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 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

Friday, March 21

by Elizabeth Wright

As someone with an anxiety disorder, I often find peace to be very far away. Sometimes it feels like peace is found only in the shape of certain, perfect moments: a year ago, lying on a sailboat in the Caribbean sun; a recent Sunday, with a Gospel Choir singing a song from my childhood. Peace feels like a set of uncontrollable variables, coming together for a brief time, then gone forever.
And that’s one definition, certainly. But peace is also a process.

Peace is coming to terms with yourself and your emotions, striking a balance between acceptance and change. It’s not just the victory parade after the war – it’s discovering what post-war life is like. It’s learning to breathe.

I can’t spend all my time on mountaintop trails or an acupuncturist’s table. I will never feel at peace all the time, because life doesn’t work that way. I will always have to find a balance between what I want to do and what I can do. But I’m not a hostage to peace.
I’m part of the process.

Lift in prayer today
Urban Ministry Center,  the central hub providing necessary services
for the homeless such as housing, laundry, bus passes

Thursday, March 20

by Mary Parrish Coley

He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in him.  –Isaiah 56:3

Trust, obedience and peace seem to go hand in hand in my life. For many years I participated in a community Bible study, and occasionally we sang an old hymn titled “Trust and Obey.” I loved the very simple but wise lyrics. They reminded me just how easy it can be to obtain a measure of peace when I’m willing to trust God and obey his word.

When I give my worries and concerns to God in prayer, it’s a great relief to know that God, who loves us and has everyone’s best interest at heart, is present and at work in this world. As well, I believe there is power in naming the worry or concern and being honest with God. He wants me to engage with him and my relationship with him is strengthened every time I approach him. Finally, when I take the time to read God’s word, I almost always find some words of comfort or wisdom that encourage and inspire me. God provides peace of mind and heart as only he can because he knows me so well.

Why then do I so often continue to worry? Or worse yet, why do I not take these matters that so fill my day and thoughts to God more frequently? I wonder if we Americans, who are constantly striving for better and more, have somehow been programmed over the years to think everything is within our grasp if we work hard enough. It’s simply not within my nature to pass along a concern or a task to another and relinquish all responsibility. This ingrained behavior appears to make me my own worst enemy when it comes to seeking peace and contentment in my life.

I know now that my most fervent prayer should be that God remove any thought of mine to “assist” him in working through my worries and concerns and instead seek to live within his will for my life. As verse three of the following hymn relates, his joy, favor and love bless those who trust and obey.

Trust and Obey
When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word,
    what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will, he abides with us still,
    and with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
    to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
    but our toil he doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
    but is blest if we trust and obey.  (Refrain)

But we never can prove the delights of his love
    until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor he shows, for the joy he bestows,
    are for them who will trust and obey.  (Refrain)

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at his feet,
    or we’ll walk by his side in the way;
What he says we will do, where he sends we will go;
    never fear, only trust and obey.  (Refrain)

Lift in prayer today
Young adults participating in the Urban Plunge mission trip

Wednesday, March 19

by Alex Coffin

In the Book of Common Prayer it says, “Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

But is that so for us? We have been let down by political leaders, religious leaders, institutions, perhaps even members of our families. We have all been frustrated to one degree or another. We’ve heard it before – from Yeats in “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
We need to hear words of comfort. Yet, wait, the center does hold! In the beginning, God! And God is still there. Still here.

As Frederick Buechner has written: “By grace, we see what we see. To have faith is to respond to what we see by longing for it the rest of our days; by trying to live up to it and toward it through all the wonderful and terrible days; by breathing it in like air and growing strong on it; by looking to see it again and see it better.”

I  remember once sitting in my office early one cold winter morning and thinking I was abandoned and saw no way out of a very tough professional predicament. Then, the answer came clearly as I stared across my desk – “I am with you. Just as I was when I served manna to the Israelites. I may not get you out of the desert, but I am with you. You WILL get through it. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

It wasn’t the sweet “Jesus Loves You,” but a more honest “Amazing Grace.” “‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”

“If God is for us, who is against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Peace.

Lift in prayer today
People who are exhausted

Tuesday, March 18

by Perrin Tribble
"Practice Makes Permanent"

I have had the privilege of coaching two middle school girls’ basketball teams this season, and I have learned two very important lessons from my players: patience is a virtue of the saints, and practice makes permanent. I have enjoyed every minute of coaching this season, but I do not want you think this story has anything to do with my finding the peace of Christ on the basketball court, because I have not. This is a story of how accepting the peace of Christ takes practice and practice makes permanent. 

Growing up, I was convinced that receiving peace was tolerating the elderly ladies of the congregation kissing my cheek each week – it was something I cautiously avoided. I have fortunately grown into a new understanding, one that holds much more truth. A couple of years ago, two friends and I set out on a quick kayak trip across the North Edisto River to Botany Bay Plantation. The plan was to catch the sunset on the beach that houses a forest of petrified trees.  Botany Bay has become one of my favorite places to go and just “be.”  When we arrived, my friends and I spaced out, climbed on the limbs of different trees, and most importantly put away our phones.  As I settled in, with my feet dangling just above the water, I took a few deep breaths and when exhaling, I could feel every pressure I placed on myself lifting. I was in awe of the sunset and soothed by the sounds of the tide turning below me. I quickly realized that the pressures were lifted because I was opening myself to the peace that Christ offers when we seek him.

I seek his peace and his presence most often in nature and at times when I am without distractions. It just seems to come more easily to me in those settings. As I continue to practice accepting peace, I have found I am able to receive it throughout busy weeks and in crowded, distracting environments. I was even able to breathe in his peace while sitting on the floor of my parents’ overcrowded house Christmas morning, while my four-year-old niece played her new guitar. It has been a gift to learn that when I allow myself to accept the peace of Christ, I am then equipped to share that peace with others. The Holy Spirit is at work in spite of us and will reveal the peace Christ longs to offer us. Sometimes, it just takes a little practice.

Lift in prayer today
Women in Transition, a YWCA program
providing affordable housing and foundational living skills for women

Monday, March 17

by Susan Lawson
"Continuing to Seek Peace"

Recently my small group began a discussion about finding stillness and peace. As we went around the table, it was clear that all of us struggle to find everyday moments of peace and stillness. A few of the ways some of us were able to find peace were through a tough yoga class or a workout that drained us to the point of shutting our minds off. If we were awake, we were “on.”

At the end of our time, we talked about practices or ways to find stillness and peace to listen for God. So, that evening I came home, downloaded a meditation app on my iPhone (an irony not lost on me) and set out on my first ten minutes of meditation. Within three minutes I was checking the clock.

The next evening, it was five minutes before I checked.

And by my fourth attempt, I made it through ten minutes without opening my eyes.

While this is still new and I can barely call it a habit or practice, I have to say when I am settling in for the evening, I have begun to look forward to this ten-minute time out.

I don’t know that I have entirely found peace through these meditations, but during this Lenten season, I am hopeful that with some dedication to the practice, peace will find me. Further, I hope the experience will deepen my relationship with God as I take intentional time to listen for him.

Lift in prayer today
Community Culinary School of Charlotte, providing training in culinary skills for those with barriers to employment

Sunday, March 16

by Petra Wahnefried
Focus for the Week: Sabbath

In general, Sabbath has become known as an out-of-date idea or a day to be lazy.  But God created the Sabbath to be so much more than this!  Sabbath is a way by which we can recognize God in our world and live more joyfully because of that.

Sabbath originated when God finished creation and took an entire day to revel in the beauty of the earth. Then, God invited us to do the same so that we might enjoy creation and live purpose-filled lives.  But what exactly does it mean to take Sabbath?  To state it simply, Sabbath is taking time out of the week to enjoy what God has created and to recognize that you are part of that creation. 
You can practice Sabbath in a variety of ways.  Some ideas are to do your favorite hobby and recognize it as a gift from God, enjoy time with friends and see God in them, take time away from your calendar, email and phone so that you aren’t pulled into thinking constantly of work, or spend time in solitude.  There are many ways to recognize where God is in our world, and you can be creative with how you might do that best.
Whatever you decide to do, your intent should be to recognize that you are more than what you do in your job, at school, or in your life.  Whatever you do on Sabbath should help you proclaim that you are first and foremost a child of God.  If you spend time each week recognizing this, you will find the true purpose of Sabbath and your life will be filled with much more joy as you realize God’s presence in the world and the gift of creation.

Lift in prayer today
LifeWorks,helping those who have been incarcerated acquire job skills

Saturday, March 15

by Maggie Bennight
"Peace In a Village"
I had just landed at the Nairobi airport. The air was thick and hot. From my delirious state of tiredness, I remember feeling slightly panicked. I was far away from home with none of my family members with me; all I heard were foreign languages; all I saw were shops and brands that were like nothing I had ever witnessed; and walking down the hallway, I realized eyes were watching me. It felt a lot like those moments when you feel someone’s presence behind you and when you look, no one is there. As our group from Presbyterian College ventured out into Nairobi, the staring continued. Every single person we drove by took a moment out of his or her day to look at us … the Africans we came in contact with were enamored with our skin color and hair. The children at the orphanages we visited couldn’t help coming up, stroking our arms and running their fingers through our hair. We were spectacles. I was, especially, being the only one in my group with blonde hair.

The panicked feeling that first met me in the airport settled in and became a dull constant. I had never been the spectacle. I had never been the odd one out. Being in a place where there were constantly people watching me, asking me questions, touching my skin and my hair, was at first confusing and uncomfortable. However, as the days passed, I became accustomed to it. I began not to notice the watching eyes and became deeply enamored with the precious children touching my hair. Even though I became used to it, the dull feeling of panic still remained. It wasn’t until a very specific event that I felt at peace and the feeling of panic left.

Our group was at a church in the middle-of-nowhere Africa. We had just completed building the church structure so the people of the community could worship indoors, away from the sometimes-harsh elements. It was the day of the church’s dedication, and we, along with the lovely people of the village, were in the church about to begin a worship service. A man stood up and began to sing in Swahili (a language used by a large number of people in Kenya). It was much like a chant … when he sang a verse, the congregation would chant a response. Our group stood watching and listening in amazement at the beauty of the singing. Once the congregation became fully engaged and enthralled in the chanting, the ministers processed in.  As the five ministers came in, they too were singing the song and dancing their way down the aisle. In that full moment, a rush of peace washed over me. As the tears streamed down my face, I was overcome with the beauty of God’s presence in this place and the peace God brings to those who need it. Until that moment, I had not allowed myself to be present and a real part of Kenya. I was simply “just visiting.” The ministers’ singing and dancing changed that for me. Leaving the service that day, I felt and saw God’s peace and presence throughout the people of that tiny village and in the coming days.

Today, when I think of Kenya, the weeks I spent there, and the amazing people who are in my heart, and I feel pulled to go back and see, I think of peace and the ministers who allowed me to realize God’s presence is with us everywhere. Even in a tiny mountain village in Kenya, Africa.

Lift in prayer today
The Relatives, helping children and youth access housing and support

"The living water of God's love flows deep and wide"

Drawing by Caroline Lam, 2nd grade, daughter of Anne and Chris Lam

Friday, March 14

by Anne McQuiston

As I think about when I have experienced the Peace of Christ, the first thought that comes to mind is times that I have prayed and meditated in the chapel. When we had a Good Friday vigil, I would go to the chapel late in the evening and often be alone. Using guided readings, reflecting and praying, I would completely lose track of time. A peace and calm would sweep over me as I became aware of a love so complete there is no fear for the future. When I leave I carry that peace and calm with me. However, taking time for prayer and reflection keeps me from being overwhelmed by life’s ups and downs no matter where I am.

Confronted with the hurts, pains and losses that we all experience, I find that I am able to sense the Peace of Christ and Love of God as words of scripture, hymns and songs come to mind. What comes to me most frequently is the benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. John Rutter has written a beautiful choral rendition that I particularly like:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

Another that comes to me is

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

I find by practicing a spiritual discipline, my life becomes more peaceful and less distressful.

The Peace of Christ is God’s great gift to us all.

Lift in prayer today
Religious leaders in our community

Thursday, March 13

  by Julian Wright
 "Peace Through Justice"

Someone had plastered the bumper sticker on an exposed beam in the house I rented with two other guys during my first year in law school. The bumper sticker read, “If you want peace, work for justice.”  I have seen the bumper sticker and the sentiment expressed many times since. I cannot recall the sentiment being so succinctly and perfectly expressed prior to my moving into that old house. They are words I’ve remembered and – at my better moments – tried to live by ever since. 

I want peace. I think we all do. Usually when I think of peace, I contemplate, at a minimum, an absence of war, discord, and strife.  Peace should be more than just that, but peace has to be at least that. Peace also can be intensely personal: the tranquility of that time alone in a pristine Alpine meadow or a beautiful Caribbean beach, or even just sipping your favorite hot beverage before the day’s demands and opportunities close in (or maybe your favorite cold one as the day ebbs away). Peace, though, has to be more than just a patchwork of those individual moments.  Ideally, peace should denote a sort of harmony and wholeness. It is the many disparate aspects of our lives and world, flowing smoothly and working together in some sort of higher, common purpose. When I think of the Christ as the “Prince of Peace,” I envision more than just the potentate of serenity who helps us stop the myriad forms of bomb-throwing, from verbal to thermonuclear. I envision a Redeemer and Reconciler, the One who brings together the many into an eclectic whole, which functions in some sort of harmony to bring about God’s Kingdom in, through, and among us all (see Isaiah 9:6).

But how to get there?  That’s where justice needs to kick in.  Justice, however, is actually an even harder concept than peace.  Peace, with God’s help, can be developed on some levels internally and even on your own (find that meadow, beach, or beverage).  Justice, however, requires relationships to be achieved.  It may be possible to be “just” with yourself, but we typically see justice more in the “balance” of relationships. To understand and try to achieve justice between you and your neighbor, or your spouse, or your employer, or Charlotte’s homeless, or the African or Mexican you’ve never met, or even God’s Creation as a whole, you have got to be in relationship – somehow – with all of those entities. Justice is nothing less than that elusive “right relationship” between entities in which balance can be achieved and the very relationship restored, enhanced, and enabled to go on.
Back to that bumper sticker. Working for justice enables us to get to peace at a variety of levels. If the relationships – whatever they are – are “right,” and the two sides treat each other justly, we eliminate the need for discord, strife, and even war. When the shouting (and bomb-throwing in all its forms) stops, the conversations can begin.  Justice allows that space for peace to take root. I suppose at another level, you can find peace with yourself by working hard for justice for others. There just never seems to be enough time for insecurity, doubt, addiction, and even self-loathing, when you are working hard for somebody else’s benefit and doing it for the right, Christ-focused reasons. Those beverages – whatever they are – just taste better before and after days spent working for others. Finally, justice enables us to maintain and nurture the very relationships that make up the greater, hopefully harmonious, whole. When we have more justice among all of the different relationships of which we are a part – and whether we acknowledge the interconnectedness of all relationships in Creation or not, it’s there – we have the opportunity for the harmonious coming together of the greater whole. And that is Peace.  As scripture tells us, albeit not quite on a bumper sticker,  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful”          –Colossians 3:15

Lift in prayer today
Crisis Assistance Ministry, assisting those in crisis with rent and utility expenses

Wednesday, March 12

by Maddie Garcia

I stared down at the little white ball, and looked at the sea of green beyond me. All was silent, except for the occasional “ping” of a club. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of my face as I bent over to put my tee in the ground… I had been out here for a good six hours, bearing the summer heat and endless blisters just to do this. Why? Why was I sitting out here in 100° weather, trying to get this impossibly tiny ball from one point to another? Once I really thought about it, I realized it’s because it gives me an opportunity to reflect and just let my mind run free. It sounds silly, but there’s just something about whacking a golf ball all over the place that calms me down. As Romans 14:19 says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building.” Playing golf gives me a way to escape the everyday demands of life, and gives a sense of peace that only a God as awesome as ours can ever provide. On this note, I encourage you to go out and find what gives you peace of mind, and nurture it.

Lift in prayer today
Men’s Shelter, where homeless men can eat, sleep, and access homeless services

Tuesday, March 11

LeAnne Stipp
"Simple Abundance"

It’s simple.  You slow down enough to pay attention, truly pay attention, to what’s happening around you or within you at any given moment, and you experience the peace of Christ and vivid glimpses of beauty and grace.  If only …

Instead, many of us race to keep as many balls as possible in the air and even toss one more up if no balls have come tumbling down lately. Eventually, we hit our max and pause long enough to rationalize our behavior and then vow to ourselves that we must slow down … smell the coffee … and not allow this to happen to us again. And then we do it again and again.

I find it hard to experience peacefulness, grace and life’s simple abundance with too many balls in the air and have learned that “paying attention” and being grateful for happy moments, disappointments, and heartbreaks takes practice and intentionality. I’m wired to keep moving, to get things accomplished, to have something to show for my time. But in so doing, I miss the opportunity of experiencing God’s constant presence in my life.

The peace of God is much more than a temporary absence of strife but rather, an inward calm that comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit. I feel an abundance of peace when I experience the seemingly little things. I call them “moments” or “nudges” from God. They happen when I least expect them or when I accidentally or purposefully slow down and pay attention. These “moments” fill my heart and transcend what’s going on externally in my life. They bring me true peace and contentment.

I paused recently to put words to a mere few of these moments …

conversations – worship  – music – long, brisk walks – giving an anonymous gift to a friend – finishing a road race – receiving a note from a friend – caring for an ill family member – wonderful neighbors – teamwork – prayer – receiving a smile from a stranger at just the right time – receiving an “I miss you!” text from my child in college – being gentle with myself – observing the brilliant colors of a sunrise or sunset – watching the rain – hearing and feeling a thunderstorm – having a friend “talk you off the ledge” – petting an animal – looking into the eyes of a child at the Renguti School in Kenya – gratitude for wounds that have healed – playing with a child – baptisms – blessings at mealtime – enlightenment – growing something from a seed – the colors of springtime – the colors of autumn – figuring out your passions – disappointments – the sound and sight of the ocean – soldiers being reunited with loved ones – morning birdsong – taking the scenic route – being there for someone – someone being there for me – being moved to tears – words of encouragement – a sudden fit of the giggles – success – defeat - love

The act of writing these down and reflecting on the gifts that are offered to us day-by-day was overwhelming and moving. These “simple” gifts have no boundaries or price tags. They are abundant and intended for all.

Lift in prayer today
Cookies for Kids Cancer, supporting pediatric cancer research

Monday, March 10

Dustin Saunders
Queens University of Charlotte, class of 2016

Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.    –Mark 10:15 (NASB)

I have two nieces:  seven-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Laynie. Many times when I’ve been with them  through their years of growing into the beautiful girls they have become, they’ve asked me a random question, as children do:

“Dustin, why’s the sky blue?” “Why is church on Sunday?”

I can usually answer them (it’s the privilege of an uncle to defer the more complicated ones to Mommy and Daddy!) and it’s a great feeling when you’ve successfully taught something to someone. Little did I know that one day, looking into their cute little faces after hearing one of their questions, they would be the ones to teach me a very important lesson about the Lord’s peace.

When I spend time with the girls, I’m routinely struck by their innocence and joy. Whether it be the look on their faces when curious, the shrieks of joy over something as mundane as an inexpensive new toy, or the way they run to hug a family member goodbye, the simple genuineness of their lives and their love inspires me.

Chloe and Laynie know not the stress of needless, frivolous worry. They don’t bend themselves out of shape trying to meet anyone else’s expectations but their own. They simply live and let live.
They shine as an example of the godly peace I pray to show to those who know me.

Lift in prayer today
Those who feel lonely

Sunday, March 9

Claire Tomkinson
Focus for the Week: Presence and Connectedness

I wonder if it is debatable what wilderness Jesus spent that time of temptation in. I have seen photos of the arid rolling hills where scholars reckon Christ wandered during those 40 days and 40 nights of hungry temptation. I have a different conception about it. I like to think that Jesus went into the city. Scripture says he was living among the “wild beasts and taken care of by the angels.” Aren’t our cities and our daily lives full of wild animals, distracting and indulgent while still offering experiences dotted with angels who serve and give even when they only have their time to share? Aren’t we also both of those things ourselves? Isn’t our daily walk filled with lifetimes of temptation, and wouldn’t Christ encounter more reason to use his power for show or for selfish gain among the devils that live in each of us? As a human being, I think he had to live in the world in order to conquer that human desire over his almighty gifts. Not to mention, how did he get to the top of the temple when Satan suggested he throw himself off of it? Makes more sense to me that he was already nearby.

This idea has been a powerful theme in my own faith journey. We are actually living in the wilderness. Jesus intentionally fasted during that time because fasting is a way to cling to God in our daily motions. I think that kept him tapped in when the going got tough. In the wild organization of our daily lives there is not a lot of room for God. We spend a lot of time reading from our planners, sighing with satisfaction as we conquer our “to-do lists,” and nodding in approval at folks who live the same way. Life in the city is hard, and the best way to feel any sort of comfort is to become part of the system or create one of your own. We all live in systems that work for us. The trouble is that sometimes our systems systematically pull us further and further from the one who can save us from the wilderness that consumes our souls.

After Jesus left the “wilderness” he had just found out that his cousin John (the Baptist) was killed. Mark 1 makes it really simple; Jesus goes straight to Galilee and says, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” Doesn’t get much clearer than that unless you are reading out of context and your question is “What is the message anyway?”

I think the Message that he is speaking of is a lot of things but one important part is the line that we skim over or perhaps imagine in a way that doesn’t turn into an action verb. Jesus says “The Kingdom of God is here.” Here. The Kingdom of God is here. Soak that in a minute …

Where is here? Was he pointing to heaven? Was he talking about a certain time of day? Was he talking about himself as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God?

I like to think that Jesus said that line real slow and pointed directly at his own chest. Then he walked  dramatically over to the person next to him and pointed  to her chest and said “here” and then to the next person’s chest and said “here.” The Kingdom of God is in you. Not only that, other translations use the word “now” instead of the word “here” which is even more fascinating. The Kingdom of Heaven is NOW.

Here we have two ideas that bring me to this Lenten season. In the wilderness of normal days, often parched of life, we have been given this absolute truth from the one who not only survived the wilderness but conquered it. The truth is that Jesus lives into a spiritual practice that I believe is the key for the fullness of life. Jesus was present. If you read any of the accounts written in the gospels about him, you will meet a man who was fully present to the people he was with in the moment. He told stories in the moment and didn’t reflect on past history or even dwell too long in the future. Jesus loved with everything that he was (and is). He loved with touch and truth, words and wonder. He loved people right where they were and this transformed their lives, transformed his life. I think he learned this in the wilderness. The way to break the cycle, to conquer temptation, to live into that life that Christianity promises is so real, is to live in presence.

Being present is a momentary choice; minute by minute you have the choice to be present to what God is doing in that moment. It is a daily practice of letting go of expectations, sometimes all expectations, so that you can see with holy eyes what God is providing for you to become part of. Each moment is a gift with doors opened wide for you to step in and become God’s love. You aren’t thinking about the future, which let’s admit, really means just being fearful because you have expectations that might not be met. You aren’t dwelling in the past because you can’t even go back there so what does it matter now? You are present. It is simple. When you are living in the present you are able to experience something that is only found in the present moment – love.

Love is not in the future. Love is not in the past. You can’t experience it in either of those places. You can only know love right now in the present. So often, I think we believe that Jesus’ love was only available during that time when he walked this earth like us. When you choose to be present to love in the moment then you know, deeply, fully that his love is burning through your daily motions and all it takes is a little awareness and practice to graft yourself to it all the time.

Living in the present is the most fulfilling practice you could take on. Suddenly, your routine turns into a life that you are living. The dullness of your job becomes a blessing of abundance and gifts. The pain in your imperfect family is a hallway of doors that read “comfort,” “consolation,” “forgiveness,” and “permission to grieve.” Your life blossoms into a living purpose because you are tapped into his purpose and it is healing.

Being present takes practice. Your mind wanders and you’ve trained it for years to wander to what you could be doing or should be doing. Sometimes you train it to wander back through the words and places you visited once before. To be present you have to catch yourself and turn your thoughts to openness. What am I grateful for in the moment? What do I love about who I am right now? What do I love about this place or that person or this job? Who am I with? Am I with them for a reason? What did I just see? Is that a reoccurring theme this week? Haven’t I heard that message over and over? Why? How does it apply to my life? These are questions that bring you into the moment.

I think being present means that you are becoming love. You stop worrying so much or regretting so much and simply be. In being you have to become what Jesus is – love. There is no giving of love. There is no receiving of love. You are becoming love, fully tapped into the abundance and provision of the moment. What’s cool is that it is always there. All you have to do is try. You will mess up and get off course and I assure you that God will bless those feeble attempts and you will taste the blessing. So this Lenten season, if you do nothing else, become aware of moments you are not being present to and try, just try, to recognize God providing love for you right here, right now. Welcome to the Kingdom!

Lift in prayer today
Covenant’s Hope Teams, surrounding Charlotte Family Housing families with support

Saturday, March 8

 John Arwood
 "Hello, God ..."

When someone asks how are you doing, are you tempted to reply: Busy!

I know that’s often the case with me. I recently ran across these words by religious thinker Henri Nouwen, and they rang uncomfortably true: “One of the most obvious characteristics of our daily lives is that we are busy. We experience our days as filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, and appointments to keep. Our lives often seem like overpacked suitcases bursting at the seams.”(1)

Is it just me, or is that an uncanny description of our daily lives, circa 2014? And here’s the thing: Nouwen wrote those words in the pre-Internet world of 1981. If anything, his words are even truer now, with our 45-minute commutes, 140-character tweets and 24-hour news cycle. I look at the oatmeal box – “cooks in five minutes” – and I think: Need something faster!

How do we find the peace of Christ in all this busy-ness? Can God really break through all this?
I’ve come to believe we don’t have to try to “find” God. God finds us. That’s actually kind of a relief. When I’ve felt the peace of Christ, it isn’t necessarily because I’ve been searching. Instead, I open my eyes and find God is already there.

Last fall I had the privilege of participating in an IMPACT Bible Study group uptown with a group of Covenant members and friends, as we delved into Genesis together. One reading that stuck with me is the story of Jacob’s Ladder in Genesis 28. Jacob, fleeing from his brother’s rage, stops to rest for the night and has a peculiar dream of angels going up and down a stairway. When he wakes up, he exclaims: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Those words have become an affirmation for me, a source of peace for busy times. If Jacob, in the chaos following his act of trickery against his brother, can awaken in a desolate place and come to understand that God was there all along – then surely we can sense the presence of God in our busy days.

I recall with a smile how a dear Covenant member used to open committee meetings with a prayer that began: “Hello, God.” What if we made that our morning prayer this busy Lenten season? What if we whisper those two words when we open our eyes, and let God take it from there? If we do, we might just find, as Jacob did, that God was there all along. Maybe the things that are keeping us busy are there because God has blessed us.

Those ancient words of Jacob remind us that God is with us, right now, this day, here in this place. Even if we did not know it.

Hello, God …

1. Henri J.M. Nouwen, “Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life,” p. 23. ©1981 by Henri J.M. Nouwen.

Lift in prayer today
Friendship Gardens, providing garden-grown produce for those with limited access to it

Friday, March 7

 Jennifer Bower
"A Continual Christmas"

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.     –Philippians 4:6-7

A good conscience is a continual Christmas.  –Benjamin Franklin

I never found peace until I found God through the power of prayer.  During Advent we learn Jesus is the shining star, a gift of joy and hope.  During Lent we are reminded of God’s gift of grace and forgiveness through the sacrifice of his only son. 

Many of us take these 40 days of reflection as a challenge to expunge the excesses of living. We will give up chocolate in a vain effort to lose weight.  We will give up Starbucks to save a buck or two. We will give up smoking (or drinking) to appease the nagging spouse.  We will give up Facebook so that we look like we actually have a life.  We will give up television to convince ourselves we actually do.  In the end, do we come out feeling spiritually cleansed, closer to God, filled with hope, joy, and peace, and directed towards a sense of purpose in our lives? Do we come away from our chocolate abstentions with a greater sense of who God calls us to be?

We all know, deep down, the things we are called to do and the people we are called to be. We feel that heat in our heart and the burning in our gut. We will know no peace until we abide by the will of God for our lives.

Last Lent, instead of giving up something, I answered the spiritual call, heard in a sermon, to do something positive instead. My 40-day challenge was to be grateful. I kept a nightly gratitude journal. That journal became the basis for my nightly prayer. I then began to purge my conscience of things that weighed me down and held me back from truly moving forward in life, and I asked God’s forgiveness. Bigger than that, I began to believe in his gift of grace and let those feelings go. I committed myself to prayer and meditation each morning. I didn’t really know how to pray. I prayed the Santa Prayer.  It went something like this:

Dear God: I WANT this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, etc.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

But God found ways to place the right devotional  in front of my face. I will never forget reading Matthew 6: 9-13, “This, then, is how you should pray:  ‘Our father, which art in heaven …’” The more time I committed to communion with God, the more clearly the path, and next steps to greater peace, appeared.

I find that God speaks to me now in many ways because I am more open and receptive to hearing his message. The other day I heard his word in the ironically titled movie, After Earth:

Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present, and may not ever, exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me; danger is very real but fear is a choice
Peace, for me, is the absence of fear which has riddled and consumed my life since the age of three. The more I worked on my relationship with God, the more I trusted him. The more I trusted him, the greater my sense of peace. The greater my peace, the more fearless I became to move forward and make the changes in my life that God requests of me. Now when faced with my anxieties, I say out loud, “GOD HAS GOT THIS.” Sometimes I have to put the mantra on replay, but the prayer system is firmly now in place, and I’ve witnessed its power. When I truly turn my life over to God’s will and purpose, I am filled with the most life-affirming peace. My choices are divinely given, I live with far less regret and God is bestowing upon me gifts that I never would have imagined. Life truly feels like a continual Christmas.

Lift in prayer today
Moore Place, providing housing for the chronically homeless

Thursday, March 6

Finding Peace in Quiet Time
by Lib Astin

When I learned that the Covenant chapel would be open for prayer during the season of Lent this year, I immediately remembered another Chapel at another time. It was the year 1951, after my graduation from college, when I was serving an internship in the Clinical Laboratory at Charlotte Memorial Hospital. It was then a small yellow-brick building with a small, dimly-lit chapel just inside the door. Every morning I would walk from my family home in Dilworth and visit that chapel to start my day. This established a life – long practice of finding the Peace of Christ in quiet time.

Lift in prayer today
Supportive housing communities,
especially McCreesh Place, housing the homeless in apartments

Ash Wednesday, March 5

Ash Wednesday, March 5
The singing of this hymn is included in the Ash Wednesday worship services,
12:00 n and 7:00 pm in the sanctuary.
Both will include the imposition of ashes.

God, Be the Love to Search and Keep Me
Hymn tune: Green Tyler
©2004, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

God, be the love to search and keep me
God be the prayer to move my voice
God be the strength to now uphold me
O Christ, surround me; O Christ, surround me

Bind to myself the Name of Holy
Great cloud of witnesses enfold
Prophets, apostles, angels witness
O Christ, surround me; O Christ, surround me

Brightness of sun and glow of moonlight
Flashing of lightning, strength of wind
Depth of the sea to soil of planet
O Christ, surround me; O Christ, surround me

Walking behind to hem my journey
Going ahead to light my way
And from beneath, above, and all ways
O Christ, surround me; O Christ, surround me

Christ in the eyes of all who see me
Christ in the ears that hear my voice
Christ in the hearts of all who know me
O Christ, surround me; O Christ, surround me

This hymn is a 21st century adaptation of the traditional Celtic prayer style known as a lorica 
(Latin for “armor” or “breastplate”). It is based on an example attributed to St. Patrick.

Lift in prayer today

Renguti School, children at New Life Homes Renguti and the Mathare slums, and our mission trip participants in Kenya today

Tuesday, March 4; Welcome

from Joan Watson

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.      –Ephesians 4:14-16

Lent is a time when we are invited on the journey toward inner clarity, toward peace that resembles wholeness of being and unity of life. This profound peace comes not because of a particular disposition or attitude, or because of an easy circumstance, but rather it comes by the very grace of God, who dwells in the central place of our hearts. Such clarity, such peace, often comes in response to temptation and distraction … temptation and distraction related to things that stop us in our tracks, that shake us up and cause us to think again about who God is, about who we are in relation to God, and about the way that leads to life, real life, and whether or not we are on it.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13 ), he responded with a kind of clarity that kept him faithful to his identity, calling and purpose. The temptations he experienced were not unique to him; they were universal temptations that challenge us all.  Such temptations often include engaging our God-given gifts for the purpose of meeting our own needs or furthering personal gain; or engaging God in our “worlds” for our purposes (as a kind of “cosmic bellhop” … helping us out … blessing us as we do things “for God”) rather than being engaged with God in this world for God’s purposes and with God’s power. Another temptation, maybe the most central of all, has to do with how many Gods we can serve; and whether expedience trumps faithfulness as we are tempted to choose any means to reach a desired end. It includes making idols of even good things, being unclear about who or what we worship, what is central in our lives. These temptations are often very practical, often considered successful ways of accomplishment in this world. The only problem is that they don’t lead to peace, neither personal peace nor peace in the world. Peace in the world comes only from peace-centered people engaged with others, people who are no longer “tossed to and fro” by every movement, every threat, every new distraction or appealing promise of salvation.

Lent is a time to seek such peace – and it always begins in our own hearts. 

This season we offer tools for listening to God more, for discerning what we hear, for clarifying truth amidst confusion, for finding our heart’s true home. Some tools will come through worship or classes on spiritual helps, some through readings of scripture or other books, some through opportunities to serve. Though the call is personal, we are in it together, for we are part of each other in a common humanity and in the church, as the body of Christ. So this Lent, seek peace – your own and in the world in which you live. 


from Neeley Lane

I have often wondered: "What does peace look like?" I started asking the question as a teen when, along with my congregation, we lifted up the following words in worship:

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God our Creator family all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with us, let this be the moment now.
With every step we take let this be our solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment with peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

This Lenten season we are invited to share the Peace of Christ with one another through stories of peace in our hearts, our homes, our city, and our world. May we gather for worship, may we walk together to Bethlehem, may the living God encounter us in prayer and in service. Come let us journey to the cross. Let us listen to one another's stories!