View print-optimized version

Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

January 7–12
January 13–19
January 20–26
January 27–31

January 7, 2019                      

Today’s Scripture Reading | Colossians 2:6–12

Reflection
This is our one shot at Colossians during this cycle of devotions, so let’s make sure we know what we’re dealing with. A letter to a church in a city of Asia Minor (Turkey) during the first century, a church founded with the announcement of the gospel by a guy named Epaphras (Colossians 1:7). The letter is ostensibly written by the Apostle Paul and Timothy, and it assumes the situation of Paul’s imprisonment.

Today’s verses lay down some bedrock gospel. Christ is fully divine (verse 9). The believer is buried with Christ through baptism and raised with him through faith (verse 12). To the contemporary Christian, the language is stirring in its familiarity.

But there’s something behind these strong assertions about who Jesus is and who we are in him. You get the fuller picture when you read on. The saints in Colossae are flirting with some “philosophy” (verse 8). Maybe it’s an early form of Gnosticism, the belief that faith entitles you to special spiritual knowledge nobody else knows, or maybe it’s a dalliance with a rigid form of Judaism emphasizing sabbath observance and dietary laws. Either way, the warning to them (and to us) is to remain “rooted and built up” in Jesus. The simple message we’ve received and accepted of his birth, life, death, and resurrection is the surest foundation on which to base our lives.

Prayer
God—who establishes us in Christ our Lord—receive today our gratitude for him: the shape his teaching gives our life, the effect his faith has on ours, the freedom, the salvation we know in being buried and raised with him. May our every breath proclaim our joy and gratitude. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

Back to top

_______________________________________


January 8, 2019 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 60:1–6

Reflection
People are coming.

“Nations will be drawn to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

They’ll come from far away, they will bring children in their arms.

“The abundance of the sea.”

People are coming, they’re bringing their households, their treasures, because they see the goodness that can be found in your land.

So, what are we going to do? When these people come?

I mean, we kind of take that light for granted, “Oh of course, the light of God is on our nation. Where else would it be?” We’re the shining city on a hill. Of course people want to come here. To bring everything they have. Their children in arms.

So what are we going to do? What would a nation blessed by God do, when people came to the light?

There’s a choice to be made. Welcome the stranger or shun them. That’s it.

Welcome them, or “Yes, the light is here but it’s just for us. Get lost.” Embrace these families with children in arms, or rip those children away and destroy those families.

What is the choice for the people of the light, when others are not so fortunate?

Tough question, huh? Thank God Jesus is pretty clear on the answer. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

I mean, we can be people of the light and share that light with others, or we can try to keep it all to ourselves. Maybe hide it under a bushel.

Prayer
Lord, remind us that we are people of the light and our obligation is to share it. Help us to remember that “Welcome strangers” is not just a suggestion but our commission as Christians. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 9, 2019   

Today’s Scripture Reading |  Ephesians 3:1–12

Reflection
One of my favorite things about Fourth Church is our proclamation that all are welcome. We state this clearly in our Sunday bulletin. We open our doors—for Sunday worship and for everyday meditation—to all. I have long believed that this is one of our greatest contributions to the life of our city.

By the time he wrote this letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul had come a long way. He had been a Pharisee and spent his time persecuting the followers of Christ. After his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, he changed his ways and became an evangelist for Jesus. At some point in Paul’s ministry, God instructed him to take the message of Jesus to the Gentiles, which he did. It was for this that he was imprisoned.

So now, in prison for preaching the good news of the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul writes a letter in which he lets that church know that Gentiles and Jews are equally welcome in the new church of Jesus Christ. No more is there to be division—Jews on the one hand and Gentiles on the other. All are the same.

While this message had particular import to those Ephesian Christians in the context of their society, the message is a timeless one: the good news of the gospel was not the exclusive possession of any one group. The mystery of Jesus, which had not been revealed before, was revealed in his earthly ministry. The revealing of God’s grace through Jesus was not for one particular group but was for all people, regardless of their background. All were welcome.

Prayer
Dear God, help us to welcome all people. Remind us that your grace extends to the entire human race. Help us to focus our attention on including people rather than finding ways to exclude them. Amen.

Written by Juli Crabtree, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 10, 2019   

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 72:1–7, 10–14

Reflection
One of my favorite times of the year is the beginning. A new year represents new beginnings and a fresh start. New beginnings mean moving forward, leaving the past behind. If the prior year was full of challenges, it can be liberating to embark on a new adventure. There are times in life when we need a new beginning.

This psalm is about change. In full context the writer is addressing a change of leadership. David was king and is being succeeded by Solomon. Justifiably the psalmist asks God for continued blessings throughout the new season of leadership. The blessing on Solomon’s future reign is conveyed in verse 6: “He will be like rain on a mown field, like showers watering the earth..” It is not a bad idea to seek God when embarking on something new. Change in your life may come in a variety of ways, good and bad.

At various times in life every one of us stands in need of a new beginning. Maybe you have failed at something. The doctor’s report was not what you wanted to hear. A disappointment or trial may have caused you to isolate yourself from family and friends. You may find yourself in need of a new beginning.

Take heart. Not all of life is a predicament to tolerate. So much of life is a blessing to take pleasure in. So if you are at the beginning of something new and are tentative about what is ahead, ask God for the gentle rain of divine love to refresh your spirit and provide you with a renewed sense of purpose. Adopt Psalm 72:6 as your prayerful underpinning, with its expression of God’s direction, support, and blessing.

Be reminded there is always a new level to everything we experience. Adopt the psalmist’s approach to seek God for the constant newness we have in the Almighty, the one who is able to do more than we can think or ask.

Prayer
Faithful God, thank you for your faithfulness in gently leading us from one degree of grace to the next. How grateful we are for your eternal love, grace, and mercy. Amen.

Written by Robert Crouch, Director of Volunteer Ministry

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 11, 2019 

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 6:15–27

Reflection
It is the first line that gets me every time. “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king . . .” This passage is situated right after the story we know as the Feeding of the Five Thousand, in which Jesus is able to transform a few loaves and fish into a bountiful feast for all. But how do the people respond to his generosity and goodness? They want to make him into what they want him to be—their king. Regardless of how Jesus felt about it, regardless of whether that was what he felt God was calling him to do, the people made the decision as to what he would be for them.

I often wonder how many times I act like those in the crowd. How many times in my life do I try to make God into who I want God to be. Anne Lamott has that great quotation that you know you have made God into your image when God hates all the same people you do. Indeed. Many of us probably have moments or whole seasons of our lives during which we try in vain to make God into our image, try to tell God what to do and whom to love and how to save, rather than remember that God has made us in God’s image. This passage can serve as a kind of warning against that idolatry. For what does Jesus do when Jesus figures out what is on their hearts? He withdraws until he can once again engage the crowd on his own terms.

Prayer
God, I know that I often see in you only what I want to see. I box you into my plans or into my expectations and then do not notice you calling me into something different. Forgive me, O God. Forgive me and remind me who is the Potter and who is the clay. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 12, 2019 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Revelation 3:7–13

Reflection
The Book of Revelation is meant to reassure a beleaguered people. Many people have tried to decode the rich metaphors used to offer comfort and to encourage right action. But the poetry of the book offers powerful meaning if we can allow ourselves to let go of literalism and open ourselves to the human emotions being addressed.

To the people “who have so little power,” John of Patmos conveys a message from God. “I have loved you,” God says. “I have opened a door in front of you,” God says. “Hold on to my word and my name,” God says, “and no one will be able to take the crown that I have given you.” When we do this, we become as steadfast as pillars that hold up the temple of God and God’s name is written on us. We belong to God, even when we “have so little power.” God is with us. Hold on to hope. Be steadfast.

Prayer
Dear God, write your name on my heart. Give me the strength to do the things that need to be done. Help me to understand what those things are. Guide me, and strengthen me. Help me to feel your presence always with me. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry

Back to top

_______________________________________


January 13, 2019 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 3:15–17, 21–22

Reflection
Much as I wanted to focus on the last verse of this passage, I kept getting caught by John’s words about Jesus to the expectant and questioning people. “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Ouch.

In an effort to understand this better (and probably distract myself from “unquenchable fire”), I read a little about winnowing and threshing. To review: winnowing is the process of separating the seed of a grain from its chaff, or husk. Threshing comes before, when one is loosening the bran from the husk. Obviously the seed is the valuable part, what the farmer wants. In this process the weight of the seed makes it fall to the ground (or threshing floor) while the light seed covering gets blown away (or, apparently, burned up) because it is worthless.

And what does this agricultural digression have to do with baptism? I’m not sure. But I’m starting to think that Jesus’ winnowing fan has something to do with helping me let go of my “chaff.” What might that be? The outer covering I put on to keep my true self hidden. The lightweight (and worthless) personas I wear because I think they’re what other people want to see. The trite and annoying (think popcorn husks between teeth) tricks I’ve developed to avoid acknowledging who I am really am and what I really do. Letting go of these could be almost as scary as unquenchable fire.

When God said, “You are my Beloved, with you I am well pleased” to Jesus, God was naming and claiming what was most essential about Jesus, the truest seed of his soul. Throughout his ministry, Jesus must have been sustained by the memory of this moment. Surely it must have helped him sort out what was hefty enough to hang on to and what could be winnowed away.

Maybe the memory of my baptism can do the same for me this year.

Prayer
Jesus, you who became human like me, thank you for separating my wheat from my chaff. On this feast of your baptism, help me to live up to, and into, my own. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 14, 2019     

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 43:1–7

Reflection
Whenever we prepare for a trip, whether heading across town or to distant destinations, we are never quite sure how the voyage will go. Unknown to us are the adversities we’ll find along the way. These might include inclement weather, forgotten or lost luggage, inadequate accommodations, a delayed flight, or a car that never comes. Journeys are perilous endeavors, and we often seek assurances that they will be safe or that the effort to reach our destination will be worthwhile. This passage from Isaiah hearkens back to a time when God’s exiled people were on a journey of their own. They prayed for a new Exodus that would bring the scattered Jewish people from the places where they fled or were held captive when mighty Jerusalem fell a generation ago. They sought to be gathered back to their homes in a land that was secure and where they might flourish.

God, in Isaiah, reassures these would-be travelers longing for the journey home. Raging waters will not overwhelm them and neither would fire consume, promised the prophet. These promises did not dismiss the inevitable challenges of their journey but sought to steady the people’s resolve by reminding them that they are God’s own beloved, even in the midst of a future that looked unclear. Like our forebears in faith, we too need this tender reassurance on our spiritual and personal journeys. Successes or smooth roads are not promised, but the faithfulness of God promises to bring us through.

Prayer: God, our companion through exile and exodus, as we take another step this day on our journey, surround us with your presence, strength, and hope. Fill us with the knowledge that no matter what comes our way, we are beloved. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 15, 2019                     

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 29

Reflection
God is great and greatly to be praised! Have you ever taken a moment to sit and think about how awesome God is? If you have, you’ve realized that God is bigger than we can describe, bigger than our lives, and bigger than our circumstances.

Such a big God should ease our minds and increase our confidence, reminding us we are safe in God’s arms. However, when life’s storms fester, too often our faith is shaken, because the challenges of life pile up so high and become so big that we focus on the mass of the mountain rather than the great strength of our God.

We must remember that God’s strength is bigger than anything that comes up against us to test our faith. We must also remember that God strengthens us in our walk through the valley. The Lord our God has commanded that his people faint not, but in everything give thanks, trusting and believing that it will all work out in the end for our good.

The good news is that God is able to deliver us from it all. The good news is that we are children of a God who fails not. Blessed be the holy and majestic name of the Lord.

Prayer
Lord, we come before you to magnify your holy name, and we worship you because you are worthy to be praised. As we travel this journey of life, we experience great difficulties. Yet, God, we worship you despite our circumstances, for you are a God who will break the chains and strongholds of pain, worry, doubt, heartache, and fear. We give you glory knowing that your promise and power will save us from all harm. Strengthen us to endure as we remember that even in our distress you are a great God! Amen.

Written by Jasclyn Coney, Youth Discipleship Coordinator

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 16, 2019            

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 8:14–17

Reflection
Sometimes Presbyterians think that we invented the action we call the “laying on of hands.” We see it every year when church officers are ordained.

This scripture passage tells us otherwise. Peter and John went to Samaria and laid their hands on the new believers there, hoping that this action would further the power of the Holy Spirit in the new believers. That is always the hope when there is a laying on of hands, whether in an officer ordination or a healing ceremony. Some recipients are powerfully moved and others not so much. But the ritual act itself is powerful, and the hope for the Holy Spirit’s presence is always there.

Touch is powerful. In this day and age, we are careful when we talk about touch. We know the barriers and challenges that exist and the necessity of being respectful in the use of touch. Yet this passage has caused me to think of a time in my life when a hand on my shoulder conveyed healing and comfort. I was sitting on a doctor’s table in 1989 while the doctor spoke to my husband about the breast cancer that had been discovered. She had her hand on my shoulder the whole while she spoke. Her touch was powerful in its conveyance of care and calm.

And there’s the story of the woman who reached out from the crowd to touch Jesus’ hem. He stopped because the unknown woman’s touch caused power to drain from Jesus and he knew it.

There is power in touch when we use it well. And there is power in our ritual of the laying on of hands. Maybe it’s like an electric circuit, the Holy Spirit’s power being passed through our connection. Next time you witness the laying on of hands, perhaps you can imagine the Holy Spirit pulsing through those connections we have. But don’t forget to pay attention when someone’s caring touch causes you to feel God’s power too.

Prayer
Holy God, thank you for the many ways you convey your presence and power. Thank you for pulsing through our lives and the rituals that convey power and hope, for the sustaining presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 17, 2019 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 11:1–9

Reflection
Humans are naturally inclined to find comfort in what they know, whom they know, and what feels safe or comfortable. When someone tries to throw us off kilter or suggest we move outside of our comfort zone, we have the urge to protect ourselves. We become defensive. In this passage, the tower builders ignore God’s call to scatter throughout the earth and, instead, focus on protecting and preserving their own community. Rather than embracing God’s command to populate the earth and be good stewards to new lands and new people, they decide to isolate themselves. God does not settle for this type of defensive response.

But this response doesn’t end in Babylon. We often still don’t like what we don’t understand, and unfortunately, this has played out in some of the most unjust human acts imaginable: the Holocaust, threats of nuclear weapons, a protest against civil rights for every man, woman, and child no matter his or her race or creed. Unfortunately we even find small ways to isolate ourselves from the diversity we fear (or build up the pride we possess) on a daily basis. We carefully select our friends or our neighborhoods to call home, but we also select who is worthy of our time and compassion. Do we reach out to those who are beyond the walls we cautiously build up in our lives? The people who may be ignored, misunderstood, or forgotten? God calls us to have greater humility than we care to admit and possess. Despite the tower builders’ attempts to build a monument to the heavens, God still had to come down to their level and remind them of their duty to cultivate the earth full of rich culture and unique attributes.

Prayer  
God, remind me to face the day with a meek heart, so I may not build walls and secure myself in my own comfort, but that I may answer your call to care for the greater good and seek to understand the multitude of gifts among my brothers and sisters on this earth. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens Harris, Director,Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 18, 2019          

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 2:13–17

Reflection
The Gospels depict Jesus as having spent a lot of time healing people. Jesus is reported to have made the blind see, the lame walk, and even the dying breathe deep again. But if you really examine the Gospels, you might see that Jesus spends even more time healing those who are sick with a different ailment: sin.

Did you know that we offer a healing service every Sunday at Fourth Church? It’s true. In fact, we offer it four times on Sundays: at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. You see, in the Reformed tradition (the wider religious tradition of which Presbyterianism belongs), every service starts with healing. The Prayer of Confession is our chance to admit that we mess up, we are afflicted with human reality and limitation, we sin. This is our chance every Sunday to admit to God that we are not perfect and that we cannot get through life alone. After we admit it—out loud—we are reminded through words of comfort and truth that we are being healed. Each Sunday, we are reminded that in Jesus Christ—the great physician—we are forgiven. We can start again.

The great irony of the gospel is that Jesus came into this world not for those who are righteous—the perfect and blameless—but for sinners. And it makes me laugh with joy and freedom, because that means Jesus came for all. We are all diagnosed with the reality of sin, but through Jesus Christ we are given a prescription that soothes our very humanity and allows us to live with even more fullness and delight. Thanks be to God.

Prayer
Almighty God, who in Jesus Christ gave the power to heal both body and soul, mend and heal my heart that those sins that limit my joy may be relieved and that I may live even more in delight of you. Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Ministerial Associate for Worship

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 19, 2019 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Ephesians 2:1–10

Reflection
After reflecting on our reading from Ephesians, an imaginary scenario came to mind: A box of my maternal grandparents’ correspondence was recently discovered. Inside was an intriguing letter, seemingly from my grandfather (a civic leader in Detroit) to concerned churches and agencies about their shared mission. On closer examination, this letter raised more questions than it answered. Was it really from my grandfather, or had he kept a copy of a letter written by one of his colleagues? And it wasn’t clear exactly to whom the letter had been sent.

These circumstances echo the letter to the Ephesians. Scholars continue to debate whether the Apostle Paul wrote the letter or whether a student or colleague of Paul’s was the author. And it is now apparent that Ephesians was likely a circular letter to several churches in Asia Minor—though just which ones remains uncertain.

Nevertheless, the content of the letter is compelling, especially in the closing verses of today’s reading. “For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, for which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Our good works, our faithful discipleship, is not credited to us that we might boast. Rather, we are freed by God’s grace to live out the loving, just, and peaceable purposes of the Holy One, following our loving Lord and empowered by the Spirit. Thanks be to God!

Prayer
Everlasting God, I am grateful that the correspondence of biblical forebears still speaks to me. Help me and all your people live with the questions these letters raise, yet be strengthened and sustained in our continuing witness to the justice, love, and peace of our one Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

Back to top

_______________________________________


January 20, 2019               

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 2:1–11

Reflection
Picture the scene: a wedding celebration in the Galilean town of Cana, splendid and crowded and alive with the Jewish nuptial traditions of the time. Next, picture the people who bear witness to this miracle, each seeing the actions playing out in a different way. Their reactions can be a metaphor for our own faith experiences today.

We might strive to be like Mary, whose faith is sure and who trusts in the miraculous outcome even before it happens. After all, without Mary’s insistence, Jesus might not have transformed the water into wine. She helped bring the miracle about, as did the servants, though they, while following instructions, must have questioned these moments: “This woman is telling us to do what? This man is asking us to pour water into these pots, because why?” Have you ever gone through the motions of helping someone in need and then, after the fact, experienced that sense of grace reminding you what service is all about? So it may have been with the servants, who must have realized eventually that they, too, had a hand in this miracle.

Then there is the master of the feast, who knows nothing of the wine’s origins but who proclaims it good. Are there days when we resemble him, passing judgment and praising outcomes while unaware of the grace that brings goodness into being? And finally there are the banquet guests, naïve to any divine intervention but enjoying the fruits of that vine. Not everyone who is present for a miracle will necessarily see it. But if we keep our hearts and minds open and bear witness to the grace that permeates life, maybe we can help welcome new miracles into the world.

Prayer
Heavenly Lord, help us avoid entertaining both angels and miracles unaware. Keep us mindful of the miracles alive in your creation. Amen.

Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 21, 2019  

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 36:5–10

Reflection
Every Saturday while I was growing up, my family would drive about an hour to visit my grandparents in Jackson Center, Ohio. There were many reasons I enjoyed visiting them: recounting all the things that happened during the week, eating lots of good food, playing a piece I learned on their piano—and seeing what candy Grandpa had put in the linen closet. On a bottom shelf of the linen closet, along with towels and sheets there was always a supply of not just bite-sized candy bars, but the full-sized ones. The pile of Snickers, Mounds, peanut butter cups, etc. were, for me and my sister, just an unbelievable act of love and generosity. They were just there for the taking, no one had to know how much we took or when, no one even knew if we took them. We could—of our own free will—eat a candy bar anytime we wanted.

My grandparents are gone now, their candy may be gone too, but not the love that came with it. The free love that I experienced each Saturday at their home in Jackson Center goes with me every day, everywhere I go now. It is the gift of love that is passed from one generation to another, from one person to another that truly matters and makes a lasting difference in our lives. This love can be passed on in many encounters, many actions, but sharing this love for each other matters. It really matters.

We share this love with everyone, not just family, because we are all the children of God, each person created in God’s image. We share this love because God shared it with us first, giving us so many free gifts, seen and unseen, all that is and all that ever will be.

“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.”

Prayer
Loving God, thank you for the gift of love that you so freely share with each and every person. Help me to share that same love this day and always. Amen.

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

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 22, 2019      

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 62:1–5

Reflection
This passage is full of beautiful imagery, but I find myself most drawn to the images of light, of the vindication that “shines out like the dawn” and the salvation that is like a “burning torch.” While these are both beautiful descriptions of light, their essence is very different. The soft, pink light breaking over the horizon to welcome a new day evokes a feeling much different than the bright yellows and oranges of a blazing torch leading the way through a dark night. And I am grateful for both.

We all have light to shine into the world, but it is not the same light. Each person has their own light to shine. And not everyone will see the beauty of a particular light. Some will think it’s too bright or too soft. Some will think it’s the wrong color or that it shines at the wrong time. No matter. Keep shining. Your light is not diminished when you share it. When you use a candle to light another, the flame from your candle continues to burn just as bright.

How do you let your light shine?

Prayer
Light of the World, thank you for bestowing your light upon us and trusting us to carry it into the world. Give us the courage we need to shine your light into dark places in our own lives, our families, our communities, and the world. Remind us that light is more powerful than darkness and that the light of your love shines through us every day in our words and deeds. Challenge us not to be selfish and keep it to ourselves; show us ways to share it with those who need it most. Amen.

Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 23, 2019                        

Today’s Scripture Reading | Ephesians 5:1–14

Reflection
Imitate God. Live life with love. Be children of light. Wake up and Christ will shine on you. These directives are all found in this passage. They direct us to wake up and become conscious of walking in light and love as the body of Christ.

When reading this passage, it is tempting to get caught up in the specifics of the list of don’ts Paul includes that describe an unconscious way of living. I invite you to join me in understanding this passage as a call to cease acting unconsciously in the ways of a dominating ego but rather to wake up to our calling to live out our soul’s purpose.

Many years ago my spiritual director explained the spiritual journey as one in which the human ego comes into right relationship with and in service to the soul or true self of a person. The true self is the part of us that knows it is in the image of and in an eternal relationship with God.

We live much of our lives asleep. We don’t recognize that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Everything changes when we wake up, rise from the dead, and recognize that Christ is shining on us, as it is written in verse 14 of this passage. We are never alone or separated as our ego imagines but are always in relationship with our Creator, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Becoming conscious is to awaken to this realization, and then we may feel the urge to kiss the ground in gratitude.

Prayer
God, may we wake up to the awareness that we always live in the light of love. May we shine that living light through us into the communities, relationships, and environments in which we serve and live. With love and gratitude for calling us your children. Amen

Written by Susan Schemper, Spiritual Counselor,
Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 24, 2019                   

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Corinthians 12:1–11

Reflection
At a former job, my colleagues and I engaged in a Strength Finder assessment to identify our gifts and see how they were similar and different from each other. The facilitator of the session discussed that it can be more useful to work on strengthening our existing gifts instead of trying to learn a variety of new ones. This was interesting to me, because I was expecting to notice gaps and try to fill in those gaps.

Of course it can be useful to enhance the skills we have through education, but today’s scripture reminds us that the Spirit nurtures specific gifts within each of us. We don’t need to be all things for all people. We don’t need to be profound charismatic superstars that accomplish everything. There’s nothing human about being gifted at everything. It’s beautiful to consider how the Spirit shapes us in the womb and through our life experiences weaving in gifts that are for us.

What are your gifts? Many of us have been socialized by our culture to always look at our flaws. So take a moment to consider this question: how has the Spirit noticed you, shaped you, formed you? What are your gifts? What can you offer, what do you already offer this world for the sake of God’s vision on earth? How is the Spirit working in you for the greater good? How can you deepen the gifts already beaming out of you?

If you’re having a hard time answering these questions, reach out to one of the pastors at Fourth Church. We would love to help you find your spiritual gifts, because the Spirit is working through you.

Prayer
Holy Spirit, thank you for the gifts you shape in us. Help us identify them. Help us use them for the needs of this world. Amen.

Written by Abbi Heimach-Snipes, Pastoral Resident

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 25, 2019         

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 4:35–41

Reflection
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The initial question that ends this short passage is the same one that we are reflecting on all throughout this season after the Epiphany. Jesus has proved himself to be a gifted teacher, healer, and interpreter of the Law, but this passage is the first in a series of passages in Mark that show Jesus to be something far greater: he is doing things reserved for God alone.

Large bodies of water—lakes, seas, etc.—were often used to represent uncontrollable chaos in Israelite culture; control of these bodies of water was something that God alone could handle (such as in creation bringing order out of watery chaos in Genesis 1, or God dividing the Red Sea in Exodus 14). When Jesus calms the storm in our passage today, the disciples begin to recognize Jesus’ divinity—something that will continue throughout this season until the divine manifestation of the Transfiguration right before Lent.

But this scene has more to say to us today than merely demonstrating Jesus’ divinity. The tension of faith and fear that Jesus introduces in his words to the disciples will appear again and again throughout the Gospel of Mark. To follow Jesus—to truly follow—is to trust even in the face of uncertainty. This does not mean we should somehow be preternaturally unafraid in crises, but it does remind us that even in the storms of our lives, God’s presence with us is constant—and that, in turn, can give us hope.

Prayer
Holy God, even in, or perhaps especially in, the times when I am uncertain of your presence, may you remind me that your care and embrace surrounds me fully. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 26, 2019       

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 5:1–20

Reflection:
Walking along the streets of the city, in such large public spaces, it is not difficult to encounter people experiencing trauma, hurt, and pain. They often hide in plain sight with physical, emotional, and spiritual afflictions that make them less fully themselves and steal from them their unique and God-given gifts. But it can be difficult to respond to their distress.

In the land of the Gerasenes, Jesus encounters someone who has been ostracized and imprisoned in deep pain. This person spends their life in real and metaphorical tombs, only experiencing a shadow of the life they perhaps once had. Many, it seems, were keen on avoiding this burdened person. It was unclear what burdens might be shouldered by the person who dared to help the one in distress. However, Jesus steps forward and engages this possessed man, speaking to the very pain that held him captive for so long.

How often are we willing to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, hearing the cries of our distressed neighbors? Likewise, are we willing to let someone enter the tombs of our own lives and speak words of healing and hope? As we encounter each other on the sidewalk, in shopping aisles, or in church pews, can we listen attentively to each other’s stories of pain and trauma? If we can, then we might experience the healing possibilities Jesus speaks to in this passage. We might discover that those dispossessed of their humanity and dignity can, through the power of relationship and the Spirit of God, receive it back again.

Prayer
Healing God, you lift up the downcast spirit. Give us hope this day to rise from the tombs of despair. Help us exchange tender words of love and care that will lead us back to life. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

Back to top
_______________________________________

January 27, 2019                    

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 4:14–21

Reflection
I like the note verse 21 ends on here. It’s a mic-drop moment. It conjures up a scene of synagogue hearers listening, open-mouthed, in reverential wonder, to Jesus’ words. Read ahead a touch, though, and you see that when they actually thought about what he was saying and how it implicated them they tried to throw him off a cliff.

Look, it’s good news Jesus is sharing here, and they recognize the script he’s reading from—a loose amalgam of references from the prophet Isaiah. To the poor: good news. To captives: release. To the blind: sight. To the oppressed: liberations. Amen to that!

Only, I suppose no news is universally good. Any news that’s good for one person or group of people sounds bad to another person, another party. You can almost hear the objection that the poor haven’t done anything to merit any good news and that the captives are getting their due. Not everyone hears Jesus’ good news as good.

The question this story presents to me is twofold. First, how do I hear this announcement? Do I rejoice with those Jesus is addressing, or do I resist it? Second, how is my life as Jesus’ disciple echoing his founding gospel proclamation? Does my life and work lead to the conclusion that there is, in fact, good news for the world’s poor and that freedom from every kind of personal and political bondage is an available reality?

Prayer
Help us to hear today the gospel of Jesus of Galilee, O God. May we always side, for your sake, with the poor, the captive, and the marginalized. Through Christ our teacher, brother, and savior. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

Back to top
_______________________________________

January 28, 2019                  

Today’s Scripture Reading | Nehemiah 8:1–3, 5–6, 8–10

Reflection
This time of year can be challenging. It gets dark early, it’s so cold outside, all the festive holidays are behind us, and I have already broken all my new year’s resolutions. I started the year out with all the best intentions, and then reality sets in. After the high of all the Christmas services and volunteer opportunities, I can fall into a drought. It is easy to get frustrated with myself for the things I am not doing.

I relate to how the people gathered listening to Ezra read the book of Law. Look at all the things they aren’t doing correctly; they are frustrated, they weep, they mourn. It is easy to get lost in a sense of despair when confronted with all the hardships in the world around us.

But this passage reminds us to find strength in God’s joy. Do what you can to impact the world around you, no matter how small it may seem. We will all stumble and get distracted, but God challenges us to give thanks for all that we have and to share those gifts with those around us.

Prayer
God, help me to find strength in your joy. Help me to find your joy even when my faith is faltering, when you feel far away. Help me to remember that though I am weak, you, God, are strong. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Director of Urban Youth Mission

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 29, 2019                          

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 19

Reflection
Psalm 19 concludes with the words that the pastors and choir members of Fourth Church pray together every Sunday morning before the worship services begin: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Only we change “my” to “our.”

When we as worship leaders pray this together we are asking that, during the worship service, what we think, say, and sing will, at best, bring glory to God and, at the least, do no harm. We are expressing our hope that we don’t get in the way for God’s Spirit to move in our midst, so that we can be instruments for God to transform the hearts of all who gather. When the psalmist wrote these words, he was praying that in his daily life, in an ongoing way, the words he spoke and the reflections of his heart would be acceptable to God.

In today’s news we often find references to a “moral compass” and someone “losing his way.” The prayer of Psalm 19 reveals our moral compass as people of faith. We are to measure our actions, our choices, even our private thoughts by whether or not they are acceptable to God. This prayer also acknowledges that we need guidance and strength from God to stay on track. God is our rock, the strong foundation for our living. God is our redeemer, who frees us from captivity to wrongdoing. May this be our prayer, every day.

Prayer
As the heavens tell your glory, O God, and the firmament proclaims your handiwork, so may my life shine forth your love and righteousness. Make clear your precepts, and guide me to follow them, that my life may be pleasing in your sight. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 30, 2019                    

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Corinthians 12:12–31a

Reflection
We often lament the fact that we live in a divided society. Rich/poor, Republican/Democrat, rural/urban—on and on the list could go. In reading Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians it is helpful to realize this is nothing new. What is even more astonishing is how Paul deals with these divisions. He puts the divisions in the boldest, bluntest terms possible but says that what divides us is not as strong as what unites us. “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

It may be hard to imagine that we are all one in the body of Christ—Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, mainline and evangelical Christians—but we all share in the same love freely given by God. People of different races and nationalities, people of different social classes, those with plenty and those who want, we are all one in the body of Christ. We each have something to offer, so many gifts that we can share with each other, and so much to learn from the other with respect and trust; we are all equal in that body, all full members of the body of Christ. Our divisions are not as important as what brings us together, because what we have in common together is love: God’s love for each of us, and our love for God and for each other. That love binds us all into one body and can break down any and all divisions.

Prayer
Eternal God, help me to realize that what binds us together is more important than what separates us. Help me to see others as your children, fully loved and worthy of my own full and freely given love. Amen.

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

Back to top

_______________________________________

January 31, 2019 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 16:1–36

Reflection
An extra pen at the meeting in case the other one runs out. Cheerios in a pocket in case the child becomes restless or hungry. A backup plan—just in case. We like to be prepared; we like things to be under control—to be in control. And we worry when we’re not. We are a worrying people who have to be reminded again and again of God’s providential care—of the lilies of the field, the birds of the air. The manna from heaven.

Imagine the challenge, then, for the Israelites when God says, “I will ease your hunger; I will provide your hunger—but only one day at a time. Your planning ahead and storing up will be pointless. Just one day at a time.”

It is a story that calls us to cast our cares on the One who leads us out of the wilderness. That calls us to trust. That calls us to thanksgiving—for the gift of life and all that sustains it. That frees us to live in the joy of the Lord today and always.

As theologian Fred Niedner reflects, “The Pharisees taught that the reign of God would never come, or the apocalyptic tradition’s wedding and feasting would never happen, until everybody . . . would just once keep a single Sabbath. That is, it would not happen until just once everybody left off trying to accomplish things and change the world, and put down all their pretenses and for even a single moment gave thanks to God for life and recognized life and the world as God’s sheer undeserved gift.”

Prayer
Bread of heaven, into your hands I commend this day, my cares and concerns, my joys, my yearnings, my life. Give us this day our daily bread. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

Back to top

Devotion index by date | Id like to receive daily devotions by email