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Daily Devotion – June 29, 2015
06.29.15

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking2 Corinthians 8:7

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

The message Paul is sending to his readers, while very persuasive with the use of guilt, clearly describes how we should be giving of our time, talents, and our resources.  We are urged by Paul to give as Christ gave of himself.  Christ became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich.  Christ gave of his time, his talent, and his resources to see that the good news was spread.  All that Christ had was given away, including his own life.

I’m not much for using guilt, shame, and attempts to get people to compete against each other as a means to spark action.  Those type of attempts usually end up going south really fast.  I know firsthand how difficult it is to continually feel obligated to give.  I imagine a lot of folks feel tired from all their “giving.” What I have discovered in my own life, however, is that when I give from that place of true generosity, I don’t get tired.  As a matter of fact, I usually feel energized.  The key for me is to find those things that give me life and find ways to share them with others.  When we give out of a sense of obligation the result will always be the same: weariness and frustration.  On the other hand, when we allow the spirit that gives us life to come and out play we get a different result: energy and confidence.

It would do us all well to take the time and reflect on those things we have been given, those things we have accumulated, and those things we have allowed dust to pile up on.  How might we give of those things that bring us life and use them to serve the community for a greater purpose?

Prayer:

Guide me as I reflect.  Reveal to me those things that bring me life.  Give me courage as I find ways to bring my gifts to life in community.  Amen. 



Daily Devotion – June 28, 2015
06.28.15

Mark 5:24-34New International Version (NIV)

24 So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

 

Devotion by Holly CothranDrake
I have dealt with medical challenges from ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease since 1998. A surgeon removed my large intestine and created a bowel diversion called an ileostomy. Multiple surgeries, immune suppressant drugs, and infertility have been a part of my story. And my story continues with more tests and possible surgeries. Reading this scripture could tempt me to doubt my faith. Have I not been healed because my faith is not strong enough? I do not subscribe to this argument. Instead, I say to myself, “God has taken care of my needs. God has healed me from doubt. My health issues have brought me closer to God, and God has healed me spiritually.” Although God may not be healing our medical issues, God may instead be healing our spiritual issues.

 

Prayer:

Almighty God and Great Creator, thank you for healing my spirit. Thank you for the challenges that brought me closer to you. Thank you.



Daily Devotion – June 27, 2015
06.27.15

 

Acts 6: 1-7

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Devotion by Julia Shiver

This Bible passage speaks to me on a number of levels.  As the new Chair of Deacons I am learning how to delegate tasks instead of doing everything myself.   I was trained and commissioned as a Stephen Minister and Stephen Leader and I plan to share some of those experiences at a later date.  But for now I will focus on the importance of community to this early Christian church.  As more people came to know Christ, daily life became more chaotic and disorganized.  Not everyone’s needs were being met.  So a small group, selected for their character, faith, and wisdom, were chosen to lead so that others could work according to their talents and gifts.  It worked much better than a few people trying to do everything.

Our community is much the same way.  We have elected leaders, the Council, who gather and prayerfully lead, and we have the rest of the larger community to fulfill the daily functions and missions of our community, our church. But it requires everyone doing their part.  What are your gifts and talents?  In what way are you being called to serve our community?  It takes the work of everyone for a community to serve God effectively.  Find your place in our community.

Loving God, I thank you for my community, the community of Pilgrimage United Church of Christ.  I am so grateful for this new chance to serve you.  Thank you for allowing me to serve in the community that supports me.  Amen.



Daily Devotion – June 26, 2015
06.26.15

“I will extol you, O Holy One, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

O God, my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.

O Holy One, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.” – Psalm 30:1-3

 

 

Reflection by Lynne Buell

The (6/25/15) UCC Still Speaking Devotional really had an impact on me.  While most of the devotions do, this one affected me for two reasons.
I had the privilege of leading an Adult Sunday school class this past year with the subject being a journey through the Psalms. I knew as much about the Psalms as others who had never been in tune with the Bible in their early years as Christians.  I thought I stumbled through the weekly gatherings, but at the same time I began realizing that I was learning a great deal about the Psalms.  My experience as a leader for Adult Sunday school left me with the realization that I picked up an understanding about the Psalms, and it may be the most important part of my faith journey.

 

The Charleston shootings is a constant reminder that hate still reigns in our country and around the world.  It doesn’t matter how educated we are (or not); it doesn’t matter how advanced we are in technology (or not).  Hate has been the basis of wars and senseless killings since creation.  The impact the Charleston tragedy has on the families and friends of the victims is at first shocking.  And then they are faced with the horrible truth that life will not be the same as they knew it before the attack.

 

This is one of the many Psalms written about renewal and rejoicing after having suffered through a horrific event.  God was there when things were good; God was there during our suffering; God is now there to lift us up into a new normal.  “That’s life” is not a cliché.  That IS life, and it’s like a roller coaster of ups and downs, twists and turns.  We must continue to strive and pray for world peace, but until then, take a journey through the Psalms.  That will help you get through the times that seem dreadful and unbearable.

 

Prayer:

 

My Lord, if I may be walking through fields that are rough with grief and care, may I have the courage to continue on to the smooth pastures, where I may walk with comfort and peace. May I not let the weariness and sorrow that may come to my heart to-day dwarf my hope and enjoyment of the future. Amen.

 

Prayer from:  http://www.prayer-and-prayers.info/prayers-for-strength/prayer-for-strength-and-comfort.htm



Doing about racial reconciliation…

Like everyone else in the country, I was stunned by the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last week.  Having grown up in the South, race relations always have been front and center in my thinking and feeling.  Serving as a pastor in the United Church of Christ, I also am firmly committed to working for justice.

I confess that with events in Ferguson last year, and Baltimore this year, I’ve felt paralyzed.  The problems seem so big; I feel so small.  Wanting desperately to do something, I’ve done very little.  Nothing, really.  Oh, I’ve felt plenty guilty, but not enough to take action.

Then–last week’s massacre of nine people attending Bible study at their church….

My complacency evaporated and I looked for something to do.  When the call came on Friday to attend a meeting in preparation for an interfaith, interracial prayer service in Atlanta, I hopped in the car and went.  I spoke at the press conference held after the meeting.  I went back to Atlanta the next day for the prayer service at Peachtree Christian Church.  Sunday at Pilgrimage, we prayed for the people affected by the shooting and for guidance in how we might work to heal the racial divide in our country.

Then last night, I attended a prayer service at Bethel AME Church in Acworth.  I had met Pastor Leela Waller at the prayer service in Atlanta.  I had thought perhaps her church and ours could begin partnering, get to know each other, build a bridge between a predominantly African American congregation and a white congregation.

The service was led by Freedom Church in Acworth.  It was that congregation’s gift to the Bethel AME congregation to let them know they are supporting them…and will continue to do so.

Here’s the thing….last night’s service happened because the two congregations already had a relationship.  As soon as he learned about the shooting, the pastor of Freedom Church–who was on vacation–called the pastor of Bethel AME because they already were friends.  They didn’t get together simply because of the shooting.  They got together because the shooting affected people they already loved.

I left the service convicted…and convinced that the only way to work toward racial reconciliation is to BEGIN working toward racial reconciliation.  And the best way to begin working toward racial reconciliation is to build and strengthen relationships with people of other races.  As long as those who are different from us remain “them,” the task always will feel daunting.  But when “they” become “our friends,” then we’ll know exactly what to do.

After church on Sunday, a white congregant told me that one of their children had adopted an African American child.  This person said, “I used to say, ‘Oh, look what’s happening to those people.’  Now I say, ‘Oh, look what’s happening to US.'”  When we make friends, when we work hard at building relationships, then when tragedy strikes, we realize it’s happening to all of us.  And if it’s happening to US, we will know what to do…and do it.



Daily Devotion – June 25, 2015
06.25.15

 

Mark 6:1-3

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

This would happen to me and others at IBM all of the time. If we were “homegrown” and local, what could we possibly know and do? Experts were often flown in from afar to solve problems. In many cases, their expertise was superior, and they were able to solve problems more quickly. But there were also cases when regular employees sitting at the same table could have been utilized instead.

Funny how even back in Jesus’ day, people questioned the value of a local carpenter. Would they have been more receptive to Jesus’ teachings had he been a carpenter from afar?

At Pilgrimage, we do value local expertise. As a church, we have to rely on each other to conduct the work of the church. No matter what skill, knowledge or experience you have, consider using it in service of our church community. As I told my kids growing up, “Many hands make light work.”

Prayer:

Dear God our Lord, I thank you for our church community. We have so many servants of faith. Bless them Lord, all of the days of their lives. Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – June 23, 2015
06.24.15

2 Corinthians 12:6-10

But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

 

Devotion by Rochelle Lofstrand

 

Do you have a ‘thorn’ in your flesh? Something that torments you or something that makes you feel weak? We all have something within us that we feel separates us from Christ and/or from our best selves. For me, this has always been my weight. It is the reason that at times, I think God doesn’t love me. Food is where I turn in stressful times instead of turning to and leaning on God. This has become my ‘thorn’.

In today’s scripture, we learn that even those things that we feel separates us from God are actually from God.  It is through our struggle with these ‘thorns’ that brings us closer to the power of Christ.

 

Prayer: 

God, I will continue to work on my ‘thorn’ and I am thankful to you for giving me opportunities to continue to grow in my understanding of my faith. AMEN.

 



Daily Devotion – June 22, 2015
06.22.15

 

 

Song of Solomon 2:10-13 10.

My lover spoke and said to me, “Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. 11. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. 12. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. 13. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”

 

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

 

Amidst the heat of summer and its fields of corn growing tall, it is difficult not to feel surrounded by the Divine Spirit.  It has also been an active summer for cicadas, their buzzing, trilling flight adding yet more life to the season of growth.  Within houses synthetically-sealed and climate-controlled, it is easy to become alienated from the fervid heat of Divine regeneration which lies just outside the door.  Peoples of the ancient world, like Sappho from the 6th century B.C., lived much closer to nature and had a keen awareness of Divine Providence.

 

Meditation – from the Complete Poems of Sappho, translated by William Barnstone

 

Flaming summer charms the earth with its own fluting, and under leaves the cicada scrapes its tiny wings together and incessantly pours out full shrill song.



Daily Devotion – June 21, 2015
06.21.15

Luke 8: 11-15

The Parable of the Sower Explained

11 ‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.13The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.15But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

 

Devotion by Anne Mooney

A little over a week ago I had the privilege of serving as the Storyteller for Pilgrimage’s VBS week.  The children were full of love, creativity, and a strong sense of community.  They took what they heard and took action.  Some of the action was facilitated, but a remarkable amount of it was inspired.  God’s word was at work.

The events of our VBS remind me of this parable which we studied during our week together.  We talked and interacted a lot with seeds.  When Jesus explained this parable to the disciples he said, “The seeds are the Word of God.”  He then goes on to say that the soil where the seed lands determined how the seed grows.  When the sower is throwing seeds, where they land is random, but in our lives, where and how we spend our time and energy is not so random.  We have choices about who we hang out with and how we treat the people we meet.  We have choices about our attitudes.  Are we living like the seed on the pathway, taking little to no responsibility for our lives and our faith, living with a victim mentality?  Are we living like the seeds in the rocks, rushing about from one fad to the next, never doing the work to build a rich foundation that will support us in times of stress?  Are we choosing to spend our time with people and practices that are not in our best interest, but choking our dreams, love, and energy?  Are we choosing to spend our time finding ways to glorify and serve God, ourselves and each other with loving acts?

The children who attended Pilgrimage’s VBS were actively choosing the good soil.  They listened and responded to God’s seed.  They enthusiastically offered hugs and offerings for mission.  They sang and danced and then created songs and dances of their own.  They joyfully crafted works of art that reflected the idea of God’s word as a seed.  They interacted with seeds in countless ways, demonstrating how God’s word has the power to change our lives in amazing ways.

Prayer

Dear God, Thank you for the gift of your word.  We are grateful that you are still speaking to us today.  Help us to respond like the children, with enthusiasm and creativity, so we can share with others the full fruits of your bountiful love and power.  Amen



Daily Devotion – June 20, 2015

Luke 8: 9-10

 

The Purpose of the Parables 

Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that “looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.”

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

 

Jesus frequently used parables as a way to illustrate profound and divine truths. This made the stories he told easier to remember. The characters were bold and the symbolism was rich in meaning. Parables were also a common form of teaching in Judaism. But parables often required explanation. The question is why would Jesus let most people wonder about the meaning of His parables.

 

Because those who had continually rejected His message were left in their spiritual blindness to wonder as to His meaning. He made a clear distinction between those who had been given “ears to hear” and those who persisted in unbelief-ever hearing, but never actually perceiving and “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.”

 

The disciples had been given the gift of spiritual discernment by which things of the spirit were made clear to them. They accepted truth from Jesus so they were given more and more truth. The parable is a blessing to those with willing ears. But to those with dull hearts and ears that are slow to hear, the parable is also an instrument of judgment and mercy.

 

Prayer:

 

Dear God,

Let us become better listeners and in that we can become better disciples.

Amen