Sunday March 7 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Joshua 5-8

Key verses: (5:13-14) “Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as a commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

Reflection: Are you for us or against us? Oh how often we ask this question without realizing it. So often we view the world through an either/or lens. In group, out group. With us, against us. Good guys, bad guys. In our text for today we find Joshua on his way to conquer Jericho. Joshua has been commissioned by God as Moses’ successor, he had a lot of responsibility riding on him, he had a lot of power. I can only imagine that through the trials that Joshua and the Israelites faced that they felt like there were only two people in the world, those with them or those against them, and it was Joshua’s job to keep those with him close and those against him at bay.

And so Joshua asks this question, “Are you for us or against us?” Joshua thought he was ready for any answer. If the man was with them, great add another to the numbers. If the man was against them, then get ready for battle. Yet the man gave the only response Joshua wasn’t ready for when he replied “Neither, but as a commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” What a message to stop Joshua in his tracks. In this moment Joshua was reminded of God’s sovereignty over all of creation, that God was Lord over all, that while the Israelites were God’s chosen people that God was bigger than one nation.

May this passage cause us to pause as well. In our current culture of divisive sides, we often try to pull God with us to one side or another, giving a litmus test to others of whether they are with us “real Christians” or against us. And yet, God is neither. God is bigger than our human divisiveness. God works in and through and outside of the church through all kinds of people and in all kinds of places. How do you hear these words today? Where might you be setting up “sides” where in reality there might be a third way? May we hear God’s call and respond.

Prayer: God of creation, we pray that you would guide us this day to see a third way, your way. Soften our hearts from their divisive nature, and open them to your love. Help us pause this day to reflect upon your vast love for all of creation. 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].

Saturday March 6 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Joshua 1-4

Key verse: (1:9) “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Reflection: Can you picture the excitement, the anticipation, tension, anxiety and the fear as the Israelites prepared to cross over the rushing Jordon river to the promised land? After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, imagine all the emotions the people of Israel and Joshua in particular, must have felt?

Moses, the only leader they had never known, was gone, leaving Joshua in charge. The people were now facing their biggest challenge with an untested leader. Joshua trusted God’s promise. He demonstrated his faith in God by courageously leading Israel into the promised land.

This passage speaks to us today. We find many obstacles that can create anxiety and discouragement, which leads to fear and distrust, and ends with stifling inaction. The obstacles you know, to mention a few, the lack of political civility, Covid-19, the lack of unity within the body of Christ, socioeconomic disparities, lack of low income housing, etc.

To personally combat discouragement, I try to get plenty of rest, exercise, avoid negative thinking, fellowship with friends, participate in a Bible study, Church worship, Sunday school, MPPC’s “Year in The Bible”, and focus on increasing my generosity and prayer. Focusing on these, and relying on God’s grace, I come to trust in Jesus to be our guide no matter the obstacle.

Joshua trusted God. As children of God, you and I can also trust that “the LORD our God will be with us wherever we go.”

Prayer: Lord, help me to obey and trust you, for the sake of your Kingdom. Amen.

Author: Ivan Hinrichs, Elder class of 2021

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

Friday March 5 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 32-34

Key verses: (32:11-12) As an eagle stirs up its nest,
    and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
    and bears them aloft on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him;
    no foreign god was with him.

Reflection: I often wonder what it must have been like to be Moses. Wrought with fear of not being enough, feeling unworthy and ill-equipped, yet finding courage to trust that God would keep him safe and empower him to deliver God’s messages. In this season of Lent, I sit with great fear, not only of where God is calling me, but how I will adequately answer and deliver. Perhaps it is in this sacred time of reflection that I prepare to hold my fear while also opening my eyes, ears, hands and heart to hear God’s guidance, knowing that, like Moses, he will keep me safe as I fly upon his wing.

Prayer: God, thank you for seeing and believing in me. During this time of Lent, please prepare me by helping me to nestle into your safe nest so I can hear you and gain courage to climb upon your wings, and go where you are calling. Amen.

Author: Mollie Gee, Elder class of 2022

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

Thursday March 4 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 30-31

Key verses: (30:11-12, 14) “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and get it for us that we may hear it and observe it? …No, the word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

Reflection: It sometimes seems like the road of faith is difficult and the path is hard to find. This passage from Deuteronomy encourages us to understand that being faithful to God does not have to be difficult. It is “in reach” and already in our hearts. We have what we need; we don’t need to travel to heaven or the ends of the earth to live in communion with God. We simply have to live into the relationship that exists in our hearts.

Sounds easy enough. But, for me the harder part is how to reflect God’s relationship that lives in our heart. What might that mean, what does that look like? To be fully authentic, this relationship can’t just stay in our hearts, but has to be lived outside of our hearts. It must be present in our all of our relationships and in our actions. I encourage you today to ponder on your relationship with God. Do you allow it to take on flesh and live outside of your heart and mind? What might it look like during this season of Lent to allow our relationship with God to be present in all of our daily relationships and actions?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for your love that resides in each and every one of us. And thank you for making that love alive in our world through your son Jesus. Open our hearts by your Spirit that your love may become alive anew in our world. Amen.

Author: Matt Gantt, Elder class of 2022

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

Wednesday March 3 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 28 – 29

Key verses: (28:1, 15) 1 If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth:

15 But if you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you:

Reflection: When I listen to this scripture passage it is hard to get a feel for such rigid boundaries in today’s culture where so many gray areas exist. However, I believe God is trying to lead those with whom a covenant is made to a higher form of social justice, one where we are committed to God’s ways in all of our lives, not just areas of our lives or when it is convenient. I think we need to consider these verses compared to other cultures at the time, recognizing that to follow God’s commandments meant to live a different kind of life where religion, culture, politics, and life were all intertwined. God is asking his followers to listen and love, to obey and be devoted to his commandments.  By doing so, you will set a higher standard by which to live. By not doing so, you will be just like everyone else.

In today’s culture we should listen and love as a way we live our lives every day, so that we can obtain a high social justice for all in our community and renew that commitment every year in the season of Lent.

Author: Henry Fulton, Elder class of 2022

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

Tuesday March 2 2021

Scripture: Deuteronomy 24-27

Key verses: (25:13-16) “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house, two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and just weight you shall have, a full and just measure you shall have; that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.”

Reflection: This text warns of having two different sets of weights for measurement — the lighter one to be used when calculating a payment one owes, and a heavier one to measure what one is owed.  It speaks to small, discreet acts of dishonesty that can whittle away at one’s integrity and slowly demean one’s faith in both God and humanity.  It makes me wonder how we all might have different weights and measures in our lives that go without notice.  Are we more generous to those who look like us and who are familiar to us?  Are we less fair and kind to those who are different? Do we sometimes treat one child with favor because she is easy, and another with frustration because she is bold and independent all the while saying that we love them equally? The word “deceive” derives from the Latin decipere which means to “catch, ensnare, cheat.”  How much are we cheating ourselves and others by allowing different standards for measure? More importantly, how do we truly commit to treating all humanity with an equally open and weighted heart? Thankfully, we have an example in the life of Jesus of what it looks like to use “one set of weights” for all. May we use this season of Lent to reflect upon and follow in Christ’s way.

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to discern when I am using different weights and measures in my dealings with others. Please forgive me. And, please help me to open my heart fully to being a person of true integrity in relation to all in the world. Amen. 

Author: Betsy Fleming, Elder class of 2023

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

Monday March 1 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 21-23

Reflection: As a corporate attorney who reads contracts all day, I should welcome a passage that concludes with “Miscellaneous Laws” – like the ‘boilerplate’ at the end of a contract that is actually read by few, if any.  But what are these Old Testament laws and how are they relevant to us? Deuteronomy 21-23 prohibits plowing with an ox and donkey yoked together and wearing wool woven with linen.  It also calls for stoning a disobedient son and details taking a beautiful war captive as a wife (after shaving her head and trimming her nails).  Many of these laws seem peculiar and not relevant to our modern lives, but elsewhere we get a prohibition against eating pork that would surely condemn most native North Carolinians.  While God had set forth these laws in part to differentiate the people of Israel with a unique code of discipline, Christ affirmed that the laws collectively illuminated the supremacy of the commandments to love God and neighbor above all else.  In practice, living into the commandments of love of God and neighbor is equally difficult and just as specific to following the original laws. But, through Christ’s entrance into this world, how great that we are called toward embodied love! May we steer away from any temptation of a pious focus on compliance merely for its sake! As you continue in this Lenten journey, may you always choose love.      

Prayer: God, thank you for your Word and for delivering guidance to us even through passages that seem obscure. Open our hearts and minds to see before us a path of improved discipline that points towards love. Amen.

Author: Matt Efird, Elder class of 2023

[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].

Sunday February 28 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 17-20

Key verses: (18:15-20) The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16 This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17 Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak — that prophet shall die.”

Reflection: The world is full of voices. Even when we are not around other people and being socially distant. We watch the news. Follow twitter. Read articles. Go through Facebook posts.  It seems that the more distant we are the more voices we are putting in our ears. Maybe you watch a few TikTok stories. And a few more. We listen to podcasts. Audiobooks. Voices upon voices. There is power in words and with it the ability to stir up the waters.

The power of words is not lost in today’s passage from Deuteronomy. These are the words that Moses is giving to the people as they move out of the wilderness. God’s power and authority is clear in this passage. They and we are instructed to listen for God’s voice. The truth here is that God speaks and God is speaking.

In the cacophony of voices, our challenge is to listen for God’s voice. Sometimes that means we have to just stop. Be Still and remember the promise that God is with us in the wilderness, in the chaos and even in the quiet.  

Prayer: With a deep breath, we center ourselves in this moment. Pushing our to-do lists aside for a minute, setting aside the voices that swirl in our heads and being present with you God. Speak to us once again a word of truth, justice and love. May we hear you and your call to us as your people. With a deep breath, we move into our days with an open heart, mind and ears for you God. 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].

Saturday February 27 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 15-16

Key verse: (15:19) Every firstling male born of your herd and flock you shall consecrate to the Lord your God; you shall not do work with your firstling ox nor shear the firstling of your flock. 

Reflection: What to do with firstlings?

What do we do with this passage if we aren’t shepherds and we make no distinction between a first calf or a first lamb? Let us look at this law as it may pertain to us. Perhaps we could devote the FIRST of our time, or the FIRST of our resources to glorify God. How might we do that? Well, consider this – When we are planning our time, is God in there FIRST, or do we squeeze God into a slot that is already full? When obtaining food for Loaves and Fishes or our brothers and sisters in need, do we give our FIRST, our best, or do we reach far into our cupboards for that can of soup that we are never going to eat or the box of cereal that we would not pour into our own bowls? Giving of the FIRST is giving sacrificially.  

During this time of Lent, let us remember that God knows what it means to give sacrificially, giving of God’s FIRST son. And in giving Jesus to the world, God puts us FIRST.  God always has time for us and desires to give the best to all of humanity. So often we are quick to jump to Easter, where we want to be FIRST to worship God in joy and praise. But we forget that we can’t get to Easter without FIRST going through this season of Lent and Holy week, a season of sacrifice.  This is where we learn and discover the love that Jesus has for each of us as he endured the journey to the cross. It is during this time that we define what should be FIRST in our lives, and how we show our love and gratitude to God, by putting God and others FIRST. 

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for putting all your children FIRST. Forgive us for not putting you FIRST in our lives, and for not putting our brothers and sisters, near and far, FIRST, in our daily plans. As we walk together during this time of Lent, help us to grow closer to you. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

Author: Angie Edwards, Elder class of 2021

[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 February 26 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 13-14

Key verse: (14:22) “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes the field year by year.”

Reflection: According to the covenant between God and the Israelites, we are to tithe or “give 10% of what we have to the church”. To be honest tithing is not always easy. However, as with anything if done regularly and often it becomes second nature. When I started my career 20+ years ago I was living in NYC and I was barely making enough to cover rent and food. My boss told me that in order to be paid any extra commissions I had to max out my 401k. I thought she was crazy; I could barely pay bills much less save anything! But she told me something that I will never forget, “If you cannot save now you will never be able to save. Saving is a habit that you should start early – you may earn more as you get older but your expenses will be larger too. Make it a priority now and it will be a priority always.” She was right, if you can save when things are tight then you will be equipped to save for life. 

I believe the same is true with tithing. Have you ever felt like you didn’t have enough to give? Or that if you just had a little more, then you could be comfortable to give? When we feel this way, do you notice how tightly we hold on to what is rightly a blessing from God? What might it mean to give not out of comfort but out of sacrifice? Just as my boss took the opportunity to set in motion a lifetime habit, we have the opportunity to do the same in our lives, with our children, and the next generation of the church. When I was growing up, every time I received money as a present I had to tithe, usually it was to our church but I also was able to give to an organization or charity that was important to me. I wish I could say I did it joyfully but that was not always the case. However, through the discipline of this practice and the guidance of my parents, I learned that not only was this the right thing to do but it actually felt good to gain greater perspective of what is truly God’s in the world! I was taught that everything we have is a gift from God. Tithing is an important reminder of this and a way to thank God for all of the blessings God has bestowed on us. Just as saving for a 401k at an early age led to financial prudence, tithing at early age can set in motion a lifetime of gratitude for all that God has given us, for we tithe not to save up greater glory but we give in gratitude of the greatest gift already given.

Prayer: Dear God, we come to you today grateful for all that you have given us. On days when we are struggling or days when we do not feel as though we have enough, let us always remember that you have blessed us with exactly what we need. Help us God to give freely and generously just as you have to us. In God’s name we pray. Amen.

Author: Zelle Dunn, Elder class of 2021

[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].