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Daily Devotion – April 29, 2018
04.30.18

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.  You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  John 15:1-8

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

I have this blackberry bush in my backyard.  It has been a bit a thorn in my side.  I say that because I haven’t had much success in growing blackberries on it.  We have gotten a few every year but I was promised that when I bought it that blackberry bushes were easy to grow and that I would get baskets full of them every year.  I have been disappointed with it to say the least.  I have been to homes, to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and taken advice from my uncle who has a massive vine of blackberries in his yard with hope I would learn the secret to their success.

I have learned quite a few things about growing blackberries.  Like, for example, that they must be grown on the horizontal to get them to produce fruit.  Attempting to allow the plant to grow into a bush by leaving it alone won’t work.   I have failed at with that attempt.  Perhaps the most helpful advice I have received universally from others is that the branches that do produce fruit must be trimmed at the end of the season.  This gives the branches an opportunity to produce more fruit the following year.  So far, this has been working.  Slowly, the bush is growing and producing more blackberries.  They are also beginning to grow on the horizontal which is helping.  I still have a sunlight problem I am contending with but amazingly enough through the proper attention and care more fruit is actually being produced.

I am not a master gardener yet so I have to accept blindly the fact that horizontal growth and this trimming process works for now.  In the same manner, I have to trust in trimming the branches in my life that bear fruit will produce more fruit.  I am not completely sure why but I know that whenever I spend more time on those fruitful parts of my life the more centered and the more connected I become.  I feel energized and more alive.  I feel more grounded in love.

Through the process of trimming and refining the branches and allowing the life giving vine to work, life is born.  Life bears more life.  Fruit produces more fruit.  When are bearers of life, we become Christ’s disciples and glorify God in the process.

Prayer

You are the vine, we are the branches God.  Continue to nurture our lives so that we can bear more fruit.  May we abide in you as you abide in us so that your name may be glorified.  Amen.



Daily Devotion – April 30, 2018

Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

 

Reflection by Ellen Green

What stands out to me this passage is its opening line. Peter, standing before a crowd of onlookers to whom he speaks, is audibly interrupted by the Holy Spirit. Read a few verses back from where today’s reading picks up and you’ll find that Peter’s topic was his personal encounter with Jesus. That encounter had convicted Peter of the message of God’s grace is for all people to hear and respond to. Picturing this scene, though, it seems Peter is surprised by the immediacy of that response!

As Peter testifies to universal character of God’s Word, the Spirit moves in real time among the crowd. The Word is breathed into those onlookers. It animates each one, different though they may be from each other and from ourselves. How powerful our testimony can be, and how wonderful to be interrupted in our speech by the working of God among us.

Prayer

God of Many Voices, we are both hearers of the Word and mandated, as Christ’s disciples, to be speakers of it. We thank you for our ancestors in faith who have witnessed to your extravagant grace. We ask for the confidence to tell our own stories, and graciousness for times when the testimonies of others surprise and challenge us. Amen.



Daily Devotion – April 28, 2018
04.29.18

1 John 4:19-21

19 We love because God first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from God is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

 

Devotion by Rev. Krista

Have you ever been with someone you love like a spouse or dear friend, and you felt their love for you.  You smile ear to ear just thinking about how much you have in common and how your love grew over time.  Your love has grown so much that you did not mind that they burned dinner that time, or that they forgot your birthday.  You love them no matter what!  Now, think about the person in your family who had a falling out with you and there is no communication.  Or maybe a co-worker or neighbor you had a difference of opinion with and the two of you still do not acknowledge each other.  What’s the difference in the two scenarios other than the obvious that you like one and not so much the other person?  The real answer – there is no difference as they are both based on conditions, “if they do this…., then I will speak to them or hear them out or maybe I will love them”.

Our society has conditioned us that we should only love and care for someone after they have proven themselves to us.  Oh how happy are we that God is not like this society!

In today’s reading we are reminded that God first loved us and we are to love because of it.  There was no exchange of roses or chocolates and no fancy dinner.  Based on the love which filled our hearts and pierced our souls, we had an awakening moment where we ‘fell in love’ with God. We are now to take that love and forgive our co-worker, forgive our neighbor, forgive our family member and just love them, unconditionally.  How can we truly receive the peace we yearn for without forgiveness and without love?  Let’s try love today, not just with the stranger but with the one we know.  It may not be easy, but it is possible!



Daily Devotion – April 24, 2018
04.24.18

Philippians 2:12-30

Shining as Lights in the World

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

Paul is writing to the Philippians about 50 AD. He is thankful for their following Paul. He acknowledges that being a Christian after the crucifixion of Christ is difficult. He tells them to work out their “own salvation with fear and trembling”. I’m amazed that he would acknowledge that followers were in fear. Of course they were, but to acknowledge the fear somehow makes it sensible.

“It is God who is at work in you.” I believe this is how the Holy Spirit works. It works within and through people. Think how far Paul’s thinking has progressed since the times of Roman Gods when storms meant they were fighting in the sky!

If we can be thankful instead of grumbling, we can set ourselves apart in the eyes of God. “Shine like the stars in the world.”

Prayer

Dear God. It amazes me that back in the day, Paul had learned so much from Jesus that he could pass along his teachings to others. May my heart be open to the teachings of Paul, in these times, here and now. Amen.



Daily Devotion – April 22, 2018
04.22.18

Psalm 23:4-6

 

  1. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

  1. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

  1. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

 

This psalm is often associated with soldiers going forth into battle. Indeed, these words have brought hope to persons confronting the evils of war for many centuries.  Yet, Psalm 23 also applies to those of us who face the less obvious forms of violence which prevail during peacetime. Persons of color, the unemployed, the differently-abled, the elderly, the homeless, and the immigrants walk every day through the “valley of the shadow of death”. At the same time, too many privileged American Christians delude themselves with the “prosperity gospel”; too many worship political power instead of goodness and love. The table prepared in midst of our enemies with out cup overflowing cannot refer to worldly wealth and its corrupting influences. The abundance promised to the marginalized, regardless of creed, color, gender, sexuality, etc., lies in goodness, love, and full lives spent in the Divine

Presence.

 

Meditation:

Dear Mother, abundant in love, joy, and peace,

Your table set silver-bright beckons me towards your side.

In spite of rude crowds, you take hold and guide me

to be one with your Healing Light!



Daily Devotion – April 21, 2018
04.21.18

Devotion April 21, 2018

Psalm 23: 1-3

The Divine Shepherd

A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake. 

 

Devotion by Anne Mooney

Recently I was reminded of a spiritual principal that many people call “the Golden Key.”  According to this principal, (as outlined by Emmet Fox) if you find yourself obsessively worrying over something, you can use the golden key to transform your worry.  You do this by consciously dismissing whatever is bothering you from your mind and replace it with a conscious reminder of God’s amazing power.  One of the ways I do this is by repeating a song or a hymn in my mind.  My favorite hymn for “golden keying” a situation is My Shepherd Will Supply My Need, by Isaac Watt.  Its words are based on Psalm 23.  These comforting words remind me that God has my back and that the creative power used to manifest our universe is also at work to sort out my mundane affairs.  When I actively practice the golden key, I am like David. I have no want, my needs are met, and my path is made right.

Hymn

My shepherd will supply my need

Jehovah is His name.

In pastures green he makes me feed,

Beside the living stream.

He brings my wandering spirit back

When I forsake His ways,

And leads me for His mercy’s sake,

In paths of truth and grace.  Amen

 

 



Daily Devotion – April 20, 2018
04.20.18

John 10: 16-18 (NRSV)

16 I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd.

17 “This is why the Father loves me: I give up my life so that I can take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I give it up because I want to. I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it up again. I received this commandment from my Father.”

Devotion by Victoria Owens

Just yesterday afternoon I received a phone call around 5 pm, a time my daughter usually calls me when she’s on her way home from work. Wearing my Bluetooth headset, I answered without looking at caller ID. Pressing a button on the side of my headset I said, “Hi, sweetie!” A female voice said, “Hi! I’m going to skip Bible study tonight; my allergies are killing me.” In rapid succession my thoughts were: she does sound a little stuffy; wait—is she even in a Bible study right now?; oops, this isn’t Rachel at all; I just called someone else “sweetie.”

John’s gospel is full of symbol and metaphor. A literal reading just won’t do. I’ve thought recently that this gospel, the one scholars believe was written after Mark, Matthew, and Luke, is almost a theological reflection on those three accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We moderns, of course, know that we aren’t wooly and grass-eating, and Jesus isn’t saying that he herds actual sheep for a living.

I, of course, should know what my own daughter’s voice sounds like. Do I know Jesus’ voice? And if I’m not sure, am I one of the sheep for whom he is willing to lay down his life? Somewhere I encountered the idea of meditating on Psalm 23’s first verse with varying emphases on each word in turn. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. I wonder what you will discover in doing this.

The PUCC choir will sing, “Shepherd me, O God” this coming Sunday. What do I think this means for me right now? What do you think it means for you? And what could it mean for our faith community in this time and place?

Prayer:

I am a reluctant sheep, God, more often than I want to admit. I call you my shepherd, say that I have everything I need, and still try to go my own way. Help me—help all the other sheep in this flock, and all your flocks—allow ourselves to be gathered and cared for by One who is willing to die for our acceptance and embrace of the abundant life to which we are entitled as your beloved children. In your name we pray, amen.

 



Daily Devotion – April 19, 2018
04.19.18

John 10:11-15

 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

 

Reflection from Rev. Krista

How can we ignore the emphatic words of Jesus making the proclamation of being the good shepherd, and what makes Jesus so good is that he will lay down his own life for the sheep.   It is so amazing!  So much love and faithfulness that Jesus has for his sheep.  In our everyday, ordinary lives we encounter a number of false shepherds.  The false leader who has not been given any authority to lead us and their voice has no weight.  This ill-equipped, self-proclaimed leader is no leader at all, and at the first sign of danger they flee, run and abandon the sheep.

 

Yes, in our everyday lives we see evidence of the false shepherd’s abandonment.  There are dilapidated buildings and overgrown grassy yards.  We see deserted children and a forsaken spouse, all victims of the false shepherd.  Following false leaders can cause so much ruin and chaos in our ordinary lives.  We can be devastated by the attack and scattered further away from the loving relationship we are to have with God, and that which was promised to us.  As we seek guidance, protection and love in our everyday lives, let us first set our hearts and our sights on the one, truly good shepherd who is Christ.  May we tune our ears to hear God’s voice in our times of despair, anxiety and uncertainty.  Let the faithfulness that God has for us be our strength, for there will be no one like Jesus who will lay down their life for us.

 

Let us pray:

Faithful God,

We are so thankful that you know us as your sheep and you call us your own.  We pray for the wisdom to hear your voice and to not be distracted by the false leaders around us.  We ask that you provide the strength we need to get us through this day, as we grow closer to you.

Amen.



Daily Devotion – April 18, 2018

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem.  Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest family.  They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is

“the stone you builders rejected,

which has become the cornerstone.”

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4:5-12

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

The power of the resurrection continues on in this passage.  Through the name of Christ, Peter and John continue the healing of the lame and sick that Christ began.  Those who thought, such as the chief priests, that Christ’s crucifixion would be the end of his message were wrong.   The chief priests were wrong when they assumed that Christ would die and go away.  They were wrong when they thought they would get ruling power of the people again.  They were wrong when they thought things would go back to the way things were again.   They were wrong in their disbelief of the resurrection.

A new foundation has been laid.  The work that Christ started was only the cornerstone of the things to come.  No longer will the chief priest determine who is righteous but through the name of Christ people will be saved.  For those who do not believe that death is the end, but believe that resurrection is real salvation will be theirs.  They will be filled with the Holy Spirit just as Christ promised and be given the same authority that was given to Peter and John to heal others.

May we continue to embrace our belief in the resurrection.  May we take the opportunity of the season of spring to note the world around us and its resurrection into new life.  With this hope, may we spread the message that Christ is not dead but very much alive!

Prayer:

Almighty God, help us to understand that resurrection is the reversal of what was thought to be true in our lives.  Fill our hearts with the fire of your Holy Spirit so that we can bring the good news of healing and new life to all.  Amen.



Daily Devotion – April 17, 2018
04.17.18

1 John 3:16–22

 

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

 

Reflection by Janet Derby

They’ll know we are Christians by our love. I sang these words often as a teenager and they still ring true when I sing them now.  We can be confused by some Scriptures, disagree about how we accomplish our goals, and struggle with relationships with others. Yet we all understand the important truth that God loves us to our core and that we must share that love with a world in desperate need. That was the message Jesus gave to the disciples and to us.

 

Prayer

Loving God,

Thank you for the gift of love as shown in Christ. Help me always to show that love to others. Amen.