Easter Sunday, April 20

Easter Sunday Worship Services
9:30 am in the chapel (traditional)
9:30 am in the sanctuary (contemporary )
11:00 am in the sanctuary (traditional)

by Bob Henderson
"Going Home"

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.
–Mark 16:6-8

From the days of my early childhood Easter pushed the envelope of credibility. Even if you could get your mind around Santa being pulled by reindeer on a one-night global tour, there was something about the notion of a big rabbit delivering baskets and eggs – the same eggs you colored the day before – that struck me as slightly bizarre. The chocolate part was a good idea, I always thought, and still do.

What I liked best about the whole peculiar routine were those large eggs made of hardened sugar, decorated elaborately, with one end open so you could look in – and inside the egg was a magical miniature world; tiny trees and houses, children playing, sometimes a horse or a cow. I was always fascinated by that alternate world but embarrassed to admit it. Dreamy escapism was not highly valued in my home of origin.

I now understand that that alternative world is not a bad metaphor for the message of Easter; an invitation to live in a new reality, a world in which the dead don’t stay dead and even the most gruesome events become a force for life. That is an idea so big, so earth-shattering, the most eloquent can only stutter about it, or stand in reverent silence – which is exactly how this first story of the first Easter tells it.

Jesus, an itinerant rabbi from Galilee, came to Jerusalem for Passover and five days after his arrival was arrested, tried in a hurried kangaroo court arranged by the religious and political authorities, convicted, sentenced, executed and buried – all very efficiently. The crowd that welcomed him on Sunday turned on him. His friends abandoned him fearing for their own lives. So he died alone – except for the women, the only ones to stay with him.

The Romans made sure he was dead before sundown on Friday when the Jewish Sabbath began and then turned his body over to a local – who buried him in his own garden.

Saturday is the Sabbath, a quiet day. And then at dawn, on the first day of the week, three of the women who were there as he died showed up at the tomb. They wanted to pay final respects, anoint the body with oils and spices. They were focused on the task at hand. Their concern was pragmatic. There was a large stone covering the tomb and they weren’t sure they could move it.

What they found when they arrived was disconcerting to say the least. The stone was already rolled away. It would have been very disturbing, but what happened next was terrifying. Fearing the worst – that someone had stolen the body – they peered in and were startled to encounter not a dead body, but a young man who said, of all things, “Do not be alarmed – he isn’t here – he has been raised – go tell Peter and his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.”

Galilee? Why there? Why not march back into the Temple and show those Romans who has the power now? Why not Rome, where he could lead a grand processional to the emperor’s throne and take his rightful seat? But Galilee …? That’s just a rolling hillside of tiny peasant towns of little consequence.

Except for the fact that it’s home for them. That’s where they live, have families, work and play. Galilee is daily routine. That’s where the risen Lord promises to meet them. What an intriguing suggestion – that the risen Christ comes to us, not in places we expect him, structures we have made for him – religious tradition and rites, liturgies, creeds – churches, or even halls of power. He promises to be where we live and work and play. He promises to bring hope and life and rebirth and love and new possibilities into our lives at their most human and most ordinary. He promises to bring the power of love and creativity and new possibility into our life situation whatever it is.

Distinguished scholar Walter Brueggemann says – Easter is “not only truth disclosed, but it is life disclosed. Because of Easter,” Brueggeman says, “I can come out from behind my desk, my stethoscope, my uniform, my competence, my credentials, my fears – to meet life a little more boldly.”

That’s what Easter is about – stepping out from whatever we are hiding behind and meeting life more boldly, more hopefully, more confidently because in this person named Jesus, the Christ, God has overcome the power of death, brought new life, and promises to meet us right where we live.

Jesus Christ is Risen!

Lift in prayer today

All the ways we see that “Christ is Risen”
in Charlotte and the world.

Saturday, April 19

Children’s Easter Service
(Today) Saturday, April 19; 10:00 am
Egg hunt and baby animals on the green
followed by “BYO” picnic lunch on the church grounds

by Robin Goodson

I wonder how often others forgive me for my long list of shortcomings. Are my “TOP 10 LIFE OFFENSES” events that I even recognize or remember? Flipped around, how often do I let things go and forgive? Forgiveness has been a hard and unnatural lesson on loving my neighbor, a beautiful blessing that I have worked to claim and had to practice and repeat in order to finally understand. Though long a stumbling block in my faith journey, I believe forgiveness is God’s gift to our spirit, a lifting and freeing of burdens we sometimes do not know we carry.
In March of 2012, my father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. After 35 years of chronic alcoholism, lung cancer was the last way I expected Dad to go. He left this world on June 19, 2013, the last six weeks or so spent sober. Our relationship had been hard for all the years I remember, and if anyone had told me that I would give a eulogy at Dad’s funeral, I would have laughed. Yet, I did just that, and the topic was, “What I learned of the Father from my father.”  I share the last part:

The final lesson Dad taught is one of reconciliation and forgiveness. This one has been the most important – and life-changing. Every family has its issues, and ours did too. For all of the light and laughter that Dad brought, a light that would not go out no matter how much darkness was also part of the equation, life was at times quite hard. The last decade or so had much distance in our relationship. I believe God plants in us a need for our fathers, both our earthly and heavenly fathers. When things are not right there, no matter how right just about everything else in life is, balance is hard to come by. Years of Bible study, years of praying for Dad to change, all kinds of stuff, I was still carrying anger toward my earthly father. I would give it to God, and then pick it back up again – a repetitive cycle of disobedience that I am guessing some of you can relate to. About three years ago, God moved my immovable heart, helping me to let go and find forgiveness of the past, present, and whatever would come. It was a big smack in my dense head when I finally accepted that if I wanted God’s grace, if I wanted to be forgiven for all of my shortcomings, if I believed that Jesus really took it all to the cross for me, I could not withhold forgiveness, especially for someone as important to me as Dad.  God was not answering that my father would change, but that my heart would. It sounds so simple, but it was the hardest thing I have ever had to work through.

When Hospice indicated Dad had five or six weeks left, my husband found me sitting in a chair on our patio crying. While forgiveness had come several years before, knowing that Dad’s time was short and still desperately wanting and needing his blessing in my life, I cried, “He is going to die and I am not going to get anything that I need from him. I am not going to get that he loves me, that he is proud of me, that he is sorry for how hard some of his choices made life.” My heart ached.  The next day as I sat in Dad’s room talking about his oldest grandchild, soon to graduate from high school, Dad said, “You must be proud of her,” and I said I was. Dad then said, “I am proud of her too. And I am proud of you.” I began to weep. Over the course of the next 45 minutes my earthly father told me that he loved me. He told me that he had done some really bad things in his life. I agreed that he had done bad things and reminded him of the good things that he had done, that he had taken me to church and given me an education, two things that changed my life. I reminded him of forgiveness, most importantly God’s forgiveness of him. I was able to tell him how much God loved him and that grace and the cross were all-sufficient in covering him.
As my dad sat with tears streaming down his face at the possibility of God’s forgiveness, my earthly father taught me what would be his final lesson, and my heavenly Father healed the darkest place in my heart. God has the ability, no matter the circumstance, to bring the most beautiful light out of even the darkest, hardest places. What a gift.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive my stubborn and disobedient heart. Help me seek the love and light you offer through Jesus. Holy Spirit, move my heart ever toward forgiveness that I may see and claim your blessing anew.  Amen. 

Lift in prayer today
People in need of assurance
that Jesus has risen from the dead and will bring them new life

Good Friday, April 18

Good Friday Worship Service
7:00 pm in the Sanctuary
  • The Covenant Choir, with soloists and strings, presents "Wondrous Cross" by Alan Bullard, a contemporary British composer
  • The musical setting includes opportunities for congregational singing, reading, and prayers

by Jessica Patchett

Standing in the long shadow of death,
we are small, weaponless.
The walls of finitude close in
and the darkness is smothering;
Implacable ‘Why’s?’
pound our aching heads and shatter our hearts.
We surrender our petitions to silence.
The savior of the world
did not save himself.

Lift in prayer today
People in the holy lands

Maundy Thursday, April 17

Worship Service in the Covenant Sanctuary
begins at 7:00 pm
Led by the Contemporary Worship Team
with participation by 
the Worship Arts Team and the Dance Ministry

Scenes from the 2013 Maundy Thursday service

Lift in prayer today
People at Sharon Towers and other retirement communities

Wednesday, April 16

by Grady Moseley

I possess a small collection of devotional books, most from the 1950’s, that were presented to school-age children designed to provide Christian encouragement.  They are inscribed by Sunday school teachers and parents typically on the date of a graduation, Easter or Christmas.

Through the years I have read them as an adult searching for “simple but true” reflections, and from time to time have even used them in sermons.  While the topics are geared towards those growing in their faith as they are striking out into the world, there is a character trait that these little books all point toward:  the joy that comes with trusting our Lord in all things.

We do not often hear of “joy” spoken of these days.  “Happiness” and “success” are the words of our age.  From our youth all sorts of formulas are used to define success - so we can successfully go to the right university, so we can successfully earn the best degree and establish the best networking relationships, so we can successfully launch professional careers … all to ensure our success and happiness throughout the rest of our lives.

But lifetimes teach those who are paying attention that success is fleeting and happiness often thin and temporary.  Success and happiness in the eyes of the world are shallow and only divert our attention away from the One who made us for “Joy.” Yes, God made us to live in Joy, an experience so consuming that for those who experience the “joy of the Lord” there is nothing better.

Jesus knew the “joy” of being in relationship with the Father.  Paul knew that same “joy.”  The author of Hebrews encourages us to strive for this “joy” -  just as Jesus Himself did, and that there is nothing that compares with living wholly in relationship with the God.  Anything else – including success and happiness in this world - is far less than we were meant to experience in all of God’s creation.  If this were not so, Jesus wouldn’t have given his life so that we may “enjoy God forever,” from this very day through eternity.

Lift in prayer today
Salvation Army Center for Hope,
providing shelter and services for homeless women

Tuesday, April 15

by Lucy Crain

Can there be peace in brokenness? It is not something everyone readily admits to, but sometimes in our family, we refer to being a bit depressed or out of sorts as being “a little broken.” There are many events in our lives that try to break us and we are all familiar with the phrases, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” or “God never gives you more than you can handle.”  Indeed, Scripture even reassures us that we can “do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13). However, the Bible does not promise that we will avoid bruises and scrapes along the way. Sometimes our trials are so significant they seem almost to rip out our very insides. So when the pain of life seems to be too much, where is the peace?

Most everyone asks this question at some point, and it seems to go hand in hand with the age-old question, “Where is God?” Isn’t that really what we are looking for if we say we are looking for peace? The reassurance that God is with us would be the ultimate peace, would it not? That may seem like a trite answer, but the very presence of God would be the way of peace … at least for me. When the waves of the sea seemed to Peter as if they would swallow him, his peace came in putting his eyes on Christ and having his Lord reach out for him  (Matthew 14:29-31). However, sometimes the waves are too high and our eyes may be tightly shut out of fear and we cannot see the face of Jesus.

Years ago when I was in a class on marriage counseling, a wise professor said that there may be times in a marital relationship when it is too painful for the couple to look to one another for healing. Perhaps the couple is handling a difficult loss in different ways, or one spouse feels betrayed by the other, or some other issue is dividing them in ways that seem too big to overcome. However, problems like these do not have to mean the marriage is over, and this professor recommended that if the couple has children, they may need to look away from one another for a time and focus on their children while their relationship is healing. After all, he said, the children are an outward expression of the couple’s love for each other.

If there are times when we cannot see the face of our Lord because we feel he has betrayed us and left us alone or finally given us more than we can bear, where do we focus? What is the outward expression of his love for us? Perhaps the answer comes in the loving actions of others. In my own life, when I have been “a little broken” and could not clearly see the presence of God, I have seen his children in action. In the despair of a beloved child’s funeral, I have seen joy in the volunteer actions of others. In the silence of a hospital room, I have heard music. In the desolation of poverty, I have seen the abundance of generosity. In the isolation of grief, I have seen a community of caring. In the exclusion of labels and stereotypes, I have been welcomed by those different from me. In the loneliness of fear, I have had the company of a loving hand to hold. Peace for me has come in the actions of God’s children caring for one another through unspeakable pain. Looking outside ourselves to the gifts of this life …the loving support of other children of God … is a place of peace. May we share it with others and find it when necessary.

Lift in prayer today

Friendship Trays, providing balanced meals to the infirm and elderly

Monday, April 14

by Annette Bedford
"The Worlds of  Peace"

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body, and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.       –Colossians 3:15-16

There are two worlds for which peace is sought:  the outside world and our inner, personal world. This inner peace, which enhances our relationship with God, is a means for shifting our attention away from ourselves to where Christ has called us: to love the Lord’s creation held within ourselves and to love one another. The path to peace is peace, an awareness of a beautiful presence, one we feel in our hearts, our bodies and our minds. Scripture reminds us that God desires peace for all, which means our having a personal and meaningful relationship with the Almighty as well as a similar relationship with the world outside. Inner peace is the means for deepening this relationship with our Lord and Savior.

We cannot forget that we belong to one another; if we forget, we can have no inner peace nor can we bring peace to the world. Our inner peace relates to how we see ourselves, not to how others might see or what they may demand of us.  We strive faithfully to achieve a sense of calm and quiet, through meditation, reading of Scripture, singing of hymns, being in the midst of the community of faith. This is the peace of God and is often very different from the world around us.

Inner peace is the foundation for our relationship with God and the way we envision the outer world.  “Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us  …”  (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings.) Personal, inner peace is the only means of building a world of peace.

Blessed, indeed, are the peacemakers, for they are truly the children of God.

Lift in prayer today
Loaves & Fishes, providing a week’s worth of groceries
to those experiencing life crises

Palm Sunday, April 13

by Peter St. Onge

On my first day as a news reporter, I was sent to a neighborhood in Huntsville, Alabama, where a tornado had touched down the previous night. No one was killed in the storm, but the tornado had destroyed more than a dozen homes before leaping back up into the sky.

I walked from yard to yard that next morning, talking to whoever would talk to me. One woman chatted for a few moments, then told me she’d rather not see her name in the newspaper. I didn’t want to just walk away, so I asked: “What are you going to do next?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Well, I’ll pray,” she said.

I didn’t think much of it then, but in the years since, my job has introduced me to many people facing the challenges life brings: a couple whose house had been swept away by the Tar River in eastern North Carolina; an elementary school teacher in Arkansas heading back to her first day at work since a school shooting; men and women facing sudden unemployment or a frightening diagnosis.

Each of them and so many others have talked to me about praying, and I’ve come to realize that they did so not only to ask for something, but to remind themselves of the peace that comes with faith.

“Well, I’ll pray,” that woman said long ago, standing in her front yard. I understand better now, through challenges in my own life, of the peace that comes with praying, and the strength that comes with peace.

Lift in prayer today
Those struggling with depression or other mental disorders

Saturday, April 12

by Mary Ann Tilley
"My Peace I Give"

This gift was given by Jesus in his last days: “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Peace. Shalom. The deep sense of  wholeness, health, well-being.  What is this peace that passes all understanding? How do we know when we have that peace?  What words can even describe this gracious gift - so desired, so beautiful, so necessary to living in this troubled world? God speaks and things happen.

“I am with you always.”  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

 “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Words! Words of love, encouragement and vocation which call us to action as we live our daily lives through good and bad days. The Word made flesh.

 This peace, so hard for this human to adequately describe, has been given to me through written words, spoken words and the loving actions of a beloved community:
  • When my spirit was calmed and settled after reading scripture when circumstances had shattered my life: “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear.” (Psalm 27)
  • When friends have spoken comforting words and just sat with me  “I am here with you.” “I will not leave you.”  “I am praying for you.”  “I am here to help.”
  • When words of confession and forgiveness are said and a relationship is restored
  • When watching a gorgeous sunset after a satisfying day of beginning or finishing a project
  • When holding my newborn children and grandchildren and feeling awe and a love so intense I could hardly bear it, especially at their baptisms
  • When words in a sermon opened my eyes to a new way of serving and living love
  • When singing in worship with the whole congregation as one voice, “It is well with my soul”
  • When overwhelmed with gratitude for an answered prayer
  • When participating in the sacrament of communion and the bread and cup are lifted up, “Do this in remembrance of Me”
  • When hearing the words at the memorial service for a loved one, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies: and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die”
  • When God breaks into ordinary daily life and you have that “aha” moment and want to shout “yes,” for you have experienced the living God at work in the world
  • When one experiences a sense of knowing that one is loved, is here for a purpose created by our living God for his purposes
 The Peace of Christ is a presence of the other. We do not have to do this alone.

“It is finished” were Jesus’ last words on the cross. He had bowed to the will of his father. And then there was the wonder of the resurrection and the words “Go into the world. Make disciples of all nations. I am sending you. Do not be afraid. I will be with you always.”

“Go in peace.” “You are my beloved.” “I will be with you always.” How can one not go out with peace, unafraid, knowing we are not alone!

All thanks be to God for his spoken Word.

Lift in prayer today
Dove’s Nest, helping women
who are battling homelessness and addiction

Friday, April 11

by Jordan Schriefer
"Come, Bring Your Burdens to God"

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.    –Matthew 11:28-30

Our society tells us to go, go, go. There’s hardly any time for rest because there’s always something to do or to be done. This fast paced lifestyle may work for some people, but I am definitely not one of them. As my grandfather reminds me every time I see him, “You cannot burn a candle from two ends, it will burn out very quickly.” How true this is! When we try to do too much all at the same time, we cannot dedicate ourselves fully to one thing; instead, we find that we spread ourselves too thin among many things, not able to give our all. I unfortunately try to believe that I can multi-task and juggle various projects at one time; however, I am quickly reminded each time I do this, that I am not perfect, and it is not practical to be able to do that.

One way I have experienced the peace of Christ is through the Bible studies and devotions I have been involved in throughout high school, and now my collegiate years. My Wednesday night Bible study is something I look forward to every week because I know that no matter what I have going on, it can wait for an hour and a half; nothing is more important than drawing near to our God. Most weeks I find myself physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by Wednesday yet this is my favorite day of the week; I get to shut the world out of my head and dive into scripture and study with my closest friends. Matthew 11 verses 28-30 tells us that all we have to do is give our burdens and requests to God, and he alone will give us peace and rest. Nothing we do can earn this Peace, this beautiful serene Peace we are given as Children of God, because it is a gift. There’s a song that comes to mind that goes along with this scripture, “Come bring your burdens to God, come bring your burdens to God, Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.” Whenever I feel like there is too much going on, which as a college student seems to be much too frequently, I find a quiet place to sit and close my eyes for a few minutes to just breathe. Just finding a quiet place for a few minutes sends this rush of Peace over me, as if all of my worries are lifted off my shoulders.

We are imperfect beings. Jesus is Perfect. We are weary and burdened. Jesus is Peace.

Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.

Lift in prayer today
Center for Community Transitions,
helping those with criminal records find a productive way of living

Thursday, April 10

by Amy Wright
"Peace in Chaos"

When I ponder on peace in my sometimes hectic life, I first think of quiet. The quiet of a mountain cabin warmed by a wood stove in the dark night, the quiet of a sleeping child after a long day,  the quiet feel of a house when everyone but me has left to go about their business.   But my most powerful memory of peace did not come in a time of silence, but in chaos.

Last fall, I traveled to Haiti with a group from Covenant. It was one of my most difficult, un-peaceful experiences. The Haitian people at the clinic were gracious and welcoming. They were also loud, energetic and overwhelming. The poverty was troubling and very visible. The city was crowded, the traffic seemed to have no rules, and although the architecture was beautiful, most buildings seemed to be crumbling away without care.

We read letters from home in the van on the way to the village.  One letter encouraged us to sing “Here I Am, Lord.”  So we sang. We sang looking out of the van windows at the crowded Haitian city with rough-hewn huts lining the street selling what looked to be Salvation Army leftovers and on into the beautiful countryside. It was for me, among many things, a perfect example of God’s peace that passes understanding. Although I was in a country with problems beyond my comprehension, overwhelming in its hopelessness, God was there.  God holds this world in God’s hands, and singing that I will hold God’s people in my heart gave me a peace and a grounding that made the rest possible. 

Singing has always been important and powerful to me. Singing with a group of people in a foreign land about a God who made everything and still weeps for the people and yearns to heal their pain was a kind of peace that I do not understand, but felt profoundly. It was a peace that did not feel quiet, but instead an undergirding solidness in which to ground myself.

Lift in prayer today
Rebound, a Charlotte Rescue Mission program
helping homeless men who battle with addiction and homelessness

Wednesday, April 9

by Ashlee Cuddy
"A Moment to Receive Peace"

Peace. We all experience times in our lives when we desperately seek peace. In these moments the belief of finding any sense of harmony, tranquility, or serenity seems like an unattainable notion. The amazing thing is that it is a gift that is given to us by God and can be accepted each day. We just fail to grab hold of it sometimes. Why? Because life is busy, the call from God to “be still” can seem daunting; on other days, an impossible task. So you must create a moment of your own for God.

One of the ways I experience the peace of Christ is during the mornings when I journal. I carve out time each day before the sun is up, before the world awakes to find my peace with God. If you want to hear what peace sounds like, step outside at 5:00 in the morning and take a deep breath. Even if you are not a morning person, try it once. For me it all started about two years ago when I was feeling incredibly stressed. I opened my Bible to Philippians 4: 6 and read, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” So I found an old notebook lying around and poured my heart out to God. I praised him for gifts and his provisions; I lifted others up in prayer and then with thanks listed all my worries. I read the verse again this time through verse 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Find the time to create your moment. Not a morning person? Maybe you are a night owl. Maybe it is in your car on the way to work or when taking your lunch break, after the baby goes down for a nap or before the kids get home from school. Whatever works for you. Create this time for you and God to receive his incredible gift of peace. In Matthew 7:7, the Bible reminds us how to find those things we are looking for: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Approach God with Christ-like faith, with persistence and intention, and he will bless you with a sense of calm that can only be described as his peace.

Lift in prayer today

Tuesday, April 8

by Donna Wise
"An Excellent Practice"

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   –Philippians 4:7

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are reminded that God’s peace is greater than our ability to understand, and that this peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ. Several verses later, Paul tells us if we practice excellent and praiseworthy things, this God of peace will be with us.  What a promise that is!

Participating in interfaith activities has become an “excellent practice” for me, and I have found God’s peace in amazing ways. Conversations and experiences with people of other faiths who don’t look to Jesus for salvation have been enriching. I am convinced that the peace of God is what all people of good will are seeking.

In March 2013, Covenant’s Holy Land Peace Seekers hosted new friends from the Islamic faith community. Seated beside Muslim cleric Sheik Bassam, Joshua Ralston from Union Seminary in Richmond explained what Christians believe about the Trinity. We shared a meal together that allowed opportunity for us to get to know each other better and celebrate our similarities.

Along with people from all walks of life, I participated in the United Nations’ International Day of Peace at NoDa’s Neighborhood Theater in September. There was evidence of peace in action when people from many different faith communities danced, played musical instruments, shared native foods and read verses of peace from their various sacred texts.

The next month at a Washington, DC, conference on Peace with Justice in the Holy Land, Christians, Muslims and Jews explored ways to eliminate the walls that divide. At that conference I witnessed peace in every small group, quiet conversation, and newly formed relationship.

It is at times such as these, along with too many more to mention, that I experience God’s peace in new and rich ways. My prayer for you is that you will seek opportunities to share God’s peace with others and that in doing so your lives will be enriched.

Lift in prayer today

Samaritan House,
housing homeless people recovering after hospital discharge

Monday, April 7

by Ann Sanders

We feel peace in knowing that Jesus Christ is our redeemer and savior. But what does salvation mean and how did Jesus achieve salvation for us? 

Salvation is God’s promise of new and everlasting life – a life beyond our life on earth. It is God’s victory over sin and death, and it is achieved through the life and death of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was fully divine and fully human. We relate to Christ’s humanity, in that Jesus experienced an earthly life: he walked among us and we have shared human experiences. But Jesus was also divine: a more difficult concept for us to get our hands around. Importantly, he was without sin; this makes him different from you and me.

God forgives us of our sins and also gives us everlasting life through the life and death of God’s son, Jesus Christ. Jesus submitted himself to the will of God, his Father. He allowed himself to be unfairly tried and convicted, and he experienced a painful death of crucifixion. Then Christ descended into hell. Christ submitted to such suffering to make us right with God. Only through his humanity could Jesus reconcile us to God – through his unjust and painful death and descent into hell. 

But that is not the end of the story. Jesus, as a divine being, gives us new life. He returns to life with his resurrection, and with this act, God is triumphant over death, and new life is given to humankind.  Righteousness is restored; that is, God’s mercy and truth prevail, and we are invited to participate in God’s kingdom. We will never be divine (so we shouldn’t act as if we are!), but through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family and, as humans, can try to live as Christ did on earth. Walking with Christ as we lead our lives, with the promise of life everlasting, brings us peace and comfort indeed.

Lift in prayer today
Hope Haven, providing life skills and support
for homeless, chemically dependent adults and their families

Sunday, April 6

by Robin Goodson

Focus for the Week: Confession and Reconciliation

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.    –John 14:27

In June, after my father’s funeral, my cousin Dwight was helping me load my car. While we were making one trip, I mentioned that at the end of February when my sweet mother-in-law Wanda died, I had wakened up in the middle of the night because I felt someone in the room. I turned on the light to see who it was but found only a sense of a beautiful, peaceful, happy presence, cool air and light. I knew it was Wanda’s spirit passing. It allowed me time to pray and wish her well and be grateful for her role in our family. Wanda’s three-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease had left her in peace. When Mike called home from Raleigh at 6:00 am to tell me she had passed, I told him I already knew.

I had hoped for some similar experience when Dad died, 3½ months later, but did not have one, and told Dwight that I was trying not to think about it. The next morning, after getting both kids to the airport for trips and going to church, I had an email from Dad’s second cousin, someone I correspond with infrequently. She recounted a dream she had the night Dad died. She dreamt of Dad following the voices of his family through the clouds as he cussed and fussed, disoriented and confused, not sure where he was or which direction he should be heading. I will skip most details but will share the image of heaven’s Welcome Table offered in her dream:
He was then led to a huge, long dining table that seemed to go on for miles, jammed-packed with relatives and old friends he needed to see/meet. The tables were full of peaches, corn, tomatoes, doves, and everything he could possibly imagine. He was completely overwhelmed. Somehow he knew I was watching from another place. I couldn’t hear him speak except through a “mind/thought” transmission process. I could hear him think “I have finally arrived, and it doesn’t get any better than this” … and he told me, “I promise to save you a seat.”  He also said, “I hope that Jesus and God will forgive my transgressions to everyone I love but know that I am happy here and fully healed in every way.”
That glimpse of God’s welcome table, of healing in a way impossible on earth, offered peace and closure, a personal glimpse of what a room in God’s mansion might be like, open and welcoming for sinners like Dad, sinners like me. Sometimes God offers peace to us through the experience of someone else. We carry a responsibility to seek God’s kingdom on earth each and every day, and in whatever way we can, we are to share the peace of Christ with one another, even when it makes us vulnerable. My peace I give you, not as the world gives.   
Prayer:  Thank you, God, for being ever-present in times of transition and for offering peace and forgiveness, gifts not of this world.  Amen. 

Lift in prayer today

Big Brothers and Big Sisters, pairing at risk children with mentors

Saturday, April 5

by Everett Gourley

Serving the Navy during World War II on a minesweeper as my way of fighting for world peace, I felt peace each time we swept for mines and our ship survived.

I felt peace going to Brazil as a married missionary after originally planning to go single. My faith gave me peace after my wife died following the birth of our second son.

Returning to the States and living with my parents gave me peace knowing the three of us were being well cared for.

My parents felt peace when I remarried, moved out and established a home with my new wife and our 18-month-old and two-year-old sons.

Peace was felt when my wife survived the birth of our third son.

A great sense of peace was achieved when all three sons finished college and grad school.

Our children felt peace when we moved to Sharon Towers knowing that we would be cared for if we became unable to live independently.

Peace is found in studying scripture.

Peace in war goes at a great price.

The peace of Christ cost Christ his life by giving us ours as we follow and serve God.
Peace is elusive, but we should never stop seeking to achieve it.

Spending quiet time alone with God brings me peace.

Lift in prayer today

Central Avenue Bilingual School,
Covenant’s partner school helping at-risk Hispanic students

Friday, April 4

by Barbara Ann Zizzi
"Peace Through A Camera Lens"

I received my first camera at the age of eight. Little did I realize then what that gift would allow me to discover. At first, my photos were of haphazard subject matter, and more often than not, most were out of focus. After a few college photography courses, countless boxes overflowing with developed photographs and years of trial and error, I learned how to capture a moment in time which might have otherwise gone unnoticed. It is through the medium of photography that I feel most comfortable expressing myself. By capturing images of everyday occurrences, I not only discover the beauty and peace in the world around me but also experience it.

Last summer I had the privilege of traveling to Kenya with fellow Covenant and THAD church members to offer a hand in friendship and to work alongside our friends from Nairobi and Renguti. We were blessed to break bread and worship together. We laughed, cried, and celebrated together. They had much to teach me about living, loving, overcoming and celebrating. They had much to teach me about faith.  And when we left, I carried their images in my mind and their stories in my heart.

So, when invited to share a story of peace, my mind automatically recalled images from that trip to Kenya.  Literally thousands of images … all taken while I looked through a camera lens … peaceful images that have developed even more beautifully in my mind since my return.

Here are just a few of those images…
  • The rosy glow of the sun rising on a day full of promise and new beginnings
  • A tenderly cradled sleeping child in the arms of a Covenant member at New Life Homes
  • A tattered and treasured textbook laid open on a worn wooden desk
  • Students’ hands eagerly raised  in the air, all hoping to be called upon to answer the teacher’s question
  • Happy and laughing faces of children at play on a knee-high grassy playground
  • A single delicate flower growing toward the heavens despite having sprouted in the compacted, nutrient-void soil of the Mathare slum
  • A gathered community of faith lifting their voices in joyous song in a language other than my own
  • The face of a Kenyan child with eyes tightly closed and hands clasped in prayer
  • The wisdom and beauty shining forth from the face of a beloved grandmother
  • A vibrant rainbow in the darkened sky after a torrential thunderstorm
  • The brilliance of a setting sun sinking silently on the horizon of the Masai Mara
  • Twinkling stars revealing the vastness of the heavens on a clear summer night
Prayer:  Gracious and loving God, thank you for the peacefulness that you bring to our everyday lives. Help us to discover that peace in unexpected places and carry those images with us during this Lenten season.  Amen.

Lift in prayer today
Covenant Church’s children and youth

Thursday, April 3

by Jordan Chapman

Peace: placidly sitting on a sofa reading a favorite book; ruminating on a park bench on a cool and sunny March afternoon; experiencing focused reflection during a worship service.

I rarely find this idea of peace. In fact, experiences that I think should seem peaceful often stress me out. For example, on Sunday mornings, I treat myself to any combination of the following: reading the Sunday New York Times, attending church, cooking, practicing yoga, or listening to WDAV’s “Biscuits and Bach” radio program. These activities bring me peace, but the thought of choosing which one to do can stress me out. In church, I find myself making a checklist to structure the rest of my day. At yoga, I still cannot push myself to try a headstand without using the wall. Reading the various sections of my favorite newspaper even stresses me out! I get disappointed in myself if I fail to read the entire editorial section cover-to-cover. If nothing immediately strikes my fancy in the international section, I call myself out for being too self-centered. Writing this reflection even makes me feel guilty, as I criticize myself for complaining about such wonderful weekend options. The cycle just doesn’t end. Worse, it repeats almost every Sunday morning.

Recently, though, I have realized that different states of peace exist. Peace does not have to mean sitting in a chair with a vapid smile, absent of thought, worry, or critique. Isaiah 55:12 tells us, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  I love how this passage communicates that peace comes from experiencing nature. It strikes me as a symbiotic relationship; we respect nature, and in return, mountains, hills, and trees speak to us. Peace, therefore, can be active: joyful, exuberant, and busy. Peace means finding happiness in all of life’s Sunday morning gifts.

To me, peace requires us to approach life with joy. I can handle that. Although I may never find that quiet peace that I often imagine peace encompasses, I can start with joy.

Lift in prayer today
North Carolina Board of Education

Wednesday, April 2

by William Yates
"Sloppy, Beautiful Goofballs"

I experience the peace of Christ through the middle school youth here at Covenant. No, I’m not kidding, and no, I’m not being paid to say this. For me, it’s just true. When you sit back and watch them and listen and talk with them, it becomes very clear that they are walking more fully and honestly and transparently in the way of God than I think most of us believe possible. In BASE, QUEST, and Guys’ Group, I’m given the chance week-in and week-out to catch a glorious – and sometimes sweaty, without-deodorant – whiff of God’s scent through our kids. They don’t pretend to know that much about “God” or “faith” or any of that “religious” stuff. Instead, what they bring to the table time and time again is themselves. These selves are awkward, gossipy, loud, obnoxious, at times frustrating, and always clamoring for attention; but in the same breath, they are radiant, vulnerable, curious, outrageously hilarious kids who come in and let what you see be what you get. They come seeking affirmation, encouragement, purpose, and validation of their worth, and are open enough to let whelps and gleeps like you and me fumble along beside them as they find the God people talk about in the everyday stuff of their school and sports and home and extracurricular lives. Through them, I am learning that peace is not a feeling or an ideology; rather, peace is intended to permeate the very essence of who we are. It is a spirit – the Spirit – that is modeled after Christ: with humility, awkwardness, humanity, and grace. We carry God’s peace with us all the time; I’m thankful that our middle school youth are teaching me that what matters most is our becoming aware of it. From kids with braces and voice cracks and the latest fashion trends or no-no’s, I’m being given an irresistible invitation into the smudged heavens of God’s peace here on earth. It’s always fun to remember that even Jesus endured puberty; even he was once a middle schooler too.

Lift in prayer today
Highland Renaissance Academy,
Covenant’s partner elementary school,
where the majority of students are considered at-risk

Tuesday, April 1

by Lita Gatlin

I have experienced the Peace of Christ through … Promise
Promise, not in the sense of “I promise to be careful” or “I promise you are my best friend” or “I promise to be nice to my sister,” but the promise I found at Renguti School in Kenya this past summer. 

Promise was a little girl I met last June while on a mission trip with Covenant. Promise could speak only Swahili, and I could speak only English.  However, anytime I spoke to her, her face would turn into a smile and the most beautiful message (in Swahili) would come out of her mouth.  A beautiful, melodious sound that put everything in perspective for me: Promise had a sense of peace that gets buried in my busy, “to do” world.

In the same trip, I was introduced to the wonderful women at Amani ya juu, where women from around the continent of Africa learn the trade of sewing. A recent email from Amani introduced Elizabeth, who lives in a slum in Nairobi and runs the distribution floor at Amani:

Each morning, the seamstresses stop by to see Elizabeth so they can gather the materials they will use on their projects for the day. She offers more than just zippers and kitenge (fabric). She showers co-workers with hugs, conversation, and often the question, “How can I pray for you?”
At Amani, Elizabeth has discovered peace.

An unknown author offers the following definition of the word:

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

Promise and Elizabeth are two examples of peace. Like the rest of us, they struggle, living with uncertainty, yet they still have a sense of peace that can pass to others with a simple smile or a prayer, spoken or unspoken.

Although our worlds are worlds apart, we are connected by our one Creator. There is a peace in knowing that our Creator has it all figured out and offers peace to us.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  –Romans 15:13

Lift in prayer today
Teachers and administrators in the school system

"Peace Like A River"
Drawing by Alyssa Smith (4th grade)
Daughter of Tricia and Kevin Smith

Monday, March 31

by Jerry Jernigan
"Peace Through the Night"

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  –Matthew 6:25

 And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.             –Matthew 28:20

Merriam-Webster says “worry” means “to think about problems or fears: to feel or show fear and concern because you think that something bad has happened or could happen.” Well, here is the truth of the matter: I worry. I cover it up pretty well but I worry all the time.

Some of my worries are understandable. Will we ever live in peace? Why don’t we devote more resources to alleviating homelessness? Will my children live the lives I wish for them?

And some worries are embarrassingly trivial! Is there enough milk in the fridge for my coffee and cereal tomorrow morning? Will that commentator ever realize how foolish his commentary is? Will rain cause me to alter my outdoor plans?

I have lived long enough to know, I think, a proper response to these kinds of worries. The serenity prayer helps. Also, it helps to laugh at myself!

But these worries are not the ones that most shatter my peace.  The worries that do that don’t occur often but when they do, it’s usually around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.  They take the form of anxiety over, really a fear of, loneliness. Now, I have family and friends who provide love and community for which I am so grateful. But this fear of loneliness, of being “separate from,” is one no human can dispel. It is a soul loneliness I fear.

And it is then, at 3:00 in the morning, after some tossing and turning, that I whisper the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray so long ago. I may recite the 23rd Psalm or recall the verses from Matthew quoted above. Or, I may simply ask God to help me, to be with me.  And somewhere along the way, I fall asleep.

Sometimes, in the morning, before I am up and heading to the coffee maker, I’ll lie still and remember the night, my anxious feelings and my prayers. I’ll wonder why I fretted so. And I will say a prayer of gratitude that a Creator beyond my understanding, one embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, one we know as the Holy Spirit, stayed with me through the night and brought me peace.

Lift in prayer today
Epiphany School, helping children who deal with Asperger’s Syndrome

Sunday, March 30

by Chris Moore
Focus for the Week: Gratitude

Rarely do I consider arguing against a Biblical verse, but when thinking of “gratitude” one comes to mind that I personally find a bit inaccurate, if only because it is an understatement.  “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:13)  But ask any good parent if he or she were faced with the death of a child what they might do and I’m sure the response would be something like “I would rather die myself,” for there is certainly no greater pain than losing a child. So I would argue that love expressed by a parent willing to sacrifice his or her own child is a greater love.  Yet that is the sacrificial gift that God gave to us when he saw his own son die on the cross.

So how are we to respond to such a gift, such an unbelievable expression of his love for us?  Wikipedia states that gratitude can sometimes be just a warm feeling of appreciation, but often true gratitude “motivates the recipient to seek out his benefactor and improve his relationship with that person.”  We are not simply indebted to God for the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ, as he has not asked us to repay him in kind.  So while we owe him nothing, surely he deserves whatever thanks we can possibly offer. On the surface that may seem to be an impossible challenge, for how does one truly say “thank you” to God? Yet I think one need not look too far.  We are all created in his image, are we not?  He resides in all of us. So offering a helping hand, or our time, talent or money – yes, our service, to any other human in need with a thankful heart means we do so to him.  Even an expression of “thanks” to someone else for something he or she has done for us is an expression of gratitude to God.  Perhaps that’s the easiest way to get started. So pick up a pen, or a phone, or even a more modern form of technology (I have a hunch that God is open to receiving texts and emails these days!) and show someone your gratitude with a message of “thanks.” I think you’ll find that it’s only the beginning of a deeper relationship with that person and ultimately with our divine Creator.

Lift in prayer today
The Learning Collaborative,
a preschool for children in vulnerable situations

Saturday, March 29

by Caroline Stratos

Don’t panic. I am with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.     –Isaiah 41:10

I had a hard time understanding my grandfather at certain times. He would always have a billion things going on around him and still would be able to keep a calm composure. Whether it was preparing to marry some family friends or making visits to some sick church members, he would never break a sweat. He was a man of his word and would never back down on his promises. See, my grandfather on my mother’s side was a Presbyterian minister who preached at various Presbyterian churches across the whole country. People came to his services to hear his passion and love for Jesus Christ, to whose service he devoted his whole life. But beside his life of faith, he also devoted his life to spending time with his family. I remember going up to Waynesville, North Carolina, to visit him and my grandmother in their mountain house that overlooked a massive golf course. Right when my brother and I walked through the door, he would automatically engulf us in an enormous bear hug. And I would look up and see that smiling face. His smile would reach from cheek to cheek every time. And then I would hear his laugh, that soothing laugh that would always make my day. After his hug, he would offer us something to drink or eat and tell us to sit down and relax. Now I knew that when he went to get us something to eat, he would eat something himself, because he was a snacker. He had a huge pantry that was filled with everything from Goldfish to Fig Newtons. That was one of the things I loved about him. But the whole time we were there, he would spoil us and take us to every fun place there was in Waynesville (they were not plentiful). Also, every time we went out to dinner, he knew that my parents would try to pay for the meal, so he would pay for it beforehand. As these examples show, he would never think about himself. He was the most selfless person I have ever known.

Unfortunately, my grandfather developed pancreatic cancer later in his life. When he got his diagnosis, he was given a life expectancy of about two years. My whole family was devastated, especially my mother. I remember her coming up to me and asking, “Why did it have to be him? Why was he the one who got this terrible disease? He served the Lord his whole life, and out of everyone in our family, he’s the one who got it. I know I deserve to get it much more than he did.” That would leave me speechless because I understood how she felt. Throughout this constant time of worrying going on in my family, he was the one who remained the calmest. He would go about his daily routine, just as he had done before he received his diagnosis. In a way, he knew that this was just a part of God’s plan for his life. Knowing that I had few ways to help him, I decided to buy him rocks engraved with character traits like “hope” and “wisdom” from a store called Ten Thousand Villages. I would go every week and buy a different rock every time with my own money. I would then wrap up the rock with a Bible verse corresponding to the character trait and send it to him by mail. I decided to send him the rock engraved with “peace” first. It was the trait which I thought he displayed the most throughout his life. After about seven weeks, I ran out of new rocks to send him. Not long after, he passed away on a warm June evening after enduring his battle with pancreatic cancer.

I didn’t cry as much as I expected to. Why? Because I knew that he cherished the life he lived each and every day. I knew that he was in a better place now, free of pain. He was now in the arms of the Lord, whom he had loved and served all his life. Most importantly, I knew that he was peaceful when he passed. He knew that it was his time to go, and he was never afraid of this either. This realization gave me an overwhelming sense of peace I had never experienced before in my whole life. I understood this to be a pure message from God beckoning me to lead a life filled with peace, just as my grandfather had done.

About a year after his death, I went to visit my grandmother at Thanksgiving. There were many people there whom I had never met before, so I took a break from shaking hands and saying hello. I went into my grandparents’ room and walked around to observe many family photos held in fancy picture frames. As I was about to leave, I screeched to a halt when I noticed a most beautiful sight. The rocks that I had given to my grandfather were sitting in the center of his bedside table, arranged in a neat formation. He had kept these rocks close by him, until the day he died. I knew this to be my grandfather’s way of telling me to go out into the world and to live a life led by faith and filled with peace. I then looked up to him in heaven and promised him I would.

Lift in prayer today
Let Me Run and Girls on the Run, after school programs
for 4th and 5th graders teaching positive life habits and lessons

Friday, March 28

by Tyler Askew
"Drops of Moisture, Agnus Dei, and Tiny Lights"

This world that we have the privilege to dwell in is chaotic, frightening, beautiful and wonderful. It is utterly impossible to make it through this life without being overwhelmed by it at least once; thus we seek peace and solace wherever and in whomever we can. Many of us find this peace through loved ones, or by busying ourselves in repetitive tasks that we particularly like. Some people lose themselves in distractions and celebrate life’s grandeur in order to forget about their hardships and doubts. Many more of us look to our one God, who goes by many names and is worshiped by many different faiths, to find the peace we desire. I count myself among those who find peace with God, but I do not look for him in all of the usual places. I will not deny that I often feel a comforting sense of stillness and gentleness within the walls of a church, but to me God and the peace he offers can easily be found in three things: light, sound, and water.

I mentioned earlier that I often feel at peace within a church. This is due in no small part to the light found within one. I have found that they tend to possess no small quantity of windows, stained glass or otherwise. It is the sight of sunlight streaming in through these windows that I find particularly calming about churches. I’ve always enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the beauty that it lends to the sky during the periods when day and night transition, but something about the presence of its light within a church just seems right to me. I can easily lose myself in watching this light, and in these moments I find myself at peace.

But the light does not have to come from something as magnificent as the sun to bring me peace. I have always had a special fondness for Christmas Eve worship services,  especially for the lighting of candles. The sanctuary lights go out one by one, and then, amidst the all-encompassing blackness, a tiny candle is lit. It is not the light of the candle by itself, but the way in which that tiny flame is passed on by each individual in the room until everyone holds a tiny light in his hand and heart. The sharing of this tiny but precious light makes it so easy for me to grasp the concept of how much God loves us that I am often moved to tears by this spectacle.

From light, I move now to sound. In this day and age, ear buds, headphones and iPods are a common sight among the youth of our world, and I am no exception. These devices serve two functions at once: blocking out the sound of our enormous world, allowing us to retreat within ourselves and seek self-isolation if the presence of the masses becomes too overwhelming; and streaming in the sounds that we want to hear – music, or perhaps even a book read aloud, all chosen by the listener alone. In this way one can seek peace within himself by blocking the world out and getting lost in the familiar and comforting patterns of repetition and melody, taking a much-needed break from the larger chaotic world until one is ready to face it again.

I will not deny that I have more than a few rock and roll tracks on my own device, but I often prefer to listen to something more subtle and gentle, such as symphonic concertos and jazz albums. However, I have found that there are plenty of sounds beyond the confines of my headphones that bring me closer to the peace of God: the sound of an entire church congregation with voices lifted in songs of praise and faith, hundreds of different voices, each with troubles and opinions of their own, all united to sing the same song. The significance of this is not lost on me, and I take comfort in the knowledge that however different we may be from each other as people, we still find that we have enough in common to sing together.

Finally, I bring the aspects of light and sound together along with the third way in which I find peace: water. I love to swim and have always done so with a certain single-mindedness and fervor. I always make sure to take a pair of goggles with me whenever I go to swim in a pool. I do this for a number of reasons. The most obvious is to keep chlorine out of my eyes and allow me to see which way I am going when I swim underwater. But my main reason becomes clear whenever I swim into the deeper end of a pool. There I will dive down and just look. Suspended several feet from the bottom of the pool, with soft blue light streaming all around me in a space where all sound is muffled, I feel as if I have suddenly gained the power to fly. And so that is what I do: I fly through the water, weightless and free to move in any direction I desire. This feeling of freedom and being in a space that is not governed by the same laws as the space above the surface makes me feel set apart from the daily routines of life, and in this separation I feel further away from my burdens and closer to understanding the majesty of the God who created this wondrous space called “underwater.”

The peace of Christ is all around us every day. Some find it more easily than others do, but it is there for us if we take a moment to look.

Lift in prayer today
Florence Crittenton Services, helping at-risk girls,
especially those who are pregnant

Thursday, March 27

by Nancy Sutton

I have experienced the peace of Christ through reflection on the Spirit’s help in weakness.

I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.  –Luke 22:31-32

In the Impact study of Acts we see Peter in his destined role as leader of the apostles. How did that come about after so great a failure on his part?

Peter’s story is one of embracing and resisting and God’s grace in it all. Peter’s faith in Jesus – a faith that caused him to leave his fishing boats, that propelled him out into the water to go to Jesus, that caused him to be the first to confess Jesus as Messiah – that faith failed him at the crucial moment.
When those hostile to Jesus ask Peter where his allegiance lies, he denies knowing Jesus – not once, but three times! So it can be with us. When we try to stand up to pressure in our own strength, we may wilt.

But just as Jesus knew Peter would betray him, so Jesus was interceding for him. So also it is with us.
When we think of ourselves as people of little faith, do we not realize that the Lord is interceding for us that our faith may not fail? Even when our faith is no bigger than a mustard seed, Paul says in Romans 8:26, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

Just as the Lord looked at Peter and saw him trying to stand up to pressure in his own strength, he looks at us as we are. There are no secrets. He sees us without our masks and pretensions. The Lord sees the worst things we have done and the worst we are. He sees us more clearly than we see ourselves, maybe because most of us live in a state of perpetual denial about our faults.

The resurrection message is that we can give up pretense and denial forever. The Lord looks at us as he looked at Peter and sees everything there is to see and still says as he said to Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

Jesus teaches God’s grace in this warning to Peter: Do not trust in your own strength, but realize that after failure, there will be opportunity for restoration. Jesus intercedes for his own even when he knows they will fail him. Intercession evidences God’s love and grace for Peter and for us.
Peter’s failure of nerve is not a failure of heart and it is not permanent. Peter turns from his denial. The turning also is a gift from God, something the Holy Spirit brings about. His call then is to strengthen his fellow disciples.

The risen Lord remade Peter and he will do the same for us. In his death and resurrection, Jesus paid the price and won the victory. We are free and in this freedom we too are called to strengthen our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God, help us to take time during this Lenten season to look into the depths of our sin and, even as we consciously acknowledge the seriousness of our predicament before you, at the same moment help us recognize you as the one who extends your mercy to us even in the midst of our condition. In Christ’s name, we pray.

Lift in prayer today
Families sponsored by Covenant and
housed in the Arosa Avenue condominiums

Wednesday, March 26

by Becky Allison

What is peace? Peace is total commitment, the surrendering that says, “Here I am.” Peace includes forgiveness. Hard as it is to do, it is a way of making peace in our families, our church, and our nation. What a wonderful place to be.

I have experienced peace in a number of ways, most of all in my marriage. Jim’s returning home from war was peace for me. And after we were married, I joined him at Covenant Church. Peace!
I experience peace in Montreat. I call Montreat the closest to heaven on earth I will ever be. We have had a home in Montreat for 40 years. I have watched generations enjoy Montreat. Peace.

I experience peace by being in church. Each Sunday I watch the televised service from First Presbyterian Church. With bulletin in hand I worship. Recently, the worship service included the sacrament of baptism. I participated in viewing this holy moment as the minister held hands with the mom, dad, and baby for a prayer. Peace.

Lift in prayer today
Charlotte Family Housing, empowering homeless families
in their goal for long-term self-sufficiency

Tuesday, March 25

 by Dylan Welchman
"Peacefully Vulnerable"

 Two summers ago, I was traveling with 20 complete strangers on a Covenant mission trip to El Salvador.  After plane trouble and a seven-hour layover in Miami, we arrived in San Salvador many hours later than planned. After a 30-minute ride to our hotel for the night, everyone quickly retired to their rooms to sleep. The following morning, I went to the lobby to find a tasty breakfast buffet and a stoic Bob Henderson inviting me to sit with him. I took my seat across the table from him and began some small talk. I had taken only a few bites of my breakfast when Bob began to explain that my uncle, John Trexler, had died in a biking accident the previous day. I just sat there for a while, choking back tears, unable to speak or move, paralyzed with guilt, fear, and sadness. I had never experienced death before, and now I had to in a foreign country, surrounded by people I had never met before. Strangely though, I was at peace. All throughout the trip embarrassing stories were told, stories of guilt were told, tears were shed, passages were read, songs were sung, sickness was passed around … and everyone was at peace. Conversations were had and friendships were made, phobias were tested, and we crammed 20 people into a 15- passenger van …and everyone was at peace. 

The key to seeking peace is vulnerability. If you take a step out of your comfort zone, and make yourself vulnerable, and you are met by somebody who does the same, peace is instantaneous. The moment everyone on the trip found out that my uncle had died, they made room in their hearts for me, and the moment they did that, I did the same for them … peace. The moment you share a concern with a significant other, or a family member and they listen … peace. 

Peace is a beautiful thing; it’s free of judgment, full of love, and it makes you forget about all the bad things for a while. So go out, with an open heart; seek peace. Amen

Lift in prayer today
Freedom School Partners, engaging, educating and empowering at-risk children
through literacy improvement efforts

Monday, March 24

 by Kandy Cosper

As I walked out of Carolinas Rehabilitation Hospital, thick clouds were blowing across the sky and thunder rolled in the distance. Sad and frustrated, I looked up and said out loud, “Okay, God, I need you to take it from here. I just can’t do it any more.”
I had left my husband lying in a bed for the second of what eventually would be nine hospitalizations in a period of six months. One day he was a busy lawyer working 60 hours a week; the next day he was being fed through a tube, bathed and dressed by nursing assistants, struggling to sit up by himself, learning to use a walker.  One little blood clot moving from the heart to the brain had changed our lives forever, and we knew that getting better would be a long, slow process.

That evening, after son Graham had asked God to bless Harvey and left for the night, I drove nearly all the way home before realizing I had left my cell phone in his room. I put my head on the steering wheel and breathed a big sigh. Calls and messages were coming in on that phone at all hours, including those from doctors and from our children. I was angry with myself and with the whole situation, blind to anything but my own exhaustion.

So when a young man called out to me in the parking lot of the hospital, I ignored him as I ran through the rain. He caught up with me inside at the elevator. “Mrs. Cosper. Hello. I was in school with your daughter Ann.”

I looked at the thin young man with curly hair whom I had not really known and had not seen in many years. “Oh, hi. Ann is here every weekend. Her dad is upstairs; he had a stroke.” He hesitantly told me that he had come to attend a support group. Then he asked, “May I come and see Mr. Cosper?”  Until that point, we had not allowed any visitors except our children and ministers. “Okay, sure,” I responded warily.

Harvey was lying in the dark room. The young man strode forward, introduced himself and lifted Harvey’s hand to shake it. Then he asked, “Would it be all right if I prayed for you?”

Standing at the foot of the bed, he folded his hands, bowed his head, and stood quietly. “You can pray out loud,” I said. “We are praying folks.” But the young man stood, still and silent, in deep and reverent concentration. I bowed my head. Harvey closed his eyes.

Slowly, as minutes passed, a great tranquility spread over us and filled the room. We breathed quietly. Finally, the young man gently reached across the bed again for Harvey’s hand. “God bless you, sir,” he said, and we knew that he already had.  “Young man,” Harvey told him, “you can come and visit me any time.”

In a spirit of great peace, I retrieved my phone just as it rang. It was our son David, who lives in New Zealand. Because of the 18-hour time difference, he had not been able to speak with his dad since returning from a visit right after the stroke. I put the phone on Harvey’s chest, and David said all the meaningful things to show his understanding and love. Harvey told him, “David, an angel just visited me in my room tonight.”

Had I not forgotten my phone, the angel would not have visited us, and Harvey would not have been able to talk to his beloved son. I later discovered that the young man had survived some tragic circumstances and struggled through a difficult recovery. God had surely made him an angel in answering our deepest prayers and bringing us a profound peace that has lasted to this day.

Lift in prayer today
A Child’s Place, working to erase the impact of homelessness on children

Sunday, March 23

by Martha Isaacs
Focus for the Week: Centering Prayer and Meditation

Centering prayer, along with Christian meditation, Lectio Divina, and solitude are spiritual practices that help develop our awareness beyond what our senses and mind allow us to experience. In our western 21st century culture of busyness, speed, and noise, these ancient practices are more needed than ever. Centering prayer is one way to practice being totally open to God. As one of my teachers has said, “Totally available, all the way down to that innermost point of your being; deeper than your thinking, deeper than your feelings, deeper than your memories and desires, deeper than your usual psychological sense of yourself – even deeper than your presence! …where, in the words of the well-loved monastic formula, your life is ‘hidden with Christ in God.’” Simply put, it is a way of quieting the heart in order to rest in God alone.

In the 1960s and 1970s three Trappist monks (Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and William Meninger) sought to revive this ancient meditative, silent prayer practice. Unlike eastern meditation that attempts to clear the mind of all thoughts, centering prayer assumes that the person praying will have thoughts. Through the use of a “sacred word” thoughts are gently released into the hands of God allowing one to return to the prayer. Centering prayer is sitting in the presence of God, giving God our love and attention; surrendering our thoughts as they arise. The discipline is in the “showing up,” ideally twice daily for sits of 20 minutes each. It is similar to observing Sabbath rest: surrendering our calendars, agendas, plans and thoughts to express our intention to be totally available to the One who created us and loves us.

The method is remarkably simple and yet requires discipline to practice.
  •  Sit in a comfortable position on a chair, mat or cushion.
  •  Choose your sacred word that symbolizes your intention to receive God’s presence and action with an open heart.  (For example, love, peace, shepherd, grace, breath. There is no wrong choice.)
  •  Set a timer for 20 minutes. Using a timer allows total surrender without having to keep checking a clock. There are smart phone apps available with meditation timers. I use Insight Timer, but a kitchen timer works fine also.
  •  Closing your eyes is helpful. Picture yourself as a young child crawling up onto your parent’s lap and laying your head on your parent’s chest. You don’t ask for anything. All you want is to rest in the closeness and love of your parent.
  • Take time to quiet yourself. Practice surrendering by letting your thoughts go by quietly as you think your sacred word.
  •  Don’t become agitated if you have to say your sacred word several times, or even more than several times. If all you did in 20 minutes was continually express your desire to be closer to God, that would not be a bad thing!
  •  When the timer chimes after 20 minutes you can gently come out of your silence by saying the Lord’s Prayer.
Many practitioners of centering prayer sit with a group of people sometime during the week. There is a very strong bond formed in a centering prayer circle. It also helps with accountability if you know others are expecting you. There is a very active contemplative outreach group in Charlotte and you can learn more, or find a group on the website www.cpcharlotte.org. Two groups meet at Covenant in the parlor on Tuesdays at 12:00 noon till 12:30 and Thursday mornings at 7:15 am until 7:45 am. Comprising members of Covenant and other churches throughout Charlotte, these groups welcome people exploring or new to the practice as well as long-time practitioners.

The fruits of centering prayer (love and peace) are not immediately evident. The inner transformation accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit takes place gradually over time. Usually it is other people who notice the change. So why would anyone want to take on such a rigorous practice that doesn’t have an immediate result? The contemplative tradition has much to offer to our fractious world. And if you have ever observed someone for whom the practice is a part of their everyday life, you would say to yourself as I did years ago, “I want to be like that! I want to live and love like that!”

The CP Charlotte website states it like this: “While we are formed by our respective denominations, we are united in our common search for God and the experience of the living Christ through centering prayer. We affirm our solidarity with the contemplative dimension of other religions and sacred traditions, with the needs and rights of the whole human family, and with all creation.” While centering prayer seems like a very private practice, it is truly global in its vision and timeless in its call to faithfulness.

Lift in prayer today
Government officials in Charlotte and in North Carolina

Saturday, March 22

by Elizabeth Cooper

What brings me peace?

When asked the question, multiple things come to mind. My family, my friends, the mountains, the beach, Covenant on Christmas Eve … etc., etc.

There are so many things within our world today that can bring joy and peace if we just open our hearts and look for them. But that’s the key … opening our heart {completely} and looking for them, and I mean really looking.

One of the biggest take-aways from being a People in Mission intern last summer was being told at the beginning of the summer to keep our eyes open to see the things we wouldn’t normally see and listen for the things that we wouldn’t normally hear. Over the past six months I have done just that. Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I have been able to truly look for the small things. And this, this is where I feel most at peace. Peace knowing that I am not the only one in this world going through the same thing. Or peace that there is still good to be found and heard in our society today. Lastly, peace knowing that you have a lot more in common with the person standing behind you in line at Starbucks {or in my case, the Loaves & Fishes pantry this past summer} than you may have thought.  Through looking through my “different set of eyes” these past six months I’ve come to realize that we all bring some sort of peace to the world.

Don’t get me wrong: mountain tops, the sound of the ocean and the chills that I always have on Christmas Eve definitely top the list.  However, the one that takes the cake is having peace in knowing that God is with us, for us and never against us in each trial, act and moment that we face in our day-to-day lives. Knowing that in God’s eyes we are no different than the stranger standing next to us in Starbucks or the homeless person waiting outside. I challenge you to look, and really look, for the peace that surrounds you and that you can be blessed with each day. 

Lift in prayer today
Compassion to Act, seeking an end to human trafficking