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].

 

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].