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The season of Lent calls Christians to embrace the faith journey by reflecting upon and deepening their relationship with God and by acting upon their Christian beliefs. Although often considered a time for giving up something as a way of symbolizing Jesus’ sacrifice and his struggle in the wilderness, the forty days of Lent (Sundays are not counted as “Lent days”) also offer an opportunity for taking up. During this season, we are invited to thoughtfully take up the gifts of faith—worship, study, prayer, and service—in preparation for Holy Week and Christ’s journey to the cross.

As a resource for such Lenten reflections, we make these devotions, written by Fourth Presbyterian Church members and staff, available to you. We hope you will find the reflections herein useful in your personal prayer and reflection during this season. For information about other Lenten opportunities at Fourth Church, visit www.fourthchurch.org.

Wishing you blessings on your Lenten journey,
—Members and staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church


Lenten devotions are available via email (sign up online or send addresses to devotions@fourthchurch.org), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fourthchurch), Twitter (@FourthChicago), online, and in print (from the church literature racks).


February 13–16 | February 17–23 | February 24–March 2 | March 3–9
March 10–16 | March 17–23 | March 24–30 | March 31

 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Scripture Reading: Psalm 51:1–17

Reflection

When David was fingered by Nathan as the one who committed adultery with Bathsheba and sent her husband off to battle to be killed so he might have her all to himself, he knew he had messed up royally.

Psalm 51 is David’s confession, lament, and statement of repentance. He calls on God for mercy, for cleansing from his guilt and sin. Interestingly he states he has sinned only against God: when we violate one another, demean and abuse one another in any way, we ultimately sin against God and the love God represents.

David acknowledges that God is justified and correct in judging him. He pleads with God to purify him, to cleanse his heart, to wipe away his guilty deeds and to create in David a clean heart and a faithful spirit. He prays that God will not throw him out of God’s presence or deprive him of God’s holy spirit. He declares that he wants to sing God’s righteousness and proclaim God’s praise.

It is clear that if all that David is saying is on the up and up, David is a broken and humbled man. Repentance, honesty, and transparency are hard to come by when the temptation is strong to be in denial and deceive oneself.

During this season of Lent, this time of reflection and repentance, we might all do well to emulate David and his honesty in the confident assurance that the God who judges us is also the God who will not despise a heart and a spirit that are broken and crushed and the God whose love will never let go of us.

Prayer

Dear God, when I am tempted to kid myself about myself, help me to have the courage to be honest with myself, with others, and with you. “Do not hold my sins up against me, but hold me up against my sins,” that your goodness and mercy might follow me all the days of my life. Amen.
(quoted prayer text by Søren Kierkegaard)

Written by John H. Boyle, Parish Associate

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 1:1–18

Reflection

We spend our lifetime trying to understand God and God’s purpose for our world and what that means for our life. The first chapter of the Gospel of John shows the complexity yet the simplicity of God’s revelation to us: “In the beginning was the Word . . . with God . . . was God.” Confusing when we read that “through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people,” yet the message seems clear that everything comes from God . . . including life itself. And God seems to be pretty inclusive: the life was the light for all people.

What a life-changing message. Even when we are slow to recognize or to welcome God’s revelation in our lives, nonetheless God is there shining his light on us . . . giving us life. And the “us” includes all people in this world. This bigger view of God and God’s reach gives hope that we can tackle anything through God, that even in what seem to be overwhelming challenges in this world, God is there. Grace upon grace.

Later the passage highlights how Jesus Christ has made God known to us. During this time of Lent, what would it look like for us to welcome and to recognize how his light is revealed in our lives? Beginning today, before we begin reacting to our busy schedules and the constant flood of instant messages, may we pause and ask God for help to live our life, even for just a minute, focusing on God’s light in our lives.

Prayer

Thank you that even when I do not recognize or welcome your revelation in my life, you are there offering grace upon grace. I am thankful for your blessings and faithfulness. Amen.

Written by Karen Otto, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 1:19–28

Reflection

Barren, desolate, forsaken are perfect desert descriptors and John the quintessential desert resident. He lived meagerly, in clothes made of camel hair, tied with a simple leather belt and his diet consisting of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4).

In total contrast, enter the priests and the Levites, the powerful, the esteemed of their time. Who is this desert dweller, John, of whom they have heard so much? Theirs is a mission of identity—John’s and perhaps also unwittingly their own. Intrigued and curious, they choose to leave the comforts of the city in search of John in the nothingness of the desert.

John’s life had become one of curiosity and renown. News had spread of this baptizer who lived in a desert. Who was this man for whom people traveled a distance to share time with him and then by whom to be baptized, to be “marked as God’s own forever.”

The influential saw power in the unassuming, unpretentious baptizer, a power to which they also were magnetized.

Who are you? they ask of John. Are you the Messiah, Elijah, a prophet?

I suspect the Pharisees were awed by the certainty of John’s answer. John knew who he was. He stated in confidence, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert. Make straight the way of the Lord.”

I too am impressed with John’s sure answer. It begs the question, have I answered the question posed to John: Who am I? What is my purpose? Where is my voice, and is it heard in the desert of my surroundings? Is it heard beyond myself? Where is my voice?

Who am I?

Who are you?

Prayer

Our glorious and gracious God, God of the desert and God of the city, God of the meek and God of the powerful, grant me wisdom to live where I am planted, to know who I am and to whom I belong. Precious Lord, be my voice. Amen.

Written by Ruth Beckman, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 1:29–34

Reflection

There is a lot of strife and ugliness in our world. Suffering is not limited to only bad people who commit violence on others. “Bad things happen to good people” is trite but, unfortunately, true. I do not believe that our misfortunes or pain result from inherent sinfulness. So what does John mean by “the sin of the world?” Perhaps the answer is as simple as “all the ugliness and strife” that happen or that we humans inflict on one another. If so, John also hopefully asserts that the Lamb of God “takes away [all of this] sin of the world.”

“Takes away the sin of the world?” Really? Obviously ugliness and strife still abound, but God has offered amelioration, compensation, or a substitution through the Lamb of God, whom John also identifies here as the Son of God. The imagery the Gospel writer uses of a dove descending as he envisions God’s presence through God’s Son comfortingly evokes gentleness, purity, and peace.

There is another subtle but related point in the passage, contained in verse 31: “I came baptizing with water that he might be revealed to Israel.” Israel, of course, is God’s covenant people, whom God chose, nurtured, guided, and treasured over the centuries. Jesus represents God’s new covenant for and with all people. Lent is an opportunity to reflect on that covenant and to renew our relationship with God.

Prayer

God, help me to confront the sin of the world with an image of your Spirit at work, as a dove of gentleness, purity, and peace. Thank you for the new covenant. With the help of your Spirit, deepen it. Amen.

Written by Rebecca Dixon, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Scripture Reading: John 1:35–42

Reflection

“The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus walking along he said, ‘Look! The Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.”

What an amazing thing, to trust so securely that you just turn (your life) around on a moment’s notice, a sentence.

“Andrew first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Christ). He led him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).”

Isn’t this what we all want? To be called, to know and be known, to be named. The incredible intimacy of it all. And how often do we turn to things of the world looking for this connection?

How freeing it is to know we need only turn and follow Jesus.

Prayer

Precious Lord, as the psalmist writes, “You have searched me and known me; . . . it was you who formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” What can I do but praise you? And pray, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart with which to revere your name.” Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 119:73–77

Reflection

“Your hands have made and fashioned me” brings to mind the image of a potter concentrating, with loving care as she or he spins the wheel, working the wet clay, creating a form that is unique, beautiful—one of a kind. These are comforting words for they confirm God’s love for us, but they also remind us that we have a responsibility to God for making us who are. What can we do in return for this gift?

It is easy to get caught up in what we think has to be done in order to “keep up” with everyone else and the pace of our lives. But is that our purpose? Is that why the great potter designed us and gave us life? In these verses from Psalm 119, I feel that we are being given a call to be a reflection of God’s love by the way we live our lives. It behooves us to remember God’s laws of love, compassion, and forgiveness, right, wrong, mercy, and justice, and to use them as our guideposts for living. Not easy. Our human frailties and many obstacles distract us or get in our way.

There have been some spectacular sunrises over Lake Michigan this winter. I have stood in awe at my window, sometimes overcome by emotion because of their great beauty. The colors don’t linger, but the few minutes are a powerful reminder to me of the gift of life, a new day—a clean slate, another chance to be a mirror of God’s love.

Prayer

Awaken, O friends!
Radiate the light you are!
Do not let fear keep you from the truth of your being,
nor illusions veil the innate beauty of your soul.
Awaken! Know that you are a holy chalice
Of light and love, for the Divine guest dwells in you.
You are the holy temple of the Beloved.
“You are the light of the world!”
SHINE.
Amen.
(prayer from Meditations and Mandalas: Simple Songs for the Spiritual Lifeby Nan C. Merrill)

Reflection written by Nan Birmingham, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 2:1–12

Reflection

Miracles are seemingly everywhere in our world. Sometimes these occurrences are as obvious as a sunrise or receiving good news. More often than not, though, modern miracles are hidden deep within our complicated existence, and many times miracles go completely unnoticed in our lives.

This passage from John is a Bible story that almost everyone knows: Jesus changing the water to wine in order to serve the masses. The whole concept is seemingly such a blatant example of miracle that it could be difficult to even fathom. Do things like this really happen, like some David Copperfield trickery? You be the judge.

The real miracle, again, is hidden, and within this passage is described with few words: “He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” Simple and direct, but it lays the groundwork for everything to come in the life of Jesus, and it ultimately becomes two miracles that all Christians share as one body: belief and support.

Some would say that additional wine can make a party that much more exciting, but what they drank-in at Cana that day quenched our thirst forever.

Prayer

In this season of Lent, and always, let me not forget the way Jesus satisfies so many of our needs. I pray and he is always there to answer and quench my thirst with anything needed, even hidden miracles. I ask and shall receive his love—my cup never runs dry. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 2:23–3:15

Reflection

I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before that Jesus didn’t trust himself with everyone who followed him. Having gathered a mass following because of the miraculous things he was doing, he was nonetheless wise enough about human nature to maintain clear boundaries with the masses.

But he did entrust himself to a leader of the people called Nicodemus. In fact, he shared with him one of his deepest and most profound teachings: unless we are born anew—unless we are fully transformed—we will not experience God’s kingdom as it emerges in the world.

What did Jesus see in Nicodemus that he didn’t see in the masses? Was there something special about Nicodemus that set him apart?

Nicodemus was a leader. Nicodemus was a change agent. Jesus knew that he had neither the time nor the energy to reach every single person with whom he came into contact. But he could empower a smaller group of leaders to bring forth his vision into the world. And Nicodemus proved himself faithful, sticking with Jesus until the very end.

During this season of Lent, let us all listen for God’s voice. Perhaps we too are the leaders God is calling to help transform the world.

Prayer

Through the noise of the crowds and the busyness of life, help me to focus on Jesus and seek in him the deep truths of life. Amen.

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

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 27

Reflection

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?”

This psalm of David is certainly one of great hope and faith. It begins with this familiar text and reminds us that our faith in God will carry us through the worst of times, that we will not be abandoned, that our prayers and praise will be heard, that we will see God’s goodness around us. 

How many times do we face problems and feel that we’re alone? The message in this psalm is that we aren’t alone, that God is always with us, helping guide and protect us. As we experience the good and the challenging in our daily lives, may we always be confident that God will not reject or forsake us.

Prayer

Loving God, please help me sense your guidance, and may I trust that you’ll be with me in all that I face. May I be forever thankful for your presence in my life. Amen.

Written by Claudia Winkler, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 3:16–21

Reflection

There is a reckless prodigality about God’s love. It is a spendthrift. There is ruthlessness about it also. It will not let us go or go on with business as usual in our lives. Its severity and goodness harbor both threat and promise: the threat of its judgment of our self-centered lives, and the promise of a mercy that outruns the judgment. Both were there as Love Incarnate hung upon a cross, and both were there as our Lord breathed his last and went home to be with God, holding a thief by the hand. What wondrous love is this!

Prayer

God of love and life, by your love trouble us and with your love touch us so that our lives may be disposed to your service. Amen.

Written by John H. Boyle, Parish Associate

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 84

“Let’s take a step back” were the words often spoken by a mentor of mine as we tried to solve a problem. This gentle nudge from a more experienced colleague was certainly an exercise in refocusing oneself when locked into a seemingly fruitless path. Many times we achieved a greater awareness that led to a solution.

Chances are we can all benefit from stepping back and gaining a new perspective from time to time. Reading today’s scripture did that for me. Just in time for Lent.

Too often in our “always on” culture we become overburdened with distractions, competing needs, or, worse, the dark works that are nothing more than evil in this world. It can be too much, even when strong in faith, to stay focused on the right path. Moreover, we can easily become adrift in our spirituality with each such day turning into weeks, months, or longer. It is at this point we need to see the other possibilities for our spiritual lives.

Fortunately, the psalmist in today’s scripture sings with such a joy and yearning that the song is contagiously motivating. Yes, there is a sense of a journey that is not always easy, but that is our lives. It is the psalmist’s resounding declaration that ultimately gives hope: we are blessed and provided with strength by persevering and worshiping in the way of the Lord.

Where do you stand during this season of Lent? Need to step back? I do, otherwise I might just miss out on Easter! I’m grateful, however, that the psalmist offers a new perspective. It is one that leads us away from worldly distractions and brings us to a place full of joy and blessings as we worship the Lord God Almighty.

Prayer

Dear God, I yearn to worship in your courts and seek your blessings. Help me to realize that I often become distracted and need your help to set me on the right path. Guide me as I prepare for the coming celebration that is the death and resurrection of your Son, the living Christ! Amen.

Written by Ken Walker, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 4:1–26

Reflection

I’ve always been impressed by the Samaritan woman in this story because she holds her own in a conversation with Jesus. She starts out a little sassy, responding to Jesus’ request for water by calling him out: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). The woman is astonished that Jesus, a Jew, asks her for water, especially without a bucket or any means of drawing the water out of the well. Despite Jesus being tired and probably thirsty from his journey, he isn’t actually asking for a drink of water. Jesus wants to open up a conversation with this woman.

When answering her question, Jesus brings up living water, which immediately intrigues the woman. She takes the living water in the literal sense and asks for the water from Jesus, so that she won’t be thirsty anymore and will no longer have to use the well to draw her water.

Jesus then asks the woman to go get her husband, and come back when she has him. Her response takes me by surprise. She tells the truth. She tells Jesus she doesn’t have a husband. A lesser person might lie and bring a random man from her town and say he is her husband just to get more information about the living water. But thankfully she tells the truth because Jesus already knows that she has had five husbands and is currently living with a man to whom she is not married.

The story ends with a big reveal—Jesus is the Messiah, the one who can offer the woman eternal life. I like that Jesus reveals his identity to this random woman of a different background, knowing that she will help spread his message.

Prayer

Loving God, teach me to show kindness to others, regardless of their status or situation. Show me the living water, so I may never thirst again. Amen.

Written by Megan Eddy, Editorial Assistant

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 121

Reflection

This passage reminds me of a time when I joined many Americans as an unemployed worker and was uncertain of myself and my future.

I remember calling a dear friend and telling her my employment was nearing the end. Without hesitation, she invited me over. I left my home with only keys and cab fare. Upon arriving at her home, she hugged me, fed me, shared the comfort of her family, and insisted I stay the night. When I woke in the morning, the clothes I wore were washed and folded; we enjoyed a healthy breakfast and ventured out for a bright day.

I remember bumping into a pastor on the street. He noticed it was out of place for me to be casually dressed in the city in the middle of a workday. When I explained my circumstance, he embraced me and offered prayer and help.

I remember reaching out to family, friends, former bosses and coworkers, and acquaintances of acquaintances. I reached out to people I knew. God introduced help from those I didn’t know. I am grateful to all for encouraging words, guidance, friendship, and prayer.

After I announced my new employment, one of my father’s friends wrote to me, “God has you right where he wants you.” God does indeed.

The Lord carefully placed his servants and circumstances in my path as I navigated my journey.

Where does my help come from? It comes from the Lord. He makes himself present every day and at all times. Thank you, Lord, for your omnipresent watch over me. Thank you, Lord, for gracing me with friendship and joy. Thank you, Lord, for preparing my heart to receive your help. Thank you, Lord, for your servants. I love you.

Prayer

I want Jesus to walk with me. All along my pilgrim journey. In my troubles, Lord walk with me. When my life becomes a burden, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me. Amen.
(from the African American spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”)

Reflection written by Rebecca Nilsson, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 4:46–54

Reflection

Jesus’ reply to the royal official who is asking for help is interesting: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Jesus’ words cut deep. He is examining the hearts of those around him and telling them their beliefs are shallow. They are simply believing what is right in front of them.

As I meditated on this story and thought about Lent, I realized this is similar to what God is asking me to do in this Lenten season. So often my beliefs are stuck to what is directly in front of me, and therefore my faith is feeble and fickle. This is why during Lent we fast from particular things or add new practices to our routines, in order that God through the Holy Spirit will help us to examine our hearts. That God will help us to see past the problems and anxieties directly in front of us and instead direct our eyes to him the “author and perfector of our faith.”

Interestingly, as the story continues, Jesus tells the royal official to “go, your son will live.” The man takes Jesus at his word and goes. Upon his arrival home he finds that Jesus was true to his words and his son is healed.

Friends, today, as we walk through this season of Lent together, let’s us draw near to God that our hearts may be examined, not to be condemned by God, but rather to be set free from our tendency to stare only at the problems in front of us. As Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest” (CEB).

Prayer

Loving Father, today, by your Holy Spirit, please examine my heart. Turn my stuck eyes away from my anxieties and toward you. Help me to believe that you are a giver of rest. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 57

Reflection

Have you ever experienced a time when you felt as if the world was out to get you? Perhaps you were blamed for a situation you could not control, or maybe despite your goodwill and actions, you were repaid with the sting of others’ animosity.

Today’s passage echoes this theme and the story of David and King Saul. David was a loyal assistant to King Saul, but when the king discovered that the people favored David, Saul was filled with jealousy and made multiple attempts to kill David.

Our psalmist, drawing on this ancient story, might well imagine David, in the midst of danger, speaking to God: David has no doubt God’s glory will help him overcome his earthly enemies. In the shadow of God’s wings he will take cover; God is his safe harbor amidst a turbulent world. He ends his prayer with praise and thanksgiving: he trusts that God will “fulfill his purpose” for him.

In his Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The Psalms . . . express the same delight in God which made David dance. . . . [The psalmists] express a longing for him, for his mere presence.”

When it seems as though we are utterly alone and others have turned their backs on us, our emptiness is a sign that we belong to God—the one who brings us peace that cannot be matched.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, you are my refuge and my strength. Help me find courage in the midst of adversity, and strength when I am weak. Even when I’m surrounded by hostility and negativity, I can always count on you to bring me peace and calm. Help me to trust in your vision for my life, and awaken my soul so that I may find joy in praising your name. Glory to you, for your steadfast love is as high as the heavens. Amen.

Written by Erin Strybis, Associate Director of Development Communications

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 105:1–8

Reflection

At Fourth Presbyterian Church we enter the Lenten season with a grand new facility, the Gratz Center. It is capable of serving our community with new services. We have a church campus that can provide an inspirational church home to almost double our current membership. We have just elected one third of our officer team. They will join our current officers, each with their own vision to add to our success. We have a spectacular staff with education, insight, and energy to move the church. And not too far down the road, we will call a new pastor to guide and inspire our congregation. So “Here We Go!” Right? Well maybe.

Our city is locked in a cycle of violence that we can’t seem to break. Our state, a financial disaster, can’t even find a place to begin to talk. Our national government, facing a major opportunity to address fiscal policy and the future direction of our country, can’t seem to foster any common ground. Major challenges of public safety, social justice, and the environment elicit extreme retort, not discussion.

Psalm 105 reminds us that God has done wonderful works, provided sound judgments, and even miracles for his people and that God has always been with us. Let’s find strength and focus with this psalm to move forward. Go forth!

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for the magnificent gifts we enjoy. Help me to find direction and strength and join others to help do more wonderful works for you. Amen.

Written by Gerald Bloomer, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, March 1, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 6:1–14

Reflection

The miracle of the loaves and fishes is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels and for me is a story about trusting in God’s abundance and about faith in miracles.

The large crowd that followed Jesus already had some evidence that he was special and could do extraordinary things. Did any of the 5,000 assembled bring snacks for the outing, or were they so eager to follow Jesus that they arrived unprepared? As a Girl Scout who gets hungry quickly, I always come prepared with snacks. Could I have relied on God and my community to lead me to my next source of food?

Our faith community and others provide meals to share God’s gifts with those in need. In this story, Jesus provides plentiful food for many from very little (barley loaves were food of the poor). I’m reminded that my challenges are too big to solve alone. Even when I am fearful that my needs won’t be met, God’s help is always there for me. My part is to rely on the love and support of God and others and to trust that God will find a way just as Jesus did here.

God is my power source. I don’t need to understand where the power comes from or how the miracles are made. I just need to plug into my power source and witness the light turning on in my life and shining out into the world.

Prayer

God, I am grateful for your abundance, your miracles (big and small) and especially for the gift of your Son, Jesus. Remind me to trust that Jesus’ prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” is a promise of your blessings if I will only ask. Amen.

Written by Robin Moncrieff, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 31:1–5

Reflection

At first, I thought these verses reflected only the writer’s request that God keep the writer on a path of righteousness and provide shelter and protection from the writer’s own actions as well as the “traps” others may lay for him. It’s an understandable request, one I suspect all of us have made at one time or another. Going back over it, however, I found that the third verse put it all in perspective.

The writer is not asking for these things to serve his own interests. Rather, the writer is asking “for the sake of your name”—i.e., his request is motivated by a desire to serve God’s ends. That is, of course, what all of us aspire to do, but I wonder if the writer overlooks the possibility that God, I believe, sometimes has us serve his ends by allowing us to act in ways that bring us shame or fall into others’ traps. It is said that you learn more from a loss than a victory, and I think God sometimes allows us to falter in order to deepen our (and others’) understanding of his lessons. It is important to keep that aspect of God’s teaching in mind so that when things turn south on us, whether by our own hand or that of another, we can find some comfort in knowing that God is with us even in difficult times.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, help me to avoid self-inflicted wounds and the traps others may lay, and in difficult times, help me to remember that being in your service sometimes also involves trials I would prefer to avoid but that there are valuable lessons in those trials for me and for others. In your name I pray. Amen.

Written by Joe Jeffery, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 6:16–21

Reflection

We all know what it means when we say something like, “Oh, she can walk on water!” It means the person to whom we are referring can do anything—or thinks she or he can do anything. Sometimes when we use the phrase, there’s a tone betraying a little jealousy or derision or sarcasm. People who seem to be able to do anything tend to make us uncomfortable and wary. We distance ourselves from them in our own ways.

The disciples have rowed out about three or four miles in the dark. The seas become rough. The wind kicks it up another notch. And then they see Jesus walking toward them on the water. They are terrified. I assume they are terrified in the storm, but perhaps they are also terrified at the sight of Jesus walking on the water. Maybe they are even terrified for Jesus—for his safety. “They saw him walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.” He assures them and says, “It is I, do not be afraid.” Following that statement, there is a detail I’ve never noticed before. “Then they wanted to take him into the boat.”

So maybe the questions for us are: Do we want to take Jesus into the boat with us? On both smooth seas and rough? Are we ever “terrified” for Jesus’ safety? Do we find ways to have compassion or care for that person who appears to be so confident and able to do everything?

Prayer

Dear Jesus, make me want to take you into the boat with me. Don’t allow me to keep you at a distance. And remind me that even the most confident of people have deep need—for human kindness and for you. Amen.

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

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 29

Reflection

I love thunderstorms . . . the kind of thunderstorms where thunder booms and reverberates, jagged streaks of lightning make the air sizzle, and rain pounds the earth in sheets. I watch these displays with awe and wonder. Like the writer of the psalm, I am humbled. Thunderstorms are opera with God as the only voice. “The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is majestic,” says the psalmist. We are dumbstruck at the power of weather, of wind, rain, and snow. Storms can indeed “shake the wilderness” or even bury traffic on Lake Shore Drive in feet of snow. Recently, friends of mine lost their New Jersey home to Hurricane Sandy—everything gone: no foundation, no house, nothing left. Yet miles away as they searched the beach, they found a porcelain bowl that had been given to them as a wedding present. The bowl was unbroken.

In the midst of these displays of fury and tempest, the psalmist promises that “the Lord will bless his people with peace.”

Prayer

Dear Lord, I see your hand in the power of nature and I am humbled. Let me praise and give you glory all the days of my life. Amen.

Written by Sara Pfaff, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 6:22–40

Reflection

A couple of years ago, a palliative nurse recorded the deepest regrets expressed to her by her dying patients. Every man she attended to told her that he wished he hadn’t worked so hard, wished that he hadn’t missed out on relationships and experiences as a result.

In today’s scripture, the crowd from Tiberius is putting a lot of effort into following Jesus. They see him as the source of manna from heaven, just as their ancestors saw Moses in that light. They think they are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep the good stuff coming, but they really are not. Jesus tells them, “Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

Sure, OK. But what do they need to do? The answer is simple, yet it could not be harder.

I can understand the crowd’s skepticism about the answer when I think about my copper-mining ancestors and how they lived. For them, life was hard work, then they died, and that was that. Judging by modern-day deathbed revelations, we’re still hard-wired that way, with the added burden of regret.

Here I thought that I was beyond all that. My incentives for working are as comfort-driven as being able to buy a new car and as munificent as being able to support the mission outreach of my church. That’s a pretty good life, and isn’t that enough?

And yet there is only one responsibility of lasting importance, which is to believe in him whom God has sent:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Prayer

God, I thank you for all blessings. I pray for strength to receive them with grace and for faith to share them with joy—in short: a life without regret. Amen.

Written by Joe Pixler, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 9:1–15

Reflection

This story from John’s gospel leaves me with so many questions. How can we explain how Jesus healed the man, born blind? How could Jesus describe the man’s blindness as a means for revealing God’s works? What is the significance of the name of the pool of Siloam?

I have to remind myself not to get overly caught up in the examination of details. In the end this story matters because a man was given his sight when it seemed he was beyond help. The divine Jesus spits on the ground, reaches down into the dirt to make mud, and spreads the mud on the blind man’s eyes. It is an earthy, dirty, intimate act. Without the mess of Jesus’ saving action, the questions about all the details wouldn’t burn so deeply in my heart, would they?

Martin Buber taught us that if we truly meet another person as we ought, the other person “fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.” This Lenten fast is not about achieving the proper mental understanding of Jesus. Lent is about having a genuine, messy encounter with the Jesus Christ who makes a blind man see—meeting him and wrestling with him in the dirt and the spit of the world and setting aside, for the moment at least, all the other questions and simply living in the light of Christ.

Prayer

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light. Amen.
(from the ancient Irish poem “Be Thou My Vision”)

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

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 42

Reflection

When you think of the past, do you imagine that life was less stressful compared to taxing situations that you’re facing—or we’re facing as a community—today? While this may seem to be so, today’s text—an ancient lament—expresses a deep and common distress over the human condition that ties us, as people of God, to those who have come before us. The similarities are undeniable: we still face unknown enemies, oppression, and feelings of being overwhelmed. And sometimes these feelings cause me to feel angry at God.

Psalm 42 gives us a refreshing example of how to mitigate anger and frustration and develop the kind of authentic, argumentative relationship with God that I find so enviable in the Hebrew Bible. Notice that every complaint registered by the psalmist is followed by an upward glance—expressing hope in God’s compassion and willingness to step in and change the situation. When the psalmist asks, “Why are you cast down my soul?” he answers, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.”

Bernhard Anderson, writing in Out of the Depths, encourages us to read the lament psalms as “expressions of praise, offered in a minor key in the confidence that Yhwh is faithful, and in anticipation of a new lease on life.” In the ancient world, people were subject to the forces of the universe; we too face unpredictable storms, destructive winds, and raging waters. In the midst of both physical and psychological turmoil, we too “thirst for God.” Psalm 42 suggests a way to engage with “the living God.” It challenges us to be up to the life to which God call us—to face our enemies, our fears, our frustrations—while “praising my help and my God.”

Prayer

My soul longs for you, God. Bless me with your steadfast love. Let your song be with me day and night as I call upon your name. Quench my thirst for you by renewing and strengthening my relationship with you so that I might praise you in the face of adversaries and adversity. Amen.

Written by Beth Truett, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 9:18–41

Reflection

Jesus miraculously heals a man of his blindness only to have the man subjected to hostile interrogation by the Pharisees who refuse to accept that he can see and who then seek to undermine the miracle itself by discrediting Jesus. With the logic found only in simple truth, the once blind man retorts that all he knows is that once he was blind but now he can see. Such a miracle, he claims, can only be a blessing from God and thus this Jesus who has the power to restore sight to the blind can only be a man of God. Furious, the Pharisees throw out the man from their midst.

In a later encounter with Jesus the once blind man not only sees Jesus with his physical eyes but through the eyes of faith recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and worships him. Jesus declares with irony that his ministry restores sight to the blind and blindness to those who claim to see. Claiming the power to know righteousness when they “see” it, the Pharisees catch the implication and respond with astonishment, “What? Are we blind too?”

From this passage we are reminded of important truths. We need to “see” the reality of miracles that happen right in front of us each and every day. God is busy in the world setting things right and making all things new. Furthermore it is with “the eyes of faith” that we see all good things and worship the Messiah through whom miracles flow into our lives and the world. If we believe, we know this Jesus as our Messiah who came “to restore sight to the blind.”

Prayer

Restore my eyes that I may see your miraculous power at work in me and our world. Help me to see the glory of your presence in the miracles around me. Grant me “eyes of faith” that I may worship you as the Messiah, our Lord and Savior, our God from whom all miracles flow. Amen.

Written by Michael DeVries, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 34

Reflection

Psalm 34 is set into context by the opening footnote, which says, “Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.” That story, told in 1 Samuel 21, reveals David as a man who used deceit to preserve his own safety. What a contrast to read his words in Psalm 34, which point us to trusting in the Lord, crying out to the Lord in times of trouble, and being able to count on God for deliverance.

While David knows in his heart that God is faithful, that God will protect him, David seems to find it hard to resist acting on his own behalf to assure the outcome he wants. As I look at my own inclinations, I find that too often I am like David, unable to “let go and let God,” and instead want to micromanage to achieve the outcome I think will be best.

In this psalm, David reminds us—and himself, I think—of what we miss when we rely upon ourselves instead of our God. If we are willing to taste and see, God will be present for us in every situation. When we are brokenhearted, God will be close. God’s holy people will lack nothing, and the Lord’s ears will be attentive to our cry.

This psalm invites us to be in a relationship with God and to experience the security, the comfort, and the joy that comes when we seek the Lord. It is encouraging to me that as beautifully as David could describe God’s faithfulness that David too was inclined to try to manage things on his own. It reminds me that I, too, have much more to learn about taking refuge in God.

Prayer

Help me learn to stop, to listen, to wait, before I try to solve the challenges that come before me. Help me to know the comfort and peace that comes from counting upon you, Lord, to walk with me in my joys and sorrows. Amen.

Written by Kathi Bates, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 10:1–18

Reflection

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Martin Luther’s reframing of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” to mean that we are actually to help provide for the bodily needs of our neighbors, to enrich life for others, resonates for me. While in seminary, I was similarly drawn to liberation theology, specifically by the Medellin Document and its speaking of God’s saving act as the liberation of the whole human being—not only in a spiritual sense, but in the socioeconomic, physical, and psychological realities of human existence.

As we reflect on Lent, our eyes sometimes focus on the theatrics of Good Friday—the violence, the innocence, the betrayal, the state-imposed death penalty on a cross, the gruesome death of Jesus, and the dashing of the disciples’ hopes. Yet it is Jesus, the one who will die, who says, “I have come that they may have life.” As retired professor Bruce Rigdon pointed out in a lecture on Orthodox Christianity here at Fourth Church, we might all be enriched if Lent had the focus of the Orthodox: Jesus journeys to Jerusalem not simply to die but to live again—for you and for me. In some mystical way, Jesus offers us new life as the Body of Christ, calls us to offer new life to the dying places of our world—for when we offer life to others, we have it to the full and therein lies our freedom.

Prayer

Fill us with the life of Jesus, that we may have life to the full. Fill us with the life of Jesus that we may offer life to all around us, that we may have life to the full. Fill us with the life of Jesus that we may offer life and be truly free. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 16

Reflection

We all have times when we don’t know where to turn. We struggle with choices and issues, large and small. David was no different. We know David’s story: he was a shepherd who killed a giant with his slingshot. He was a musician who became the close friend of the king’s son. And, ultimately, he was a man of God who became the king of his people. He made some wise decisions, and he made some terrible ones.

We don’t know where David was in his journey when he wrote this psalm. But wherever he was, his words show us the way to live a life in which we can experience “the fullness of joy” and “pleasures for evermore.” Like David, we can take refuge in God’s love for us and trust in his guidance. This was God’s promise to David, and it is his promise to us: that he will be our guide and will show us the path of life. And whether that path is easy or rough, God will be with us. His presence will be our security and consolation.

What a comfort to have such a guide in life. We are faced with decisions every day. Sometimes we are perplexed by the choices placed in our way. But, like David, we are not alone. God will be our guide. He will protect us and lead us. We just need to trust and listen.

Prayer

God, as I journey through this Lenten season, remind me of your presence and guidance. Strengthen my faith, and help me to place my trust in you to be my guide.

Written by Juli Crabtree, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 11:1–27

Reflection

There’s a moment each morning, in the darkness, when I wake up to my iPhone buzzing and realize that it’s time to begin another day. I’d like to think most days I wake up feeling grateful for more time on this earth, but sometimes I wake up and just feel tired.

Lately, everyday-living feels like a rat race:

Hit the gym. Head to work. Tend to emails. Put in work. Take a lunch. Take a call. Hold a meeting. Leave the office. Make dinner. Clean the dishes. Clean the house. Go to bed.

I’m awake but I’m not fully living.

Although today’s passage focuses on God’s promise to raise Lazarus from the dead, what really stuck with me was his response to the disciples when they questioned his decision to go back to Judea. Jesus said, “Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.”

When I’m awash in worry and stress, I’m pretty prone to stumble. Self-centered living is living in darkness. Christ-centered living is living in the light.

Jesus wanted his disciples, and wants us, to live in the light.

When I put my faith in him, life is anything but exhausting. It is energizing, it is joyous:

Give thanks. Give your all. Break bread. Stop and breathe. Say a prayer. Love your neighbor. Love your family. Praise God. Trust in God.

Prayer

Father in heaven, wake me up to your light, the wonder of your world. Help me reorient my living so I might find joy in each and every moment in this world. Amen.

Written by Erin Strybis, Associate Director of Development Communications

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 11:28–44

Reflection

It wasn’t always a good thing to be featured in one of Jesus’ object lessons. I’m sure that Lazarus and Mary might have chosen a different way for Jesus to make his point. But then again, Lazarus ended up with a whopper of a story to tell at dinner parties.

Can you imagine what life after death must have been like for Lazarus? Do you think he lived differently after he was brought back from the dead? Do you think his priorities changed? Do you think he viewed the world with different eyes? Do you think he ever stopped talking about what God did for him through Jesus?

A spiritual reading of John’s story of Jesus suggests that through faith we all die to our former selves and are reborn anew. What is life after death like for us? Has our encounter with Christ changed our lives as drastically as it happened with Lazarus? Are we different people? Are we as inspired to share our story as Lazarus must have been?

Prayer

Gracious God, as you lead me from death to life, give me courage to share my story with others and participate in your transformation of the whole world. Amen.

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

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 19

Reflection

Here is a reminder that the world we live in, all that we experience, proclaims the glory of God. From majestic views of natural wonders to a thin shard of light streaming in thorough a window and brightening a loved one’s cheek, I am constantly in awe of the never-ending magnificence of this world that God has made for us. With light and beauty, God speaks to us, wordlessly, revealing his love for us. As someone with a strong interest in the arts, I know myself to be a “visual” person and have always felt that what we take in with our eyes can speak volumes. From the smallest particle to the vastness of space we can see, and hear, God’s voice stretching to the ends of the world.

This psalm of David goes on to call us to follow the word of the Lord, to remain faithful and true, and to ask forgiveness for our hidden faults. I love that idea of praying for forgiveness for transgressions that I cannot discern within myself.

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for the beauty of your creation, for revealing your love for me through light, color, shade, form, and beauty in the vastness and exquisite detail of your creation. May your word speak to me thorough my eyes, and may the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight. Amen.

Written by John Shorney, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 23

Reflection

If there’s any scripture that I would keep close at hand—in my survival kit—it’s this Psalm 23. Until I explored it more deeply through the process of writing this devotion, it scared me a little bit, with that dark part about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet in search of the meaning for me, I discovered it to be a powerful statement of faith. Perhaps the essence of what it means to believe.

So often, our faith is challenged, or so we perceive it this way. When things don’t go our way, we question God’s commitment to us. Why? Why me? Why is it this way? Will it ever change? Are things just going to get worse? It’s easy to get lost, to lose our way. And at times we lose our faith altogether.

What brings us back? What restores our souls?

The joy of this psalm is the enduring presence of the Shepherd—in life and in death. I’ve always believed that it is impossible for humans to exist alone, that we need a presence to be human, complete. It’s the essence of being human. As we stray from our faith, cast in shadows of doubt and fear—sometimes to the depths of that dark valley—it is the need for that presence. To want. To find the path back to verdant pastures beside still waters. He is always there with rod and staff—the protector, the redeemer, the good shepherd, bringing clarity to our suffering. Restored. Renewed. Prepared for anything. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Prayer

Lord, my shepherd, thank you for being ever present, for leading me back when I stray, for walking beside me through dark valleys, for protecting me, for providing for me in abundance that I sometimes fail to see, for preparing a place for me in your house. In the name of the good shepherd, who gave his life for the sheep. Amen.

Written by Christopher Gentry, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, March 16, 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 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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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 12:1–8

Reflection

This passage contains one of the most challenging statements that Jesus ever made—fitting, I suppose, for this challenging season of Lent. In response to Judas’ criticism that the oil that Mary used to anoint his feet should have been sold and given to the poor, Jesus responds by saying, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” It is not certainly the answer we would expect Jesus to offer, or the one that most of us are comfortable with. I’d imagine Deuteronomy 15:11 better fits our understanding: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you to open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” A wider look at Jesus’ teachings (Luke 4:16–21, 6:20–21; Matthew 5:42, 19:20, 25:31–46) also shows a clear and consistent assertion that we are to care for the poor. So what is going on here?

There is certainly an aspect of foreshadowing in the anointing of Jesus with oil—his subsequent journey into Jerusalem suddenly becomes a clear trajectory towards his death. But still the gnawing question of Judas remains: “Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor?” The answer, for me at least, is the same reason we gather in church each Sunday rather than going out into the world in service. We cannot give of ourselves constantly without being renewed in spirit, without returning our thanks and praise to the God who made us and cares for us. We are chopping the Golden Rule in half if we love our neighbor as ourselves but do not show love for God as well. This act of Mary does not preclude generosity to others: it is a celebration of generosity itself.

Prayer

Dear God, help me to live my life generously—for it is from you that all generosity comes. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 63:1–8

Reflection

I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Florence, Italy, in the fall of my senior year of college, and it was the best experience of my life. One of my favorite things about living in Florence and traveling around Europe was the chance to view so many amazing churches. I found many of them to be left open for anyone to wander into and have their moment of solace.

Entering those sacred spaces was something I will never forget. “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory”—when I read this verse in Psalm 63, I was immediately transported back to the churches in Italy, sitting in a pew in awe of God’s glory. I feel grateful that Fourth Presbyterian Church is able to leave their doors open to the many visitors of Chicago, creating a home for so many. It allows people to experience that “power and glory” whenever they may need it.

Life comes into play though, and true Christian experiences are not about that perfect setting. As verse 6 says “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” My walk with Christ comes into play at all times of the day, in every moment. In moments when extreme patience is required, in moments of total joy, in moments of deep peace. God’s glory is to be felt and shared in every opportunity and in every situation.

Prayer

Dear Lord, help me to seek you in all ways, at all times, and in all walks of life. May I come to fully understand that your love has no boundaries and is present and available to all who seek it. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 66

Reflection

The psalmist encourages us, and all the earth, to shout joyfully to God, to give God praise, and to sing to the glory of God’s name. But what’s all the shouting about? One reason to praise God is because “truly God has listened; God has given heed to the words of my prayer.” How has God given heed to the words of your prayers?

In his recent book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Fr. Richard Rohr describes prayer this way:

“Prayer is not about changing God but being willing to let God change us, or as Step 11 says, ‘Praying only for the knowledge of his will.’ Jesus goes so far as to say that true prayer is always answered (Matthew 7:7–11). Now we all know that is not factually true—unless he is talking about prayer in the sense that I am trying to describe it. If you are able to switch minds to the mind of Christ, your prayer has already been answered! That new mind knows, understands, accepts, and sees correctly, widely, and wisely. Its prayers are always answered because they are, in fact, the prayers of God, too. True prayer is always about getting the ‘who’ right. Who is doing the praying? You or God in you? . . . Basically prayer is an exercise in divine participation—you opting in and God is always there!” (pp. 96–97)

Take a moment to recall ways God has changed you to “have the mind of Christ.” Write them down, let them inspire your praise, and sing and shout to God about them!

Prayer

Thank you, God, for listening to my prayers and transforming my heart to conform to your will. Strengthen my resolve to praise and obey you in all things. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 12:20–26

Reflection

When Jesus receives the request from the Greeks who want to see him, he first stays with his disciples for a moment longer— those followers who have seen Jesus exhausted by the throngs of people who, everywhere he goes, crowd around him, hoping to be healed, fed, taught, and touched by him and who can never get enough of him—and says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Trying to save the people he encountered every day along his way, Jesus must have faced the impotence to be everywhere at one time, to bring healing to every disease, to ease every pain, to save every soul.

As Jesus approached the end for which he has lived, he begins to prepare his disciples for it. His death, he wants them to know, will bear much fruit. More precisely, his death will bear much more fruit than his physical life ever could; no longer bound by the laws of nature, he would be raised and glorified by his Father in heaven, and with his Father he would be able to “draw all people” to himself.

There are lessons for us to learn from Jesus, not only about what he did and taught while living a physical life, but also about what he taught in preparation for his death and departure from us. Jesus had to die because by dying he could be raised and by being raised he could draw all people to himself. For us and for everyone who, like us, weren’t around two thousand years ago when Jesus walked the earth, this is good news.

Prayer

Lord, help me to learn the lessons that you taught not only about the purpose of your life, but also about the purpose of your death. For the sake of your love for all, I pray. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 33

Reflection

I was surprised to learn that the quote “God helps those who help themselves” is not found in the Bible. So it comes as a relief to me, a person of flaws and insecurities, to know that God is not a weapon-wielding, guilt-dispensing stern-disciplinarian, lecturing us and demanding we “suck it up” and “move on!” God comes to us with love and gives us not necessarily what we want but the help we need.

Prayer

Dear God, when I am at my lowest and most vulnerable is when I am most reluctant to ask for your help. Due to my own folly at what I may have brought upon myself, grant me the faith to know you want to help me. And despite the fact, Lord, you want me to learn from my own mistakes, you will not abandon me but will stay with me and show me how to grow. Thank you for promising to be with me. I welcome your help today and every day. Amen.

Written by Louis K. Houkal Jr., member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 90

Reflection

Most of us spend our days constantly seeking and striving, living in a world and in a time that places high value on self-reliance and material measures of success. Ours is a society and a culture that makes it difficult to find the quiet space needed to give ourselves fully to our relationship with God. So now and then we need a bit of a reminder, like Psalm 90.

Life can go by all too quickly as we relentlessly pursue achievement or search for fulfillment. And so Psalm 90—and the great hymn reflecting it, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”—also reminds us that it is only in accepting that life is ephemeral and that only God, who is “from everlasting to everlasting,” is not that we can find release from our fears. Now that doesn’t mean that we simply throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders, and just leave it to God to figure out life for us, but as the psalmist wrote, “prosper for us the work of our hands” for what we do with the time we have does having meaning and purpose.

Are we in some way diminished by acknowledging our fears and our frailty and giving whatever time we have over to God’s purpose? What could be frailer than a child born in a stable or more fearful than facing the cross? Giving in to God’s purpose is not about being limited in how we go through life. It’s not about knowing our limits or being limited by our circumstances, because what we can know is that there is no limit to God’s grace. God has shown us in the most striking way: God’s perfectly, yet so humanly, revealed love, Jesus Christ.

Prayer

God of this and all ages, you alone are everlasting to everlasting. I entrust my time and my vulnerabilities to you, secure in knowing that my present is yours as well. Be with me and profit the work of my hands that they may work to the purpose you have for me. Amen.

Written by Ken Ohr, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 12:27–36

Reflection

It should have been obvious, shouldn’t it? Who this Son of Man was. The presence of the light. The benefit of embracing light over darkness.

Or so it seems to us, as we read John’s Gospel. From its opening verses, John points us to the light. Who is this Jesus? He is the one who “was the light of all people,” the one who was in the beginning with God, when God separated the light from the darkness. It’s all laid out in front of us.

But when realization does not meet expectation, it can be easy to miss. The crowd that had gathered around Jesus expected a Messiah who would remain forever, not one who would suffer death. They did not see what they were looking for.

In my childhood bedroom, one of the ceiling fixtures was fitted with a single 40-watt bulb. When I would come upstairs on a rainy day or in early evening, the light that bulb cast didn’t seem to be light at all. I was expecting something as bright as the lamps downstairs.

But this bulb was, in its own way, one of the brightest in the room. It was the light my parents turned on when they woke me up. Then, in the darkness of early morning, that light illuminated all that needed to be seen, gently awakening me to the newness of the day. And in that newness, with no expectations or comparison, I could see the light, and it shone brightly.

Prayer

Light of all, in my baptism you claimed me as your own, a child of light. Yet sometimes I miss the glimmers of your love shining in and around my life. Open my eyes to the many ways in which you are present to and for us, and guide me, that my life may always bear witness to your light among us. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 12:12–19

Reflection

Palm Sunday presents a challenge for Fourth Presbyterian Church. Our population of children and young families is growing. We want the church to be a hospitable and joyful place. And there are few things in the life of our worship that are more cute and fun than when the children of the church process down the aisle on Palm Sunday, waving their palm fronds as the congregation sings “O Glory, Laud, and Honor.”

The challenge is that this story inaugurates the most holy, frightening, and lamentable week in the life of the church. Holy Week is a time each year when we remember that Christ goes before us to the cross because we have failed to follow God’s commands. Jesus was slain because we were not ready for his message of justice, freedom, and peace. The people who laid palms at his feet, and our repetition of that exercise, is largely a reminder that those who celebrated him on Sunday would desert him by Friday in his hour of greatest need.

There is a place where these two seemingly contradictory stories come together. Parents should want their children to be in a place that does not disregard the needs of the world, does not ignore human pain and suffering, and is honest about the ways we fall short of God’s will for our lives. As we celebrate today, let us remember that we are entering a week during which we are called to examine our own lives and to remember the story of Christ’s sacrifice. Let us not move too quickly to Easter Sunday, so that when it finally arrives, we will have taken a close enough look at Christ’s death to remember why resurrection is the thing in life most worth celebrating.

Prayer

God, may this week be an important one for me. May I listen attentively to the story of Jesus Christ, my Savior, and understand more fully the gift of his life, death, and resurrection. Amen.

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

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 13:31–35

Reflection

When I was very young I believed I could fly high into the air. I would sneak into our backyard, jump on top of the roof of our garage, and with a mighty leap soar into the sky. I can easily recall the feeling of flying over the trees and houses, hundreds of feet in the air, with only my arms outstretched to guide me along. I loved every moment, but would eventually return if I thought I had been gone for too long. I suppose it was the welcoming embrace of my parents that brought me back to earth each time I decided to fly away; otherwise I could have flown anywhere my heart desired.

Someday we will all fly away into the welcoming arms of God, who loves each one of us with an absolute and overwhelming love. Jesus could accept death even on the cross knowing that God loved him so much that God had prepared a place for him in heaven. So it is for each of us, God has prepared a place in heaven for everyone, and we can be confident that the love of God transcends and transforms all that we know here on earth.

Believing that God has prepared a place for everyone in heaven, how then can we not treat each other as children of God, created of light and always belonging to that light no matter when or where we are? In his final days on earth Jesus urged us to “love one another just as I have loved you.” The love that surrounded me growing up caused me to return home when I flew away, but the love of God changes me and those around me every day. Someday we will all let go of this earthly realm and the love of God will bring us home.

Prayer

O love, that will not let me go, let me love with the same love that holds me. Let that love be my light to carry me home. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 14:15–31

Reflection

Sometimes I wish that Christianity was just a matter of belief. It would be so much easier to think that I was a good Christian because of what I believe. But there is a sad truth about belief, wonderfully expressed by theologian Martin Borg: “You can believe all the right things and still be a jerk.”

He did not address that to me, personally, but he could have.

This chapter of John begins with simple statement about belief: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” That is one short list of things to believe. Even I can handle that. But you can believe the right things and still be a jerk.

Belief is easy; committed action is often difficult. Jesus taught us how to act toward each other, and for all the times he could be impatient or snarky or angry, he always came back to the principles of kindness and compassion, which is the essence of love for one another.

Christianity is a doing faith, a faith of practice, and in that practice is the practical expression of the love of God. Love is a difficult practice, and being a jerk is easy, so we get a guide, “the Spirit of truth,” to remind us that Jesus called us to the path of love, which is not the easy way. This week, Holy Week, it’s important to remember that the path of love is not the easy way. It leads to some pretty tough places.

If we love Jesus, we have work to do. And the Holy Spirit is sent to remind us to act, that keeping the commandments of Jesus means to show love, practice kindness, and cultivate compassion.

And that it’s best to avoid being a jerk.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your Spirit that reminds us that love is an action. Let my life be an active demonstration of your love in the world. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 15:1–11

Reflection

I struggle with gossip. Many people at work let me know that my running mouth is often not a helpful tool but rather can be quite destructive. When coworkers remind me of this, it hurts, exposing again that my sin is destroying myself and others. It leads me down a path of shame and condemnation. Yet I am learning this shame and condemnation is not from God. Yes, God hates my sin, and yes, God wants me to be free from it; but the truth and amazing news about Holy Week is that God loves me so much that he sent his Son, the true vine, to save me from my destructive ways.

In my heart, I have at times believed that my struggle with gossiping is a testimony that I am unworthy to receive God’s love and as a result my sin was driving me away from God. It was alienating me. The Bible teaches the opposite, as John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:8, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” What healing truth, that by acknowledging my sin and repenting it is evidence that God loves me and is doing a good work in me.

Today, we are in the midst of Holy Week, and God, our good Vine Keeper, wants to remind us that God loves us and cares for us and is not alarmed or afraid of our sin, but God does want to save us from it and that is why he sent his Son, the true vine.

Friends join me today in knowing this truth: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (NIV). May this truth bulwark our hearts that we may abide in the arms of our good God.

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for loving me in spite of my own condemnation and shame. Thank you for sending your Son into the world to save me. Help me to abide with you today. Amen.

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

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Maundy Thursday, March 28, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 13:1–20

Reflection

Water is associated with all kinds of symbolic meanings in scripture: it has a cleansing quality and also harkens back to the watery chaos that God orders in the creation story as well as the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan, both of which are sites of crossing from one identity into another. Feet are also about journeys.

We are at the edge of Good Friday, having journeyed with Jesus over the Lenten period. Here, at what seems the end of all things, there is fear for the journey ahead: the disciples are anxious over the cryptic words of Jesus just as we are challenged by them today, even though we know what will happen. A fellowship, broken; friendships, betrayed. Violence, fear, and death will seem to have dominion over all things.

But Jesus still offers a command: wash one another’s feet. Nearing the end, but also another beginning, the Creator—who once knelt down in the creation story of Genesis to form a clay figure, a mixture of earth and water, blowing spirit into the earth creature, who had commanded “Let there be” and offer all things permission to exist in all their glorious possibility—now kneels down as Redeemer and issues a “Be of service to one another.” The scene of a knelt-down Creator and Redeemer who washes feet is intimate, and for me, it symbolizes the disciples’ baptism into the service of Jesus. In the midst of fear and death, serve. For service is nothing other than grace imparted at creation and new every morning, the grace in which our very hope clings to and which breaks down all the barriers between us and God, and between one another. Amen.

Prayer

Go out into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast to that which is good. Render to no one evil for evil. Strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honor all persons. Love and serve the Lord, remembering to rejoice always in the power of the Spirit.
Amen.
(traditional benediction)

Reflection written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Good Friday, March 29, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 19:16b–30

Text for this reflection: John 19:23–24

Reflection

After my father died, I found it terribly difficult to get rid of his clothes. I remember standing at his closet, staring at his clothes, remembering times when he wore a certain sport coat or tie. My dad was somewhat of a dapper dresser. His clothes had been important to him, and I suppose his love of clothes made the task of getting rid of those clothes even harder for me. I even remember one day, in the throes of grief, putting my nose up to one of his favorite sport coats, relishing in the scent of my dad that still remained.

The description of the soldiers, just having crucified Jesus, dividing his clothes, casting lots for his tunic, is a repugnant description. If you read the passage carefully you realize that Jesus was still alive when all of this was taking place. The soldiers’ actions speak to the fact that in order to have killed Jesus, they had to completely disconnect themselves from him and from the value of human life. I suspect they were also disconnected from themselves and from one another. We all know that this complete disconnection and disregard for human life has been repeated over and over again throughout history.

What happens next is Jesus issuing instruction, from the cross, to his closest loved ones—stay connected to one another. “Woman, here is your son?” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” As upsetting as the events of Good Friday are, the words of Jesus guide us. Care for one another. Stay connected. Love.

Prayer

Be with me, O God, on this Good Friday, as I experience again the remembrance of your agony. Make it clear to me how I might be like the soldiers. Reconnect me to myself, to you, and to the power of love. Sustain me through the darkness of Holy Saturday, as I wait for the hope of resurrection. Amen.

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

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Holy Saturday, March 30, 2013

Today’s Reading | Romans 6:3–8

Reflection

The promise of life eternal is one Christians have clung to for centuries. In times of tremendous oppression, suffering, and hardship, we place our hope in a future where justice prevails and the fullness of peace is complete and threatened no more. When I am wholly with Christ—at last with the one who gave his all for me—then I will be home, unceasing praise and joy in my cry of “Holy, holy, holy! Hosanna in the highest!”

Only one step left to take in this hopeful journey! Only one thing left to do before I am resurrected and rise to meet my Savior! What a day that will be when my burdens are let down and every tear wiped away.

Paul seems to say that my old self was crucified with Christ and is now gone. But how many times in my life have I had to turn and turn again, away from self-centered desires and schemes and toward my Lord? How often will I be made to endure a Holy Saturday with the grievous waiting that seems to never end? The pain of fear, loss, guilt, and doubt anchoring my spirit to a world which does not care?

Yet I cannot deny that as many times as I have been crushed under a heavy load, Christ has resurrected me. The new life I know in Christ is never without hope. Sacred death. Sacred waiting. Sacred life.

Holy, holy, holy! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Prayer

Holy One, the day after a death brings new desolation. But the testimony of millions is that with the dawn comes new hope. Help me to know that hope in my own heart and to share it boldly and generously with others in need. Amen.

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

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Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 20:1–18

Reflection

The long fast of Lent is over; we have journeyed through Holy Week; we have sung “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”; we have heard the Solemn Reproaches of the Cross on Good Friday, each one ending with the phrase “you have prepared a cross for your Savior,” and now, finally, we are able to celebrate the victory of life over death, of light over darkness, which is at the heart of the mystery that is Easter Day, the day of resurrection. Our hymn now is “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.”

Easter is what marks the very essence of the Christian faith. This person Jesus is not some ancient hippy wandering mystically about, telling people to be nice to each other and doing some healing. Jesus is the “one anointed” by God (in Greek, Christ) to be the agent for reconciling God’s people to God’s own self. That reconciliation takes place through the mystery of suffering, death and the great miracle of the resurrection, which proclaims the ultimate defeat of that which is the great divider between God’s people and God: death itself.

Love is at the heart of Easter—God’s love for you and me as it is incarnated in Jesus, the risen one, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit. Happy Easter!

Prayer

The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. Thanks be to God Amen.

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

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