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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
are available via email (sign up online or send addresses to devotions@fourthchurch.org), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fourthchurch), Twitter (@FourthChicago), online, and in print (from the church literature racks)


February 1 | February 2–8 | February 9–15
February 16–22
| February 23–28

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Today’s Reading | John 6:1–14
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (NRSV) 

Reflection
The event of Jesus feeding the five thousand appears in all four of the Gospels. John’s is the only account in which Jesus asks where the disciples would buy bread for the crowd to eat. It was to test Philip “for he himself knew what he was going to do.”

Though Jesus knew he wanted the crowd to be fed, did he really know what would ensue? When he raised the few loaves of bread to the heavens and gave thanks to God, he was putting himself in a vulnerable position. Everyone could see he didn’t have enough food for such a huge crowd, though he was acting as if there was enough.

I don’t think the miracle was that “wonder bread” somehow magically expanded when it left Jesus’ hands. I agree with Parker Palmer, who wrote in Spirituality for the Active Life, “What may have happened instead is that Jesus and the disciples simply modeled the act of sharing for the crowd by giving thanks for what little they had and then offering it to any who wanted to eat.” I believe people were moved to emulate the trust and generosity of Jesus and his beleaguered little band of followers, giving away their own meager rations.

All were satisfied. That doesn’t mean everyone’s belly was full. Scarcity thrives on dissatisfaction. Abundance arises from and creates a sense of satisfaction. This crowd became community, sharing with one another a meal made possible because God filled their hearts. Leftovers come from our deciding we are content and have enough.

Prayer
Bread of Life, deepen my trust in you and satisfy my hunger in ways that lead me to be a generous instrument of your abundance. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 116        
I love the Lord, because he has heard
     my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,  
     therefore I will call on him as long as I live.  
The snares of death encompassed me;  
     the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;  
     I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:  
     “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;  
     our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
     when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,  
     for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death,  
     my eyes from tears,  
     my feet from stumbling.
I walk before the Lord  
     in the land of the living.
I kept my faith, even when I said,  
     “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my consternation,  
     “Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord  
     for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation  
     and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord  
     in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord  
     is the death of his faithful ones.
O Lord, I am your servant;  
     I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.  
     You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
     and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord  
     in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,  
     in your midst, O Jerusalem.  
Praise the Lord! (NRSV) 

Reflection
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”

I read this question from the psalmist’s words and really didn’t think much of it upon first glance. Three-hundred or so glances later, I realized this “simple” proposal is one of the most complicated things I’ve ever taken in. The question went round and round in my head for days like a commercial jingle that is so incredibly incessant and annoying but sticks there in your brain as if it were super-glued to your daily thoughts. We’ve all done it: walking down the street to get to a meeting or on our way to the market for groceries and WHAM! out of nowhere, we’re humming the latest restaurant jingle from TV or have an uncomfortable urge to purchase auto insurance. We are certainly hypnotized by all of the advertisements flooding into the public arena each day so the next time we feel stomach pangs or our policy ends, we likely search out these venues first. We are no longer hungry and they get paid—everyone is happy.

“God never expects me to buy dinner.” I actually said it aloud to myself in the produce aisle of the market, seemingly out of nowhere. It stuck in my brain through the train ride home, through making a meal, and packing leftovers for the next day’s lunch. It was the last thought that went through my head before I fell asleep that night. Ironically when I woke the next morning, I also had an answer (without any exchange of money): nothing is expected of me in return, except to thrive with what has been provided and be grateful. Everything that God built into my life adds up and circles back . . . to God.

“I am” because “he did.” No jingle necessary. What an amazing marketing strategy!

Prayer
Lord, I am eternally grateful for the life you have provided and all that surrounds it. I live and breathe because it was your will. I love and learn because you give me the opportunity. I keep you close to my heart and mind always and revel in the splendors that you have bestowed upon me. Amen!

Written by Ryan Loeckel, Coordinator for Worship, Music, and Adult Education 

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 117–118     
Praise the Lord, all you nations!  
     Extol him, all you peoples!  
For great is his steadfast love toward us,  
     and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.  
Praise the Lord!

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;  
     his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
     “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
     “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
     “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;  
     the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.  
     What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
     I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord  
     than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
     than to put confidence in princes.

All nations surrounded me;
     in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;  
     in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;  
     they blazed like a fire of thorns;  
     in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
     but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
     he has become my salvation

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:  
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
     the right hand of the Lord is exalted;  
     the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
I shall not die, but I shall live,  
     and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,  
     but he did not give me over to death.  

Open to me the gates of righteousness,  
     that I may enter through them  
     and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;  
     the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me  
     and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected  
     has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;  
     it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;  
     let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!  
     O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  
     We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,  
     and he has given us light.  
Bind the festal procession with branches,  
     up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
     you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,  
     for his steadfast love endures forever. (NRSV)  

Reflection
It seems like nothing really lasts anymore. We live in a disposable society, where disposable products champion longevity. I always laugh when I read warranties that are for one year. Let’s hope something will last one year! But indeed, the idea of the useful life of objects has changed. My mother constantly laments that really good household appliances used to last her forty to fifty years and were better than today’s, which last about five. Our disposable society has also affected our relationships. Staying with the same company for five years is now considered a long time. Some say a person will have an average of six careers in their lifetime, and the divorce rate for first marriages is 41 percent.

What then will last? Amidst all this transience, Psalm 118 offers a powerful reminder to us. It both begins and ends with the same words: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” It goes on to say, “The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? The Lord is on my side to help me.” So the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, remember these powerful words. The Lord’s faithfulness will last forever; it is the rock that you can build your life upon. It will not change, and because of that, we have nothing to fear.

Prayer
Merciful God, the psalmist reminds me that your steadfast love endures forever. Help me live my life with this confidence, so that even if nothing else around me seems to last, I will know that your love will sustain and guide me. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator 

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 50:7–23
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
     O Israel, I will testify against you.
     I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
     your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house,
     or goats from your folds.
For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
     the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air,
     and all that moves in the field is mine.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
     for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
     or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
     and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
     I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

But to the wicked God says:
     “What right have you to recite my statutes,
     or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
     and you cast my words behind you.
You make friends with a thief when you see one,
     and you keep company with adulterers.

“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
     and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your kin;
     you slander your own mother’s child.
These things you have done and I have been silent;
     you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.

“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
     or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
     to those who go the right way
     I will show the salvation of God.” (NRSV)

Reflection
“Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.”

Ouch.

This is not the God we like to think about—judgmental, vengeful, inflicting terrible retribution on those judged unworthy. We like to think about the nonjudgmental, unconditionally loving God who withholds judgment and spares everyone—mainly because we don’t want to be judged; we want to be spared.

But there are consequences to our actions, whether or not we are entirely comfortable with that notion. In metaphysics, like in physics, an action results in a reaction. Some people call it karma.

In this psalm, there are two types of people—those who court the appearance of righteousness and those who unabashedly serve themselves. Both types, each in their own way, are indulging in self-love—the single thing that most separates us from God. Ego.

And there are consequences. And it’s not the “tearing apart” piece—the circumstances of our lives do a good enough job of making us feel torn up. The great and awful consequence is the loneliness, the “with no one to deliver you” part. If you love yourself above all, serve yourself above all, in the end that’s all you ever have—and the world is a wide and lonely place when all there is, is you.

But the psalm contains a wonderful bit of advice: be grateful for what you’ve been given. God always acts first, and it is up to us to respond in gratitude. And that makes restoration possible, the simple prayer of “Thank you.” As long as we can say “thank you,” we are not defeated by circumstance. We may feel torn apart, but we always have someone with us.

Prayer
Dear God, for this day, thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 22
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
     Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
      and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
      enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
      they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
      in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
      scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
      they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
      let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
      you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
      and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
      for trouble is near
      and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
      strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
      like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
      and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
     it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
      and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
      you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
      a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
      and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
      O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
      my life from the power of the dog!
     Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
      in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
      All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
      stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
      the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
      but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
      my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
      those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
      May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
      and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
      shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
      and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
      before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
      and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
      future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
      saying that he has done it. (NRSV)

Reflection
Can praying to God affect the outcome of events in our lives? If we are faithful and devoted Christians will we suffer less? If we’re good people, will God intervene in the course of earthly events on our behalf? If we look at our modern social landscape, we find plenty of faith leaders who make exactly these claims.

But is this type of understanding of prayer and faithfulness—and how they might affect God’s relationship with events in our world—consistent with our deepest understandings of our maker and our own human experiences?

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner once wrote, “‘What did I do to deserve this?’ is an understandable outcry from a sick and suffering person, but it is really the wrong question. Being sick or being healthy is not a matter of what God decides that we deserve. The better question is ‘If this has happened to me, what do I do now, and who is there to help me do it?’”

I believe that the question being played out in the psalmist’s lament is the latter. The psalmist is decidedly not asking, “What did I do to deserve this?” The psalmist’s concern is, “What do I do now, and who is there to help me do it?” By the end of our reading, the psalmist even begins to answer this self-directed question and writes, “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!”

Prayer
God of our joy and of our suffering, help me to have the faith of the psalmist so that, come hardship or happiness, I might not ask, “Why me?” but instead turn trustingly to you as my help in facing whatever I am called to do. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Today’s Reading | Hebrews 12:1–2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (NRSV)

Reflection
When I sealed the Fourth Presbyterian Church time capsule back in September 2012—having added the last day-of pieces, from newspapers to a list of that morning’s new members—what had once been a checklist project for the team of us identifying, gathering, and packaging the items suddenly became, in its closing, a deeply moving moment.

Sealing that time capsule to be laid in the cornerstone of a new addition might have been a less profound experience had it not come on the one-hundredth anniversary of laying the Sanctuary’s cornerstone. In that larger context, the moment became about more than just the “us” of today preserving items that offer a snapshot of who we were in 2012 or about celebrating the realization of the marvelous new Gratz Center. It became about not only us and those who will follow in this next century on Michigan Avenue, which we mark in this centennial year as we celebrate the May 1914 dedication of the Sanctuary, but about all the faithful on whose shoulders we stand, about the generations who have come and gone since that first cornerstone and, along the way, been part of the vibrant and defining ministry and history of the church.

“Therefore . . .” begins chapter 12 of Hebrews, reminding us that what we read today does not stand apart from the text that has gone before it either—does not stand apart from chapter eleven’s testimony to the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and the God who went before them, in pillar of cloud and burning fire, in words from on high, in a voice still and quiet. Who goes before us.

It is in that context that we run our race—a race that is a journey, not a singular moment; that is a way, not simply a finished achievement; that is a constant unfolding, not a final realization. A race undertaken in community, embraced out of gratitude—as both gift and responsibility. As calling and commitment.

For we too stand in that great cloud of witnesses, testifying to those yet to come of the One who has led us all the journey through.

Prayer
O Holy Zion’s help forever, you are our confidence alone. Grant me strength for the race. Guide me with your sure presence. And hold ever before me that this race I do not run alone, nor is it not mine alone. To the glory of your holy name. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
     he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
     for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
     I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
     your rod and your staff—
     they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
     in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
     my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
     my whole life long. (NRSV)

Reflection
When I first moved to Chicago, I got lost so many times in the city’s streets and avenues. When lost, I did what all great explorers through the ages have done: I pulled out my Smartphone and let Google Maps show me where I was. I breathed a sigh of relief as Google Maps pinpointed my exact location. It was truly reassuring to have the ability to pull out my phone and have it show me exactly where I was in the big city of Chicago.

While reading the Twenty-Third Psalm today, I thought to myself, what if when I asked my phone where I was, it responded with, “Daniel, a few paces behind you is goodness and faithful love pursuing you, and in front of you is the Good Shepherd leading you. You’re going to be OK”?

Prayer
Dear God, thank you for leading me today, and thank you for pursuing me with goodness and faithful love. Today, may your Spirit calm my soul with the simple truth that you are always before me and behind me, that no matter where I am, you are taking care of me. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Today’s Reading | Proverbs 6:20–23
My child, keep your father’s commandment,
     and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
Bind them upon your heart always;
     tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
     when you lie down, they will watch over you;
     and when you awake, they will talk with you.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
     and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life. (NRSV)

Reflection
In this era of abundant innovation that we live in, it could be argued that tradition has become somewhat of an embarrassment—an antiquated relic you’d prefer to leave in the safe recesses of your attic rather than prominently on display. For many people, this proverb about fastening tradition around their neck would be more akin to wearing a millstone rather than a lamp for their feet. We want the new, the novel, the unique, and the creative.

Yet this proverb (which, it should be noted, is an amalgam of two important Jewish traditions: Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 6:7–9) is one that our denomination has heeded over the years through our form of government. When generations of Presbyterians gather as elders of the church, there is a sense in which we are not bound by Reformed tradition but are instead boldly and creatively living out that tradition as the church seeks to be a witness to God’s light in this world. Far from being a millstone, our shared tradition inspires us to be the church reformed and always reforming—a church that brings the best parts of our past into conversation with the great potential of the future.

This is not just a call for the church; it is also a call for our lives as well. In my house growing up, there was a picture on the wall that read “There are two gifts we can give our children—one is roots, and the other is wings.” May we each remember the roots of what has been handed down to us as we boldly fly into our future.

Prayer
God of my past, present, and future, help me to wear your commandments on my heart. May they illumine my path and guide my steps. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Today’s Reading | Romans 6:3–8
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (NRSV)

Reflection
Life. We hear that word over and over in this reading. Life. We will hear that word again and again in our worship. We will sing of the “life that you have given” and proclaim our praises. But they are all empty words, stripped of their power, if we do not enliven them with our actions. The words are nothing unless we are, in the words of our offertory response, “living what we pray and sing,” unless they change our lives from darkness to light, from death to life.

And so what are you doing with your one amazing life? Are you seeking every day to make yourself better? What have you done recently for your health, your creativity, or for justice? Have you attempted listening for God? Every day we should yearn to make our life better than the day before. And ask, “Am I striving to make another life richer? Have I done something uncommonly wonderful for someone else? Have I said thank you or I love you today? Have I made someone smile?”

Every night we should answer these and other questions with a resounding yes, alleluia. God blesses us each day with the gift of abundant life. Let us embrace life as never before. Make a difference, be a beginning, put the words and music of into action, and live with boldness and joy every day. Live the life that God is calling you to live. That is true life, life eternal.

Prayer
Thank you God for this one, extraordinary life; help me live with amazement, abandon, and abundance. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1–17
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (NRSV)

Reflection
A superficial reading of Paul’s polemics against the Law leads many Christians to simply dismiss the Law—and often, by extension, the entire Old Testament—as irrelevant. To be sure, Paul argues that freedom in Christ is superior to submission to the Law, but his overall take on the Law is much more nuanced than most Christians realize.

In the first part of Romans 8, continuing an argument from chapter 7, Paul suggests that it is not the Law itself that is flawed; rather, it is our ability to follow it that falls woefully short. According to verse 3, the Law is weak only because of our own selfishness. In verse 7 we read that it is the attitude that comes from selfishness that prevents us from submitting to the Law.

I often wonder how much of Paul’s problem with the Law has to do with his individualistic approach to it, much like the individualism that characterizes many contemporary (North American) Christians. In contrast, Moses, in Deuteronomy 31, encourages a communal approach. At appointed times, the entire community—all ages, all genders, citizens and immigrants alike—is to gather together to hear the Law read out loud. Instead of individuals trying—and failing—to follow the Law, the image here is a community gathering together to be shaped by God’s instruction and to support each other as they try their best to live it out.

Our lives involve both individual and communal elements. A challenge for us, if we desire holistic spiritual lives, is to strike a balance between the two. As we work on such balance, we are wise to listen to both Moses and Paul.

Prayer
God, my desire is to please you. I am grateful for my community and for my freedom—may both help me draw closer to you. Amen.

Written by John W. Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 8:6–8
They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. (NRSV)

Reflection
It’s a funny picture—Jesus stooped over, writing with his finger on the ground. He does it twice in this story.

The scribes and Pharisees had brought a sinner to Jesus. She was a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They brought her to him because they were testing him. They wanted to see if he knew the law and if he would punish the woman according to the law. The religious officials tell him that the punishment for this offense, “Do not commit adultery,” is stoning. “We stone such women, Jesus; that’s what the law says.”

And Jesus doesn’t respond but instead bends down to write on the ground with his finger. They keep questioning him, and when he finally stands up, he challenges them to go ahead and stone her, if there is someone in the crowd who has no sin in his own life. And then he bends down a second time and writes on the ground with his finger, and when he finally stands up, they have left and only the woman and Jesus remain.

People and biblical scholars and preachers love to wonder what Jesus was actually writing. I imagine him playing tic-tac-toe or writing something in Arabic, like “Jesus was here.” I imagine such things because it seems to me that Jesus was buying time. This story reminds me that just because something is usual (stoning) doesn’t mean it is right. The story reminds me that my constant tendency to make things tally up and to even the score and to mete out judgment can be changed if I buy time to think it through according to my expressed commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus. I have a sneaky feeling I’m going to need to wash my dirt-laden finger a lot.

Prayer
Loving and righteous God, help me to know what is right in your eyes. Help me discern and be strong when pressured to follow what is usual but wrong. And help me find enough time to make the right decisions about my actions. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:25–48
My soul clings to the dust;
     revive me according to your word.
When I told of my ways, you answered me;
     teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
     and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
     strengthen me according to your word.
Put false ways far from me;
     and graciously teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
     I set your ordinances before me.
I cling to your decrees, O Lord;
     let me not be put to shame.
I run the way of your commandments,
     for you enlarge my understanding.

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
     and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
     and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
     for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your decrees,
     and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
     give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise,
     which is for those who fear you.
Turn away the disgrace that I dread,
     for your ordinances are good.
See, I have longed for your precepts;
     in your righteousness give me life.

Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
     your salvation according to your promise.

Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me,
     for I trust in your word.
Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
     for my hope is in your ordinances.
I will keep your law continually,
     forever and ever.
I shall walk at liberty,
     for I have sought your precepts.
I will also speak of your decrees before kings,
     and shall not be put to shame;
I find my delight in your commandments,
     because I love them.
I revere your commandments, which I love,
     and I will meditate on your statutes. (NRSV)

Reflection
So many ways to name it: God’s statutes, precepts, ordinances, decrees, law, word, commandments. These are what the psalmist implores God repeatedly to teach him to understand and obey. He asks God for help to be faithful rather than pursue falsehood. He proclaims his delight in God’s decrees, which are good and give him life, strength, liberty, and hope.

As a Presbyterian, I have been more immersed in the language of God’s grace than God’s law. But the Reformed Christian tradition also takes sin seriously and acknowledges that when left to our own devices, humanity repeatedly falls short of God’s hopes and expectations. We know that we have choices between that which is true, good, and life-giving in God’s eyes and that which is not. We know that the choices we make have consequences, for good or for ill.

Sometimes our choices have unintended consequences and do harm. Sometimes our choices may seem insignificant. Often they may not be in the realm of clearly good or clearly evil but in gray areas in between. For all these reasons, we need to join the psalmist in asking God to guide us on a daily basis in God’s ways, so that the trajectory of our lives arcs toward righteousness. Reflecting on each day at dusk in God’s presence can lead us not only to confess but to make amends and hopefully grow more and more faithful.

Prayer
Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race. Hold my hand, Lord, while I run this race. Stand by me, Lord, while I run this race. Search my heart, Lord, for I don’t want to run this race in vain. I am yours. Amen.
(Prayer adapted from the African American spiritual “Guide My Feet”)

Reflection written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:65–72
You have dealt well with your servant,
     O Lord, according to your word.
Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
     for I believe in your commandments.
Before I was humbled I went astray,
     but now I keep your word.
You are good and do good;
     teach me your statutes.
The arrogant smear me with lies,
     but with my whole heart I keep your precepts.
Their hearts are fat and gross,
     but I delight in your law.
It is good for me that I was humbled,
     so that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
     than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (NRSV)

Reflection
When it comes to what we think about suffering, there is a fine line in our faith tradition between believing that good can come from suffering and believing that God causes suffering.

As people of faith, we search for meaning behind life events, both good and bad. An often repeated statement of faith maintains that “everything happens for a reason.” In retrospect, it is often possible to see that good things can in fact come from suffering. One door closes and another one opens. A health scare helps us refocus our priorities. Tragedy draws us closer together.

But do these experiences, coupled with a belief in God’s sovereignty and providence, lead to the conclusion that God actively causes suffering in order to bring about positive outcomes? Personally, I have a hard time believing that God causes suffering for any reason.

The writer of today’s psalm has both suffered and benefited from suffering. I’m grateful that the question of God’s causality is left ambiguous. Whatever each of us may believe about the origin of suffering, we can all take comfort in God’s care and the wisdom of following God’s way.

Prayer
Loving God, when I am suffering and when I am well, help me to recognize your presence in my life and learn from your way. Amen.

Written by John W. Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:73–96
Your hands have made and fashioned me;
     give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
     because I have hoped in your word.
I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right,
     and that in faithfulness you have humbled me.
Let your steadfast love become my comfort
     according to your promise to your servant.
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
     for your law is my delight.
Let the arrogant be put to shame,
     because they have subverted me with guile;
     as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
Let those who fear you turn to me,
     so that they may know your decrees.
May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
     so that I may not be put to shame.

My soul languishes for your salvation;
     I hope in your word.
My eyes fail with watching for your promise;
     I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
     yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
How long must your servant endure?
     When will you judge those who persecute me?
The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me;
     they flout your law.
All your commandments are enduring;
     I am persecuted without cause; help me!
They have almost made an end of me on earth;
     but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your steadfast love spare my life,
     so that I may keep the decrees of your mouth.

The Lord exists forever;
     your word is firmly fixed in heaven.
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
     you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
By your appointment they stand today,
     for all things are your servants.
If your law had not been my delight,
     I would have perished in my misery.
I will never forget your precepts,
     for by them you have given me life.
I am yours; save me,
     for I have sought your precepts.
The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
     but I consider your decrees.
I have seen a limit to all perfection,
     but your commandment is exceedingly broad. (NRSV)

Reflection
Psalm 119 has been called “a love poem to God’s law” It is written in the form of an acrostic, with each of the eight lines in a given stanza beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It begins with A in the first stanza and proceeds through all twenty-two letters. This structure reinforces the idea of the totality of God’s law. The psalmist connected with God by following, meditating on, and observing God’s laws. Line 73 begins “Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn from your commandments.”

Jesus simplified the commandments for us, but unfortunately that doesn’t make them any easier to follow. When asked which commandment was the most important, Jesus replied in Matthew 22:34–40, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second id like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The psalmist understood that in following the commandments he would find true freedom and not restriction. Throughout Psalm 119 he struggles to understand God’s commandments and to follow them. Think about Jesus’ commands to us—they sound so simple, but are you following them? What does it really mean to put God first and to love God with all your heart, all your being, and all your mind? What would that really look like in your life? How would you act differently?

Prayer
Loving God, open up space in my heart to truly love and serve you first. Guide me in your commandments so I may find true freedom. Transform me and show me how to practice these truths in my everyday life, especially with those I find so hard to love. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 4
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, “Nothing beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.

I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church. But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? (NRSV)

Reflection
“Judgment.” It’s a tricky word in the church. We live in a highly individualistic culture—much more than the world of Paul’s time—so when we read about judgment, we usually hear it being directed right at us. No one likes to feel judged, and the church is especially squeamish about using this word with newcomers; we fear they might never come back to church.

In today’s lesson, Paul makes two helpful contributions to our understanding of judgment. First of all, he encourages us not to allow ourselves to feel judged by anyone or anything except God. Imagine how many fears and anxieties you could let go of if you decided not to worry about what other people think. So much of what we do (and don’t do) in our lives has to do with our worries about what someone else will think. Today, try to let go of some of that anxiety and live according to what you hope God will think.

Second, Paul reminds us that God’s judgment has to do with bringing light to darkness. Once again, this is not as individualistic as we often think. God’s judgment isn’t about exposing your little secrets or outing you for the mistakes you’ve made. God’s judgment is about bringing light to things that are really dark. Poverty. War. Death. Hatred. Sadness. What would you add to the list? Paul promises us that God stands in judgment of these things, and wishes to bring light to places where these things darken the world. Maybe judgment isn’t so bad after all.

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you for my life, which I celebrate as a part of your good creation. Help me to look at the world and see a place where you are the only judge and where you seek to bring light to places where there is darkness. Amen.

Written by Adam H. Fronczek,
    Associate Pastor for Adult Education and Worship             

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 26:1–33
Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “My wife,” thinking, “or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.” When Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw him fondling his wife Rebekah. So Abimelech called for Isaac, and said, “So she is your wife! Why then did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought I might die because of her.” Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death.”

Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. (Now the Philistines had stopped up and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham.) And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”

So Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar and settled there. Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the names that his father had given them. But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herders of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herders, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the well Esek, because they contended with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one also; so he called it Sitnah. He moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he called it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

From there he went up to Beer-sheba. And that very night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there, called on the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army. Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with youso that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths; and Isaac set them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water!” He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba to this day. (NRSV)

Reflection
There are a lot of wells in this passage: old ones and new, wells being filled and wells being dug. And they’ll pop up again at key moments in our biblical story, these wells, whether it’s Isaac’s son Jacob drawing water (Genesis 29) or young Moses (Exodus 2).

It’s not surprising, really, that they factor so prominently into the narrative. In the desert lands of the Middle East, water is life itself. And a well, with a ready source of water, thus provides a measure of stability and security. A nomadic people can settle where there is water, can sustain their flocks and their families, can live. It is not the running, living water of a stream or river that always flows and does not require digging and discovery and hauling out of bucket after bucket, day after day. A well requires work, but a well still provides water.

And so they are at the center of life and its daily rituals, these wells. They become a gathering place, a place of encounters. A place of unfolding story and generations, of promise and of future. The place where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman and promises that in God’s kingdom, we will no longer have to search or labor to relieve our thirst: “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14).

Prayer
For the gift of living water, O Wellspring of life eternal, all praise and thanks, now and forevermore. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Scripture Reading: Proverbs 23:1–5, 22–25
When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
     observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
     if you have a big appetite.
Do not desire the ruler’s delicacies,
     for they are deceptive food.
Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
     be wise enough to desist.
When your eyes light upon it, it is gone;
     for suddenly it takes wings to itself,
     flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Listen to your father who begot you,
     and do not despise your mother when she is old.
Buy truth, and do not sell it;
     buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
     he who begets a wise son will be glad in him.
Let your father and mother be glad;
     let her who bore you rejoice. (NRSV)

Reflection
Not everything that glitters is gold. It is hard to discern what has lasting value and what does not. It is hard to know what is worth our investment of time, talent, and treasure. In Proverbs, an older generation imparts lessons of life to a younger generation, and interestingly many of those lessons have to do with what we choose to spend our lives on. The teacher says to his pupil, “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich; be smart enough to stop.” Wisdom instead of wealth is what needs to be accumulated. In making choices about buying and selling, about trading and investing, the teacher advises his pupil, “Buy truth, and don’t sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.”

Of course, both the teacher and pupil know that we cannot truly buy wisdom. Wisdom is not a commodity on the market to be bought or sold. Its lessons cannot be bought up, not even by a billionaire, and once it is acquired, wisdom is never sold. Hard-earned over a lifetime, wisdom is the most prized of all possessions, but unlike most possessions, wisdom is attainable by all. We don’t have to be wealthy to acquire wisdom; we don’t need a pedigree to possess it. Wisdom comes to us through the hardships of life, through losses and hard-won lessons.

In the Gospel of John, wisdom is the Word that, in the form of Jesus Christ, descends to dwell among us, to be with humanity through our hardships, and to build us up. We don’t have to be perfect; we don’t have to be rich; we don’t have to be winners to gain wisdom. Therein lies the good news.

Prayer
Look upon us, Lord, imperfect and impoverished as we are. Inscribe your lessons of life upon our hearts that we might grow to be wise, precious in your sight. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 63:5–8   
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
     and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me. (NRSV)

Reflection
The epigraph on Psalm 63 states that this is a Psalm of David, spoken when he was in the Wilderness of Judah. While we tend to understand wilderness as an area teaming with flora and fauna, the Hebrew word for wilderness—midbar—meant something quite different. The Israelites wandered in midbar for forty years in the Exodus. The prophets spoke of the Israelites returning through the midbar to a new Jerusalem after the exile. Midbar—what we might call a desert—was a wasteland, fitting with the opening verse of this song: “My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you”.

And yet, starting at verse 5, we have this surprising proclamation: “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.” Even in the midst of David’s physical and spiritual desert, he found richness and fullness in prayer—a fullness of life that came from beyond his present circumstances.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and author, once wrote, “Prayer is an expression of who we are. . . . We are a living incompleteness. We are a gap, an emptiness that calls for fulfillment.” Is it possible to be fulfilled even when we are in the midbar of our lives? From David’s words we have a bold hope: God’s hand will uphold us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Thanks be to God.

Prayer
Great God, you comfort me in sorrow and you strengthen me with hope. Be with me even in the wilderness places in my life, Lord, that my soul might be as satisfied as with a rich feast. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 74
O God, why do you cast us off forever?
     Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation, which you acquired long ago,
     which you redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage.
     Remember Mount Zion, where you came to dwell.
Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
     the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.

Your foes have roared within your holy place;
     they set up their emblems there.
At the upper entrance they hacked
     the wooden trellis with axes.
And then, with hatchets and hammers,
     they smashed all its carved work.
They set your sanctuary on fire;
     they desecrated the dwelling place of your name,
     bringing it to the ground.
They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
     they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.

We do not see our emblems;
     there is no longer any prophet,
     and there is no one among us who knows how long.
How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
     Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand;
     why do you keep your hand in your bosom?

Yet God my King is from of old,
     working salvation in the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
     you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
     you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You cut openings for springs and torrents;
     you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, yours also the night;
     you established the luminaries and the sun.
You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
     you made summer and winter.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
     and an impious people reviles your name.
Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild animals;
     do not forget the life of your poor forever.

Have regard for your covenant,
     for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence.
Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame;
     let the poor and needy praise your name.
Rise up, O God, plead your cause;
     remember how the impious scoff at you all day long.
Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
     the uproar of your adversaries that goes up continually. (NRSV)

Reflection
How long, O God? 

It is the cry of the downtrodden and the oppressed throughout the too-often bloody history of the human race. 

It is to be heard in the pages of the Bible, in the arenas of Roman torture of Christians, in the Viking-ravaged communities of Dark Ages Scotland, on through the death camps of Stalin and the gas chambers of Hitler—yes, even today in the parts of our world where power seeks to wield its authority over people it deems expendable or a nuisance. 

The presence of the cry here is a part of the deep sense of the human condition that is inherent in the Psalms and that keeps these ancient writings immediate to our life experience. For the cry “How long?” is not heard only in the headline-making acts of terror and horror throughout the historical record, but also in the heart of anyone who has watched a loved one experience long-term illness or agonized as a friend slowly, inexorably descends into the depths of addiction. 

We do not necessarily know who the enemies are who have caused the terrible destruction the psalmist laments, but even in the midst of this darkest of the Psalms is the lamp of faith and trust that even in long suffering there is hope of God’s redemption: 

     Yet God my King is from of old 
     working salvation in the earth.

Prayer
Even in the midst of all that is broken and hurt,
come Lord Jesus, whose suffering brings new life.
Amen. 

Written by Calum I. MacLeod, Executive Associate Pastor and Head of Staff

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 9
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
     I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
     I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
When my enemies turned back,
     they stumbled and perished before you.
For you have maintained my just cause;
     you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment.

You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the wicked;
     you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
The enemies have vanished in everlasting ruins;
     their cities you have rooted out;
     the very memory of them has perished.

But the Lord sits enthroned forever,
     he has established his throne for judgment.
He judges the world with righteousness;
     he judges the peoples with equity.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
     a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
     for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
     Declare his deeds among the peoples.
For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
     he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Be gracious to me, O Lord.
     See what I suffer from those who hate me;
     you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
so that I may recount all your praises,
     and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
     rejoice in your deliverance.

The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
     in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.
The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
     the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah

The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
     all the nations that forget God.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
     nor the hope of the poor perish forever.

Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
     let the nations be judged before you.
Put them in fear, O Lord;
     let the nations know that they are only human. Selah (NRSV)

Reflection
I fear that centuries from now people will study and seek inspiration from the lyrics and poems of our culture. This might lead them to Rolling Stone magazine’s claim of the sixty-fourth most popular song of all time. My worry is that scholars and students will ponder and recite its timeless lyrics—“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah”—without the benefit of Paul McCartney’s voice in their heads. Really?

What would the psalmist have to say to me as I try to interpret Psalm 9? How would the then-prescribed tune of Muth Labben have enhanced or constricted the words? Psalm 9 and 10 form an acrostic poem, as the first letters of each phrase comprise the Hebrew alphabet. Would this have affected the content of God’s worldwide judgment and rule over the nations? Once again, my obsession with correct interpretation has clouded the simple statement of God’s love and protection. I pray for the peace and serenity to simply bask in the pleasure of verses 9 and 10:

        The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
                a stronghold in times of trouble.
        And those who know your name put their trust in you,
                for you, O Lord, have not forsake those who seek you.

Because “with a love like that, you know you should be glad.”

Prayer
Dear Lord, I give thanks for the psalmist’s hands that you have guided. Help me to drink in your Word without overanalysis or judgment. Let your grace and love guide my humble journey to seek you. Amen.

Written by Katy Sinclair, Associate Director of Music for Children and Youth

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

     When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
     he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 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 knit 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.

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (NRSV)

Reflection
One of my most surprising discoveries when I went to college was the realization that I did not get to choose my friends. Like 80 percent of the men at Wabash College, I joined a fraternity. I spent most of my four years in college living in very close quarters with people I didn’t choose to be around—the fraternity chose them for me. I probably would not have chosen this same collection of individuals if I had been given the choice—and I’m quite sure many of them would not have chosen me. By the end of four years, however, the differences that existed among us and the many ways in which we were forced to learn to live together became one of the most formative influences in my life, and many of those men have become my most trusted friends. 

This is what the message of Ephesians 4 is about. The church is supposed to be a collection of brothers and sisters in Christ—brothers we do not get to choose—and we are all quite different. 

Many of us go to church hoping to find people who think just like we do—I am as guilty of this as anyone. We spend most of our time nurturing the relationships that are the easiest and the most automatic, and we distance ourselves from the people who, if it were up to us, wouldn’t be there at all. 

Luckily it’s not up to us. We have been given this particular group of sisters and brothers in Christ with whom to live our life of faith. And we can be incredibly surprised by the blessings God puts in our paths in the guise of people who are different from us. Who would’ve guessed that I would learn such a Christian lesson in my college fraternity! 

Prayer
God, help me to embrace the blessings you have given me in the people I meet who are different from me, both in my church, and in my whole life. Thank you, Lord. Amen.    

Written by Adam H. Fronczek,
    Associate Pastor for Adult Education and Worship

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Scripture Reading: Proverbs 15:30–33
The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
     and good news refreshes the body.
The ear that heeds wholesome admonition
     will lodge among the wise.
Those who ignore instruction despise themselves,
     but those who heed admonition gain understanding.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
     and humility goes before honor. (NRSV)

Reflection
The book of Proverbs states that its purpose is to teach wisdom and discipline. This book was foundational as a guide for the Jewish people. Children memorized and recited these words. Today we are in need of its wisdom more than ever.

“The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honor.” Now fear of the Lord strikes many as an outdated idea. It conjures up images of a wrathful God, which many reject. It is hard for us to understand this phrase as it was intended—fear of the Lord might be better understood as a way to correctly view ourselves in relation to God.

We get in trouble in life when we become too focused on ourselves. It is easy to become consumed with our problems, our desires, our needs. We become the center of the universe and don’t even realize it. Then we lose an accurate perspective. This is where the humility part comes in. Fear of the Lord involves putting God in God’s rightful place, with God, not ourselves, at the center of all. God first and ourselves second, that is the right order; that produces humility. If we envision life as God’s garden, we are each a flower in it. We are each planted, nourished, and sustained by God. Our life is as the flower, not the garden; every flower in it is not something we choose and control. This indeed is wise instruction as we understand our lives as a part of the larger life of God.

Prayer
Loving God, you have planted, nourished, and sustained me. Help me to focus on your love and service first and myself second. Even when times are tough, you let me feel your caring presence, and trust that you are always working for good. Help me to focus on doing your work in the world, rather than my own. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 11:1–44
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (NRSV)

Reflection
Many of us are familiar with today’s story about Jesus’ healing of Lazarus. What I am struck by, in reading it again, are the unspoken ways in which all of the other characters—the disciples, Martha and Mary, and the rest of the Jewish community—reveal their uncertainties and doubts to Jesus, even while turning to him in their hour of need. The disciples together seem to be questioning why Jesus will not rush to the ailing Lazarus; Thomas calls on the group to go with Jesus to Bethany, even though they will be killed there; Martha dodges a question about Jesus and resurrection; Mary appears to blame Jesus’ absence for Lazarus’ death. Yet in spite of doubt, uncertainty, fear of death, and bitterness, one thing remains clear: all of these people cling to Jesus and look to him in this time of trouble. Most of them seem to believe that Lazarus is beyond Jesus’ help, and still they cling to Jesus. At least one of them believes that being by Jesus’ side will mean a terrible end, and still he clings.

Doubts about questions of faith do not mean we are faithless. Nor does doubt exclude us from faithful relationship with God; we can still be in deep, meaningful relationship with God in Jesus Christ, even with our doubts and fears. We are challenged to follow Jesus to the place of trouble and to bring our troubles and questions, even our anger, to him so that we might be healed.

Prayer
God of the healing Christ, help me to understand that I do not need to lay down my doubt or my questions, my hurt or my fears, to follow you. Reassure me that I can bring them when I step forth to meet you and that you will receive me however I come. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 52
Why do you boast, O mighty one,
     of mischief done against the godly?
     All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
     you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
     and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah
You love all words that devour,
     O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever;
     he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
     he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
The righteous will see, and fear,
     and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
“See the one who would not take
     refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
     and sought refuge in wealth!”

But I am like a green olive tree
     in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
     forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
     because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
     I will proclaim your name, for it is good. (NRSV)

Reflection
The psalmist says, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.” Olive trees are very hardy, being resistant to drought, disease, and fire. The root system of the olive tree is robust and capable of regenerating the tree even if the above-ground structure is destroyed. Such trees can live to a very old age. A recent scientific survey revealed that there are dozens of ancient olive trees throughout Israel and Palestine that are 1,600 to 2,000 years old or more. Claims are made that several trees in the Garden of Gethsemane date back to the time of Jesus. I remember being told this while standing in that garden in Jerusalem. Surrounded by old, gnarled trees still generating olives, I felt God’s presence through the generations.

What vivid imagery for the psalmist to use when describing how he trusts in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. He proclaims that God will uproot and break down forever those who lie, destroy, and deceive. Those who find refuge in God will laugh at those who put their trust in wealth instead. The more deeply rooted we are in God’s abiding love, the more we participate in life that is lasting. Let us daily remember God’s good works, joining the psalmist in saying, “I will thank you forever, because of what you have done.”

Prayer
God of our life, through all the circling years, we trust in thee; in all the past, through all our hopes and fears, thy hand we see. With each new day, when morning lifts the veil, we own thy mercies, Lord which never fail. Amen.
(Prayer adapted from hymn “God of Our Life”)

Reflection written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 55
Give ear to my prayer, O God;
     do not hide yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and answer me;
     I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught by the noise of the enemy,
     because of the clamor of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me,
     and in anger they cherish enmity against me.

My heart is in anguish within me,
     the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
     and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
     I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
     I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah

I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
     from the raging wind and tempest.”

Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech;
     for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it
     on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
     ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
     do not depart from its marketplace.

It is not enemies who taunt me—
     I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—
     I could hide from them.
But it is you, my equal,
     my companion, my familiar friend,
with whom I kept pleasant company;
     we walked in the house of God with the throng.
Let death come upon them;
     let them go down alive to Sheol;
     for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.

But I call upon God,
     and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
     I utter my complaint and moan,
     and he will hear my voice.
He will redeem me unharmed
     from the battle that I wage,
     for many are arrayed against me.
God, who is enthroned from of old, Selah

     will hear, and will humble them—
because they do not change,
     and do not fear God.

My companion laid hands on a friend
     and violated a covenant with me
with speech smoother than butter,
     but with a heart set on war;
with words that were softer than oil,
     but in fact were drawn swords.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
     and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
     the righteous to be moved.

But you, O God, will cast them down
     into the lowest pit;
the bloodthirsty and treacherous
     shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you. (NRSV)

Reflection
The writer of Psalm 55 had been betrayed by someone who had been a friend. The exact nature of the betrayal is unclear, but it involved two people who had thought they were on the same page and assumed they could trust one another. The betrayal was significant and devastating. It was a breach of trust between two people: “My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.

There is little that is more devastating than betrayal. I remember the first time either one of my children lied to me. I was indignant the first time it happened. Betrayal shakes the foundation of a relationship, so much so that the betrayed one can sink into despair. Sometimes the despair lasts for a lifetime.

I know people who have been betrayed and have never been able to forget it. And I know others who have been betrayed in significant ways and who seem to have arrived at a place of peace and forgiveness. I wonder what makes the difference?

A good friend experienced the betrayal of a husband and the resulting divorce when their children were young. She experienced every emotion—anger, dismay, confusion, despair, regret, loss of confidence, and more. But throughout the years, she continued to practice faith-building practices. Eventually she got to the point where rancor no longer needed to be expressed toward her former husband. I believe her ability to get beyond the betrayal was the result of doing what the psalmist instructs in this psalm: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.

Prayer
Dear God, remind me to cast my burdens of distrust or anger or resentment on you. And if I don’t feel as though you are on the other end of my prayer, give me trust that you are. Help me to know that no matter what betrayal in life I may experience, there is no betrayal that can separate me from your love. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 88
O Lord, God of my salvation,
     when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
     incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of troubles,
     and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
     I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
     like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
     for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
     in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
     and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

You have caused my companions to shun me;
     you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
     my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
     I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
     Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
     or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
     or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
     in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast me off?
     Why do you hide your face from me?
Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
     I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
Your wrath has swept over me;
     your dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
     from all sides they close in on me.
You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
     my companions are in darkness. (NRSV)

Reflection
For me, it was space junk.

Psalm 88 is brutal, unrelenting in its despondency. The last verse? Where you expect “Thanks, God, I know you’re going to help me because that’s what you do” you get, “You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.”

This writer is in a bad way, and when I read it, all I can think is “Been there, done that.” We all have dark times, some so dark we wish for anything that would just make it all stop. For me, it was space junk. Things had gotten so bad and so bleak that I thought if a random piece of space junk were to reenter the atmosphere and hit me, well, that might be a merciful thing. At least it would make everything stop.

There’s no feel-good ending, no deliverance, no redemption here.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It’s Jesus’ most human moment. Cut off and alone, asking “Why?” And while it’s easy to read “into your hands I commit my spirit” as a renewal of faith, I keep hearing “You take it. I quit. I’m just going to die now.” And that sentiment is not foreign to me.

Sometimes faith runs dry. But the good thing is that even when it does, God is there. We don’t “faith” God into existence. When it’s dark and black and we are alone and we can’t see anything, God is there. Sometimes you don’t just “snap out of it.” Faith doesn’t always make you feel better. Sometimes all it does is keep you moving, keep you from sitting down in the dark place and never getting out. And maybe that’s enough.

The author of this psalm is in a black place, but even in that darkness, this writer is still talking to God.

Prayer
Dear Lord, the valley of the shadow is a lonely and fearful place. Give me faith enough to keep moving, and bring me back to the light. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 90:1–10
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
     in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
      or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
      from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust,
      and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
      are like yesterday when it is past,
      or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
      like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
      in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are consumed by your anger;
      by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
      our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
      our years come to an end like a sigh.

The days of our life are seventy years,
      or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
      they are soon gone, and we fly away. (NRSV)

Reflection
Living by the lake, I’ve become a renewed fan of the glorious sunrise. Every single day, without fail, our universe resets itself. We all continue on a larger path, and each year, again without fail, we also have a re-creation. I have come to love this cyclical, universal pattern—a new beginning every day, every year. Another chance to begin again or fix something that didn’t work yesterday; a new goal for the year, perhaps. Every day and every year, the Lord provides each of us with a chance to become something more, to rejuvenate our lives once again.

On the largest individual scale of this never-ending pattern, we are here and then we pass. Some get to see only one sunrise and some are lucky enough to hopefully recognize the astonishing and unexplainable beauty in tens of thousands of them. And then swept away to return to the earth, as Walt Whitman so eloquently states in Leaves of Grass:

        We are Nature—long have we been absent, but now we return;
        We become plants, leaves, foliage, roots, bark.

A never-ending cycle, even after the sunrise is no longer visible but amazingly still feeds us in God’s love.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for the opportunity that you have given us all to live more fully in your ways each day and each year. I pray you’ll inspire me to continue my exploration of the life you gave me, and when I watch my final sunset, I know you will be there to comfort and usher me into your next brilliant miracle. Amen.

Written by Ryan Loeckel, Coordinator for Worship, Music, and Adult Education

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Friday, January 28, 2014

Scripture Reading: Psalm 20
The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
     The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary,
      and give you support from Zion.
May he remember all your offerings,
      and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah

May he grant you your heart’s desire,
      and fulfill all your plans.
May we shout for joy over your victory,
      and in the name of our God set up our banners.
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
      he will answer him from his holy heaven
      with mighty victories by his right hand.
Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
      but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
They will collapse and fall,
      but we shall rise and stand upright.

Give victory to the king, O Lord;
      answer us when we call. (NRSV)

Reflection
Psalm 20 states, “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.” What do you take pride in? What do you trust in? Where do you turn when times are tough? If this was being written today, we wouldn’t cite chariots or horses, but the question is the same. Are you putting your trust in the right place?
 
What a wonderful wish the psalmist has for us, that “the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary.” Often we turn to God for help as a last resort. When everything else has failed and there is nowhere else to turn, then we seek God’s assistance.

But what if we start going to God first? This can also be precarious, because God does not always follow our plan. The outcome we want may not be the outcome God wants for us. God may send us in another direction entirely. But the psalmist reminds us that God’s assistance will come, answering “from his holy heaven with mighty victories from his right hand.” God’s help will not come in a dramatic way for most of us, but in a still small voice, that we might almost miss. Do we miss the small signs of God’s care through friends, family, and strangers? Do we overlook the beauty of the day and the wonder of nature all around us?

Prayer
Loving God, I pray as the psalmist, that you will answer us whenever we are in trouble. Open our minds to see your love and care, which is always at work in our world. Help us to extend that love and care to each other, so we can become a people of hope and trust. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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