Wednesday April 22 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: For our children as they struggle with academics, peer pressure, self-image, difficult friendships, and high expectations.

Scripture: Luke 4:38-44
Key verses: Luke 4:42-43 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place.  And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Reflection: When my children were young, I remember how hard it was to get any moments of privacy.  Even the bathroom wasn’t a sacred space!  I wonder if that’s what it was like for Jesus. It seems like every time he leaves the crowd behind to go to a deserted place for rest and renewal, the crowd follows him there. I bet that was annoying for Jesus.

This crowd “wanted to prevent him from leaving them.”  That’s pretty extreme!  Jesus had been healing the sick.  I believe he knew that if he stayed there, he would become a full-time professional faith healer. He wouldn’t be able to travel and proclaim the good news in other cities. Giving in to the excitement of the crowd would have prevented Jesus from fulfilling his mission of grace.

Sometimes we might be like Jesus in this story. We are surrounded by people who like what we are doing and encourage us to continue, when our mission takes us in a different direction.  Our egos hear the affirmation of the crowd and we might be tempted to listen to the crowd instead of following Jesus to the unknown destinations of faithfulness.

Sometimes we might be like the crowd in this story.  We want Jesus to stay with us and confirm our opinions and agree with our choices and go along with our enthusiasms.  Jesus needs to move on to include those who are different from us because his mission is bigger than we can ever imagine.

Prayer: O God, when I am tempted to make Jesus “mine” in ways that prevent Jesus from being yours or theirs, remind me that your kingdom is so much bigger than my little world.  When I am tempted to listen to the crowd instead of following Jesus faithfully, remind me that the way of Jesus is the path of abundant life.  Through Christ 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].

 

Tuesday April 21 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:  Those who suffer from alcoholism and addiction, that they may find recovery and experience healing of body, mind, and spirit.

Scripture: 1 John 4:7-21
Key Verses: 1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Reflection: As people of faith we carry with us a trust and belief in the abundant love of God.  Because of that love, we have the opportunity to turn everything around in each encounter with another person. We can choose compassion and be living witnesses of God’s love.  We talk a lot about God’s love; we study God’s love and we sing songs about God’s love.  God’s love, grace and mercy are at the center of our faith.  But the real question is whether we actually show that love toward real-life people we relate to everyday.

Relating to other human beings can be messy. Relationships are complicated.  But that’s the way life is. We can be hurt in our relationships or flat-out rejected.  We build walls to protect ourselves from whatever we fear most. This makes it frustrating and challenging to try to show love and it makes it even harder to receive love.  We have to be willing to do both.

Our scripture today reminds us that God’s incredible love for us calls us to love each other. We are called to enter into the messy, complex world of flawed people and live as witnesses to God’s love for and with each other.  The good news is that this love is not something we have to create, but we love because God loves us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, in all of my actions today, may people see and experience 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].

Monday April 20 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 elderly parents who are fighting disease, discomfort, depression, hopelessness.

Scripture: Luke 4:14-30
Key verses: 28-29 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him [Jesus] out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

Reflection: That’s not the reaction we would expect at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  But that’s just what he got.

Jesus started out with a message of good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight for the blind, and relief to the oppressed — all good things to include in your statement of strategic mission and purpose.

What got him into trouble was his critique of people who thought all they had to do was show up in the Temple on a regular basis to worship and tithe.  Apparently, if you can believe it, there were religious people who, while attending worship and performing religious rituals, would neglect the needs of the poor.  These religious people, it would seem, were somewhat inauthentic in that what they professed was not consistent with what they did.  Jesus called them out for their hypocrisy and confronted them with the inconstancy of their unjust actions.

When you hold a mirror up to people they may not like what they see.  When they heard how Jesus was confronting them, they became enraged and drove Jesus out of the synagogue and set out to kill him.

From good news to words worth killing for — that’s how Jesus started his ministry!  That’s how toxic the gospel is.  And that’s how much his message meant to him.  It was worth dying for.

So, is Jesus only good for comfort or does Jesus need to confront us?  I know what I’d like.  I imagine what I need.

Prayer:  Help us, good Lord, not only to hear and believe your good news but also to live it, in all our relationships, in all our encounters with others, in all that we do.  We pray in the name of the one holding the mirror, Jesus the Christ.  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].

 

Friday April 17 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 fifth graders and their parents attending the Faith and Human Sexuality Workshop.

Scripture: Daniel 3:1-18
Key verses 16-18: 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Reflection: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were in trouble. These faithful Jews, living and working in exile in Babylon, refused to bow down to a golden statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. You may know what happens to them. They are thrown into a fiery furnace, protected by an angel of God, and emerge without even a scorch mark. Their miraculous survival leads the astonished King to bless aloud the God of Israel, and give the three Jews religious protection and even a promotion.

I’m challenged by the words of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego above. On the edge of the fire pit, they declare their faith in God whatever the outcome. If God delivers them from what looks to be the end, let God deliver them. If not, their faith in God is just as strong. This is what amazes the king and should amaze us.

What is your fiery furnace today? What feels scary and dangerous to you and requires trust in God? Maybe you’ve gotten there by standing firm in your beliefs and values, like these three did. Or maybe you, or someone you love, is about to be thrown into the pit through no conscious choice of your own. Whatever it was, and whatever will be, may the faith of these three strengthen and encourage you.

Prayer: Holy God, you have protected and cared for your people from the beginning. Today may your grace and mercy and power be real for me and for all those who may be fearful. Keep us faithful. Help us remember that you are faithful. 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].

Thursday April 16 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: The Harvest Center ministry, where individuals affected by homelessness, poverty or unemployment are empowered and transformed by the love and ministry of Jesus Christ.

 Scripture: Psalm 47
Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
3He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
8God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

Reflection: Have you ever had a day like this?  The Psalmist is on top of the world!  God is on the throne and all is good!  Sometimes you have a day like that.  It’s easy to see what’s wrong with the world.  It’s easy to get bogged down with the bad news.  It’s easy to get depressed over some situation in your life or in the life of the world.  There’s a lot of suffering and sadness all around us.  Somewhere in the middle of all of that there is a rose.  There is a time to focus not on what’s wrong, but what’s right.  There’s a time to look at the sovereignty of God in the midst of all the need.  There’s a time to just acknowledge that God is God and everything belongs to God.

Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.

Prayer: We praise you O God, for you are the king of all the earth.  We are your people and the sheep of your pasture.  We belong to you.  You have been faithful in your covenant. You have loved us in our darkest moment.  You sent your Son to redeem us and empowered us with your Holy Spirit giving us the promise of eternal life.  You are gracious and loving, merciful and just.  I lift up my heart in praise!  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].

Wednesday April 15 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: Prepare the hearts of our Cuba mission team, grant them safe travel, and open their eyes to your call, your will, and your work.

Scripture: John 17: 20-26
Key Verse: 26 “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Reflection: Chapter 17 in the Gospel of John is often called Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  It is a prayer he prayed with his disciples the night of his betrayal and arrest while they were at table in the upper room.  It is one of my favorite passages because in it, Jesus prays for both his disciples and future believers, like us.  There is something about this that captures my imagination and gives me great comfort.  Jesus is praying for us!   He prays for those who believe, with the hope that all believers will become one with God and with him.

This prayer reminds me that we are God’s beloved, just like those first disciples.  Remember this as you go about your day today.  Remember that Jesus has given us God’s word in order that the world might know about God’s love.  Live out this love so that others will know you belong to Jesus.

Prayer:  Ever present God, we thank you for sending Jesus into the world to teach us about your glorious love.  Help us to draw closer to you that the love with which you have loved Jesus may be in us.  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 April 14 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: Jesus said, “Were not ten made clean? Where are the other nine?” Today help us recognize and give thanks for the miracles in our lives.

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

Reflection: The word is chesed, or hesed.  Some translations say mercy, or loving kindness or loyalty, pity, or in Latin the double barreled, Gothic tinged: misericordia.  Our translation says steadfast love.   It’s a word we use to describe God’s love for us, a word used to describe a love that is deep, broad, high and always as near and available to you as your next breath.  It’s a tender love that makes us strong, a holy love that makes us whole.  It’s the love God gives us so that we might taste and see, trust and know that God is with us.  It’s a love that is abundantly and constantly ours because it is from God and God is generous in his gifts.   This steadfast, merciful love is a love usually undeserved, but never unwelcome.  It’s a love that is not contractual (do this and I will love you) but covenantal (I love you and will do this for you).  It’s that love the psalmist claims at the end of our psalm today as the love that sustains and saves him and all of God’s people, day in and day out, without fail.  Hesed.

The beloved Southern preacher and writer Fred Craddock, recently deceased, influenced countless preachers (one night in seminary my best friend and I stayed up till 3 a.m. listening to his sermons cause that’s the crazy fun seminarians like to have) and I clearly remember Craddock’s attempt to describe hesed— steadfast love.  He said “God’s love is not like an evening love that greets you at the end of the day asking, were you good today?  Did you achieve much and offend few?  Did you get it right today?  If so, come on in and receive my love, worthy one.” “No,” Craddock said in that unmistakable southern drawl, “God’s love is like a morning love that greets you early saying, I don’t know what kind of day you are going to have or what you will accomplish or how you might fail, but I love you and will be waiting for you when you get back.”  To borrow a phrase: Hesed— you can’t leave home without it.

It is a difficult word to translate, hesed, which is why so many versions of the Bible use a different word, and why Craddock used a metaphor.  One translator said to properly translate hesed is impossible, we just don’t have the right words in English to describe God’s love.  No? How about we use the name Jesus? That would work.

Prayer:  O Lord, you know how busy I must be this day.  If I forget you, do not forget me.   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].

 

Monday April 13 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: Jesus said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Help us acknowledge and confess our own sins, abandoning our self-righteousness.

Scripture: 1 John 1:1-10
Key verse: 1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Reflection: You might not say “I have no sin” because you have been taught not to say it.  Perhaps you secretly believe it! Or perhaps you would say “I have no bad sin, nothing really serious” or “I haven’t done anything horribly wrong.” It’s easy to overlook our own problems, or even to be completely oblivious that they exist.  It’s easy to deceive ourselves about ourselves.

Recognizing our need for grace is an ongoing process on the journey of faith.  We see our mistakes, we admit our weaknesses, we acknowledge our shortcomings, we confess our sins.  We experience the cleansing power of forgiveness and we are transformed.  Then we move forward and repeat the entire process again and again.  Perfection is an elusive goal that we never grasp. We are sinful.

When I speak to confirmation students, I often tell them that life with God is a pass/fail experience.  Our imperfection would lead to failure, but God’s grace redeems us and we are given new life.  It’s tempting to think that faith is like a course graded on a curve and as long as we are better than the worst sinners among us, we are doing just fine and we can’t fail.  If we believe that, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  May we know the truth of grace, again and again and again and…

Prayer: Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.  I have not loved you with my whole heart and mind and strength.  I have not loved my neighbors as myself. In your mercy, forgive what I have been, help me amend what I am, and direct what I shall be. Through Jesus Christ 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].

 

Friday April 10 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: We pray in gratitude for all the “behind the scenes” staff and lay leaders responsible for worship services – our greeters, lay readers, communion prep teams, sound/AV support, and sextons.

Scripture: John 16:1-15
Key Verse: 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

Reflection: This year, we have followed Jesus. In our devotions, we watched Jesus heal and listened to parables that pushed us to think bigger about the kingdom of God.  Maybe we went to worship and heard some of the most profound sayings of Jesus from a different perspective. We walked through Holy Week. Did you join the parade and welcome Jesus into the city shouting “Hosanna” and waving Palm Branches? Did you have your hands washed or were you there for the breaking of the bread? In the darkness of Good Friday, we may have heard the words from the cross.  Holy Saturday took us to a place of waiting.

On Sunday morning, I arrived at the church with the moon still in the sky.  It was COLD and dark. I came with excitement for a big day. It was Easter!  The sun rose and the new day brought a reminder of all the hopes and promises of Jesus.  Rev. Julie Hester during her benediction said, “Friends, we have been to CHURCH!”  Amen! It could have ended there, because we were full. Yes, we had been to church.  Then she charged us to go out and be the church of Jesus Christ.

We need these words from Jesus at this time in our year of faith, at this time as the church of Jesus Christ. We need to hear these words from Jesus as a personally intense commitment of abiding, continuing, present love. These are words of loyalty, protection, guidance and bonding.  We need to hear these words for his followers then – and now – and always.

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will also continue to abide – not with, but within his followers – as love, when his followers keep his commandments.

Prayer: God, I know I cannot be the church alone, but I also know that the church cannot exist without me. Guide me as I continue to follow Jesus, as I live in love… and as I discover what it means for me to be part of the church of Jesus Christ. In his 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].

Thursday April 9 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 Urban Eagles FLIGHT ministry – mentoring middle and high youth, growing in faith together.

Scripture: John 15:12-27
Key verse: 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Reflection:  In the Old Testament we were told: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:8).  Jesus says in the New Testament that the greatest commandment is comprised of these two challenges.  Even further, Jesus tells his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

But can love be commanded?  Can you command a potential mate to love you?  Can a parent force a child to love them?

If love is that warm feeling we have toward another and it’s not already there, no amount of force or coercion can make it happen.

But if love is a disposition, a posture toward others, a desire for another’s wellbeing, if love is not so much a feeling but a way of relating to others, then love can be willed.  It can be acted out, even if the feeling isn’t there.

The command to love is not a command to feel a certain way.  It’s a command to behave in certain ways, ways that are loving regardless of the way we may feel.  It’s a command to stop for the neighbor suffering in a ditch.  It’s a command to welcome into your community the outcasts, the undesirable, and the different.  It’s a command to seek the wellbeing of even your enemies.

Why would anybody do such a thing?  Simple. That’s what God in Jesus has done with us.

Prayer:  Your love, O God, is amazing.  You love us in spite of our sinfulness, even in spite of our unwillingness to love.  Open our hearts to reflect some of that amazing love toward others — even if we don’t feel like it.  In the name of the one who lived and died for that love, Jesus Christ our Lord.  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].