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


April 16 | April 7–13 | April 14–20 | April 21–27 | April 28–30

Monday, April 1, 2013

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:13–35

Reflection
Are you familiar with these words: “When our risen Lord was at the table with his disciples, he took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and their eyes were open and they recognized him”? These words are often part of the invitation that begins the Lord’s Supper, and they’re based on today’s scripture passage. It’s a great story, but I’m not always sure people “recognize” the reference when they hear it. So for starters (no judging here, I promise), if you’re in the habit of reading these devotions without reading the scripture, first go back and read the scripture. By the way, start at the beginning of Luke 24—it will make more sense.

Now, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • The disciples were “talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” Have you ever tried talking about the meaning of Easter with anyone? Try it. What does Easter mean to you? If you’ve never tried to articulate it, find a friend today and give it a try.
  • Have you ever “recognized” something to which you had previously been blind? What was it? What did you learn? How can you be more attentive in the future?

Next time one of the clergy stands at the Lord’s Table and reminds you of this story, take time as you receive Communion to remember your answers to these questions. What does it mean that Christ rose from the dead for us? What does it mean to remember at the Lord’s Table that resurrection? How can that remembrance help you to “recognize” God’s gifts to us each and every day?

Prayer
God, help me to remember that in the resurrection you have defeated sin and even death so that I might find forgiveness and new life. Help me to recognize your goodness toward me and be thankful. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 20:19–23

Reflection
Imagine yourself in the disciples’ sandals: Your teacher, mentor, and friend was crucified. You are grieving. You are frightened. You’re not sure how to go on living.

Suddenly Jesus is with you. He is showing you his pierced hands. He embraces you—he is alive! All you want to do is spend time with your beloved teacher. You’ve missed him so much, and it feels so comfortable. But if you’ve learned anything from being his disciple, you know Jesus must be back with a purpose, and his teachings were seldom easy.

He tells you it is now your time to go out in the world and bear witness to God’s saving grace. Just as God sent him, now Jesus is sending you out into the world, away from him and your fellow disciples. Your heart skips a beat.

Then the most amazing thing happens: Jesus breathes out his Holy Spirit and suddenly you aren’t scared like you thought you’d be. Your feel at peace and know in your heart that you are wise and brave enough to embark on this new journey on your own.

There are moments when you can hear God’s call just as clearly and as strongly as the disciples did after Jesus’ resurrection. Other times it’s just a whisper that builds and builds and builds until you recognize it. And other times still you feel like the disciples did before Jesus’ return—afraid and alone.

Hear the good news: You are called. You are called by God to go out into the world and love one another, to tell others about our loving God, and to make the best of this precious life that you were given.

Prayer
Father in heaven, as you sent your Son into the world, so you send us to bear witness to your life, death, and resurrection. Embolden me to be your disciple and to heed your sending all the days of my life. In your name I pray. Amen.

Written by Erin Strybis, Associate Director for Resource Development Communications


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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 20:24–31

Reflection
It’s easy to see the point of the story; Thomas has to see it to believe it—the skeptic at his best. Thomas refuses to believe in the mystery of Christ’s resurrection and gets quite the surprise. And while it’s easy to point at Thomas as the example of our wavering faith or even our unbelief, I wonder if we might not be better served by relating to him more closely.

Thomas has been hurt; the Jesus he followed has been killed and Thomas’s world has been turned upside down. There is fear, insecurity, instability, and disillusionment. Why does he ask to feel the wounds? He doesn’t want to be duped again, feeling like a child whom the magician has tricked. Thomas is all grown up now and won’t believe the magic trick, not this time. He has to see it to believe it, and I don’t blame him. It’s hard to get hurt. It’s even harder to open ourselves to being hurt again. You’ve been lied to, haven’t you? Betrayed? Disappointed? Your colleagues have gossiped, your friends have betrayed your trust, your spouse has deceived you, and even your journey of faith has sometimes felt cold, dry, and disappointing. Would you believe again?

The beauty of this story is that there is still room for Doubting Thomas, who also becomes Believing Thomas. There is room for the skeptic who questions, for the cynic who’s been hurt too many times. There is room for our doubt and our questions, and even our pain. It is precisely to the Thomases that Christ has been sent, God with us in the flesh, so that we might touch and see that God is good and we’ve not been forsaken. We can believe again. Blessed are those who believe without seeing, yes, but I’m oh so glad that I saw and can believe. That, my friends, is called grace.

Prayer
I am thankful for the grace of seeing and the power of believing, for the surprise of resurrection and the promise of new life, in Christ’s name. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident


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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 21:1–14

Reflection
I have always wondered why it is that Peter does not recognize Jesus standing on the beach when he sees him. Having denied knowing Jesus three times before Jesus’ arrest, you would think that any chance to see familiarity would make him anxious.

All of us have been at a point like that though. So deep in despair for something that it can be hard to think or believe that you will be forgiven and renewed for something you regret. Later in the story, after they have breakfast on the beach, Jesus approaches Peter and asks him three times, “Do you truly love me?” Peter tells him, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus has forgiven Peter and later tells him, now “feed my sheep.”

This story is such a powerful example of forgiveness and of faith that Jesus is there. I know I have had times where I just feel like my relationship with God is distant, and then there is always a moment that God wakes me up and makes himself known to me. God is present and provides unconditionally. Sometimes God will tell me to “throw my net into the water” and other times not, but regardless always providing me with an opportunity to trust. God never distances himself completely, just like Jesus did here in making himself known to his disciples. He remains constantly in our lives. Let us try and always remember to remain awake to see the miracles he has in store for us!

Prayer
Lord, thank you for always giving me a second chance, even when my distrust can hurt you. Thank you for being constantly present in my life, willing to offer your love and grace. I pray that you always help me remember you are there waiting at all times and in all circumstances. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Special Events and Membership Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning 

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 21:15–19

Reflection
What I find most striking about this story is not that Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him, so many times in fact that it hurts Peter’s feelings. Instead, I’m most taken aback by the way Jesus asks his question the first time: does Peter love Jesus more than the rest of the disciples?

What is Jesus getting at? Is he jealous of Peter’s affection? Is he suspicious of his commitment and devotion? Is he afraid that he will betray Jesus’ vision by catering to the desires of his colleagues?

I believe the answer is found in the way Jesus connects his three questions with the three commands to care for the very friends his initial question might seem to set in competition with himself. It’s a paradox that loving Jesus more than others results in caring for those others in the same way—like a shepherd—that the Bible talks about God and Jesus loving and caring for each of us.

God’s love is not a matter of scarcity or competition. There is more than enough love to go around, and we demonstrate our love for God by sharing God’s love with others.

Prayer
Thank you, God, for loving me and caring for me like a shepherd. Help me to share that love with others by caring for them as you have done for me. Amen.

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


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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 28:16–20

Text for this reflection | Matthew 28:19a

Reflection
Maybe graduates from other professional schools would say the same thing, but it is amazing what I did not learn in seminary. For instance, we had zero classes on how to lead a Bible study or how to talk to a child about sin or an elder about redemption. I learned some important skills, but not how to be an effective teacher. Considering what Matthew 28 asks of us, that is a significant omission.

For some time I understood this passage to mean we are to make “believers” out of all people. But a disciple is a learner, not necessarily a believer yet. Christ calls us first to invite people everywhere to learn about God; baptism comes later. We are all called to be teachers to the people in our lives.

Teachers I have admired are knowledgeable, secure, and open to questions. They may not have all the answers, but they know how to ask good questions—and they are still asking them! They invite curiosity, and their students feel safe enough to ask questions and bold enough to take risks. They assume all of their students have something valuable to contribute to the conversation.

As a Christian, can I be a good teacher? Am I knowledgeable about what I believe and why? Am I secure in my faith? Am I open to questions and able to respond without being defensive (or offensive)? Do I respect and honor what others bring to the conversation? Can I do more than be a good example; can I be a good teacher?

Prayer
Christ, my Lord, you call me to a great task. Help me to love you with such joy that I cannot help but talk about you to my neighbor. Shape my words into messages of loving-kindness so that more hearts may open to you. Help me to plant my feet firmly on your holy ground as I regard my co-disciples in faith. Amen.

Written by Patty Jenkins, Director of the Center for Life and Learning


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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Today’s Reading | 1 John 1:1–10

Reflection

When I was growing up I remember on Saturday afternoons when my dad would come back from his long run of the week and he was sweaty and tired and he would sit directly in the sun in a chair on the back patio. He would slouch his body in the chair and tilt his head back absorbing the warmth and brightness of the sun’s rays. Something about that image is profound to me—letting the warmth and light of the sun shine on his face and overwhelm his body almost as an act of fellowship and intimacy with the sun.

I think this is the message that John is conveying to his readers in 1 John 1:5. He is telling them about God: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all”—almost as if he is answering a little child’s question about what God is like. And John, not missing the opportunity, points with his finger to the sun, “You see that huge yellowish-orange ball in the sky, that bright light shining down, that is what God is like.”

John is calling us to fellowship with the Light in whom there is no darkness. He is reminding us how much we need the Light because we are so stricken by the darkness: knowing ourselves, being in relationships, working, driving home in traffic, watching the evening news. So often we are absorbed in fellowship with the difficulties and darkness of everyday life. Thankfully John, as a fellow pilgrim, calls us to fellowship with the Light Giver—our good and gracious, holy God. Friends, today, as we walk toward brighter and sunnier days, let us together bask in the sun because we need it. Let’s bask in the rays of our loving God because we need the Light.

Prayer

God, in your mercy, shine your face on me today. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Administrative Assistant to Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and the Day School

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 30

Reflection

“You have everything if you have your health.” You have likely heard this familiar phrase and known something of its meaning. Not only does physical illness change you and your ability to work, play, and focus your life, but physical illness, injury, pain, and the like can affect your mental state as well. It can be debilitating when you can’t do the usual things in life; you can feel as though your life is spiraling down.

In this passage, David shares these same feelings. However, when his health starts to improve, David has a new problem. Now healed, he becomes boldly proud; his new state goes to his head, and he feels he is invincible: “This is forever; nothing can stop me now!”

We must remember that life remains fragile. Life has its ups and downs, including our health and mental state. But God is steadfast, always with us, always ready to heal. In the darkest of nights, our minds can be occupied with worry, “but in the morning there is joy!”

Prayer
Dear Lord, you remind me often that your steadfast love remains with me. Be with me again today as I face what the day will bring, be it joy in the morning or the pain of illness. Teach me to enjoy the health I have and to live life to the fullest. When injury and illness and challenges come, keep me mentally in focus through it all. Now and always. Amen.

Written by Rick Sabol, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church


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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 4:1–13

Reflection
What if this was a play in a contemporary theater?

Lights up. A small spot where JAY sits. Another person, DECIDEDLY NOT JAY, enters.

DECIDEDLY NOT JAY: Hey, how’s it going? (JAY does not reply.) Forty days fasting. Wow. Got to hand it to you. Quite an accomplishment. (JAY does not reply.) Hey, check it out. See that rock? I bet you could just turn that into a loaf of bread. Go on. Forty days, man. That’s a long time. You deserve it. Nice fresh bread, all warm and smelling good. Sourdough . . .

JAY: Listen, Skippy. Fasting’s voluntary. If bread were all that mattered, I would have eaten, like, thirty-eight days ago. Sometimes other things are more important. Like listening to the Man. Like I’m trying to do here.

DNJ: All right, that’s cool. The whole low-carb, gluten-free thing, I get it. But check this out: (Lights up further. Vegas. Glitz and glamor and casual indulgence.) Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. The Man, he put me in charge, and I can use a strong-minded guy like you. Throw in with me and I will set you up.

J: Like I would work for you? You’re just a tenant. You’re not the landlord. When your lease runs out, you’re done. Me, I’m working for the landlord, the Man. Him, and only him. Got it?

DNJ: Oh, you’re in with the Man, now. He’s looking out for you. I bet if you went up on the tower and jumped off, the Man would just set you down light as a feather. Go on, show me how tight you are with the Man. Bungee!

J: The thing you never got clear on is that you don’t test the Man; the Man tests you. It’s about the Man and it’s always been about the Man. What the Man wants, not what I want. The second I let you make it about me, I’m no better than you.

DNJ: All right, you be that way. I will catch you later.

He goes.

J: Maybe. But you won’t keep me.

Prayer
Lord, help me to remember my role: that it’s important to listen to your words and that it’s not about me; it’s about you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 4:14–30

Reflection
Jesus began his ministry by teaching in Galilee, where he was praised by everyone. It was a different story when he went to Nazareth, where he had grown up. In his hometown synagogue, Jesus read words from Isaiah 61 as his personal mission statement: “The Spirit has anointed me . . .” But he was rejected. Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” The crowd became enraged because Jesus made an analogy with previous prophets who had been sent by God to a few, faithful persons—those who were receptive. Not everyone received them, just as Jesus’ hearers were rejecting him now.

What is amazing is that when Jesus faced this life-threatening rejection so early on, it did not slow him down. He moves on to minister with the most down-and-out people—the poor, the enslaved, the blind and lame. He includes those outside the Jewish community. He heals lepers, eats with sinners, drinks with outcasts, embraces women as whole people, converts corrupt tax collectors, consoles the suffering, and speaks positively of the despised Samaritans.

Jesus’ ministry becomes our ministry as his followers. When we meet rejection, indifference, or neglect, we are called to extend our love to others who are receptive, to stand for the truth in a new place, to work for justice where it will make a difference. We may find ourselves keeping company with the most unlikely people. God’s Spirit seems to flow wherever God can find an opening, without regard to the world’s judgment as to who is important and who is not.

Prayer
Loving God, give me courage to press on to serve you even when doors close or defeat seems at hand. Open my eyes to see the unexpected, that I will notice where your Spirit is at work. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission


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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 4:31–37

Reflection
These verses in Luke are first and foremost a story about Jesus’ power to heal. In this one, there’s a fellow “who had the spirit of an unclean demon.” The fellow, prompted by the demon inside of him, says to Jesus, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

I imagine the man yelling at Jesus when he says these things. Jesus simply speaks up and rebukes the demon, tells the demon to come out of the man, and the demon can do nothing else except listen and come out. But the process isn’t easy. The story tells us that when the demon departs the man, the force is so strong that the man is thrown down on the ground.

I believe God is able to do anything, and so I don’t have much trouble imagining the truth of this story, even though I haven’t witnessed instantaneous healings nor have I come face-to-face with demons such as the ones described in the Gospels. But I know how wrenching it can be to change my internal behavior and take charge of my internal thoughts. I’ve got loads of old scripts that run through my mind—about worth or ability or resistance to change or resistance to God. Those are my demons. I know how strong their force is because I know how hard it has been to choose to think or react in a new and healthier way. Sometimes, it’s been so hard to change and let those demons depart that I’ve been brought to my knees (“thrown down on the ground”) in great need of Jesus’ help. Maybe getting down on my knees makes it clear to the demon that I’ve finally chosen something better.

Prayer
Dear God, Lord of all, help me keep coming to you asking for the courage to be transformed, to be healed, to be made whole. Help me to let go of unhealthy ways of living and death-producing ways of thinking. Amen.

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

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Today’s Reading | Colossians 1:15–20

Reflection

Easter has just passed, and so we might still bask in the glory of Christ triumphant. This transcendent figure achieved victory over death, overcame the oppression of the empire and the shame of the cross, and thereby redeemed us from condemnation and gave us the hope of life eternal. This Jesus is worthy of our worship.

Yet if you’re like me, it doesn’t feel very easy to connect this Jesus to our own selves. How can I possibly live up to this Christ? Am I worthy to be his follower and to receive the grace that he offers?

In Colossians, it’s interesting that the Greek word translated “image” is the same word used in Greek translations of Genesis that tell us “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Therefore, we might understand that the same Jesus who was resurrected is an “image of the invisible God” in the same way that we are—an image in which “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

We who walk in the way of the Easter Jesus are certainly called to worship him and the miraculous works of God shown in his life, death, and resurrection. Yet I also believe that we are called to live like him—like images of an invisible God, in whom all the fullness of God might be pleased to dwell.

Prayer
If we met you, Jesus Christ,
we might not think you were on a mission.
Your talk would be of common and curious things:
salt, dough,
lost lambs, lost coins,
paying taxes, hosting a meal,
wise virgins, and foolish house-builders.
We would not know you were on a mission,
we would think you were making sense of life,
lighting up the ordinary, identifying the truth.
When next you look with compassion on the world
and need mission done in your way,
Lord, send us. Amen.
(from Present on Earth by Wild Good Worship Group, Iona Community)

Reflection written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 4:38–44

Reflection
When I was in college, I was a nanny to a five-year-old girl and nine-year-old twin boys. The two boys spent time with each other and were able to keep themselves occupied, which normally left me to spend my time with the little girl. As is with most young children, one of her biggest issues was sharing with others. Perhaps because she was the youngest and the only female child, she never really had to learn to share her things. Each day, I worked very hard to teach the young girl how to allow others to use her things, especially when she wasn’t using them. By the end of the summer, she could share her crayons when coloring, evenly distribute the items in her play kitchen, and she could even share her time with me—by not having a meltdown if we decided to go outside with her brothers and play soccer, a sport she didn’t particularly like to play.

From my experience, I can only imagine the crazy scene in Capernaum as Jesus begins to heal the ailing people of the city. Unwilling to share Jesus with others, the people of Capernaum want to prevent Jesus from leaving their city. “But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose’” (Luke 4:43). It is hard to argue with Jesus, especially when he wants to heal the rest of the world. Thankfully, the people of Capernaum decided to share Jesus, and so he was able to continue declaring his important message to all the people.

Prayer
Dear Lord, help me to remember that I cannot keep you all to myself, but that I must share you with the world. Amen.

Written by Megan Eddy, Editorial Assistant


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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:1–11

Reflection
We’ve all been there. We understand Simon’s point of view: he had been working all day, without anything to show for it. It isn’t much of a stretch to apply this to our everyday lives. How often do we feel like we are doing what God has called us to do, but we cannot see the reward? Then we are asked to do more: “Row out farther, into the deep water,” Jesus instructs Simon. Of course Simon is tired and doesn’t fully believe anything will happen. But he follows Jesus’ instructions and reaps a dangerously large catch of fish.

Jon Berquist reflects on this passage, focusing on the fishing metaphor. He notes that the possibility of catching a load that is dangerously large and has the potential to sink the boat was a real issue at the time. Ships were small and sometimes fragile. Reading Berquist’s writings makes me think of how we sometimes feel overwhelmed, like a small ship overloaded with fish.

Right as we think that continuing along the road is pointless, Jesus calls us to go farther. And it sometimes feels as if we are on the brink of sinking. But if we are able to continue trusting and following God’s call in our lives, we won’t sink. Following Jesus’ call is not easy, but we are not alone on the path.

Prayer
Almighty and powerful God, you have called us to follow Jesus. Please give me the strength to follow your call. When I am tired and close to the brink of sinking, remind me that Jesus is in the boat too. Help me remember to “row out farther, into the deeper water.” Amen.

Written by Sarah Bennett, Director of Junior High Ministry


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Monday, April 15, 2013

Today’s Reading | Colossians 2:6–14

Reflection
What a rich jumble of metaphors we have in our text for reflection today.

Circumcision as a metaphor for baptism, linking initiation into the church with becoming part of God’s covenant people; burial as a metaphor for the experience of baptism; and new life in the risen Christ as metaphor for life after baptism. Then in the crescendo of these images, that of our sin and brokenness being forgiven by their being nailed to the cross.

We see the cross then not as instrument of torture and death but as instrument of our liberation from lives lived according to the way of the world and transformed into lives lived in Christ Jesus.

We need metaphors because as we live into this season of Easter we are living into the great mystery of our faith—as we say during communion:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This is not a claim to be explained using theological terms and systems. It is a proclamation whose truth emerges as we claim the call that Jesus places upon us—to be reborn as people of peace, love, and justice; as Easter people caring for the least of the sisters and brothers among us, for it is for this purpose that Christ has freed us from the bonds of self-centeredness, greed, and hopelessness. Thanks be to God.

Prayer
Christ is alive, no longer bound
To distant years in Palestine,
But saving, healing, here and now,
And touching every place and time.
Amen.
(from the hymn “Christ Is Alive!” by Brian Wren)

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


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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 5:27–39

Reflection
Although confusing on the surface, this provocative “new wineskins” parable is one of my favorite teachings from Jesus. Challenged by the Pharisees about the minutiae of the social and religious behaviors of his disciples (They eat with tax collectors! They do not fast!), Jesus instead invites the Pharisees and scribes to pull back and recognize how truly radical his teaching is. This new way of being cannot comfortably coexist with the social and religious norms of the day, Jesus argues, or else the “new wine will burst the old skins and will be spilled.” So too the old wineskins cannot be modified by attempting to place pieces of new skin over the holes and cracks; instead, Jesus’ teaching—this new wine—will inevitably create new social and religious norms that differ from those of the past.

Given the time frame that the Gospel of Luke would have been written (in the years 70–85), there is certainly a polemical aspect to this saying for the early Christian communities. However, this parable is also a fantastic reminder of how transformative our faith should be if we are following Jesus’ teaching. Too often we try to patch new wineskin onto our beliefs, selecting the bits and pieces we find satisfying or convenient, only to find that our faith feels like a strange amalgam of our own creation. Jesus is challenging us to leave our old wineskins—the calcified norms of the day—behind and to instead embody his teachings in whole.

Prayer
Dear Lord, challenge me to embody your teachings even when they seem at odds with the norms that are all around me. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families


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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:1–11

Reflection
I am an Indiana University graduate, where basketball is the school’s pride and glory. For four years I went to the games and came to learn all of the IU chants, cheers, and traditions that make Hoosier basketball so special. I didn’t think to question why the basketball players’ names were never on their jerseys, I just knew that that was part of the basketball program’s tradition. I didn’t think to question or overanalyze the candy-striped pants; I just knew that is what IU basketball warm-up pants looked like. But eventually I did stop and wonder: Why are those traditions the way they are? Why are those traditions as special as they are?

This story in the Bible touches on the traditions of the Sabbath and how strict it was at the time. It was so looked down upon to do on the Sabbath the two things that Jesus allows and does in this passage: to let the disciples pick the wheat and to heal the man with the shriveled hand. The Pharisees are put into question here by Jesus. They love their traditions and have forgotten the original intent of the Sabbath, and that is what Jesus is trying to tell them.

Traditions and rituals can be good to guide our lives, but we must never forget the main purpose of them, otherwise they can lead us away from why they took shape to begin with. Jesus says here that it is important to heal this man now, not later, and it is important to feed our hunger now, not later. Human need has precedence over ritual custom. In our daily lives we must never forget the basic root of God’s doctrine. Is what I am doing really for a cause greater than myself, or is it because I am going along with my routine?

Prayer
Lord, thank you for your word and principles of love. Help your truth always be at the base of my decisions, so that I might be a light for all those who need it. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Special Events and Membership Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning 


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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:12–26

Reflection
I have a couple of friends in the neighborhood who enjoy getting together about once a month for lunch and conversation. Instead of going to a restaurant, we normally prepare a meal for each other, and I usually do something very simple like homemade soup and bread. But one person in the group always goes all out. I mean enough food to feed about thirty or forty people. When we have finished the meal, complete with elaborate desserts, we have not even made a dent in the amount of food that is there. What I have noticed over time is that we eat the same amount of food in each place and are just as thankful for it. But at least for me, the overwhelming amount of food at my friend’s home is almost irritating. It’s like we can’t appreciate having just enough; we have to have far too much.

I have another friend whom I see regularly at Fourth Church who doesn’t have an abundance of wealth; actually he has very little in this world. I ask, “How are you today?” and the immediate reply is “I’m blessed.” He understands how fortunate he is to just be alive and getting through another day. His reply lets me know how thankful he is for the simple things in life, like enough food, free time, and friends. His reply reminds me that I am blessed too and not to overlook this amazing grace.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” I ask you, which of these people has a better understanding of the kingdom of God, my friend who is not satisfied with making a simple meal or my friend whose reply is always, “I’m blessed”?

Prayer
Lord of all goodness, help me to be thankful for having just enough and to see glimpses of heaven even in the simplest of moments. Amen.

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


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Friday, April 19, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 6:27–38

Reflection
I’ve known my best friend since the first grade, and she has literally been challenging me since the day we met on the playground. We’ve seen each other through so many things over the years, with minimal conflict, much quick-witted sarcasm, and an immeasurable amount of love. The emotional support with teenage melodrama, college, relationships, careers, and family has been practically boundless. She is also a musician, so we’ve also never had any sort of artistic gap to bridge either. Most of all, she makes me laugh harder than anyone else ever has.

Certainly, it should be no surprise that I would feel like I was adding a member to my own family when she had her first child early last fall. In meeting the cute little guy—I hadn’t been around any babies for quite some time—it was absolutely amazing to see how this good-smelling, little human operated. He’s discovering everything at this phase, but one characteristic is too precious: he wants to give away anything he can get in his hands. If you pass him a toy, he’ll pass it right on to someone else. A spoon, a bottle, a washcloth . . . it doesn’t matter; he’s always offering it to another. Everyone knows, of course, this phase will definitely end, but the concept is so amazing. By God’s design alone, we were all born to lead a serving life, pure and simple.

Prayer
Lord, I hope and pray that we all can remember to lead a life of serving your good and the needs of every brother and sister. Especially during this season I see that you have given so much to us; let me pass on to the next whatever I can. I know that if nothing is in my hands, I still have your love to give, and I know there will always be someone near to pass to me when it’s needed. Amen.

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


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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Today’s Reading | Colossians 3:1–17

Reflection
I must confess: I become really anxious around clothes shopping. I am impatient when there are too many choices and will often, in a sudden exit toward the door, put back the clothes I was planning to purchase (and then order some basics online). I don’t think I have much of a fashion sense, recently learning about the color wheel and how to match (how have I survived as long as I have?! a good sense of humor). Mostly, I just write down wardrobes for each day of the week so I can avoid looking at my closet in the morning and simply rotate what I wear. If it were up to me, I’d have two jackets: one to wear to work every day and one for really dressy events (and this may happen yet). As much as I think it’s a beautiful art, fashion just isn’t my art.

Maybe you’re not quite like me when it comes to the art of fashion, but that still doesn’t make Paul’s fashion advice any easier. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love.” We grow impatient with the process of trying these character traits on because there isn’t a formula: you’ve got to see what fits and feels right. Kindness and compassion will look different for each person and in each situation. You need to have your own sense of style, your own colorful addition to the ways in which we can be humble and patient. We can’t simply sound like a caricature of Mr. Rogers in his neighborhood, because we must be authentic. But what brings the outfit together is love, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony.” As we clothe ourselves, we don’t lose our unique identity, but instead gain a community.

Prayer
Fashion me in your image, so that I might reflect your love to the world and that people might see your image in all that I say and do. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident


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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 7:1–17

Reflection
It seems the story line of sickness and death is the same every time and everywhere. How many times have we heard “My dad/grandmother/friend/colleague got sick and died”? According to the American Cancer Society, over 1.5 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in America this year alone, and more than 550,000 people will die of cancer this year. This means today, Sunday, April 21, in the United States roughly 4,100 people will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,500 people will die of cancer. And that’s just cancer. Sickness and death—same story different day.

When was the last time you heard the other story: “Last week my friend was sick and then this guy healed him”? Or “Last week my son died and during the funeral this guy showed up and brought him back to life”? I’m guessing not many of us have heard that story. But if you read Luke 7, you will. Two stories, two people, sickness and death, but in these cases the power and authority of sickness and death is usurped by the power and authority of the God made man—Jesus Christ.

These two stories are old stories, other world stories, and yes, they look, feel, and sound far away, and they are. But they are also seeds whereby when we read them and then read them again and think about them—they begin to sprout and take root. That is why Luke told these stories so that in spite of the 1,500 cancer deaths today, in spite of the 4,100 new diagnoses of cancer today, maybe just maybe that isn’t the final story—maybe today, Sunday, April 21, around the world, the power and authority of sickness and death has been overcome by the power and authority of a crucified and resurrected God made man—Jesus Christ. Do I believe, again today?

Prayer
Dear God, help me to believe that sickness and death have been defeated by your resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Administrative Assistant to Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and the Day School


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Monday, April 22, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 104:1–23

Reflection
So many things come to my mind when I read this passage. My initial thoughts are about some of my favorite hymns we sing honoring God’s creation, particularly because with spring upon us and with today being Earth Day, it is a wonderful time to celebrate the gifts of the earth. The passage also reminded me of a twelve-hour car trip my father and I took to see my grandparents when I was very young. On that trip, I asked my father many questions. Every time he answered a question, I responded with, Why? Somehow he was able to answer all my whys. All of the whys of today may not be so easy to understand. But when I read this passage, I am comforted by being reminded that God is in control. God has a why and a plan. God gives us many gifts to remind us of his presence. I am thankful for “the beauty of the earth” and “all creatures great and small.”

Prayer

God, thank you for your presence in my life. Thank you for the gifts of the earth. Help me remember your presence as I enjoy the beauty of your creation. Amen.

Written by Rebecca Nilsson, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church


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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 104:24–35

Reflection
My grandfather helped me experience a reverence for life and living things—not so much by all he said, though his words were always wise, but in who he was and in what I experienced with him in many walks outside together. Along those walks, he helped me see the world as a magnificent system. Perhaps it is why I feel most connected to the earth and to God and all of creation when I am out in nature.

I’d seek out a feather for his description of its origin. He called my attention to the smell of the tilled soil as we planted together. He introduced me to the unparalleled flavor of lettuce from the garden or sun-ripened tomatoes just off the vine. He helped me learn to swim and to surf waves.

In Granddad’s Prayers of the Earth, Douglas Woodwrites, “All beings of the world pray, said my Granddad, as they slip through the forest or sparkle in the water . . . as they climb the mountainsides or soar into the clouds or burrow into the earth. . . . Each living thing gives its life to the beauty of all life, and that is a gift of its prayers.”

Sometimes I need to be in nature to draw a spiritual contrast to my busy life in Chicago. I take my dog and head out to the park, appreciating the season and the life around me. I experience again the joy of being Dicky’s granddaughter. I hear his voice (and perhaps God’s) whispering to me with loving reverence for life and living things. I find again my grounding, my right place as part of God’s magnificent system.

Prayer
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all. Amen.
(Prayer from Cecil Frances Alexander’s hymn text “All Things Bright and Beautiful”)

Reflection written by Laura Sterkel, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church


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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Today’s Reading | Genesis 1:1–2:4

Reflection
When my wife and I were blessed with the opportunity to go to Australia, we marched through the oldest rainforests on earth, still unspoiled from the ravages of pollution. The unique sounds of the birds and rustling of the leaves reminded me of how truly wonderful God’s creation is. When I think of the creation story, as told in Genesis, I imagine that after God was finished, the world could have looked similar to the lush and undisturbed rainforests that I visited.

Unfortunately, much of the wildlife we encountered is endangered, some of it near extinction. That served as a constant reminder of how fragile God’s creation is. We witness this fragility all around us: the air we breathe, the lakes in which we swim, the littered parks where we walk. Our actions have the potential to destroy or sustain the nature that we often take for granted.

After creating humankind, God tells us to “replenish the earth” and that we have dominion over all creatures. God entrusts us with God’s creation, an awesome responsibility, and entrusts us to be responsible caretakers to let future generations enjoy God’s work.

Prayer
Dear God, thank you for all that you have created. Please help me to be mindful of the nature around me so that I can be a faithful steward of your creation. Amen.

Written by Rod Gedey, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church


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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Today’s Reading | Exodus 23:10–13

Reflection
These rules in Exodus were the law of the land: leaving the land untouched every seventh year meant it could recoup the nutrients and moisture needed to produce healthy and abundant crops in the future. The crops that did mature during the seventh year—those that survived on their own—were to be left for those in need. If this year of fallow, this year of allowing nature to reenrich the soil, was bypassed, the crops in the following years would yield less and less, and the poor and the wild animals would not get the food they surely needed.

As for the people, they were to work six days, labor six days, teach and instruct six days—but on the seventh day, rest, so that they and all for whom they were responsible could recoup and gather strength for the coming six days.

Do we hear the wisdom of these rules in our current society, thousands of years separated from the people to whom these rules were addressed? I like the part about resting the seventh day—that should not be too difficult. But how about the way we treat the land that produces what we eat? With fertilizer and irrigation, we can produce abundant crops, feed livestock, and even fuel our cars and trucks, but we also pay a high price. The cost is not for the goods produced, but for the pollution from fertilizer runoff, for the quantity of water used to grow crops, and for the eventual destruction of the soil. How might the guidance of Exodus encourage us to care for ourselves, those around us, and all of creation?

Prayer
God of all creation, I thank you for the earth you have given us and I ask you to help me be the best possible steward for you. Amen.

Written by Roger Wilson, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church


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Friday, April 26, 2013

Today’s Reading | Romans 8:19–25

Reflection
So often we are struck by how much suffering there is in our broken world. When natural forces such as floods, earthquakes, wind, and fire cause destruction, we can almost hear creation groaning. We hear people groan when they suffer from warfare or self-destructive behavior. We ourselves groan inwardly when confronting disease, disappointment, and, ultimately, death.

When what we see appears futile, we need to place our hope in what is unseen. Our hope is built on the knowledge that God is in charge of creation and that through his sacrifice and righteousness, Jesus Christ heals this world’s brokenness. Just as the pain of childbirth is followed by joy, so we can be assured that our present difficulties are temporary as we anticipate the joy of new life in Christ. When we experience difficult times, believing God’s promises to be true can give us the patience and hope to endure.

I think the last stanza of a familiar hymn written by John Calvin says it best:
          Our hope is in no other save in thee;
          our faith is built upon thy promise free;
          Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
          that in thy strength we evermore endure.

Prayer
Dear Lord, I thank you for the world you created and for my place in it. Thank you for your love that has redeemed me and assures me of my adoption as your child. Grant me the strength and patience to endure life’s trials. May I always remember that you are the foundation of my faith and my belief in things hoped for. Amen.

Written by Bev Pace, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 104:1–23

Reflection
To read this passage is to hear the pride and the joy God took in bringing all of creation together. God waters the mountains, makes the moon mark the seasons, and tells the sun the time for setting. God provides for the cattle, the birds, the wild goats, and the people, all in equal measure. This is God at God’s most creative and active, and this litany makes it clear that all the earth is ordered at God’s hand, lest we forget.

We too often make the mistake of treating the earth as our own, as something to be manipulated and managed, ignoring the fact that it thrives under God’s hand, but languishes under ours. And where the earth languishes, so do the living things God so lovingly placed there.

Prayer
Lord, help me to see the rightness in your ordering of creation, so that I may be a steward in the ways that you intend. Help me remember daily to celebrate and honor your creative spirit, so that I might celebrate this good earth and lovingly tend to the works of your hand. Amen.

Written by Alison Gerlach Blaser, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 104:24–35

Reflection
According to English bishop Christopher Wordsworth, “This psalm is an inspired ‘Oratorio of Creation.’” As a musician, I find this description particularly apt and delightful. In the latter portion of today’s psalm, God’s wisdom is extolled, and we see that “the earth is full of thy riches.” God’s creation is self-renewing so that it provides for the needs of its inhabitants, and we are told that “the Lord shall rejoice in his works.”

We can see what a wonderful world has been provided for us and for all living creatures. Through travel and television programs such as Nature on PBS, we experience the variety and abundance of species and ecosystems. A visit to the aquarium or a scuba-diving adventure reveals magnificent forms of underwater life. Boat trips along the coasts allow us to watch whales (“leviathan”). Truly, it is all there—provided by God.

As stewards of God’s creation, let us look for more ways to protect, preserve, honor, and restore it. As our love for creation deepens, so will our commitment to caring for it.

Prayer
Thank you for the wonderful physical world that you have created for us: the mountains, the forests, the seas, and the living things that surround our daily life. Raise my consciousness and guide me in making good decisions that reflect my genuine care for your creation. Amen.

Written by Annette Bacon, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 7:36–50

Reflection
Simon the Pharisee has invited this itinerant preacher in for a meal, because he wants to hear what this interesting guy has to say. And because Simon is a person of place in the community, he is clearly reaching down the social ladder to this wandering Jesus fellow. A good deed, and done in the spirit of charity, no doubt.

There’s nothing wrong with charity, of course. It can make you feel good, a little act of charity toward those who don’t have much. Drop a dollar in a cup, buy someone a sandwich, and walk away feeling good about yourself. And that can be a problem.

You see, status has a way of corrupting generosity. Often what looks like compassion is simply a demonstration of superiority: I’m a have, you’re a have-not, you need my charity and let’s not forget it. The “good deed” I did, that’s not about you; it’s about me.

So, there’s this woman—from even lower down the ladder, a woman with whom Simon the Pharisee usually wouldn’t be caught dead—and she follows the guest in and begins making a fuss over him. And she’s so involved in the fuss she’s making over Jesus, she’s not even paying attention to Simon . . . and it’s his house!

Jesus being Jesus can read Simon’s expression, and Jesus being Jesus has a dry and ironic way of putting things in perspective: “I’m a big deal to her because she’s a sinner and really needs forgiveness; but you, you’re so righteous you don’t need much so I’m not that big a deal to you.”
You can almost hear the air quotes around “So Righteous.”

Status has a way of corrupting generosity, when we think we are giving “down the ladder.” When we reach across, when we give out of kinship and empathy and knowledge of how we ourselves deeply need the generosity and kindness of God, then our sacrifices smell a lot more sweet.

Prayer
Lord, help me remember that I am the beggar, I am the sinner, I am the one most in need of grace. Let my compassion be given out of my knowledge of my own need, as freely as I would receive it. Amen.
 
Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Today’s Reading | Luke 8:1–15

Reflection
The Bible I use is still the Bible I was given in 1994, the NIV Bible for Kids. That is what it says on the cover. I get a lot of jokes about it from my friends, and I tell them, “You know what: sometimes I need to hear things put simply, in terms a child can understand.” It is a good starting off point for my studies, and I really like it! It also is partly for sentimental purposes: this Bible has seen every walk of my faith.

What I love about Jesus’ parables and this one in particular is that it speaks so much truth in such a simple context. Jesus’ love is vast, complex, and deep, but when he preaches his word and truth, he doesn’t complicate it; he makes it easy for all ages to understand. There is so much meaning in a parable like this one.

Let us always strive to be the seed that Jesus describes here, retaining his word so we are able to produce a crop worthy of his name. Don’t let life overcomplicate the basic foundation and soil that God has set for us; let us always be aware of the thorns and rocks and choose to stand where we know we will see the light. Simple and easier said than done one might say, but isn’t that what God ultimately wants at the end of the day?

Prayer
Lord, life can be complicated and hard to navigate at times, but I pray that you help me never let the simple truth of your teachings become that. Help me to always strive for a clear and easy understanding of your love. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Special Events and Membership Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning 

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