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Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

March 6–March 9
March 10–16
March 17–23
March 24–30

March 31–April 6
April 7–13
April 14–20
April 21


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March 6, 2019 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 12:1–6, 12–14

Reflection
Today as we begin our Lenten walk we are admonished from the writer of Hebrews to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely . . . and run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” In many ways our walk through these forty days is a marathon. It is a long, steady, paced run that ends at the cross and changes course at the empty tomb. It requires preparation, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We populate this race with the cloud of witnesses, the fans on the roadside, our spiritual kindred.

So also with our Lenten walk. The word lent derives from the Germanic word langitinaz or “lengthening days.” Indeed, sometimes the marathon is longer than we dreamed. This is where comparing Lent to a race isn’t quite right, because a race assumes a fast pace, a better time than the last, a competitive edge. Lent begins with a smear of ashes on our forehead, reminding us that we are human, that we are dust. The burst of energy that comes early in life’s race may evolve into weary hands, weak knees, broken hearts. But Lent also gives us another chance to lay aside what weighs us down and to set our gaze on the face of Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He is the one who launches from the blocks of Ash Wednesday and who is there to meet us at the finish line.

In this season of Lent we are called to lift our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees, to strive for peace with everyone who is in this race with us, and to aspire for holiness in all things. This is the longest run and the surest path. And this is where God meets us.

Prayer
Holy, yes, Holy God, are you running with us? Are you walking the path of Lent with us? Are you there for the very long haul? Clear the way for us as we set aside everything that makes us stumble, so that we will be ready to stand at the foot of the cross and be astonished and joyful at the empty tomb. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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March 7, 2019                                 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 1:1–5       

Reflection
Even though I love the idea of Lent, sometimes I’m not exactly joyful about its arrival. Lent is about discipline and repentance, and, man, can it be long some years.

But beginning it in the spirit of creation’s first day is a refreshing approach. Perhaps what we’re embarking on can be likened to what God does here in this passage.

I can so easily get lazy at the work of my spiritual life. Even if the externals give the indication that everything is on track, the state of my soul can sometimes resemble the primordial chaos God faces here. Just as God says, “Let there be light,” these holy days of Lent call me to flip on the light switch and take a real look at what’s lurking there in the formless void. Once the light’s on, I can start to make out unhealthy and sinful patterns, the times when I ignore God and neighbor in service of myself. I can examine thoughts, words, and actions for what they are. Those that are dark I will name as such. But I will also see graced moments and possibilities that are of the day, and I will call them good. Honestly assessing who I am and what I do in God’s light is hard, but God knows that. I can (and should) ask for the Sprit’s help in addressing what belongs to the darkness and needs to be shed. Confessing my sinfulness to others will lessen the burden of it and help me to be accountable for making better choices.

But it doesn’t all have to happen today. It’s only the first day.

Prayer
O God, you who bravely faced the darkness of the deep, help me to do the same during Lent. In this beginning, help me to have the courage to see what is, repent for what I’d rather not face, and choose the good and life-giving. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

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March 8, 2019                                 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 3:22–24

Reflection
I’ve always found this passage to be disquieting. In the story of Creation, God gives life to the earth and forms humanity in God’s image. And as soon as we’ve been introduced to the Creator, God is casting Adam and Eve from the Garden. It’s not easy for me to wrap my mind around this, to reconcile the loving God that I know with a God seemingly so quick to anger.

But is it really anger? I’m probably bringing some of my own theological baggage in by using that language. In reading back over the first three chapters of Genesis, I don’t see a God of anger but a God of love and justice. If we go back just one verse, we see God making garments for Adam and Eve and clothing them. That isn’t the act of an angry God. It’s an act of compassion and caring.

If this passage gives us a glimpse of God’s character, it also lays out very clearly how we as humans are to live. What particularly sticks out for me is when God says, “the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” That knowledge brings great responsibility. We can see injustice. And we must fight that with the love that God has shown us.

Prayer
God of love and justice, thank you for giving life to this world. Keep our eyes open to the pain and suffering around us so that we might carry your grace into this world. Amen.

Written by Jared Light, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 9, 2019                                 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 8:4, 9:8–17

Reflection
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. That’s how the book of Genesis begins, describing the chaotic formless void of the primordial waters and how God created order out of chaos when God separated land from sea and day from night.

The flood story in chapters eight and nine of Genesis is a kind of re-creation story, in which God reiterates that people are created in the image of God (9:6) and that we humans should “be fruitful and multiply.” In response to the evil that God sees people doing, God is heartbroken—God’s heart is “grieved.”

And so God tries to begin again, recreating the world by allowing the waters to come back together with the land, covering the land, then separating the water from the land again. Time and time again, throughout history and throughout our lives, God gives us the chance to begin again. God washes us and starts anew. God reiterates God’s promises to be with us, to love us, to help us be better and do better, even when we break God’s heart.

In making this promise to us, God hangs up God’s war-bow in the clouds, like hanging it on the wall, out of reach. No more bows and arrows. Now it’s rainbows and remembrance of promises.

Prayer
God of all creation, help me to hear and believe your promises. Remind me of my covenant with you, and guide me in taking the right, just, and good actions that will make my life fruitful and multiply your grace. Amen.

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

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March 10, 2019                                 

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

Reflection
It’s a fun story, the Tower of Babel. People say, “Hey, we can make bricks! Let’s build a big city with a tower all the way up to God!” And God says “Not so fast! Now you’re all going to speak different languages! All of you, the Hittites and the Sumerians and the Babylonians and the French and the Chinese and the Inuit and all the rest of you! Get in line, get your new language!” And so everyone got a new language (the Swiss went through the line four times before they got caught), and then they all got scattered all over the world.

A fun story, about the time when great human achievement was paired with the creative vision of a toddler with a new box of Legos—“I’m gonna build a tower clear up to the sky!”—and God’s response was that of the bullying sibling, kicking over the tower and scattering the Legos all over the floor. Anyone can understand it. That’s the point. It carries the message “Don’t attract God’s attention.”

But there’s another message in this story, another truth: People can do great things; but if it all comes too easily they get really big-headed about it. So God made it a little hard on us, giving us all these different languages, but God also gave us the ability to learn languages other than our own. We can still do great things, but we have to make a greater effort. We have to humble ourselves, become beginners again, become children again, learning to speak—and, more importantly, to listen—in order to connect with each other. You have to value another person in order to do the work of learning their language. You need to want to hear them. Anything else is simple selfish arrogance, and the story is pretty clear on how God feels about that.

So let’s make an effort. It’s good for the soul, n’est-ce pas?

Prayer
Lord, remind us that in order to love one another we have to hear one another. Remind us that we need humility to learn all the languages we need to build your kingdom. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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March 11, 2019                                 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 11:31–12:3

Reflection
Call stories are some of my favorite stories in the Bible. Although every story is unique, I am always intrigued by God’s request that someone take a leap of faith and drastically change their life. I have to admit that sometimes I’m envious when I read these stories. I think about how amazing it would be to hear God speak that directly to me and to choose me for something so important.

When I catch myself thinking like that, there are two things I like to remind myself: (1) Dropping everything to follow God isn’t easy—even if you get to take your family with you and even if you know where you’re going. Giving up that much control over my life would be incredibly difficult. And (2) God has chosen me for something important; God has called everyone for something important, and we are all called to contribute to God’s kingdom in our own ways.

Furthermore, God will call us to different things at different times. At this point in my life, I feel called to work toward ending the cycle of poverty by ensuring all children have access to a great education. Years from now the way I feel called to help God’s children through my career may be different. And I know God has, and will continue, to call me to contribute to God’s kingdom outside of my day job.

What do you hear God calling you to do?

Prayer
Lord, thank you for calling us each to follow and to serve you in different ways. Remind us that life is not a competition and that we all have our own role to play. Give us courage and confidence to say yes when you call and to encourage others to do the same. Amen.

Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 12, 2019                                 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 12:4–7

Reflection
Moving is one of the most miserable things to experience. When our daughter was about two months old, my husband accepted a job that took us from Columbia, Missouri, to New Orleans, Louisiana. Talk about experiencing some major life changes all at once! I felt so many emotions during that time: I was nervous, terrified, exhausted, and very angry. I felt like I was being torn away from my good friends, a great job, and music ensembles that had grown to be a huge part of my life. I never had any intentions of leaving any of those things, and suddenly I was losing my place of stability and security. I remember arriving in New Orleans, getting out of the car, and just crying my eyes out.

I can imagine how Abram and his family felt when they moved their entire family, all of their livestock, and all of their possessions to a new land. At age seventy-five, Abram was pretty set in his ways, I’m sure, and a major move to an unknown land could not have been easy. God, however, had made a promise to Abram that this land would be for his descendants. Abram had a strong faith and trust in God and knew that God would keep that promise.

It can be tricky for us to recognize and remember the promises that God makes to us. After a few days of being a New Orleanian, I felt a great sense of comfort and peace. In hindsight, I think that sense of peace was God making a promise to me that everything would be OK—and it was! We had so many wonderful opportunities while living in Nola and are so grateful to have had that experience.

What are some promises that God has made to you? How do you remember them?

Prayer
Loving God, thank you for the promises that you make to me. Help me to trust in you during tough times and help me to keep those promises close to my heart. Amen.

Written by Briana Belding-Peck, Family Ministry Coordinator

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March 13, 2019                                 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 18:1–15

Reflection
As someone who thrives on making lists and filling out my calendar with as much detail as I can, having surprise visitors would completely throw off my groove. Instead, Abraham, Sarah, and their servant respond graciously by extending generous hospitality, hastening to offer water to wash up, a place to rest, and bread for nourishment.

However, the surprises of this scene only grow for Sarah when one of the guests says that they will return “in due season” and that Sarah will have a son. In the previous chapter of Genesis, the Lord told Abraham that Sarah would give birth to a son who will give rise to nations. Abraham laughed when he first heard it, and Sarah, overhearing it from the tent, has the same response.

I think Sarah and Abraham’s suspicion and disbelief show just how remarkable God is. As the guest points out, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” God is setting a precedent for all of the other times God will work in surprising and unexpected ways, from David defeating Goliath to God choosing a young unmarried girl to be the mother of the Messiah. Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.

Prayer
Dear God, as we continue on in this Lenten journey, strengthen our faith in you and open our minds to see how you can use us in surprising and unexpected ways. And grant us grace when we can’t hold back our laughter when you do use us in those ways. Amen.

Written by Katrina Buchanan, Editorial Assistant

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March 14, 2019                                 

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 22:1–19

Reflection
Trying to parse out the significance and meaning of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac, is (in a word) complicated. Some readers throughout the years have been inspired by the depth of Abraham’s faithfulness and trust in God, no matter the cost to him and his family. Others have struggled with the thorny theological question of how the God of love could ask Abraham to sacrifice his child, even if it was just a test. While it is sometimes proposed (using Genesis 22:8) that Abraham knew that God would offer the ram as a substitute, I think an honest reading of the text doesn’t support that. Genesis 22:12 makes it clear that Abraham was prepared to follow through. So what are we supposed to do with that?

While I don’t believe there is a way to ethically reconcile the silent role of Isaac in his father’s test, reading this passage solely through the lens of Abraham and God’s relationship has parallels to challenging passages from the Gospels, like Luke 14:25–33—words that would later be summarized by Dietrich Bonheoffer as the “cost of discipleship.”

Obedience to God and following Jesus as a disciple is not intended to be easy and will involve personal loss. This does not come in the form of child sacrifice—that was a particular practice bound up in the author of Genesis’s culture—but it does mean that being a disciple should ask things of us that range from uncomfortable to scarcely believable, from radically reorienting how we treat our neighbor, to reconsidering how we share of our gifts and resources, even at a cost to us.

Prayer
Holy God, I confess that I want following you to be easy. I listen to your words when they make me feel good but rationalize them away when they might pull me further than I want to go. In this season of Lent, pull me out of comfort and onto the path you set before me. Amen.

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

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March 15, 2019     

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 28:10–22

Reflection
Jacob is ready for a good night’s sleep. He traveled a long distance from Beersheba on his way to Haran. He finds a stone upon which to place his head and rest.

In today’s familiar text, God selects this particular evening to come to Jacob in a very vivid and far-reaching dream. A ladder with God’s angels ascending and descending extends from the earth where Jacob rests up to heaven where God speaks to him.

God gives Jacob a huge promise that God will freely hand over to Jacob and his descendants the land upon which Jacob is resting and that they should spread through the vast earth. God pledges that God will bless them, be with them, and watch over them. In the end, when Jacob’s work is done, God assures him that God will bring Jacob back to the land where he currently rests.

The next morning, Jacob is surprised that God was in this place and came to him in this amazing dream. How incredible is the promise that God made! Jacob anoints the rock upon which he rests and names the place Bethel. He trusts the Lord with the formidable task he is given and sets forth with an end goal of returning one tenth of which he has been given.

This seems like a huge leap of faith for God to impart such a widespread command on a servant who was going about life. Do we need a similar jolt from God? Do we need to become more aware of the Lord’s strong confidence in us and of God’s desire for our becoming God’s greater servant?

Prayer
Dear God, please awaken me with a gentle nudge or a stronger message to learn of your will for my greater service in your kingdom. Amen.

Written by Pamela Block, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 16, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 32:22–32

Reflection
The theme of these verses is wrestling, struggling, striving. The storyteller doesn’t want us to miss the theme, and so he sets the location of Jacob’s wrestling match with God at the Jabbok River. Jabbok, in Hebrew, means wrestling. Jacob is wrestling at the Wrestling River.

We wrestle with a lot of things. People come into my office wrestling with feelings of grief or relationships that are confusing. Parents wrestle with issues of parenting, wondering when it will get easier. And then they wrestle with feelings of loss and worry when a child is about ready to leave the nest. I wrestle with those important issues, and I also wrestle with things as insignificant as whether I’ll make it to the gym twice per week or be able to find my cell phone at the bottom of my purse.

But this story is not about any wrestling. It’s about wrestling with God. What do you wrestle with God about? Or are you afraid to wrestle with God? What are you willing to bring before God in a face-to-face, body-to-body, eye-to-eye, sweaty wrestling match?

I hope you’ve done that—if not now, then sometime in your past. And I hope you’ll do it again. Because when we find the courage to wrestle with God, to really be honest with our doubts or our complaints, we have the possibility of the outcome Jacob received. A blessing and a new name. A blessing and being changed. A blessing and knowing God at a deeper level than ever.

Prayer
Wrestler of All Wrestlers, Giver of All Blessings, help us to value a relationship with you so much that we are willing to wrestle with you, too. Help us to admit our doubts and to ask you for understanding. Help us to voice our complaints and to ask you for comfort. Help us to hold on and to trust fervently enough to expect your blessing; with all praise and gratitude. Amen.

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

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March 17, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 46:28–47:6

Reflection
As I read this familiar story there is almost a sense of inevitably about what happened. In many families with more than one sibling or, for that matter, in many intimate small groups, feelings of anger and hurt can arise from perceived favoritism or injustice.

This reading picks up the story after Joseph has recovered from his mistreatment by his brothers and is a leader second in line to the pharaoh in Egypt. Ironically Joseph is now in a position to help his family survive the conditions of a brutal famine. He chooses to forgive his brothers and makes it possible for them to move to Goshen where there is plenty of food.

But the story doesn’t end there. The brothers are to meet with the pharaoh and at that time the pharaoh will question them regarding their occupation. Joseph instructs them to be true to themselves and say they are shepherds (an occupation that isn’t well regarded in Egypt). The meeting with the pharaoh has a positive ending when he asks the brothers to choose five to care for the pharaoh’s own flock.

The message I hear in this passage is that it is important to be true to myself and that it is important to forgive those who have wronged me.

Prayer
Loving God, reflecting on the experiences of my journey, my heart is smiling because I feel unbelievably blessed. Thank you! Amen.

Written by Barbara Timberlake, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 18, 2019

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

Reflection
There is a scene in the classic movie The Ten Commandments that depicts this familiar story from the Bible. It is heart-wrenching and faith-filled at the same time. Imagine being forced to make that kind of decision? Recent scenes at the border remind us that for centuries parents have had to make difficult choices about what is best for their children. This predicament is not new.

Moses’ mother had faith that God would provide for her child. She had faith that Moses would survive and thrive. She could not have known that she would be part of the plan to ensure his safety, but her faith led her to let him go. That is a kind of faith that few of us are ever forced to exhibit. Would you be able to be that faithful?

Prayer
Faithful Father, I hope to be able to mirror your faith in me today. Guard each of us in your ever-loving arms as we prayerfully consider appropriate but necessary decisions. In your name, we continually pray. Amen.

Written by Lesley Conzelman, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 19, 2019

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

Reflection
“Who am I that I should go?”

It can be hard to be called to something. There can be deep joy in it, deep satisfaction, but it often goes hand-in-hand with deep, deep fear, especially at first.

We fear too much is being asked of us, not knowing what in our lives we will have to give up and fearing the loss of that.

We fear we will be changed in some way we won’t recognize—and other people won’t—and fear the loss of our sense of identity and of the relationships we know.

We fear we won’t be up to what is being asked of us—that we will fail. And having risked much, we will have neither what we had before nor whatever new thing we were trying to move towards.

We fear being consumed, taken over, no longer ourselves. But here’s the thing: when God calls us and we answer that call, we only become more ourselves, brighter than before, a beacon for others. The bush is burning, yet it doesn’t burn up. Again, the bush was burning, and then God was there, calling. We are presented with a miracle—let us offer ourselves up to be holy flame.

Prayer
Holy God, help me answer your call. Help me not drag my feet, wanting assurances, but grant me just enough strength, just enough courage, just enough vision to keep me moving forward, one step at a time. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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March 20, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 3:18; 14:15–31

Reflection
Can you hear it across the millennia: the muffled cry of a people in bondage? Can you picture the people of Israel, frightened while fleeing the Egyptians who had enslaved them, but equally fearful of the uncertainty before them? And then, can you ask yourself what causes a people to set foot upon the floor of the Red Sea and walk, perilously, between two walls of water, not knowing what awaits them on the other side? Surely, for some, this was a journey toward the Promised Land. For others, it was a risky escape from slavery and persecution. It was also a test of faith in God, exemplified in Moses’ exacting obedience to God’s instructions and his belief in God’s promise. Through Moses we can reach this conclusion: God might give us a clear path through peril, but too often we focus on the peril and not God’s path. With faith, we can endure. With God, all things are possible.

In the twenty-first century, however, can the story really stop there? Or should this story also cause us to consider the more than 68 million displaced persons in the world? In 2017, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counted 25 million refugees, 3 million asylum-seekers, and another 40 million displaced within their own countries. As humans, our minds are equipped to focus on smaller things: a single person suffering, a group close to home that is in need. But as the world grows smaller, we must also think about impossibly large numbers of people—68 million—who, like the Israelites, need a way to cross into safety. To help sharpen my own awareness of those searching for a home, I will imagine four extra words when voicing the Lord’s Prayer: Deliver us all, around the world, from evil.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help us apply the words of the prophet Isaiah in our own lives, and by your Holy Spirit, cause us to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and provide comfort to those who mourn. Amen.

Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 21, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 19:1–6

Reflection
The writer Anna Quindlen once likened seeing her child to watching her own heart beat outside her body.

When our son Julian was young, my wife or I would frequently strap him into a blue mesh backpack and take him with our other three sons on family outings. We would walk to neighborhood restaurants; hike to the edge of a Guatemala volcano; trudge up—and down—a trail above the Grand Tetons’ Jenny Lake.

This was no ordinary backpack, and Julian was no ordinary child. You see, Julian was born with a rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome and didn’t have the same physical coordination or stamina as a typical kid.

When we traveled together, I could sometimes feel Julian’s irregular heart beat through the cloth of the backpack. I knew that any danger directed toward Julian would first need to pass through me.

In this passage from Exodus, Moses meets God on Mount Sinai after the Israelites have escaped Egypt and traveled ninety days in the wilderness. God wants Moses to reinforce God’s message of love for the Israelites and tell them how God “bore you on eagles’ wings.”

It is said that an eagle does not carry her young in her claws like other birds; young eagles attach themselves to the back of the mother eagle and are protected as they are carried. Any arrow from a hunter must pass through the mother eagle before it can touch her young eagle.

God carries the Israelites on his back and leads them to freedom to become a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” God does the same for each of us today: 7.5 billion earthly hearts—beating, beating, beating.

Prayer
Dear God, thank you for carrying me on your back and making me one of your beating hearts. Amen.

Written by Phil Calian, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 22, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Deuteronomy 32:48–33:1, 28–29

Reflection
The context of this scripture is the impending death of Moses. All of the effort. All of the struggle. And Moses does not get to enter the Promised Land with the people of Israel. How can he stand there and view all that he devoted himself to with the knowledge that his own journey won’t be completed with them. Is God so unfair that Moses’ transgressions—despite his amazing devotion, leadership, and guidance—have been held against him and he is being punished? Forty years of effort and the payoff is denied him? On the surface it certainly seems the case.

But the final words of Moses tell us otherwise. And as the God-chosen patriarch of God’s chosen people his final blessing and benediction elegantly proclaim the fullness of God’s blessings for the people of God. Moses affirms the abundant love and protection of God. He knows that it isn’t about him. It’s about giving one’s self over to the protection and surety of God. 

What better time than during the Lenten journey to be reminded that it is not our will to be done, but to live into the hope of freedom as an Easter people. Like Moses, it isn’t about us. Through faith we are all the Israel of Moses’ blessing and will dwell in the land of “grain and new wine where the heavens drop dew.” We have been gifted grace and blessed with the abundance of God’s love. Such is the promise of Easter morning.

Prayer
Lord of Moses and of us all, God of love personified, remind us that the promised land at the end of our own journey is one we can live into each day by trusting in you. Amen.

Written by Kenneth Ohr, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 23, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 44:24–45:7

Reflection
When I was little, my favorite movie was “The Wizard of Oz.” I loved the songs and the magical characters, like the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. One part stopped me short, though. It wasn’t the flying monkeys or the Wicked Witch melting into the floor; it was the ending.

At the end of the film, the Good Witch tells the heroine Dorothy that all during the dangers she had faced in Oz, she’d always had the power to get home to Kansas. All she had to do was tap her ruby-slippered heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home.”

My childhood self found that stunning—the idea that each of us might possess something precious and powerful that we never knew we had, that in fact we’d had all along.

The prophet Isaiah writes in this passage that God tells God’s people, “I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.”

I had to look up “surname” as a verb: it means to give someone a hereditary name, a name common to all members of a family.

I find that equally stunning: the idea that, as God’s beloved, we have a heritage and an identity that was given before we even knew God.

God claims each of us as God’s own, even when we did not know it, or know God. We have an everlasting home where we belong. We have kin whom we have been given to love, as members of a common family.

A creed we sometimes recite in church is this: “We are not alone, we live in God’s world.” And so we do.

Prayer
God, open my eyes to see you. Open my heart to know and love you and the whole human family. Amen.

Written by Jeanne Bishop, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 24, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 29:1–14

Reflection
At first glance, this passage is a puzzling one, for in verses 4 to 8, God seems to be admonishing the Jewish exiles in Babylon to make the best of their situation, to settle down and live productive lives and even, interestingly, to seek the peace and prosperity of their captors! Is this a story about assimilation or a story about diaspora?

To me, God’s words can be applied not only to the Jews of Jeremiah’s time but to exiles in diaspora throughout history. When we think of “diaspora” historically, we immediately think of the Jewish people, who certainly have assimilated, or at least adapted, and contributed mightily to the countries where they find themselves, willingly or unwillingly, but have never lost their faith. The other prominent example, of course, is African-Americans, who had no choice in the matter but today provide a rich legacy of African American culture and contribution. Today the massive scale of contemporary immigration, estimated to be some 217 million people, has led some commentators to proclaim this the Age of Diaspora.

Almost every diaspora has involved the idea of return. Sometimes “return” is literal and physical, as in the case of the Zionist movement or the goals of the Palestinians today. More often, however, the desire to return is highlighted by the knowledge of its impossibility, as in the case of African Americans or most probably, Palestinians.

The words that speak to me most powerfully in this passage, however, are the words, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your heart.” Indeed, this passage reminds me of one of my most beloved works of sacred music, Felix Mendelssohn’s operatic oratorio, “Elijah,” in which the tenor sings “If with all your hearts, ye truly seek me, ye shall surely find me. Thus saith our God,” words clearly drawn from Jeremiah. In essence, God is promising that if his people remain strong and true to their faith, even in the face of false prophets and “diviners,” salvation will be theirs. That, to me, is not just a promise to the Jews of Jeremiah’s time but to all those today who may find themselves separated from their spiritual homes or, more importantly, from their spiritual faith.

Prayer
Let us not despair, Gracious God, even in times of utmost hardship and uncertainty, knowing that in the end, if we remain true to you and your Word, your will for peace, justice, and equality shall be realized for all your people. Amen.

Written by Claudia Boatright, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 25, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Ezekiel 1:1–3; 33:11–16

Reflection
Ezekiel lived among Jewish exiles, uprooted from their homes and livelihoods, captives in a foreign place, forced to live in a settlement not far from Babylon. Life was pretty miserable for the people of Tel-abib. And despite being responsible for their circumstances, I imagine them feeling alienated and disheartened, wondering what hope they might have in the future, maybe wondering how did it all come to this?

Though they had turned from God, God didn’t desert them. Nor does God desert us. That’s the message here. At first read, this passage is pretty daunting but what is happening here is a leveling of the playing field and also, a powerful assurance God’s message to Ezekiel and to us, we are never self-sufficient. We need God’s forgiveness and grace.

I think about the point in our service of common confession when we ask aloud for forgiveness, reflecting on times when we’ve lost focus, fallen short, failed to care and be kind, to love and support one another. It’s humbling and sometimes really hard to ask for forgiveness. So constant is God’s love that we are forgiven before we ask. But because we ask, we free ourselves. We admit we can’t get through life alone. We need God and we need each other. God assures us we are worthy. God restores our hope. Perhaps more than any other part of the service, the Prayer of Confession helps us reset our focus on God above ourselves. I listen and increasingly lean into the chorus of voices speaking God’s message of redemption and assurance, “In Christ we are forgiven!”

Prayer
Merciful and loving God, I pray that I might love and serve you. I need your forgiveness and your guidance. Help me find strength, freedom, and resolve in my humility. Help me trust your love, do your work and be yours in Christ always. Amen.

Written by Laura Sterkel, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 26, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hosea 13:14–14:9

Reflection
The book of Hosea ends with a question: “Who is wise?” Hosea presents a reminder that life is filled with complex circumstances that require both wisdom and discernment.

Hosea found himself in a complicated situation. God asked Hosea to marry the prostitute Gomer. Hosea marries Gomer who bares children, but is unfaithful and leaves her husband. God then asks Hosea to reconcile with Gomer. What a complicated set of circumstances, leaving Hosea with a dilemma to chose between obedience or rebellion.

Life choices are not always easy, especially when circumstances are less than desirable. In challenging predicaments, wisdom may not be enough. Hosea presents another question: “Who is discerning?” The discerning contemplates truth and turns knowledge into a best practice. The wise and discerning have what is needed for the best choice. This suggests to me that if you are searching for answers or direction, ask God for both wisdom and understanding. Don’t fret when life conditions appear unreasonable. Ask God for wisdom and understanding through challenging times. God always has a purpose even if it is not readily known.

God is showing us through Hosea that mercy is available regardless of past behaviors. There is nothing you can do to change God’s desire for an eternal relationship with you.

Hosea concludes by offering the reader two life alternatives, walking or stumbling; obedience or rebellion. “The Ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them but the rebellious stumble in them.” Those who follow the ways of God are both wise and prudent. God waits for us to ask for wisdom and understanding. Have you asked?

Prayer
Loving God, source of wisdom and understanding, we are grateful that you make wisdom available when we ask. Please give us good judgment for every situation, and the courage to be obedient during times of discomfort and pain. Amen.

Written by Robert Crouch, Director of Volunteer Ministry

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March 27, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Amos 1:1; 5:21–24

At one time in my life I did not attend church regularly. I would tell myself that what I did on Sundays mornings was less important than what I did the remainder of the week. So even before I knew of these words by the prophet Amos, I was using their logic in a self-serving way to rationalize and even justify my absence from church. I could not deny the need for social justice, but I could easily identify perceived faults in the church. Eventually, however, I realized that something was missing, and that the something was church or, more precisely, worship.

Now that I once again worship regularly, does this mean that, to use the popular phrase, I have flip-flopped in my thinking about the importance of church and of worship? The answer is obviously yes—but only if I emphasize the purpose and consequences of worship over the elements of worship. The challenges for me are to sing with meaning, to listen with intent, and to pray with conviction. Only then can I be renewed and guided to carry my faith out into the world and to act with justice and compassion as this passage commands. If I am truly in worship and not simply at worship, I can better fulfill the promise I make each Sunday morning when I sing following the Offering—“living what we pray and sing.”

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for your many blessings. So that I may be a better servant, let me listen that I may know; let me look that I may see; let me act that I may do. In your name, I pray. Amen.

Written by Larry Thomas, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 28, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jonah 1:1–2; 4:6–11

Reflection
I remember learning this story in Sunday School growing up. I often thought Jonah was a little silly for questioning God and I also tended to imagine Jonah a little like Pinocchio, because they are both eaten by whales. I thought that if I had God talking to me who would I be to question the call? As a kid, I knew I had a lot to learn and I trusted adults knew better than I did, why wouldn’t adults have the same perspective about God?

Well, I am a little older now, and while I do still often think of Pinocchio when I hear this passage, I am a lot more understanding of Jonah. While I am a big believer in God’s love and mercy, I’ll admit there are times when I would prefer that mercy be shared exclusively with me and the people I deem appropriate. Still, I am more willing to trust that God knows something I don’t know when it comes to good things happening to bad people. I can tell myself that God knows their heart better than I do, who am I to judge?

As an adult, I spend more time thinking about the bush. I think about the things and people in my life that God has blessed me with, that I form strong attachments to, but I have no real ownership of. Like Jonah is blessed with the bush but has no ownership of it. I have a lot more empathy for Jonah’s reaction when God allows to let them get “chewed up and withered.” As an adult I have more hubris, thinking I know the way things should be. Feeling like I have ownership over people and things on this earth.

The silly fish story isn’t so silly anymore.

Prayer
God, help me to have child like faith in you. To trust your mercy and judgment is greater than my own. Grant me the understanding that sometimes I won’t understand. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Director of Urban Youth Mission

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March 29, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Micah 4:3–5; 5:1–5

Reflection
I am by no means a biblical scholar, so a little research revealed to me that Micah was a prophet, (and a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea), who prophesied during the years surrounding the fall of Israel to the Assyrian Empire (722 BC).

The book of Micah most significantly foretells Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and depicts for the reader a beautiful, peaceful, and secure future under the reign of the Prince of Peace. A future kingdom—which scholars call “The Millennial Kingdom”—within which nations peacefully coexist as followers of Christ.

Within Micah’s verses, God’s people are promised future peace and security, resting under the shade of their own fig tree even while their walls are under siege.

Fast forward to present day twenty-first century and we find ourselves still grappling with walls, both literal and figurative! Physical walls, social barriers, being “apart” from one another.

But, as Micah foretells, then Jesus comes, and in choosing to follow our Christ, we are all set free, to live amidst one another in peace and harmony, delivered from fear.

Jesus the Christ is the great unifier. Our choice to follow Christ binds us to one another and transcends our differences. In and through Christ, we are compassionate, tolerant and loving people.

Prayer
Loving Creator God, thank you for sending us Jesus who, then and now, leads by example and teaches us how to love and care for one another. Forgive my missteps when I lose sight of what your grace and salvation mean for me. Remind me that you are always holding me, safe and secure, freeing me to live joyfully and with unique, intentional purpose. In my walk of faith, help me to reflect Christ’s light and love to all living beings. Amen.

Written by Holly O’ Mara, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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March 30, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Nahum 3:8–13

Reflection
Today’s text is new territory for me. While I have read and reflected on the neighboring prophetic books, Nahum and I have never become acquainted. What are we to make of this powerful, prophetic poem?

The Assyrian empire, whose dominance had been felt for centuries, had finally been overthrown by nearby nations in the early 600s B.C. From Nahum’s perspective, the demise of the unscrupulous, defiant empire reflected God’s judgment. Nahum’s writing is passionate and partisan. Ancient images abound. The downfall of the city of Nineveh is taunted by the prophet.

I struggle with the overriding theme of God’s vengeance and the related violence. Verse 10 echoes Psalm 137 with the most vulnerable little ones being dashed to pieces. Then there is the belittling image of troops so weak that they are “women in your midst.”

Yet these words reflect the thought patterns and perspectives of centuries long ago. What might be the message for us in the twenty-first century? No human empire with its oppressive, violent ways can have the last word. Our God is passionately involved in history. Our God does take sides, standing with the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed.

We are called to look at our current societal and worldly circumstances through prophetic spectacles. Where is the just, loving, peaceable Holy One at work? And how might I, how might we, use our lives to further God’s purposes?

Prayer
God of the prophets, awaken me, awaken us from our too-frequent indifference. Open our eyes to your presence midst the deep shadows of our world. Embolden our words and our actions, seeking your compassion, justice, and peace. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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March 31, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Habakkuk 3:3; 2:1–4

Reflection
Like the prophet Habakkuk, I also have concerns and fears. As much as I long for summer (I don’t think I’m alone here), I do fear that warmer temperatures will again lead to a spike in citywide violence—especially among Chicago’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Sadly, this violence has become an accepted norm. As it was with Habakkuk, we are regularly witnesses to strife, anguish, and devastation.

Thus, as it was with Habakkuk, we also watch. We pray. We bring our concerns and fears, our doubts and anger to God. And we take comfort in knowing that ours is a God who hears us, who has a vision, who has taught us to pray—and live—“your kingdom come.”

Prayer
God, though I have doubts and anger, I’m grateful you hear my prayer. Please shine your light and love upon our city and bring safety and peace to our streets. Please provide all residents of our city and surrounding areas with abundant, nutritious food, good education, secure shelter, gainful employment opportunities, and hope. Please help us work for peace and strengthen our community. Amen.

Written by Debbie Frisch, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 1, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Zephaniah 2:4–7 

Reflection
There is so much that is broken and evil in the world around us that to work for peace and justice can seem to me to be hopeless. This prophecy tells me that God has a plan. Evil will be driven out and injustice will be uprooted.

God’s victory will be complete. There will be nothing left of the evil. Where evil has reigned, God’s people will live in peace and harmony. The prophecy does not mean that we should sit idly by and do nothing. We must work, and work hard, for God’s justice—to make life on earth “as it is in heaven.”

Our work starts with ourselves. There is darkness in all of humankind. We live in a dark world. The darkness is the darkness born of living lives focused on ourselves and things of the world. We overcome that darkness by focusing on the will of God to bring the kingdom of God to the people of God.

Our hope for a truly just world is not in vain. I may not, probably will not, see God’s final victory. God’s promise tells me God will be mindful and restore the world—and me—to God’s self. God will make all things good, as before.

Prayer
Dear Lord, abide with me so that I can abide with you and be a child of the light, shining out of the darkness that surrounds me. Grant me the courage to be all that you created me to be and to do all that you created me to do. Amen.

Written Blake Anderson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
devotions@fourthchurch.org

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April 2, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Zechariah 7:2, 8–14; 8:1–8

Reflection
We have all encountered that voice at one time or another in our lives. That relentless voice, filled to the brim with reason, logic, and truth. Yet wrapped in our own stubbornness and pride, we refuse to heed it. Why is that, when we know in our heart that guiding voice to be just and right? Is it a part of human nature, an unavoidable vice from which we simply cannot escape?

How different could the world be, though, if we instead chose to listen to that voice, not just with our ears but with our hearts and minds and, perhaps most importantly of all, with our actions. A world in which true justice was regularly executed, a world where we greeted everyone with mercy and compassion, a world in which we did not view one another as strangers, but rather as brothers and sisters in Christ, for we are all God’s children, are we not?

This text leaves me with perhaps more questions than I have answers, but it also leaves me with the beautiful possibility of the world we can create together, if we so choose to listen, if we so choose to answer when we are called. For we are reminded in Zechariah that despite our many flaws, God will always beckon us back home and be our one true God of truth and righteousness.

Prayer
Dear Lord, grant us the wisdom to hear your voice and the courage to answer your call. Amen.

Written by Stephanie Jenks, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 3, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Malachi 3:1–4

Reflection
I think this passage highlights some of how God chooses to be with us. God accepts and loves each of us in all our imperfection, for God’s love is steadfast. God sticks with us, like a loving parent, dedicated coach, and determined teacher. God grows us towards a more just existence, purifying and refining us, “until [we] present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.” Through God, we change for the better.

We improve with each of life’s lessons God prepares for us. The lessons may be unexpected, sometimes unwanted, and other times downright difficult and painful: loss of life, broken relationships, disease, jealousy, violence, deceit, and so on. Yet sometimes what we most need is not what’s easiest and comfortable but instead what forces our hearts to reconsider and our eyes to open beyond our narrow visions of self. I believe life’s times of trial are tests of faith. “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” Perhaps the adversity we endure today is what enables us to stand before God when the time comes.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “God comes into the very midst of evil and of death and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.”

God’s judgment is also God’s grace and love. It is in this strange duality that we are saved.

Prayer
God, help me recognize and embrace your lessons. I pray that I may remain open to your purifying and refining ways. Amen.

Written by Jonathan Kent, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 4, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:26–38

Reflection
Author Malcolm Gladwell provocatively suggested in his 2008 book Outliers that research suggests 10,000 hours of practice are required for someone to feel confident mastering a new skill or subject. While the point remains much debated, I’m actually struck by how little preparation many people have in God’s story. So many of the persons surrounding the birth of Jesus considered themselves improbable contributors to the sacred story of redemption unfolding around them. They associated such lofty endeavors with those who had the right credentials, heritage, or who fit the popular model of change makers.

Their natural reaction to their unlikely inclusion as an instrument of God is neatly encapsulated in Mary’s “How will this be?” Anyone contemplating their own shortcomings might be familiar with her sentiment. Many of us might have whispered something similar under our breath when encountering a formidable situation that calls for our involvement. “I’m too old,” we say. Or “I’m too poor.” “I’m not well-versed.” “I’m not yet ready.” But “How will this be?” is also a place scripture holds for us to hallow our feelings of doubt, disbelief, and earnest longing while the Spirit does its work in us.

The good and troubling response to our unreadiness is that God is indeed ready. It’s not according to our schedule or appointments but according to God’s indelible sense of timing that we are being prepared for a mission that will propel us to be more than we thought we could be. I doubt Mary stopped doubting in that moment when the angel told her what was to come. But in spite of her air of hesitancy, she responds, “May it be.” May it be a comfort to us that God does not ask us to be 100 percent prepared. God does not ask us to be fully assured of the outcome, only ready to begin.

Prayer
You invite us, Holy One, to join you in the adventure of a lifetime. Remove from us our hesitancy. Bolster our courage. Help us remember that we are capable of that to which you call us. In your Word and through your Spirit, we have strength enough to follow you. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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April 5, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 2:1–12

Reflection

The first miracle of Christ has been told and retold both in church and non-church settings. I will never forget a comedian saying when Jesus turned the water into wine he was basically saying, “Keep the party going.” While the joke is meant to bring laughter, that’s exactly what Jesus does.

Jesus has the power to improve us no matter the condition we are in. In verse 10, the chief steward says, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” The more I reflect on this passage what becomes clear is that when we are at our end and after we have given our best and find that there is no more to give, Jesus will refill our cups with the very best of himself. It is at the end of one chapter in each of our stories that Jesus begins to write the beginning of a new one. In essence, the end of the party of the wedding at Cana was the beginning of Jesus’ miraculous power on display for others to see. Jesus gave us his best from the beginning of his ministry until the end of his earthly journey. What we see is a consistent Jesus who finds joy in restoration.

May you find joy in knowing that God will not just keep you but will do miracles within your life.

Prayer
At times we seek to feed the desire of our flesh to acquire the finer things of this life. Let us who proclaim the love of Christ remember that there is nothing of this world that will satisfy our thirst like the power of Christ that transforms us and presents us to others as a miracle. Amen.

Written by Jasclyn Coney, Youth Discipleship Coordinator

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April 6, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 2:1–12

Reflection
We meet Jesus at his Capernaum “pop-up” ministry where a large crowd has gathered to see him. In this crowd are five people of such faith that four of them dig a hole through the ceiling of the place where he was preaching so they can bring their one paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus.

Because of this demonstrated faith, Jesus immediately forgave the paralyzed man his sins.

The paralyzed man and his four friends’ faith and diligence in getting to Jesus is courageous, even desperate. What did their short frantic pilgrimage look like? Imagine the four friends exuberantly rushing to their disheartened invalid friend with this chance to be healed, the faith in the impossible. But maybe there was a squabble before getting out of the door. Perhaps the paralyzed friend thought he deserved to be paralyzed for his sins; perhaps he doubted his worthiness to come before Jesus and ask to be healed.

Are we not this paralyzed man? When have we needed friends to have faith for us? Carry us and dig through the roof for us? Bringing us steadfastly to Jesus?

Having faith in being healed means that we have sinned, and we need help. Sometimes it’s easier to be paralyzed than to recognize the ways in which we need our four friends to lead us to faith. Having faith is a proverbial step into the unknown, which this man literally couldn’t do without his four friends. But your four friends are here, digging. So take up your mat and walk, knowing Jesus has faith in you.

Prayer
Dear Lord, thank you for moments of paralysis, of numbness, of not knowing the right step to take. These are moments when my “four friends” can lead me to you, and I learn that because of my faith in you, you, too, have faith in me. Amen.

Written by Jessica Wang, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 7, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 3:7–12

Reflection
So, Jesus is kind of a popular guy, big crowds coming from all over, lots of followers, and isn’t that what’s important? So many followers that he has to have his entourage arrange safe transportation so he can get away without being crushed. That’s, as they say, a highly successful tour. Even though the set list is always kind of the same: Talk about the kingdom of God and heal the sick. And it’s that last one, healing the sick, that’s what people really come to see. That’s the show stopper. People rush the stage (or wherever) and eventually his posse has to come get him away from them. Even the haters call out, “You are the Son of God!”

Pretty strong stuff. I mean, it would go to anyone’s head. Except this guy. This Jesus guy, he actually goes out of his way to tell people not to say anything. Even the haters, crying out “You are the Son of God!” Jesus never says, “Yeah, you’re right, you unclean spirit! I am the Son of God! Now get out of my way!” Instead, he says “Don’t say that.” “Don’t tell anyone.”

Wouldn’t you hate to be Jesus’ agent? He has no talent for self-promotion. I mean, what kind of career is he ever going to have? You can’t just walk around doing good and expect anyone to notice. And what’s worse is that Jesus doesn’t seem to care.

It’s almost like he’s rejecting the trappings of stardom, like he’s making every appearance about the people who come to see him rather than about him. For a guy who’s got it all, he sure doesn’t act like it.

This “humility” stuff. It’s almost like he takes it seriously. If he’s not careful, these people will bleed him dry.

And the funny thing is, sometimes it seems like he’d be OK with that.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for teaching us that the spotlight should always remain on those in need and that it’s not about ourselves but about what we can do for others. Help us to express that same humility you showed in your life. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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April 8, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 4:5–15

Reflection
We generally take water for granted here in the U.S., but there’s no mistaking that water is the source of life.

When I traveled to Cameroon and Ghana on Fourth Church mission trips, I saw that up close. One of my favorite memories was seeing a line of women with large bowls of water on their head carrying water back into the village in which we were working. It was a stunning site, but a grim reminder of how access to water can be difficult for so many people.

The more water we have, the more ways we will find to use it. Josh Heikkila, a mission coworker in Ghana and the regional coordinator for West Africa for the Presbyterian Church (USA), notes that if villagers have a liter of water, they’ll drink it. If they have fifty liters, they’ll drink, cook, bathe, do laundry, and clean their surroundings.

Here, Jesus offers living water—that of the Holy Spirit and his love. It’s a different, but equally life-giving, water. As he implies, there’s also an unlimited supply. We can drink it and let it give us strength for our daily tasks. Yet there’s enough that we can also share it.

Jesus reaching out to the Samaritan woman, someone who is different from him, is one example of how we can share his love. What are other ways you can share God’s love? To whom can you reach out today?

Prayer
Living God, remind me of the ways your Spirit is at work in my life and the world around me. Give me the strength to not only get through the day but to enable your work in the world. Help me love others and seek justice, today and every day. Amen.

Written by Mark Nelson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 9, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 8:27–30

Reflection
Who am I? The answer to that question depends on whom one asks. A parent might say, “she is my loving daughter.” A niece may answer, “She’s my aunt who taught me to swim.” A next-door neighbor might reply, “Oh, that’s the lady who gardens,” while a coworker responds, “She tests websites.” We can be known by our name, by our family connections, by our vocation, or by the company we keep.

When Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” he is asking how he is seen by others. Jesus was known as a healer, a teacher, a prophet, even as the reincarnated John the Baptist. But when Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” he’s asking a different question, a personal question. Jesus wants to know who his disciples, these men who have been with him almost constantly for three years now, honestly believe he is from deep within their hearts.

When Peter responds, “You are the Messiah,” he is confessing his faith in Jesus. He is stating his belief that Jesus is more than a prophet; he is the one they’ve been waiting for, the one who is here to save us from our sins.

Prayer
God of my salvation, I pray to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly. Father, lead me in my desire for a deeper faith in you and a stronger devotion to you, that I may bear witness to the saving power of your love and grace. Amen.

Written by Sarah Younger, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 10, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 9:28–36

Reflection
“As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning.”

What would I have done if I had seen this transformation?

I can relate to a combination of fear and awe that the disciples exhibited. Who will believe me? Do I even believe what I just saw?

I can’t relate to what the disciples saw that day. I’ve never seen such a glorious metamorphosis involving Jesus.

The transformations that hit home in my life are more incremental. Tripping over the size 11.5 shoes of my thirteen-year-old son, but in my mind I see the kindergartener that I bundled up for school as if it were yesterday. My beloved baseball team taking a lifetime to shift from a doormat to world champions. The work colleague that I had written off has, upon closer reflection, good ideas and challenges that I was not aware of.

The transformation of a loving father who would morph into darkness and anger within hours based on the size of the Smirnoff bottle above the sink in our childhood home. Eighteen years from his passing, I see my hurt and shame shift. I hold closer the better times, the loved ones that supported me, and appreciate that it was an illness and not my failing. Shifting self-blame to love and acceptance is the most challenging metamorphism.

Prayer
Gracious Lord, give us the patience to appreciate gradual and incremental shifts. While we want our loved ones healed, racial divisions turned to fellowship, or the hiring manager to call today, give us the strength to wait. Lord, as we wait, fill us with hope and open our eyes to our fellow neighbors in need so that we don’t miss and are ready for transformational changes in our lives. Amen.

Written by Ranjan Daniels, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 11, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 9:51–56

Reflection
The words “good self-esteem” are not actually seen in the Bible. But in Luke there is a fine example of the inner strength Jesus displays time and again in his short life, even though he knew what lay ahead. 

Luke also contains a lesson in how to handle rejection—something many of us don’t feel good about when it comes our way. Most fears regarding rejection come from a desire for approval from other people. When I have felt the sting of rejection, I’ve let other people’s opinions matter more than my own sense of self. In this story, Jesus is undaunted by the Samaritans’ opinion of him.

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln lost the Illinois Senate race to Stephen Douglas and when asked how he felt said, “Like a boy who stubbed his toe: I am too old to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”

Luke describes the advice Jesus gave his disciples for what to do when rejected: shake it off and move on. Just out of college and excited to put my skills to work in my first job, I applied for what sounded like the perfect position with the right company. When the job was given to a woman with whom I had competed in school, I could appreciate Lincoln’s description of feeling rejected. 

I wish I had known then what I know now about how much God cares for me. I did apply for another job, albeit with injured pride but capabilities and talents intact. The job I got was the best training ground for all my future work. It is in hindsight that I can see that now. 

Prayer
Dear God, you ask me over and over if I know what I am made of and to whom I belong. Help me to hold onto belonging to you and following Jesus, trusting in you, not comparing myself to others. Amen.

Written by Elise Magers, Assistant Director, Replogle Center for Counseling
and Well-Being

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April 12, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 10:46–52

Reflection
If you’ve ever transitioned into a management position (and even if you haven’t), you’ve probably heard the phrase, “Fake it till you make it.” I’ve realized in both a professional and personal setting that embodying that phrase gets you nowhere. If you come across as having it all together, knowing all the right answers, and calling all the shots, you’ll soon be very disappointed and likely very tired. People will look to you for the answers. People will expect you to write the book on whatever it is you’re the “expert” at. It’s a tiring façade to maintain.

Instead, I’ve adopted a phrase one of my former supervisors alluded to several times: “Know that you don’t know, and that’s OK.” No one has it figured out. If we did, then we wouldn’t be here in the classroom of life. Our time on earth is when we should embrace not knowing, embrace our mistakes or our sins, and embrace that we definitely don’t have it all together.

In today’s reading, Bartimaeus is humble enough to admit he wasn’t fully presentable to Christ and likely knew he wasn’t worthy enough for society around him. However, he also knew all he needed to engage with Christ was his faith. The worldly challenges and shortcomings did not concern Christ, as long as Bartimaeus believed Christ would still welcome him as a child of God.

This is our ongoing challenge, to know that we do not know, and to leave the rest to God despite what society deems as “enough.” We are already enough in the eyes of God, as long as we believe.

Prayer
Loving Christ, remind us we are learners on this journey, and our humble hearts and willingness to learn will always lead us toward you. Amen.

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

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April 13, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 11:1–45

Reflection
In studying this passage, it is quite easy (and erroneous) to look for its only message in the concluding scenario: the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. This lesson, however, also is about expectations.

Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was sick; they expected that Jesus would drop everything and return to heal Lazarus. When Martha confronted Jesus upon his return four days later, she expressed her disappointment: “You’re too late, Jesus; Lazarus is dead, and nothing more can be done!” Yet, even though she acknowledged to Jesus her belief in a great truth, nevertheless Martha’s faith went only so far as to believe that Jesus could cure Lazarus, not raise him from the dead. In view of her confession, Jesus had expected that Martha would believe that even resurrection was possible through him; perhaps it is this disappointment that caused Jesus to weep. By raising Lazarus and giving him new life, Jesus restored Martha’s faith. He also brought a new life to her and to those who were with her.

This amazing story tells us—as it did Martha—that the power of faith in Jesus makes all things possible, even new life. We should never put a limitation on our expectations of what Christ can do.

“The Lord is near unto all who call upon him . . . unto all who call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18).

Prayer
Lord, help me to remember that you are with us always, even to the end of time, and that through you, all things are possible. Amen.

Written by J. Barlow Nelson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 21:1–9

Reflection
Palm Sunday at Fourth Presbyterian Church is one of my favorite services of the year. The children processing, the palms waving, the congregation singing praises. It’s almost like Easter.

And yet I can never separate Palm Sunday from the week that lies ahead. To get to the joy of Easter from the celebration of Palm Sunday requires going through an abyss. The happiness of the crowds and the waving palms mask the pain and suffering that is to come. As is often the case in the Gospels, things are not what they seem.

The contrast between the light and the dark is woven throughout the story. Jesus is riding in triumph into Jerusalem, knowing he is going to his death. He is coming into town in splendor but riding on a borrowed donkey. The crowds are praising his name, but within days they will either disappear or join the hordes calling for his death. This processional fulfills yet another prophecy about the Messiah, but he is not the worldly king the excited crowds expect.

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant­¾,” wrote Emily Dickinson, and the Palm Sunday processional offers another opportunity to see the world through a different perspective, to see it through Jesus’ eyes. Just as he overthrew the moneylenders’ tables and rode in ceremony on a donkey, Jesus’ approach to the world is aslant of what we expect. Yet his power is in confounding the status quo. We don’t need a warrior savior; we need a baby born in a stable. We don’t need a political leader; we need God willing to humble himself and die so that we may receive grace. So this Palm Sunday, as I wave my palm branch, I will remember once again that what seems to be the truth is very often not the real story.

Prayer
Holy God, open our eyes to see your unexpected truth in the world. And in this Holy Week to come, help us never lose sight of the true story of the gift of your grace; in your name. Amen.

Written by Lisa Stracks, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 15, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 23:37–24:2

Reflection
Leading up to this passage, we have seen a number of different emotions from Jesus. Following his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we see his anger in his cleaning of the temple, his cursing the fig tree outside Jerusalem. He demonstrated patience in several instances of being interrogated by the Pharisees about his actions. And here we see sorrow—deep sorrow in his lament over the refusal of Jerusalem’s refusal to change.

Jesus’ statement about gathering her people under his wings reveals to me his tender caring for the world in general and Jerusalem and his fellow Jews in particular. To me this statement indicates that if Jerusalem were to repent, forgiveness would flow from God’s deep enfolding and indwelling love for humanity.

How often have we, too, refused to turn from those actions and attitudes that prevent us from acknowledging, accepting, and participating in God’s deep and indwelling love?

Prayer
God of power and promise, open our hearts to your presence, and fill us with all-encompassing love for you and for those around us. Amen.

Written by Marsha Heizer, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 16, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 24:3–14

Reflection
Deceivers, wars, uprisings, famines, earthquakes, hate, wickedness, persecution, death—it sounds like the evening news. Fear, worry, and anxiety can control so much of our lives. All these warnings and then the command, “See to it that you are not alarmed.” Easier said than done. The words “do not fear” or “be alarmed” are used at least seventy times in the Bible. God knows me: I’m his child, and God knows that I become afraid.

We need not fear, because God promises that God is with us. Our faith action is putting our trust in God. I am particularly comforted by a Bible passage that I read often: 2 Chronicles 20:15–17—“Do not fear for the battle is not yours but God’s.” This battle is not for you to fight. Take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf. Do not fear or be dismayed; the Lord will be with you.

In verse 14 of Matthew 24 we read, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” With all the worry, trouble, and fear, the gospel will prevail. Fear not.

Prayer
Dear Lord, instead of allowing fear and worry to dominate our lives and make us feel helpless, let us give our lives to you. Help us stand still and firm in our faith knowing that you are with us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Linda Gibboney, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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April 17, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 26:6–13

Reflection
We don’t even know what her name was. Jesus was with her in Bethany in the home of Simon, who suffered from leprosy, just before Jesus was to endure his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. She poured expensive oil over the head of Jesus, making the disciples angry. They could only see this generous act as a waste of precious money and failed to see the meaning of what it really represented.

When my wife, Kara, and I were first married we lived in New York City on very little income. I was a graduate student, and she taught fifth grade. We often ate very inexpensive meals, and our one weekly treat was to go to the corner deli, buy a pint of ice cream, and eat it together. We spent as little money on food as possible, but at every chance we could we purchased items that would make our new home more beautiful. We spent our little bit of money on what really mattered the most to us: making our home an inviting sanctuary of peace and beauty.

We all spend money and time on the things that matter most to us. The woman in Bethany spent a lot of money for the ointment she poured onto Jesus because she loved and admired Jesus. She loved him so extravagantly that she anointed him with all the ointment she had, the highest form of praise and adoration she could offer.

What really matters to you? Is it family, or God; is it working to create beauty, or social justice? What are you longing for? A closer relationship, a deeper spiritual life, a life that has meaning by making the world a better place? When we honestly answer these questions, we will know where to lavishly spend our money, where to spend our energy until we have no more energy left, where to completely lose ourselves in time. By doing this we will come to know our true selves and to know and love God.

Prayer
Loving God, help me to give myself only to what matters most; help me to lose myself so I can find my true being; help me to sacrifice myself so I can find you. Amen.

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

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Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 26:36–46

Reflection
Of all of the days in the Christian year, the next three days are perhaps the most important and sobering. We Christians call these next three days the Holy Triduum (the Three Days)—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. These three days give us a glimpse into both the best and the worst aspects of being a living, breathing, feeling human. The church sets these days aside so to invite us to enter into the Passion—the suffering and death—of Jesus Christ.

Today, Maundy Thursday, we stand at the threshold of joy and sorrow, covenant and betrayal, life and death. There is perhaps no more day so aligned with our human reality and complications—and our liturgy proves it. As soon as we finish feasting at the Lord’s Table, we hear the haunting clank of soldiers’ boots on the garden’s path and face the looming trauma and pain of the cross. The lights dim. The candles extinguish. The organ wanes. And we scatter in silence with no benediction for our liturgy continues through the Great Vigil.

At the onset of these days, Jesus asks his disciples—he asks us—to stay awake, to watch, to keep vigil, and quite honestly, that’s hard. The next three days we will encounter the very rawness of life and death. Through word and song, bread and cup, rising and falling, we will enter into the very depths of this Christian life and face the reality of pain, betrayal, and death. It would be easier to look away or to escape into slumber. But to enter the glory of these days, to sit and watch, is to enter the heart of Christian faith. In doing so, we prepare ourselves to face anew the reality of this life—with all of its pain and sorrow—but also to wait for the hope and joy found in the life to come.

Prayer
Almighty God, whose Son went not up to joy but first suffered pain, grant that we, being watchful, may live into these days fully facing the mystery of death so to ready us for the mystery of life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Written by Shawn M. Fiedler, Ministerial Associate for Worship

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Good Friday, April 19, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 27:32–56

Reflection
Today is day two of the Holy Triduum, and if yesterday’s Maundy Thursday experience allowed us to retain some hold on the good going on—the life and covenant and joy of Jesus’ communion—then today that’s all gone and we are knee-deep in wrong, wrong, wrong with the water still rising.

Simon is compelled to carry his cross—it’s up to our waist;

They offer him sour wine to drink—it’s rising still;

They’re dividing his clothes (even his clothes!)—we’re pointing our chin to the sky;

They’re mocking him and deriding him—this of all things feels like stasis. They’ve been mocking him his whole life; maybe the water stopped.

But no.

His broken voice is crying out in abandonment to his God now—“Why have you forsaken me?”—and we are submerged, nowhere left to go. His dying breath and the cry it propels isn’t even as bad as this.

And yet we don’t avert our eyes. Why? Why do we look on at this scene in the same way that the faithful women looked on from a distance?

Because here is humanity—damnable, broken, glorious humanity—and if we look away we miss the truth about ourselves and our part in reenacting this scene on street corners and board rooms still today.

And also because here is God, in the same figure and at the same moment, refusing as always to let us wriggle away from this love that will not let us go, even when we are killing it. Here is God taking on the worst, just to be with us and to be for us.

The church looks at this scene with compassion and horror and even awe, and with one voice the church calls it “Good Friday.”

Prayer
Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer, hear the cry of those in misery and need. In their afflictions show them your mercy, and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them, for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayer from Book of Common Worship, 1993.)

Reflection written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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April 20, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 27:57–61

Reflection
The opponents of the Jesus movement at the time Matthew wrote his Gospel spread slanderous accusations: Jesus did not really die—he was resuscitated after fainting. The tomb was found empty because the disciples stole his body. The women prepared to anoint him went to the wrong place. Matthew’s description of the burial of Jesus served a significant purpose. It is testimony that Jesus really died. His death was not an illusion, as some agnostics later would argue. His resurrection was not a fraud.

Theologian Hans Urs von Balthazar wrote that the theological significance of the death of Jesus Christ is to show that God can endure and conquer abandonment and death. In the Incarnation, God came and experienced the lowest, loneliest, and most fearsome of human experiences: a painful suffering and death. God is revealed where least expected—on a cross and sealed in the grave. Because God is found there, we know that in our own lives, when we feel the anguish of God-forsakenness, broken by evil, as if we are in “hell,” God is nevertheless with us. There is no place we may find ourselves where God will not be (Psalm 139:7–8). There is no time God departs from us, even though we feel empty and uncertain.

Today, Holy Saturday, is a day of stillness and silence. We are surrounded by a cloud of not-knowing. Let us quietly wait with Jesus for deliverance from death. Let us remember his last words on the cross, words of abandonment and a cry of hope: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22:1).

Prayer
Eternal God, quiet my heart this day so I may contemplate limitation and mortality. Thus prepare me to truly rejoice in life beyond sorrow and death tomorrow. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 28:1–10

Reflection
“Do not be afraid.” There are those words again! We typically think of them occurring in the beginning of Jesus’ story, when the angel approaches Mary in Luke and Joseph in Matthew. In both instances, the angel tries to calm each down as he lets them know what is about to happen in their now-growing family.

We also hear these “Be not afraid” words in the choruses of the angels’ song to the shepherds in the fields as the angels proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth—good news told first to those usually left out and left behind. But have you ever noticed them here—in the story of Easter, the story of the resurrection?

“Do not be afraid,” the angel tells the women when they arrive at the tomb. “Do not be afraid,” says Jesus when he suddenly meets them where they are and brings them greetings. Do not be afraid. Given the fact that those words frame this entire Gospel narrative, they must tell us something of God, don’t you think?

They must tell us something of the way God wants us to understand the heart of the Holy One. They must tell us something of the way God wants us to understand our lives here in our world. They must tell us something of the way God feels about us, those whom God has created.

Do not be afraid. In a world that traffics in fear and mistrust, God’s constant refrain of “Do not be afraid” is challenging. And yet, what if we really lived it and embodied it every single day of our lives? Wouldn’t that feel like Easter here and now?

Prayer
Living God, help me to live out of courage. Help me to live out of trust that you are the only one who has the last word on my life, on the life of this world. Give to me the “Be not afraid” boldness to be fully your Easter disciple. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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