Monday October 21 2019

Monday

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:30-41

Key verse: (31a) “I die every day!”

Reflection: Gary Vaynerchuk was stopped in his car after being recognized by a lady walking down the street of New York City one afternoon. She ran up to the car, pulled out her phone, and as the video was rolling, she said, “Give me three words of inspiration to use when I am feeling down?!” With a serious smile, Gary quickly replied, “You’re gonna die!”

Gary Vaynerchuk is a Belarusian entrepreneur, investor, marketer, and CEO of VaynerX and founder of VaynerMedia. Would you say “you’re gonna die” are three inspirational words for your down days? Death is a difficult thing. It is hard to watch loved ones endure the pain of death, and it’s challenging to endure the grief of a loved one’s death. I certainly would not want to think of my mortality amidst days of uncertainty and anxiety, those blah-days. My three words would be “keep on fighting” as a push to overcome; or maybe “can you help” as an invitation for people to reach out to others in times of need. But Gary says that death — coming to terms with our own mortality — is the best motivation available.

Paul frames life in a similar way in his letter to the Corinthian community. They squabbled over the idea of bodily resurrection (among many other things), which prompted Paul to address it as he wrote. Paul, fighting the good fight of faith, was aware of the threat on his life. Paul’s life was lived so far on the edge for Christ, that his life was always in danger; there were always people out to kill him (e.g. Acts 23:12-13). Paul also understood that his life was not his own; he lived for Christ, thus he died to sin with Christ. But Paul, amid life-threats, boasts in the Corinthian community and in the resurrection hope found in Jesus Christ. If there is no resurrection, why go through so much turmoil for the sake of the gospel?

When we think about our baptism, we remember we die to sin and we rise with Christ. The Presbyterian Book of Order (Part II of our constitution) claims that in baptism, “we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection.” If we remind ourselves each day “You’re gonna die,” we re-frame the beauty of our existence and begin to live a life that is beyond this life. Each day provides new opportunities to live the abundant life we are given in Christ. We can live a “well done, good and faithful servant” life. Each day provides opportunity to live in such a way that we would not be ashamed to die. We live for Christ and we die with Christ. So, remember this: you’re gonna die.

Live well!

Prayer: From dust I was formed, and to dust I shall return. Oh Lord, I pray: take my life and let it be all for you; take my heart and let it sing all for you; take my body and let it move all for you. May your life be glorified in mine. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

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

Friday October 18 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 139

Key verse: (1) “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.”

Reflection: Many people suffer from a poor self-image.  Some are driven to succeed to prove they are worthy.  Some don’t believe they are worth much to anyone.  Some are pretending to be someone they are not; while others are trying to discover who they are.  Today’s psalm reminds us that we were created by God.  God knows everything about us – our strengths and our weaknesses.  God was with each of us when we were born.  No matter what we look like, who we are related to, or what we struggle with, God is present. We belong to God in ways that we can’t always understand.  But, we do know that we are not alone, because our creator is with us.  And, God wants us to discover what God already knows – that we are uniquely created for a purpose.  I like the way Parker Palmer talks about our purpose as authentic selves when he writes: we are here to be a gift God created.

You may be wondering how to begin to experience yourself as a gift.  I have found Centering prayer to be one way.  Sitting in silence twice a day, one consents to rest in God.  This helps many people to discover more about themselves and the God who created them.  And, the more confident a person becomes about their worthiness to God, the more useful they become in reaching out to help others.  It is possible to have a deeper compassion for the homeless person, the prisoner, the widow and the orphan, those on the margins of life whom God has also created, when you accept who God has created you to be.

Every life has value.  Too many people haven’t experienced what it is like to be cherished by God. One writer has described God as inescapable.  I like that.  There is nowhere any of us can go to get away from God.  What a wonderful gift we have been given!  What a wonderful gift we can share!

Prayer: O LORD, where can we go from your spirit?  Where can we flee from your presence?  We give thanks that you are as high as the heavens and deep as the sea.  We give thanks that nothing can separate us from your love or your presence with us.  Even when we feel you are far away, you are still here.  We give thanks for all you have done for us.  Help us to live as your people – uniquely made and loved by you.  In Jesus’ name, 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 October 17 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 80

Key verse: (3) Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Reflection: Let your face shine! Our faces shine when we look with delight on a child who is sharing a moment of joy. Our faces shine when we adore our lover. Our faces shine when we celebrate the completion of a difficult but meaningful task. Our faces shine we nod with encouragement, quietly cheering on someone else.

God’s face shines in all of those ways as God looks at us. God is delighted in us; God adores us; God celebrates with us; God encourages us. The Hebrews understood God’s shining face to be a figurative way of proclaiming God’s favor and God’s action. When the writer of Psalm 80 prays “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved,” he is praying for God’s loving attention and for God’s intervention to correct what is wrong and to bring new life. The psalm longs for God’s protection and care.

As we digest the news today, may we seek God’s restoration and transformation. We are surrounded by overwhelming needs and by disheartening news. Imagine what it would mean for God’s face to shine in the world. Perhaps God’s face will shine today through you.

Prayer:
O God, let your face shine today:

On every person paralyzed by fear,
On every nation caught in violence,
On every child living in poverty,
On every leader motivated by self-interest,
On every disciple of Jesus Christ struggling to share your love.

Dear Lord, use me today to shine with the brilliance of your grace.  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].

Wednesday October 16 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 10:24-33

Key verse: (31) “ so do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Reflection: In our world, there is a lot to fear. When I was growing up, I remember at the top of the list was nuclear war. Today, climate change moves to the top of fears for our young people.  My friends and I feared that we would be out of place but today our young people fear a loss of identity or that they will have any place in the world.  Other fears, from a recent PEW study, include safety, the future, bullies and money. I don’t think those are just fears for the adolescents in our lives. We carry those same fears with us into our day.

Fear can be paralyzing but it also calls us to attention. Fear can energize us to respond in both a protective and corrective manner.  We act to reduce the threat, whatever it may be. Because the future can be so filled with fears, it takes courage to proceed.

It is into this world of fear that we are called to be disciples proclaiming the good news. In Matthew, disciples of Jesus were sent out to be a public witness. That is our call, to bear witness to the gospel in a world that might not understand. We need to hear that our fears come in the context of God’s continued care, knowledge and power. Just like the disciples, the more we practice proclaiming, healing and sharing our faith, we also will discover and grow in it.

The God whom Jesus reveals is unlike anything we can imagine. This God not only numbers all our days but numbers the hairs on our head. When fears threaten to overwhelm us, this is a reminder of God’s abiding attention that will always sustain us.

Prayer: Almighty God, you stop, kneel and embrace everyone and everything in need of your peace and love. May I join you today in your work, embracing my role as a disciple of Jesus within the body of Christ. 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 October 15 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 10:16-23

Key verse: (16) “See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Reflection: Today’s reading is found amid Jesus’ commissioning of the apostles. Our key verse for the day invokes quite a menagerie — sheep, wolves, serpents and doves.  The apostles, and by extension disciples through the ages represent three out of four of these animals: sheep, serpents and doves.  The powers of the world are the wolves.

In the early church, these words needed little interpretation.  They faced the fangs of the wolves every day because of their Christian identity.  They were arrested, beaten, tortured, even martyred for the faith.  They had little problem understanding Christ’s call to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, because that was the key to their survival.

This is an alien world for us. While Christians are being actively persecuted in some countries, here in Charlotte this is not our reality.  Our world does not persecute us. For the most part, we are viewed with indifference.  Younger generations see us as a product of a bygone era.  We are met not with violent resistance, but with yawns.  Discipleship these days feels less like sheep amidst wolves and more like people amidst cats. We are simply ignored.  Along the political trail, some candidates are suggesting doing away with tax-exempt status for religious organizations. This is not persecution, it’s a loss of privilege, more like the dog getting kicked out of the bed. That’s very different from being sheep amidst wolves.

Within recent American history, there has been a movement in the church that knew the realities of this text.  Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement invoked this passage on many occasions.  As they faced police dogs and fire hoses, they knew what it was to be sheep amid the wolves.  And the pastors who led that movement often spoke of being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  In a sermon on this passage, Martin Luther King transformed Jesus’ injunction into a call for “tough minds and tender hearts.”  Tough minds are not gullible.  They are willing to think critically and dive deeply into the wisdom of God as it relates to the ways of the world.  Tender hearts are willing to love even enemies.  King said, “It is tough minded enough to resist evil. It is tender hearted to resist with love. It avoids the complacency and the ‘do-nothing-ism’ of the soft minded and the violence and bitterness of the hard hearted.” (For notes on the full sermon go here. )

How does our faith call us to be sheep amidst the wolves?  What might it mean for us to pursue a faith that is tough minded and tender hearted, wise as serpents, innocent as doves.  May we consider this question in our walk with Christ today, wherever he may lead us.

Prayer: Guide us this day, O Lord.  Take us where we need to go. Show us what we need to see.  Call us to what needs to be done. Give us the courage to follow, even into the midst of the wolves.  Grant us wisdom, protect our innocence, that we might be your tough minded and tenderhearted servants.  Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[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 October 14 2019

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Scripture: Jeremiah 36:11-26

Key verse: (23) “…the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire…”

Reflection: If you can get past all of the names in this reading for today you will find political scandal, drama, and intrigue. The prophet Jeremiah has been speaking against the kingdom for its neglect of the poor and the most vulnerable in society, those who the king was ordered to care for. In fact, many of the king’s actions led to the poverty and even enslavement of others. Surely someone will do something about this, right? And yet for years the lifestyle of the kingdom was one which benefited a few on the backs of many. Those who were benefiting were those in places of power with the ability to keep the oppressed at bay. If not the king and his leaders, who will speak for the vulnerable, who will act in midst of injustice? And so in our text for today we see a reasonable first approach at change with the passage of information from Jeremiah to Baruch to Micaiah to Elishama to Jehudi to King Jehoiakim. As the word gets passed on notice how it moves from Micaiah, and all who heard with him who were alarmed, the whole way to the king who sat passively tearing the scroll and throwing it in the fire. Voices were lifted up, but nothing happened.

Perhaps you have encountered tangible injustice in your daily life, but decided not to do anything about it. Or maybe you have seen something and decided to say something. Or have you had enough with words and moved on to actions to take matters into your own hands? Seeing injustice in the world is heart breaking, especially when it seems like no one is listening to those lifting their voices or responding to calculated actions for change. But may we not lose hope, for our true and lasting hope is in Jesus Christ our redeemer and savior, through whom lasting change will come. When frustrations with injustice arise, may we not give up nor may we abandon our morals to try and force change by any necessary means, but may we hold fast to Christ speaking boldly in love, acting justly, and walking humbly with God.

Prayer: Faithful God, guide us in your way, and open our eyes to the hope of your kingdom. As we encounter injustice in the world may we hold fast to you. Holy Spirit, soften our hearts and strengthen our feet that we may be with those who are seeking your peace. Through Christ we pray. 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].

Friday October 11 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 142

Key verse: (4) Look on my right hand and see — there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.

Reflection: Life can be hard. This psalm, known to have been written by David while he was in a cave, portrays the hurt and isolation that can be felt when we feel there is no one who cares for us. David looks around and sees there is no one around, no one to lean on, no one to notice his pain. With the rise of depression and mental health issues, emotions like his are felt today in our busy, disconnected, and merit-based culture. We feel alone when we hide behind social personas; we feel abandoned as our friends and family grow further and further away; we feel anxious as our human understanding cannot make sense of the world around us; we feel unnoticed and unheard when our cries are being ignored. David is crying out to the Lord in his isolation. This tells me one thing: David still believed that the Lord is near! Even if David was forsaken by his community, God had not forsaken him!

As humans, we sometimes feel ashamed to ask for help, even retreating into ourselves. David showed courage in his cry. David was brave in his belief that God had not forsaken him. David found in God (as we can too) an ear for the voice of his cry. Who do you talk to about your pain? How do you handle the heartaches of life? One ministry available at Myers Park Presbyterian Church is our Stephen Ministers, people who journey with those in pain. Our Stephen Ministers are trained lay leaders who walk beside those going through tough times, offering Christian care in presence and support. You are not alone! May we be brave and courageous in our pain, crying out to our ever-present God and seeking help from our sisters and brothers in Christ.

If you are in need of a Stephen Minister, please contact Deborah Conner  in the Congregational Care office.

Prayer: I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low. Save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me. Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name. The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me. Amen.(Psalm 142:5-7)

Author: Ben Brannan

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