (Mark 9:24)

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 12 2020

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Scripture: Mark 4:21-34

Key verse: (21) “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand?”

Reflection: One of the first songs that my two girls learned was “This Little Light of Mine”. I am thinking this was probably a song that you sang as a child, and even if you haven’t sung it in a while I’m sure you still could sing along knowing all the words. What I love about this children’s song, however, is that in the 60’s it became an anthem of the civil rights movement. These two, a children’s song and civil rights song may not seem like they go together. But looking at the entirety of our scripture today, I think they fit perfectly. The passage for today continues on, “For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.” These words simultaneously comfort and call us to action. A light shining in the darkness exposes all that is hidden. The innocence of a child brightens the world and casts away the brokenness around us. The light of Jesus enters our world, exposing all that is hidden, surrounding and comforting us in light. Is there anything in your life that you may be trying to hide? Don’t fight against the light of Christ. May we follow the light of Christ in the world, scattering all that is hidden, expose the darkness for what it is, and live in the light. Is there a darkness that consumes you? Do not fear, the light of Christ will surround and illuminate your path. May we trust in Christ’s light, following to the edges of darkness, trusting that Christ’s light will cast away all fear and all oppression of the darkest places. Wherever you are today, may you carry this song with you as a comfort and a call to action. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Jesus Christ, Light of the World, we put our trust in you. Guide us in your truth, comfort us by your radiance. Give us the courage to expose all that is hidden and walk in your light for your glory and the sake of the 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].

Wednesday March 11 2020

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:11

Key verse: (11) And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Reflection: The verses leading up to this passage give a laundry list of “sinful” behaviors: greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness, deceit. And unfortunately, this is not an exhaustive list. As humans we are sinful. Some view sin as the human condition or “the fall”.  Other see sin as each specific action we take that pulls us from God. However you view or define sin, there is one thing for certain: we need help.

Paul makes two points using the verb “were.” The first point is that some of us “were” such people as these, living in habitual sin. We “were” tainted by the condition of sin and we all fall short of the glory of God – I believe this is our ongoing struggle. The second point is that now we live in a new reality. This new reality is a gift because we “were” cleansed and reconciled to God by God in Jesus Christ. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are no longer under the condemnation of our estrangement and rebellion and failures. Through the grace of God, we are no longer bound to the old way of life, to what we were. We were sanctified, made holy and pure, through justification by grace. Friends this is good news! We have been washed and claimed by the Spirit, and this is the gift of God’s grace and peace made known in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Holy God, you are the source of life, the source of freedom, the source of blessing and newness. For you have taken what we were, and we are made new. We give you thanks that we are not what we once were. In the name of Jesus Christ, the one who came so that we may live. 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].

Tuesday March 10 2020

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Scripture: I Corinthians 5:1-8

Key verse: (7) “Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch . . .”

Reflection: The Apostle Paul faced challenges with the small church in Corinth.  They embraced Christ, but struggled to let go of old ways.  In our passage today, he uses the metaphor of cleaning out “old yeast” to describe what they needed to do in order to be a community of faith. In this particular case, a man is living with his father’s wife.  This kind of relationship was prohibited by the Jews, and by Roman Gentiles.  The people in the church did nothing in response to this man’s activity. They did nothing to save their brother in Christ.  Instead, they let the “leaven of sin” grow in their community.

We face similar challenges today.  We ignore what we know is wrong because we don’t want to appear judgmental.  All of us are capable of sin, so we are hesitant to point it out in another.  Yet, we are called to clean out the “old leaven” in order to fulfill the calling to live our lives differently.  In spite of the myriad influences we can fall prey to, we are called to be vigilant in our pursuit of holiness, both as individuals and as a church.  We are called to live a different kind of life in which we turn away from evil and turn toward Jesus.  This can be a struggle. So, it’s important to learn how to depend on each other for loving accountability and forgiveness.

You may have done something that you know is wrong.  If you are truly sorry and want to change your life, God offers restoration and the community of faith offers support. Commit yourself to live a holy life – not with arrogance or pride – but with humility, and see what begins to happen.  Each of us is a new creation in Christ.  Let’s live this way.

Prayer: Holy God, in your presence we see our weaknesses and our sin. You expose the places where we harbor evil and self-satisfying pride. Forgive us. Show us how to live holy lives that will reflect the gift of faith to others.  Break down barriers of indifference that keep us from drawing closer to you.  Help us to gently restore a brother or sister by speaking the truth in love.  Transform us from the inside out and accomplish in us what we are unable to do for ourselves.  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].

Monday March 9 2020

Monday

Scripture: Mark 3:7-19

Key verse: (14) And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim his message.

Reflection: In our church we talk a lot about the call to follow Jesus as disciples. The word “disciple” is related to the word “discipline” and comes from a Latin word for pupil or student. Disciples of Jesus are called to be students who learn about him and about God’s Word. But disciples are much more than students. We are called to imitate the teacher, to be apprentices or interns who are seeking to live like our teacher lives.

In today’s passage, Mark tells us that Jesus appointed twelve disciples. Each one was called. They didn’t join the group like joining a country club or a sports team. Jesus chose them. And he named them apostles, which literally means “sent ones.” These twelve disciples were called to shift from following Jesus to going out into the world on his behalf. He entrusted them with authority to do ministry. They were his ambassadors, speaking and acting for him. How would they be able to do that?

Jesus appointed them to be with him and to be sent out. They needed to spend time with him, to learn from him, and to observe his ministry. But they couldn’t stay with him. They were sent out into the world. The rhythm of time with him and time out in the world became a pattern. Long after Jesus ascended into heaven the early church kept this pattern of time together to worship, study and pray, and then time out in the world to share the good news.

Does your life have this rhythm? What are you doing to learn from Jesus? I hope you worship and study and pray in the context of a faith community (the Body of Christ). Where are you sent out to proclaim the gospel? I hope you have found a place of ministry where you are using your gifts to bring good news to someone else. When the rhythm is distorted, we are no longer faithful to the call of Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for calling me to be a disciple. Equip me to be an apostle, bringing good news to the world today and every day. 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].

Friday March 6 2020

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Scripture: Mark 2:13-22

Key verse: (18) Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Reflection: Intermittent fasting is very trendy these days, focusing on changing your eating patterns. It offers healthy benefits and weight loss. Fasting has been the center of many conversations lately, very few of them were for spiritual reasons.  It does help people understand others who practice fasting during Lent. They understand the concept of fasting and they have seen benefits. It is harder to explain the spiritual significance.

In the time of Jesus, Jews fasted to show repentance and anticipation for the coming Kingdom. It represents a commitment to growth in relationship to God and others. In this time of Lent, fasting should not be an end in itself.

Jesus’ disciples were being challenged because they were not joining in the fast. Jesus compared his disciples to guests at a wedding banquet while the groom was present. Like a wedding, it was time to celebrate in anticipation of a whole new relationship coming into being.

During Lent, we take time to nurture this relationship. Whatever your Lenten commitment, let it not be an end in itself. Reflect on your practice and allow it to guide you closer to God.

Prayer: On this journey of Lent, God be our guide. Open our hearts to your love. 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].

Thursday March 5 2020

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Scripture: Mark 2:1-12

Key verses: (3-5) “Then they came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

Reflection: Consider for a moment the four people who carried that paralyzed man to Jesus.  What do you think moved them to go and get that man?  Imagine their conversation.  “Hey, did you hear about Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Yeah, I heard he’s healing people over at Maggie’s house!”  “Do you think he could heal Larry?”  “Larry?  He’s been paralyzed ever since the accident — back broken by that beam.  Casting out demons is one thing, but healing a broken back?”  “Let’s give it a shot!”  “How are we going to get him there?”  “We’ll have to carry him.”  “It’s ten blocks to Maggie’s house!”  “Do  you want to see Larry healed or not?”  “All right, let’s get him.”  Imagine them carrying that man all the way to the house where Jesus was healing people.  Imagine them seeing the crowds surrounding the house.  “Now what?” they must have wondered.  But they didn’t let that stop them.  “I’ve got an idea, let’s lower him through the roof!” Imagine them lifting the man up and putting him on that roof.  Imagine them dragging him along the roof line, tearing a whole big enough to lower him through in that thatch.  Imagine what it took for the four of them to lower that paralyzed man down through the hole and place him before Jesus.

What would it take to go to such extremes?  They must have loved the paralytic a lot to go through all that.  He must have been a good friend.  To go through all that, they must have believed Jesus had the power to heal him.  Why else would they have gone to such lengths? What great faith they had.  Did you notice that it’s their faith that leads to forgiveness and healing for their friend?  It’s not the paralytic’s faith, it’s their faith.

Can you imagine loving your neighbor enough to go through that much to find them healing?  Can you imagine trusting Jesus that much to provide them what they need?  How might your faith lead to healing for a neighbor in need?

Prayer: Open our eyes to see those unable to move in our midst.  Open our hearts to love them enough to do whatever it takes to find them healing.  Strengthen us to live out our faith that they may be whole.  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].

 

Wednesday March 4 2020

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:1-13

Key verses: (1-2) “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

Reflection: Are you someone who has fear of public speaking? I’ve heard it is one of the biggest fears of people in the US, with Psychology today estimating that 25% of people experience this fear. This makes sense to me as I know people who are even uncomfortable getting on the phone to order a pizza. Maybe we are afraid of saying the wrong thing, perhaps we have a negative view of ourselves when speaking, maybe the fear is one of acceptance or rejection. Whatever is behind the fear or uncomfortableness of public speaking, there seems to be the thought that there are the right words to use out there in the right order and we just don’t have them.

The Apostle Paul, who is never short on words, who has said himself that he is quite smart (Philippians 3:5), and has gone off on long monologues about the gospel says in our text for today that he is not going to use lofty words or wisdom to proclaim the mystery of God. If Paul has the gift to speak beautifully, stringing together thoughts and themes in a convincing manner why wouldn’t he do that? Instead, Paul declares that he decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Perhaps Paul recognized that his lofty words at times would distract from Christ and shine the light on him, perhaps Paul found that his beautiful words were sometimes more confusing than helpful, perhaps Paul found that simplicity can point to the profound mystery of Christ’s good news. (I’m talking to you people who say, “I’ve gotten so much more out of the children’s sermon than the actual sermon”!) For whatever reason, Paul is focusing on simply knowing Christ crucified, realizing that the power of Christ’s servant nature speaks for itself. This Lenten season as we ponder the cross, may you be reassured that it is not up to us to get the words just right or to string together the perfect phrases to make Christ’s love known. Instead, if we focus on the sacrificial life of Christ, and live in that way, even imperfect as we are, the mystery of God will be made known.

Prayer: Holy God, guide us this day, surround us by your Spirit, open us to your love that we may love one another. 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].