Friday July 31 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 28:1–10

Key verses: (6-8) He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Reflection: Imagine with me and close your eyes. Take yourself there.

The Sabbath sun is rising; the dust picks up around the city; there is a chill to the air that is strikingly different from any other morning. Your head is covered out of custom and out of fear and your heart is covered with the pain that accompanies grief. With your friend you begin to walk down a long road. Arriving at the tomb of Jesus, you see guards watching over the entrance that is sealed by a large stone. For a brief moment there is silence that penetrates your soul. All of a sudden the earth begins to shake; violently the world seems as if to crumble beneath you. You gather your footing and look up and see a flash of lightning strike the stone. The stone rolls back exposing the entrance to the tomb. But this lightning is different. It stays. It has form. It is an angel dressed in all white. You turn to the guards, but they are overcome by fear and fall to the ground and lay motionless. The radiant angel looks at you and says, “Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus” This too penetrates your soul. Your mind begins to race. What? How? Why? Who? Without a second to think the angel continues, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”

What do you do now? Do you go into the tomb? The angel tells you to come and see that Jesus is no longer in the tomb. But do you need to see for yourself or do you believe. I wonder how difficult that moment would be. I imagine being awe-struck, all the while stuck between fear and joy. Matthew does not tell us if the women went in. After the angel’s instructions, we are told the women hurry away.

You and your friend follow the angel’s orders and hurry away from the tomb. You are filled with fear and joy, running as fast as you can to find the disciples. Trembling with adrenaline, breathing heavy, dust flying, wiping sweat from your brow. You see a man on the path with you. Where did he come from? Who is it? All doubt and fear leave you with one word. “Greetings.”

Prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. 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].

 

Thursday July 30 2020

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Scripture: Psalm 116

Key verse: (1) “I love the LORD, because he hears my voice and my supplications.”

Reflection: There are times when it is natural to wonder if God hears our prayers – especially when life is interrupted by bad news like a devastating diagnosis or sudden loss.  Stressful news throws us off balance. Often our first response is to wish it away.  Now that pandemic fatigue is here we are experiencing interruption.  There is bad news and reality has set in.  Wishing it will go away soon isn’t working.  Turning to faith has become a healing balm during the disruption of everything familiar and cherished that has to be postponed or cancelled.  The resources of our faith are deep and wide.  Hopefully, cultivation of faith in the good times has equipped us for faith in the bad times. It is hard to imagine the sheer number of families who are grieving the untimely death of a loved one due to the COVID 19 virus. The isolation and the pain are inconceivable to most of us. I am reminded every day how close the virus is to you and me.  Summer has lured us into hoping that we can enjoy our usual summer routine without any consequences, but reality tells us otherwise.  We just want this pandemic to be over.  One day it will be.  In the meantime, we lift up our voices in prayer to our God who listens.

Last week I received a note from a former colleague of mine who has a health condition that won’t ever go away – there is no cure – and he has learned to live with it.  He wrote with such peace and acceptance as he described the joy he was experiencing sitting outside in his garden. Even in the midst of daily physical struggle he is able to be thankful for God’s salvation and live his life enjoying family and friends.  When I pray for him and his family, I am reminded of today’s words from the psalmist: “even though I was brought low, the LORD saved me”.  My friend is thankful because God has never left his side through the challenges of his illness.  Even though there is no cure – he is healed in the depths of his being.   God can do the same thing for us when we are brought low by the challenges of life.  God can save us from despair and doubt when we travel through situations that scare us, like this pandemic.  God will give us courage in the midst of fear and patience in the midst of restlessness.

There may be something besides COVID 19 that is creating distress in your life right now.  You may feel God is very far away and you are alone.  Remember how precious your life is to God and those who love you.  Turn to God and remember God’s compassion for you.  Be patient. God hears you and in time the answers and peace will come.  Knowing this will give you the ability to hold on and, in time, give thanks.

Prayer:  Gracious God, life surprises us with things we don’t want.  There are times when we feel lost and afraid.  Remind us you are near.  Help us to pray for one another.  And, if there is someone we need to reach out to today, remind us to make that phone call or send that text.  May we strengthen each other on this journey that your love might be visible to all.  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].

Wednesday July 29 2020

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Scripture: Psalm 65

Key verses: (12-13)  The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Reflection: I grew up “in the country” a few miles outside of a city. From our home, you couldn’t see another house. But you could see two horses that ran in a pasture, pine trees that whistled in the wind, and a huge garden that yielded vegetables for months. I loved walking outside, to enjoy the smell of honeysuckle, to listen to the gurgling of the creek, to dig my hands into the mud to hunt for salamanders.

Today’s psalm celebrates God’s creation. We now know that nature can bring healing to our minds and our spirits. Apparently even small things make a difference – noticing a dandelion poking up through a crack in the sidewalk, listening to a bird that sits outside your window, feeling the breeze on your face as you walk from your car into the store. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-resilience/201801/why-connecting-nature-elevates-your-mental-health)

The writer of the psalm knew that nature points us to the Creator. Nature sings of God’s glory. One of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry, writes in “The Peace of Wild Things”:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

Today take an opportunity to listen to the birds, to enjoy the taste of some fresh fruit, to look at the stars. Rest in the grace of the world. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: This is my Father’s world, And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.

This is my father’s world, I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas his hand the wonders wrought. Amen.

(“This Is My Father’s World”, hymn words by Maltbie Babcock)

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 July 28 2020

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Scripture: Romans 16: 17-22

Key verses: (17-18) I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

Reflection: Have you ever heard of the compliment sandwich? It is when someone gives you a compliment and then slides in a harsh criticism and then folds it neatly into another compliment. It is confusing! You respond with a “Thank you!” but you think “Thank you?”.  It is a hostile and aggressive tactic that can steal a few moments, or some energy or maybe even some self-esteem. We all have people in our life who make our lives unbearable. As people of faith we remember these words Paul said earlier in Romans 12, verse 16 “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”  We are called to live in harmony so we work hard to find common ground with those who have different opinions and live within different systems.

We are right in the middle of the 21-day Youth, Faith and Race challenge this month and when it comes to issues of race and racism, there are many hard conversations and lots of different opinions. Dr. Eddie Moore who helped create the challenge for Myers Park Presbyterian Church was asked how he deals with the most racist people in his life and he said there are just some pancakes that cannot be flipped. I love that phrase!

Watch out for those who cause divisions and obstacles, keep away from them, Paul said in Romans 16. Keep away from them.  Some pancakes just can’t be flipped. They are stuck. Living in harmony with one another sometimes means walking away for a little while.

Prayer: God of Love, Come to this place and encourage us to do the work
to which we were baptized.
Help us to proclaim the Good News in word and in deed.

We pray this day for the hope we have found,
the peace we seek,
and the joy we will receive in your Holy name.
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].

Monday July 27 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 27:24-31

Key verse: (24)  “So when Pilate saw the he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood, see to it yourselves.”

Reflection: Today’s devotional is based on Matthew 27:24-31 and is in video form. You can access it by clicking the image below. You can read a printed copy of the devotion here.

07 27 Joe

[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 July 24 2020

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Scripture: Romans 15:14-24

Key verse: (15) Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given to me by God.

Reflection: Nevertheless … Paul follows up a high praise of the community with “Nevertheless.” I feel confident about your goodness, who you are, your ability to teach one another says Paul, nevertheless, I’ve got some more to say and I’m going to say it boldly. Does Paul know what he’s doing? Why is he rocking the boat? Doesn’t he know he’s got a good thing going on, and shouldn’t upset the system? And furthermore, if Paul really feels like he needs to speak out, must he do so boldly?

As Paul makes clear in the rest of the passage, his interest has always been for the glory of God and following God’s leading in the world, wherever that takes him. Ever since his transformation on the Road to Damascus, Paul has boldly and confidently followed where Christ was leading. Not one to be distracted by the maintenance of comfort and stability, Paul chose to follow the free moving of the Spirit among the Gentiles (non-Jews) and in doing so was challenged to reimagine many of the laws, customs, and traditions that once defined his life.

How does bold talk make you feel? Does it inspire you? Does it frustrate you? Does it make you uncomfortable? Depending upon the truthfulness of the bold talk, perhaps it makes you feel all of these ways. When confronted by what God is up to in the world, we are met with a bold vision, a vision that questions our comfort, shakes up our stability, and urges us onward. Bold talk of the gospel isn’t meant for comfort and stability in our world as it is, but for transformation and growth into the future God is calling us from.

Where do you feel uncomfortable by bold talk? Take time today, reflect upon what makes you uncomfortable. Is this a place you might need to grow? Is this a place God is moving you onward? Transformation is not easy, it is not stable, not always comfortable as we would like it to be. However, if we trust in God’s guidance, we can take comfort not that things will be the same, but in the fact that we are ushered into the future in the palm of God’s hand, wherever that may take us.

Prayer: Gracious God, we recognize that we often avoid boldness for the safety of familiarity. Open our ears to hear your bold word for us this day. And guide us by your Spirit that we may see the beauty, goodness, and faithfulness of the future to which you are calling us in Christ. 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].

Thursday July 23 2020

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Scripture: Romans 15:1-13

Key verses: (5-6) May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: Unity or Harmony. Unity is achieved when each element of a design fits with the overall concept of production or outcome; this is defined by how the elements relate to the process as a whole. Harmony, on the other hand, is defined by how the elements relate to each other. “How good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). We are called to a life of unity, called into one body, the body of Christ Jesus. We are to strive for unity among ourselves in all we do to live in harmony with one another. Therefore, I would say, living together in unity is our individual relationship to the end goal (which to quote catechism is to glorify God and enjoy God forever). Living in harmony then is our individual relationship to each other in that process. I hear a call for harmony in verse 5, then a call for unity in verse 6.

Lately it seems as if everyone in the world is against each other — at least tribe against tribe — tearing the other down without care or accountability. Sometimes people can think of unity and harmony as acting, thinking, and believing the exact same way. God created each and every person an uniquely beautiful part of the body. Unity is not conformity. We are to live in harmony with one another by the grace of the God of steadfastness and encouragement in accordance with Christ Jesus. It takes great work and commitment. This then is a lesson in love and a lesson in humility. When we are in singleness of mind then we are a force to be reckoned with. The opposite is also true, if there are fights and quarreling among us then we keep ourselves out of service to the real battles in life. We are called to one hope and as such we have more in common with each other than not. “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.” May we be eager to pursue harmony for the sake of unity, recognize our likeness in Christ, and strive to live in mutuality. In doing so, Paul says, we bring glory to God.

Prayer: You call us into a life of unity and harmony O God. By the power of your grace, your steadfastness, and your encouragement, may we join together as one to live in unity and harmony so that we may, with one voice, glorify you and enjoy you forever. 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].

Wednesday July 22 2020

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Scripture: Romans 14: 13-23

Key verse: (13) “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.”

Reflection: In the verses prior to today’s text, Paul reminds the Roman church that “each of us will be accountable to God.”  Then, he writes the word, “therefore”, which becomes a bridge to a discussion about blocking another person’s way to deeper faith.  We are to resolve, that is, find a way to settle a dispute or problem, instead of passing judgment. People came to Rome from all over the Empire with many religious and social practices.  Most homes had a religious shrine of some kind, many where food was sacrificed to idols. This was part of daily life along with worship in the various temples of their gods. The Apostle Paul spent a lot of time addressing issues related to food sacrificed to idols.  Was it clean or unclean?  Since Christians worshiped one God (like their Jewish brothers and sisters), those seeking to live up to their new found religion easily became judgmental of others who thought it would be just fine to eat food sacrificed to idols. For many of them, this had been a life-long practice that didn’t seem to harm anyone. Since Christ died for all and loves all, Paul warned them about harming another person because of food. So, how were Christians to behave in a pagan culture that worshiped many idols and gods?  This isn’t just an ancient question, it is a contemporary one, too.  Today’s text is important because it reminds us to pay attention to our choices.  We are to pursue peace and sometimes that means giving up something we have no problem with, but someone else might, in order to further the gospel.  Can you think of anything in your life that might be equivalent to this? Something that is putting a stumbling block in the way of another person from experiencing the love, acceptance and forgiveness of Jesus?  Are we so used to having our own way that we might not notice how rigid we can be?  Are we spending too much time majoring in the minors instead of addressing the most important issues of our day? Most of us don’t want to give up our way of doing things or the ways we think others should act.  We need a reminder every day that the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (v. 17).  We are called to live out our faith in order to build others up in the name of Christ who loves all and died for all. In this divisive and divided world we live in, I hope we will pay attention to what builds up all of us.  This doesn’t mean we compromise the hope and call to justice of the gospel, but we all know what can happen when we become judgmental.  Judgmentalism turns many people away from the church community and from God.  Perhaps we could take Paul’s advice in the first verse of Romans 14: “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”

Prayer:  Merciful God, forgive us for getting in the way of your message of hope and love.  Guide us in making decisions about what is right and good.  Help us reflect your mercy and justice and not get caught up in disputes that distract from your work in the world.  May we walk in the way of righteousness and peace as we share the gospel message of love and justice through our words and deeds.  Use us to bring hope to this hurting world.  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].

Tuesday July 21 2020

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Scripture: Matthew 26:47-56

Key verse: (52) The Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Reflection: The early church took these words from Jesus to heart and believers were steadfastly committed to passivism. That changed in the fourth century when the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Constantine claimed to have a vision of a cross in the sky, perhaps shaped like the Greek letters chi and ro. He then had this Christian symbol put on the battle flags of the empire as they went into military conflicts. What a long way Christianity had come from the garden of Gethsemane!!

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Disciples have struggled to discern what it means to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. He taught “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matthew 5:39) and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Sometimes disciples have ignored those commands and have “carried the cross” into battle like the Roman army. Other times faithful people have concluded that war might be “just’ when it defends the weak and the powerless, when it protects humans from tyranny and violence.

I wonder what it would have been like to be in the garden of Gethsemane and to watch Jesus as he was betrayed by Judas and arrested by soldiers who came with swords and clubs (Matthew 26:55). When I consider what it means to be a disciple, I am challenged to think about defending Jesus and my faith in him. Perhaps defending Jesus isn’t about violence, by sword or angry words, but about living his way in the midst of whatever circumstance. Rather than arguing with those who challenge my faith, how might I love them? Rather than claiming persecution about minor offenses, how might I turn the other cheek? Rather than labeling those who disagree with me as my enemies, how might I pray for them? Rather than fighting with weapons or words, what would it mean to “fight” with my choices to love and pray and care? In a tumultuous time, our world needs disciples who put down their swords in order to join God in transformation.

Prayer: I confess that my first instinct is to fight back, O God. I confess that when I am afraid, I want to protect myself, my opinions and my lifestyle. Sometimes I claim this is about defending you. Give me the courage I will need to follow Jesus today so that I can love even my enemies. 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 July 20 2020

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Scripture: Romans 13: 8-14

Key verse: (8) Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Reflection: This summer is unlike any other summer. I think I can say that for everyone, right? During this virus time, my summer is weird, different and life has slowed down.  I usually have 4 bags packed for 4 different trips in the front room because there is no time to do laundry. It is definitely a busy summer but different. I have dinner with my family each night and there is so little traffic.  There are days when I don’t leave my house for anything. How about you?

In the midst of these crazy virus days, love still shows up.

Love showed up in car after car at our parking lot food drive for loaves and fishes. Thousands of pounds of peanut butter, diapers and canned meat …. because those were the greatest needs.

Love has shown up in the milk, butter, bread and eggs bought for a family who is quarantined with Covid-19. Love shows up when families arrange safe play dates for children of parents recovering from something unexpected.

Love one another, Paul tells the early church in Rome. Love is not always easy. The same love that inspired Jesus to eat with the outcast, reach out to the untouchable, and embrace the powerless was the love that drove him to confront the demonic, outmaneuver the manipulative, and correct the clueless. Jesus was no pushover. I have been known to think love is a weak emotion but I am growing. Love did not make Jesus weak, it made him a revolutionary. In Jesus, love showed up.

Jesus is a lot more complicated than we sometimes pretend, and the love he taught demands that we expand our whole selves for God and neighbor. This is risky to be loving in all we think, say, and do.

We are invited to let God stretch our heart as we live in love together. Even in these weird, different virus days, let’s make sure love shows up.

Prayer: God of life and love, empower us to love one another. May your love stretch our tiny, controlling hearts so that our lives flourish. Empower us to take some risks in loving all of our neighbors. May our quick need to judge be replaced by an even greater need to live in love that is just. In the name of the one who continues to transform us, 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].