Friday May 8 2015

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Scripture: Luke 8:40-56
Key Verses: 43-45  Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.”

Reflection: When I think about this story, I am amazed by this woman’s faith. It is a pushy faith with a mix of bravado and humility.  It is a faith that doesn’t quit.

The unclean woman who secretly pushed her way through the crowd only wanted to touch the cloak of Jesus. This is not entitled faith but a bold faith.  She didn’t demand an explanation for her illness or even demand to be acknowledged. She touched the hem of his garment but it did not go unnoticed.  Jesus was aware of the touch and the woman has no place to hide.

Jesus calls her “daughter,” accepting her and blessing her with peace.

Her pushy faith is affirmed. There is a lot we could learn from this woman with no name who pushes through her fears with courage and fear. May we learn to trust the one who has the ability to heal us and make us whole.  May we find the courage to seek out what we need. Pushing our fears aside, may we claim a bold faith.  Once healed, may I move forward in peace, the peace of Christ.

Prayer: Lord, make me whole.  I trust in your power to transform, to bring healing and new life. In your Son’s holy name I 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].

 

Tuesday May 5 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 66
Key Verse: 20“Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.”

Reflection: It is easy to give thanks to God when our prayers are answered the way we want.  What a relief when healing occurs or hopes are realized.  It is important to pray for what we want because in the process of praying we discover more about ourselves and about God.  Prayer changes us.

Some people give up praying because it seems like none of their prayers are answered.  They lose faith in God when their wishes don’t come true as if it were some kind of magic. Perhaps that’s the issue – how we view prayer and how we view God.  If we think of God as some kind of “wish-grantor” in the heavens and not a God we can build a relationship with, then we may be regularly disappointed. It is possible to pray every day and still have the car accident, the cancer diagnosis or the job layoff.  We can pray for a cure and die from a disease.  We can do all the right things and still fail.  We can struggle in our families, pray continually, and still not have a happy ending.  Yet, the psalmist proclaims that our prayers are heard and God’s steadfast love remains.  This is something powerful to hold on to.

Look back on your life and you will notice that there were times when God was answering your prayers, possibly without you knowing it.   Our prayers are heard! Perhaps this may lead us to say with the psalmist:  Blessed be God, because God has not rejected my prayer or removed God’s steadfast love from me.

No matter what might be happening in your life today, God is with you and hears you. Cling to this hope and God will transform your soul.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for your steadfast love. Remind us that you will not leave us.  You are above us, below us, to our right and to our left.  You know our standing up and our sitting down.  If anyone we know feels separated from you today, enter into their lives and assure them you are near.  We are grateful that nothing can separate us from you.  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 May 4 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 124
1 If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
—let Israel now say—
2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.
6 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Reflection: This psalm is bombastic in describing enemies and their desire to swallow, flood, rage and sweep away any in their way – Israel in particular. We hear of their anger, their snares and their teeth – the stuff of nightmares.  But because God was on Israel’s side – so giddy are they with that reality they are encouraged to say it twice – because God was on their side, they were not overthrown or destroyed.  You expect something equally bombastic when describing their redemption and release.  Was the psalmist not tempted to boast, be defiant, triumphantly obnoxious?  At the point of victory I expect to hear trumpets blaring, flags flying, drums beating – all in a great cacophony, a terrible display of God’s power that will show who’s who and what’s what and don’t you forget it again!

But that’s not the image at all, is it?  Israel describes itself as a little bird that has escaped the snare.  Pardon me, but a bird that has escaped?  Not a lion that has overcome?  Not a hawk with talons that retaliated with might? Even in victory and salvation God’s people are humble, merciful, tender.  The psalmist knows that the power and the glory belong to God and we, like birds, are lucky to attract the attention of the maker of heaven and earth and escape the fowler’s snare. Not lucky.  Grateful.

Prayer: We are not strangers to your mercy, Lord. Acquaint us too with humility and tenderness.  As Jesus loved and forgave his enemies, help us to be kind to all and despise none today.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Author: Derek Macleod

[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 May 1 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 49
Key verse:  Psalm 49:1-2 “Hear this, all you peoples, give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together.”

Reflection: I was raised as a Moravian, participating actively in the life of a Moravian Church with my family in Winston-Salem.  Trips to God’s Acre, the Moravian cemetery adjacent to Old Salem, were a routine part of our Easter preparation.  On Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter) we would go to God’s Acre to wash the gravestones of our relatives and to decorate them with flowers.  If you’ve ever been to the Easter sunrise service in God’s Acre, you might understand a bit about the significance of all that cleaning and decorating.

A unique feature in every Moravian cemetery is that all of the headstones are flat and of the same size and design.  And the graves are placed in “choirs” according to personal situation (married or single, child or adult, men or women) instead of being buried beside family in personal “plots.”  The cemetery was a lesson in God’s kingdom that I understood even as a child.  All of us, rich or poor, low or high, are equal in death.  All of us are valued as children of God and none of us will stand above another because of our resources or our worldly accomplishments.  And in God’s kingdom we are united into a bigger family than our personal family.  Our allegiances are broader and wider than our own relatives.

Today’s psalm reminds us of these lessons.  The writer reminds us that wise people die just like fools die.  Rich people aren’t able to carry their wealth with them.  In death we see a glimpse of the kingdom where all of God’s children are valued and loved and connected to one another.

Prayer:  Teach us to trust in you, O Lord.  Help us to live as those who are prepared to die and when our days here are ended, enable us to die as those who go forth to live in your kingdom.  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 April 30 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is Pete Peery, our new Interim Pastor, that he may be led by the Holy Spirit in his service to MPPC.

Scripture: Luke 6:39-49
Key Verses: Luke 6:46-49 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

Reflection: Today I picked up the old red hymnal and flipped right to hymn #101. My younger brother would be the first to request “This is my Fathers World,” hymn #101, every Sunday. The song takes me back to the third pew of First Presbyterian Church, sharing a hymnal with my brother and sister. It was something we did every Sunday morning followed by a big Sunday dinner. (Which was in the oven cooking while we were at church?!!!)  Christian faith was the norm and Sunday worship was a part of everyone’s schedule.

We live in a different world.  Sunday is for many things but faith is still formed through intentional immersion into a community of people who live out their Christian faith. This passage provides an opportunity for us to consider how rituals and our participation in worship relate to the formation of character. All we do is an act of worship but it is in the context of corporate worship that the gathered community of faith gives back to God the adoration God deserves. In worship, our confession, singing, listening and praying do the work of faith formation. Worship helps create a bold, courageous character that occasionally produces good fruit and weathers the storms of life.  Who we are as a body of Christ is formed by our corporate worship. Together, we are empowered to live a life that will glorify God.

Prayer: God of hope and promise, today I seek to live out what I believe. May the songs, scripture and stories of your people continue to speak to me throughout this day, reminding me that I am never alone in this world or in my faith. In the name of Jesus. 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 April 29 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is Laura Story, as she leads us tonight in music and worship, that her testimony might inspire us to renewed love and faith in Christ.

Scripture: Luke 6:27-38
Key verse:  31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Reflection: In the world of the Roman Empire violence was the currency of social control.  In order to keep order and prevent uprisings or rebellions Roman soldiers policed the land and could do pretty much what they wanted.  But Rome quickly figured out that oppressive violence always created a violent reaction.  So they walked a fine line between having some oppressive regulations and having too many that prompted insurrection.  In this world the Roman soldier sometimes mistreated residents, just because he could.

In that world where violence, sometimes deadly violence, was just a misstep away there was a lot of repressed hostility.  Normally, if someone struck you on the cheek, you would strike back.  If someone demanded your coat, you would fight to keep your shirt.  If someone took your possessions, you would look for a way to get them back.  Violence begets violence. Breaking that vicious cycle requires responding to violence with something other than violence.

Jesus makes a radical suggestion for how to treat oppressors:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  That’s a great suggestion for working with family, friends, neighbors and members of our “tribe.”  But it is a hard word when it applies to enemies.

How can you behave in merciful ways if the other person is hurting you, hurting those you love, stealing your possessions and taking away what’s yours.  How can we do to another as we want them to do to us if they are acting like an enemy, out to destroy us?  But Jesus insists it applies especially to our enemies.  Anyone, he observes, can love people who love us.

The radical challenge of Jesus’ ethic is: love your enemies, be merciful to them, do good for them.  The followers of Jesus, and we, also ask, “Why would we do such a thing?”  And Jesus comes right back, “Be merciful, just as your father is merciful.”  God has shown us the way.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you.  We’ll know we’ve got that challenge when we do to our enemies, not as they treat us, but as we would like to be treated.  Lord, have mercy on us!

Prayer:  I want to retaliate when injured, O God.  That old “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” thing makes a lot of sense to me.  Help me see beyond my desire for revenge and retribution and help me find that place where love trumps violence and mercy outdoes injustice.  Help me see my enemy as valued by you.  In the name of Jesus who turned the other cheek.  Amen.

Author: Von Clemans

[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 April 28 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is Millie, Von, Deborah, Michelle, Derek, and Julie – our clergy – as they faithfully continue their ministries in a time of transition.

Scripture: Psalm 66
Key Verses: 5-6  Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.  6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot.

Reflection: Time and again through their history the people of Israel remembered God’s presence and actions during the Exodus from Egypt. The story of a way out of slavery and through the waters became a touchstone of faith and trust for them. They told it over and over. They ritualized it in the Passover. They sang about it years later in Psalms like this one.

Embedded in the song of praise are long years of longing and waiting. The Exodus is powerful only because the life of slavery preceding it was so devastating. Whole generations were born and died enslaved.  Then, there is a miraculous escape through the sea!  Life for the Israelites changed in a powerful way, but all was not roses afterwards. Another generation knew only wandering in the wilderness before the Promised Land became a reality, and even then, another exile was looming.

The Psalmist holds on to the awesome deeds of God, and calls people to come and hear the story. Come and hear what God has done.

Wherever you are in your life, the Psalmist sings, whether God seems near or distant, remember God’s faithfulness. Make a joyful noise to God, not just for the blessings you know today, but because God has been present even in the midst of suffering, even during long years of pain. Make a joyful noise and look ahead to what God may be doing today and in the future!

Prayer: Faithful God, you are always there, even when your timetable doesn’t seem to match up with mine. Keep me trusting. Help me to remember your grace and goodness in times past, and look forward in trust and faith to your good future. Through Christ the Lord, I pray. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Monday April 27 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Our Presbyterian Women, as they gather for the Women of Faith luncheon to celebrate a year of fellowship and faith.

Scripture: Colossians 1:1-14
Colossians 1:9-12

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

Reflection: This is my last devotional as pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian Church.  That’s sad.  I know God leads us into new things and that means we have to let go of old things, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.  Catherine and I leave Myers Park with a tremendous amount of grief because there has been a tremendous amount of love!  And though I will no longer be your pastor, we will always be your friends.

This verse from Colossians just happens to be the one assigned for today’s devotions.  (What a coincidence!)  It’s very fitting that my last devotional be a note of thanks and also a commitment to remain with you in prayer and appreciation for your ministry and for what you have contributed to me.  So I offer words of Scripture as a blessing with much gratitude: For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. (Col.1:9-12)

We love you and we will always be praying for you.  Words cannot express our gratitude.  To God be the glory.  Amen.

Prayer: Lord we thank you for the relationship we have shared as pastor and congregation.  We thank you for what you have accomplished through our church family over the years.  We pray that you will continually guide and lead both of us in our future ministries and keep us in your will and purpose.  We thank you for blessing, keeping and watching over us.  We offer all that has been accomplished and all that is yet to come in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord!  Amen.

Author: Steve Eason

[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 April 24 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Let us not judge – Let us praise. Let us not hate – Let us love. Let us not complain – Let us see blessings. Let us not be selfish – Let us be selfless.

Scripture: Luke 5:12-16
Key Verse: 16 “But he would withdraw to desolate places to pray.”

Reflection: The miracles Jesus performed were amazing.  They capture our attention.  No wonder the crowds flocked to him!  Everyone who was sick wanted to be healed.  But, tucked away in today’s scripture passage is a verse that is easily overlooked:  Jesus withdrew from the crowds to pray.  This withdrawal of Jesus to a desolate place is a recurring theme in the gospels.  Prayer is where he connected and re-connected with God.  In prayer, Jesus reminded himself that the all-surpassing power belonged to God. Jesus was not super-human.  He got tired, hungry, and sleepy.  He felt pain and heartache.  He laughed and he cried – just like us.  One thing he didn’t do was claim that his power to heal, teach or preach belonged to him.  All that he did was rooted in his connection with God.  So, he withdrew.  He prayed.

This is an important reminder for us.  How often do we do ministry in our own strength as if it all depended on us?  How often do people burn-out serving the Lord?  Burn-out and compassion fatigue lead to cynicism and sarcasm. Doing God’s work in our own strength will eventually lead to disillusionment and lost hope.  I recently read this quote:  “When fatigue moves in; faith moves out.”

As we serve the Lord, we need to retreat to a desolate place to pray, someplace where we can find silence and solitude to connect with and hear God on a regular basis.  When we do, God will empower us for God’s ministry.

Prayer: Loving God, in the midst of our busy lives remind us to spend time with you in prayer so that we might be in your hands more effective instruments of love, justice, acceptance and forgiveness.  In the name of Jesus 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 April 23 2015

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A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Help us to recognize the good in others, even others of different faith or no faith, so that the image of Christ may be seen in us and through us.

Scripture: 1 John 5:13–21
Key verse 21: Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Reflection: On the way out the door my parents would always try to get in one last, little piece of parental instruction before I crossed the threshold and into the big wide world.  “Don’t forget your manners,” “Be good!” “Don’t you dare bring that car back with an empty tank.” And my personal favorite, “Don’t get into an accident!”   To that last command I would often reply, “Mom, do you think people plan to have accidents?”  Her response would be something like, “I am not talking about other people, I am talking about you.  Now be safe.”

The fifth and final passage from the first letter of John concludes in a similar, parental fashion with one last piece of instruction squeezed in for good measure: Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
It seems to come out of nowhere.  The previous passages declare powerfully that God is light and invites us to walk in the light, that God is love and how we who abide in God abide in love, but the writer hadn’t been discussing idols at all.  The word doesn’t come up once until the very end.

It may be that the writer remembered that— if we are going to follow Christ, love God and one another, walk in the light, abide in God and give testimony in our hearts to God— we have to be careful of idols.  The word idol comes from a word that means phantom, which is to say unreal.  We can take something fake and make it real.  An idol is something that we create in our image and call it God— or good or right or real or true— even though it isn’t and never could be.  If we find ourselves thinking that pretty much most of the time God’s thoughts are our thoughts and God’s ways are our ways, we have created an idol.  If we are thinking that the people we love and work with should not disagree with us because that means they clearly don’t get it, we have created idols.  If we pray already knowing the answer, we have idols. If Frank Sinatra’s song My Way is what you requested at your funeral for the congregation to sing, you have idols—big ones. We are all so good at creating idols that John Calvin declared each of our hearts to be an idol factory!   And though idols are not real (phantoms) they can get in the way of what is real. We can deny our reality as Christ’s body and miss hearing our Lord, all because we were unwilling to be vulnerable in our lives with the very one who made our lives.  It’s sad.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Prayer: Lord to turn away from you is to fall, but to turn toward you is to rise.  Amen.

Author: Derek Macleod

[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].