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Daily devotions, written by the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church,
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July 1–5 | July 6–12 | July 13–19
July 20–26
| July 27–31

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 43:1–7   
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you,
     O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
     I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
     and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
     and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
     the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
     Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
     and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
     nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
     I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
     I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
     and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
     and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
     whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made.” (NRSV)

“I have called you by name, you are mine.” These are words with which I imagine God tucking us in at night. Words of protection and strength. Words of comfort that allow us to rest. No matter the rivers to cross and the flames to walk through, we can close our eyes and trust in this existential truth. No variable condition in life can shake it.

All we ultimately need to hear are these words each and every night of our lives.  

Build in me such a firm foundation of trust, O Lord, that every fear will be driven out of my life and I can rest each night knowing that I am yours. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Today’s Reading | Psalm 107       
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
     for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
     those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
     from the east and from the west,
     from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
     finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
     their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
     and he delivered them from their distress;
he led them by a straight way,
     until they reached an inhabited town.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
     for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he satisfies the thirsty,
     and the hungry he fills with good things.

Some sat in darkness and in gloom,
     prisoners in misery and in irons,
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
     and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor;
     they fell down, with no one to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
     and he saved them from their distress;
he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
     and broke their bonds asunder.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
     for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he shatters the doors of bronze,
     and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Some were sick through their sinful ways,
     and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
     and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
     and he saved them from their distress;
he sent out his word and healed them,
     and delivered them from destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
     for his wonderful works to humankind.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
     and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

Some went down to the sea in ships,
     doing business on the mighty waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord,
     his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
     which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
     their courage melted away in their calamity;
they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
     and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
     and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
     and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
     and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
     for his wonderful works to humankind.
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
     and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

He turns rivers into a desert,
     springs of water into thirsty ground,
a fruitful land into a salty waste,
     because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
He turns a desert into pools of water,
     a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry live,
     and they establish a town to live in;
they sow fields, and plant vineyards,
     and get a fruitful yield.
By his blessing they multiply greatly,
     and he does not let their cattle decrease.

When they are diminished and brought low
     through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
he pours contempt on princes
     and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
but he raises up the needy out of distress,
     and makes their families like flocks.
The upright see it and are glad;
     and all wickedness stops its mouth.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
     and consider the steadfast love of the Lord. (NRSV)

Before I got onto my bike to ride to work I checked the weather. Good, only a twenty percent chance of rain. As I carried my bike outside, it was beautiful but after a couple of minutes, up ahead, I saw large gray storm clouds and sheet of rain falling. It distressed me. Also, quietly looming in my heart was some regrets from the weekend. I knew I had treated a good friend poorly and I was feeling the ache of my sinfulness. And with each pedal closer to work, I knew voicemails, email, and notes on my desk would be in bunches to greet me. I also needed to write a devotional on Psalm 107 that was three days late.

As I rode my bike, I thought about Psalm 107. In preparing for my devotional I had read the Psalm that morning. I thought about how the people in the Psalm are rejoicing because God has redeemed them from their troubles. They called to the Lord in their distress and God delivered them.

As I pedaled, I decided instead of riding into storm clouds, the sins from the weekend, and the day full of work ahead; instead, I decided to ride into the arms of the God of Psalm 107. The God who hears my cry. The God who helps. The God who forgives. The God who loves me.

Dear God, thank you for your Word. Thank you that even though I am small and one of billions that you hear my cry and step into the distress. Please enter into my day today and turn my heart toward you that all day I will behold your beauty and worship you.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 49:16   
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. (NRSV)

Isaiah’s argument throughout chapter 49 is that God hasn’t forgotten Zion. Both in this portion of Isaiah and in the Book of Lamentations, there is a sense that Zion, God’s elect, cannot be comforted. In Lamentations the specific cry is “there is no one to comfort her” (Lamentations 1:17). This people, the chosen ones of Israel, had been invaded by enemies and had been close to complete destruction. The despair was enormous.

Whether we despair as a nation, or as a community of faith, or as a disciple of Jesus Christ, comfort comes from God’s proclamation: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” At one time, that promise was seen to be for one people only. Today still, there are some who see the promise meant as a reward—for right behavior or right belief or right words.  

I find comfort in imagining myself—perhaps my name or perhaps a likeness of my face—undeservedly inscribed on God’s hand. (Think face painting, such as college football fans with their team’s logo painted on a cheek or hand or wrist or arm, smiling and cheering in the stands. Perhaps God’s hand looks like that—full of colorful inscriptions. Can you see God waving that hand from the stands, pleased to hold the hand up so we can see?) 

But it’s not just my name or my face that is inscribed. There are so many others on that palm—more than I can imagine, many that I would not suspect would be there—and that gives me comfort too. 

Dear God, I’m thankful that your palms are big enough to hold so many inscriptions. Make me humble in that knowledge. Remind me that the promise is not just for me or for a few but for more people than I can imagine. Amen.

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

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Friday, July 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
     our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years,
     or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
     they are soon gone, and we fly away. (NRSV)

Living on the lake now, I’ve become a renewed fan of the glorious sunrise. I’ve watched a few sunrises in my years, but there has been a pathetic lapse until recently. I feel so blessed to again be able to see this outstanding phenomenon, so beautifully staged over the water, from the comfort of my living room each and every day. How amazing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Today’s Reading | Colossians 3:12–14
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (NRSV)

What I love most about this passage is that it encompasses my favorite characteristic of love, which is patience. In 1 Corinthians, love is described first as being patient. Love is understanding, love is forgiving, love is gentle, but when love is patient, it brings about the “peace of Christ” that “controls your heart,” which Paul later talks about in verse 15.

Sometimes we put too many expectations on love, overlooking what it means to do simple acts of daily kindness. Paul does a wonderful job of defining a holy person: “one who walks quietly on the earth in a God-like manner.”

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” Recently the Center for Life and Learning went on an overnight trip to Springfield, which I helped plan and accompany. On our way there, they placed us on the wrong bus, causing us to arrive three hours later than expected. I was so worried about the delay, but to my surprise, the overall reaction among the travelers was “It is out of your control, so there is no sense in worrying about it.” The understanding, forgiveness, and patience that were shown to me that day reflected Paul’s thoughts on being a Christian.

If we try to live our lives with this gentle and patient spirit, we will truly have the “peace of Christ.”

Lord I pray that every day you help me see how I can reflect your wonderful love in more kind ways, always being an example of what it means to be a humble, kind, and patient Christian. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Co-Director of the Center for Life and Learning

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Today’s Reading | Proverbs 15
A soft answer turns away wrath,
     but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,
     but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
     keeping watch on the evil and the good.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
     but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
A fool despises a parent’s instruction,
     but the one who heeds admonition is prudent.
In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,
     but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.
The lips of the wise spread knowledge;
     not so the minds of fools.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
     but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
     but he loves the one who pursues righteousness.
There is severe discipline for one who forsakes the way,
     but one who hates a rebuke will die.
Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord,
     how much more human hearts!
Scoffers do not like to be rebuked;
     they will not go to the wise.
A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance,
     but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.
The mind of one who has understanding seeks knowledge,
     but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
All the days of the poor are hard,
     but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
     than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is
     than a fatted ox and hatred with it.
Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife,
     but those who are slow to anger calm contention.
The way of the lazy is overgrown with thorns,
     but the path of the upright is a level highway.
A wise child makes a glad father,
     but the foolish despise their mothers.
Folly is a joy to one who has no sense,
     but a person of understanding walks straight ahead.
Without counsel, plans go wrong,
     but with many advisers they succeed.
To make an apt answer is a joy to anyone,
     and a word in season, how good it is!
For the wise the path of life leads upward,
     in order to avoid Sheol below.
The Lord tears down the house of the proud,
     but maintains the widow’s boundaries.
Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord,
     but gracious words are pure.
Those who are greedy for unjust gain make trouble for their households,
     but those who hate bribes will live.
The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer,
     but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil.
The Lord is far from the wicked,
     but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
     and good news refreshes the body.
The ear that heeds wholesome admonition
     will lodge among the wise.
Those who ignore instruction despise themselves,
     but those who heed admonition gain understanding.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
     and humility goes before honor. (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Today’s Reading | 1 Thessalonians 3:6–13
But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you. For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (NRSV)

As I read the words of Paul’s prayer for the believers in Thessalonica—Christians he had himself brought into the faith—I hear him speak to them about a relationship that keeps them connected in spite of distance and circumstances. He describes an interchange of mutual care and love that encourages and builds up both himself and the Thessalonians in their efforts to know Jesus Christ and to follow Jesus’ teachings.

In my own faith and in my practice of following Jesus, I know that people who have formed me will continue to live on through me and in my actions. In turn, I believe we are all called to find a continuing life in those who follow us by the faith we pass on to them. That is, in some ways, the very heart of what we are called to do as a church: to raise up children baptized in our midst, to teach and befriend youth who are confirmed before us, to accompany and work with leaders elected through our discernment with the Holy Spirit.

Strange as it may sound, I believe our own lives of faith can never be completed within our own lifetimes. Like Paul, I think we are all called to live on in those whom we help form so that they might also stand their ground in the Lord. Who are your Thessalonians?

Gracious Lord Jesus, you are my redeemer and friend, and I seek to be faithful to you and to show your life and grace to others in my words and deeds. Help me to remember that you found your life by giving it up in service to God’s people and that I am called to do the same. May I find ways to share our faith with others and to build them up in love for you, so that I will find mutual encouragement with them and my life will be bound up with theirs. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Today’s Reading | Colossians 3:1–17
O Lord, God of my salvation,
     when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
     incline your ear to my cry.

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

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

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

For me, it was space junk.

Psalm 88 is brutal, unrelenting in its despondency. The last verse? Where you expect “Thanks, God, I know you’re going to help me because that’s what you do” you get, “You’ve made my loved ones and companions distant. My only friend is darkness.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Rob Koon, Fine Arts Coordinator

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Today’s Reading | Luke 23:50–56
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (NRSV)

I would have liked to have known Joseph of Arimathea, this “good and righteous man.” He reminds me of what it is like to be identified with an organization that makes a decision in direct opposition to my own values. Joseph was a devout Jew. He had been a member of the council of chief priests that had shouted out to Pilate about Jesus, “Away with this fellow.” The council’s actions helped to decide Jesus’ fate, but Joseph had never agreed to their plan and action. I wonder what it was like for Joseph to stand and watch all of the proceedings. I wonder if he kept asking himself, “Did I speak up enough? Should I have said something that would have changed their minds? How can I still be part of this group?”

When a group of which I am a part makes a decision that I find abhorrent, I ask myself all of those same questions. And hopefully, at the end of my self-examination, when I realize I can no longer do anything to stop or change what has happened, I decide to rely again on the gifts I know I have or the values to which I still cling. That’s what I think Joseph of Arimathea did. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body to be released to him. Pilate agreed, and Joseph tended carefully to Jesus’ body. For me, Joseph is one of the first examples after Jesus’ death that good overcomes evil, that darkness cannot overcome the light. It would have been easy for Joseph to stomp away in disgust, turn in his Sanhedrin membership, busy himself in proving why he stood apart, but instead he claimed his own values again and acted.

Dear God, the world does not always work in the way I think it should. People surprise me, institutions disappoint me, and I find myself heartsick. Even in those most heartsick of days, help me to draw on my own gifts. Help me to cling to the values I hold so dear. Most of all, help me to be faithful to you. Amen.

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

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Today’s Reading | Luke 24
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  [And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. ] While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (NRSV)

In the final pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry knows he is facing almost certain death by choosing to fight his archenemy, Voldemort. But by accepting death, he is able to fully embrace life, experiencing it and appreciating it as never before. In that moment of inspiration for Harry, J. K. Rowling writes, “It was not, after all, so easy to die. Every second he breathed, the smell of the grass, the cool air on his face, was so precious. To think that people had years and years, time to waste, so much time it dragged and he was clinging to every second.” With this revelation Harry was able to face Voldemort, no longer afraid to die, but ready to live.

No one knows what death is like, and so we are all frightened by it. However, some of us seem more afraid to live than to die. We pull away and do not embrace life to its fullest; we experience a thousand little deaths every day rather than trying to seize every moment, every grace. Just maybe, as it was for Harry Potter, if we too were able to appreciate the air we breathe, the smell of the grass, and so many other wonders around us, we could appreciate life as never before. Being afraid of death is natural; being afraid of life is tragic. Yet we can all do something this moment to embrace life more fully.

Richard Niebuhr wrote, “I do not believe that death has been conquered because I know that Christ rose from the dead. I believe that Christ rose from the dead, because I know that death has been conquered.” Let death be conquered by embracing life every day, every moment. Prepare to live!

O God of wonders, let me embrace life more than ever before so that by living or dying I may know you more fully. Amen.

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

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Today’s Reading | Philippians 1:9–11
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (NRSV)

As I moved into my thirties I grew to love the question “Does this really matter?” In my twenties I didn’t know it was an important question, and I rarely asked it. I took the “ignorance is bliss” approach, which works at times, but eventually the waters rise and the bliss loses its buoyancy and I am left with “Wow, this isn’t working. How did I get here?”

Paul, writing to the Philippians, is praying that they would ask “Does this matter?” and even more so, to ask it with the desire to live lives of clean hands and sincerity.

Asking “Does this matter?” slows me down. It makes me admit that I am not the center of the universe. Rather, I am a Christian, called to be a servant to my neighbors. What’s funny is that when I ask this question, I almost always end up on my knees in prayer confessing that I am being selfish or greedy and asking God to remind me that I live in God’s world. I am the servant and God is the master. Instead of my kingdom advancing and my will being done, what I need is a heart filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes from God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness—that’s what matters!

Father, I confess that I do not stop enough and ask “Does this matter?” Instead, I remain self-consumed and greedy for things that don’t matter. Please, help me to see that what matters today is you. May your kingdom come, not mine, and may your will be done, and not mine.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Monday, July 14, 2014

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my dear Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of God’s grace!

The name of Jesus charms our fears,
and bids our sorrows cease,
sings music in the sinner’s ears,
brings life, and health, and peace.

Charles Wesley’s “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Writing has always been an easier form of communication for me than verbal expression. To me, words on paper can be absorbed, digested, studied, and responded to in time, while a conversation requires a whole lot of processing to happen in a moment’s notice—the words’ meanings, the emotion behind them, the tone of delivery, and, of course, the obligation to respond accordingly. For someone on the shy and rather sensitive side like me, communicating—especially with a group of people—can be overwhelming, and I sometimes clam up or say the wrong thing. For this reason, talking to others about God and my faith has always been difficult and awkward for me. My love for God is strong, but in a world that often seems chock full of haters and cynics, sharing the joy and peace of God’s love is like navigating a mine field.

Charles Wesley’s words in the hymn “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” are so brave and confident! In eight lines he proclaims the countless gifts we receive through our relationship with Jesus—triumph over death, comfort from our sorrows and fears, life, health, peace, and, most importantly, the opportunity for sinners like us all to feel like we belong, that we are heard, and that we are all connected to a great and loving God. The fact that these words are expressed in song makes them the perfect channel for both shy and bold believers to express the wonders of God’s love. 

God, push me to share your love with others, through my actions, my words—both written and in conversation—and through songs that express my gratitude. Amen.

Written by Patty Donmoyer, Receptionist

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lord Jesus, think on me, and purge away my sin.
From earthborn passions set me free, and make me pure within.

Lord Jesus, think on me, amid the battle’s strife.
In all my pain and misery be thou my health and strife.

Synesius of Cyrene’s fifth-century hymn “Lord Jesus, Think on Me”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

As my residency at Fourth Church comes to an end and I prepare to say good-bye to two deeply meaningful years, I will really miss writing devotionals. Why? Because they make me wrestle with scripture and reflect, and in this case, it’s on a hymn. I don’t often like hymns that speak about purity and sinfulness. The idea of purity in the Bible is related to ritual cleanliness—setting time, energy, and resources apart for God and was also sometimes related to hygiene. However, in our day purity is used to condemn—we’re “damaged goods” or we’re selfish, thusly impure.

It’s not because I don’t believe in sin—I certainly believe in the human condition of sinfulness in which we can be so destructive to our world and to one another. It’s just that that’s not the whole story.

I believe it to be very Presbyterian to admit that even at our best, we can still be selfish, short-sighted, and unhelpful, but if we are to believe the whole of the gospel, God takes us at our worst and our best and makes it beautiful. God makes beautiful things out of earthen clay and out of chaos. God makes beautiful things out of fragile ones like broken reeds, smoldering wicks, and vessels with hidden treasures.

The beauty of this hymn is that it is an intimate song to a God who knows us deeply, who hears us as we say, “Lord Jesus, think on me.” Right now, as you read this sentence and as your heart longs for affirmation, Jesus thinks on you and wants to tell you: some things are loved because they are valuable, and some things are valuable because they are loved. You are loved. Think on that.

Lord Jesus, think on me. When my life feels small and wandering, when my world seems upside down and my problems mount, when I feel alone or that all is lost, think on me. Help me to remember that I am yours and that I am loved. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Thursday, July 16, 2014

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty.
Hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more; feed me till I want no more.

William Williams “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

I cannot read the words of this wonderful hymn without the sound of the music playing in my head. I also cannot read the words without thinking of pivotal moments in my life when this particular hymn moved me to tears. I remember singing it with a sense of confidence during my first few months of seminary. I felt clear that God had guided me to that time and that place and was deeply grateful for the myriad of ways God’s powerful hand was a constant presence in my life. So at that time, the hymn became a prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

But I also remember singing it a few months before seminary graduation when I was starting to get jittery about what was next. I hoped with every cell of my being that my eyes would be open for God’s guidance and hold on my life. During those moments, this hymn became my prayer of longing. My anxiety was getting in the way of tasting God’s nourishment for my journey. I was stuffing myself full of uncertainty rather than letting the bread of heaven sustain me.

Yet the most powerful memories I have of this hymn center around singing it at memorial services. One of the great privileges a pastor has is to walk through this sacred, thin space with families. So I have clear memories of standing in the front of the chancel and watching a newly widowed parishioner stand with her sons on each side of her, singing this hymn with everything she had. It was clearly both an affirmation of God’s guiding, nourishing presence in her life, as well as a plea for that comfort and strength of love to continue. It was hard for me to keep my emotions in check, because the moment was so transcendent, so full of the presence of the holy. 

Hymns do that to me. Perhaps they do that for you, too. They become prayers of confession, praise, longing, affirmation, lament. They become our voices and articulations of our faith. Thank God.

Music-making God, we are grateful for the ways in which you do guide us and hold us by the constant presence of your Spirit. And we pray you will continue to nourish us with that promised power, even in our times of weakness as anxiety tries to fill the space for faith. Keep us open for your guidance, both as disciples and as a church community. Amen. 

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jesus calls us: oe’r the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth
saying, “Christian, follow me.”

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, “Christian, love me more.”

Cecil Frances Alexander’s “Jesus Calls Us”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

I recently read Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, a collection of essays written by Fr. Gregory Boyle, who founded a gang-intervention ministry in Los Angeles called Homeboy Industries. I was lucky to visit the Homeboy headquarters during a service trip in college and was amazed by the countless services and programming offered to young men and women who wanted a second chance at employment, education, and a positive community.

Beyond providing the “homeboys” and “homegirls” with alternatives like a stable job, the ministry offers redemption, acceptance, and love—intangible gifts that so many of the men and women have forgotten or been denied, and it is often the lack thereof that led them to temporarily choose gang life.

As “Fr. G” recounts, society is quick to judge the homeboys and homegirls for their decisions, their appearance, and their lifestyle. But the memoirs he shares tell stories of lost loved ones, isolation, shame, and desperation. And choosing a different path, and a loving community like Homeboy Industries, quickly transforms and heals the heart. People feel whole again.

“Sometimes resilience arrives in the moment you discover your own unshakeable goodness,” says Fr. Greg, in a moving statement that captures the power within us to transform and to find the goodness we often think we’ve lost forever.

As we reflect on today’s hymn, we are reminded that despite what society tells us and what we tell ourselves, Christ continues to call us home and remind us we are indefinitely loved. We will definitely feel shame, self-doubt, despair, and rejection along the way. But we must remember through the most desperate of times, Christ is with us on our journey home to unconditional love and acceptance.

Jesus, when I find myself straying from your path, guide me toward your peaceful and forgiving presence. Remind me your love is more precious and bountiful than anything worldly my heart may long for here on earth. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens, Associate Program Manager,
   Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Christ speaks, and listening to his voice
new life the dead receive;
the mournful waken to rejoice;
the poor in heart believe.

My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad
the honors of thy name.

Charles Wesley’s “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Sometimes, we are wonderful spectators for God. We stand and cheer like the fans we are, “Yay, God, you’re great! Woo-hoo, keep on doing what you do!”

Praise the Lord. It’s not a bad thing to do.

But what are we praising God for, exactly? In this excerpt there are three groups of people—the poor in heart, the mournful, and the dead—and God helps them all through Christ. And this is a great and wonderful thing, that God can and does help those people.

“Those people.” It creeps in so easily, sometimes, the way we use language to separate us from each other. “Those people” who are poor in heart. “Those people” who are mournful. “Those people” who are dead. Those people, over there, who need God’s help, and woo-hoo, yay God, you keep on helping them.

What gets lost sometimes is that this distinction is artificial and nonexistent in God’s sight. This is not about other people in other places: We are the poor in heart, we are the mournful, we are the dead. We are the ones who need the word of God to transform our state, always, every day.

It’s important to remember that when we reach out to one in need, we are not reaching down to them but rather reaching across to them, that there is no difference between us in the eyes of God. We are companions in a difficult journey through a hard land, and we all need each other. God has made us one people, and when we act like it, we honor what God has done for all of us.

Lord, thank you for your constant help in time of need. Remind us that we are one people, equally precious in your sight, and help us to care for one another so that your love may be seen abroad in the world. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lord Jesus, think on me, nor let me go astray.
Through darkness and perplexity point thou the heavenly way.

Lord Jesus, think on me, that, when this life is past,
I may the eternal brightness see, and share thy joy at last.

Synesius of Cyrene’s fifth-century hymn “Lord Jesus, Think on Me”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Synesius of Cyrene, who was born around 410 AD, was a Greek bishop of Ptolemais, located in what is today Libya. I wonder what this author of ten famous hymns and countless other writings and letters would think of 2014 Presbyterians singing his hymns today?

In this hymn he speaks of the eternal brightness of God, and I imagine he would be surprised and honored at the longevity of his words. “Lord Jesus, think on me, nor let me go astray, through darkness and perplexity point thou the heavenly way. Lord Jesus think on me, that when this life is past, I may the eternal brightness see, and share thy joy at last.”

A timeless message he imparts, reminding us that the Bible reveals that not only do we pray to Jesus, but that Jesus also prays for us. We find references in the book of John, Romans, and Hebrews that Christ prays for us.

So what if today instead of asking God for something specific in prayer, we remember that Jesus is also praying for us.

Lord Jesus, think on me. Your name be praised. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Open now thy crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow.
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield;
be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee, I will ever give to thee.

William Williams “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

I’ve been puzzling over the phrase “Open now thy crystal fountain, whence the healing stream doth flow.” What did the writer of the hymn text have in mind in his plea, asking God to open “thy crystal fountain”? 

When Millennium Park was new, I remember the wonder of sitting along the side of the Crown Fountain, watching with delight the changing images of faces on those tall pillars, waiting for the mouths of those  faces to change, knowing that at any minute water would start spurting as if from those mouths and would begin pouring from everywhere. Little children squealed with delight because they had been waiting with anticipation at the base of each fountain. Chaotic mayhem ensued with children running to and fro between those two fountains, having the time of their lives in the water pouring forth. 

So perhaps that’s the sense of the plea “open now thy crystal fountain.” Those are the high moments with God—those times of delight and healing and joy, when all of life seems so full that all we can do is say “Thank you, God.” Life doesn’t always feel that way nor does our relationship with God. And so we plead for those times to return, and in the meantime, we ask God to be our strength and shield for the dry times, our deliverer in the challenging times, our guide when nothing seems clear. 

Strong deliverer, thank you. Thank you for times of delight and joy and closeness with you. Help me to frolic in those times. But also, help me to see you as my shield when the healing waters of your fountain seem dried up. Remind me to sing songs of praises in all times. Amen.   

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

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Monday, July 21, 2014

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”

Jesus calls us: by thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thy obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

Cecil Frances Alexander’s “Jesus Calls Us”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Information overload is an endemic issue that affects everyday life for the vast majority of adults in our society. Studies conducted by the Barna Group (a faith-based think tank) reveal that 71 percent of adults “feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to stay up to date,” that 54 percent of us think we have “too much information,” and that 35 percent of us feel that the personal electronics that are delivering this torrent of information to us are getting in the way of our relationships with other people.

Is it any wonder then that, in an age of constant communication and hyperconnectivity, so many of us feel isolated, disconnected from other people and from God? We’re spiritually exhausted by a constant stream of information that overwhelms us. It can leave us feeling more confused than ever about the world we live in and does little to help us find our own place in it.

Given this reality, how can we love Jesus Christ? When we don’t have the space to pause, clear our minds, and hear ourselves think, how can we hear Christ’s call to faithfulness and to service?

Consider taking a digital sabbath. Whether we take one day a week away from our personal devices or we just try to reduce the number of hours each day we have them on, the point of practicing digital sabbath is to “[reshape] your everyday technology habits—the ones that lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, distracted, and fragmented.” You can reflect more on how you might do this by looking at this helpful blog entry:

Maybe taking this kind of a break can be the beginning of living out Alexander’s plea, “By thy mercies, Savior, may we hear thy call, give our hearts to thy obedience, serve and love thee best of all.”

Faithful God, in all our joys and sorrows, through the mundane details of our days of toil and days of ease, you continue to call us to faithfulness and to loving relationship with you. Give us the wisdom to turn aside from a world that cries out to us about urgency but that cannot give us what we critically need—your peace. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When morning gilds the skies,
my heart awaking cries:
may Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer
to Jesus I repair:
may Jesus Christ be praised!

Does sadness fill my mind?
A solace here I find:
may Jesus Christ be praised!
Or fades my earthly bliss?
My comfort still is this:
may Jesus Christ be praised!

The German hymn “When Morning Gilds the Skies” c. 1800
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

“Jesus is our Champion.” I can picture my friend saying this as we are drinking our tea sitting across from each other. Every time we get together and pour the black tea and mix in the cream we get rolling in conversation about the past, the present, about what God is doing in our lives, and then at some point he will pipe in with those words. Specifically he says, “Jesus is my Champion, that really resonates with me.”

Working in a church, I hear many different descriptors to explain Jesus: Brother, Friend, Savior, Lord, King, Example, Redeemer—and there are many more. But as I was preparing for this devotional and reading the words to the famous hymn “When Morning Gilds the Skies” with the crescendo at the end of each verse saying “May Jesus Christ be praised,” the inner dialogue in my head responded with “because he is our Champion.”

As Jesus finishes up the Sermon on the Mount, words filled with power, justice, compassion, love, and profound dignity for life—may Jesus Christ be praised, our Champion teacher.  

Or as Paul describes, in Philippians 2, how Jesus humbled himself and became a servant, being obedient to God and ultimately dying on the cross for our sin—may Jesus Christ be praised, our Champion Savior and Example.

Or as we read the story of Mary and Martha or Lazarus or Simon Peter, in all the stories in which we see Jesus’ transformative love—may Jesus Christ be praised, our Champion Brother and Friend.

Or today, if you are discouraged about what lies ahead or scared about the future or if you have lost wind in your sail, be reminded that you have a Champion who stands ready to transformingly love you today—may Jesus Christ be praised.   

Jesus, thank you for being our Champion. Please quiet my fear and anxiety today with your love. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love!
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
Opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day.

Henry van Dyke’s “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

A woman asked my colleague if she could join the choral society at his church, and he said, “Of course, everyone is welcome.” She went on to tell him that she had never sung in a choir before because she was told as a child that she had a terrible voice and should never try to sing. He said it was never too late to try. Well, she really did not have a great voice, but she stayed with the choral society for their concert and sang her heart out. When the concert was over, she thanked my colleague for letting her sing and said, “I never knew I could be part of something so beautiful.” 

That is what church is all about: lifting each other up to a higher place, a place where we are all part of something more beautiful than we thought was possible. Each of us can bring many gifts to the church, some for teaching, some for accounting, some for prayer, some for making music. Being the church means carrying each other to a more beautiful realm where we can all be more whole and live more fully into what God is calling us to be. Ultimately church becomes a place where heaven and earth are brought closer together, where we can catch glimpses of that heavenly beauty where we will all sing together. Someday we will all sing with the angels in heaven and say, “I never knew I could be part of something so beautiful.”

“Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love! Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away. Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.” Amen.

Reflection written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

In Christ shall true hearts everywhere
their high communion find;
his service is the golden cord
close-binding humankind.

John Oxenham’s “In Christ There Is No East or West”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

By virtue of the family I was born into and later through friends, I have always been connected to the world beyond our country’s boundaries. I find this to be a great blessing, and it certainly grants me a different perspective when reading the daily news.

It also gives me a different perspective on all the references in the New Testament about being members of one body in Christ. This body of Christ incorporates all the peoples of the world. This brings not only blessing, but also responsibility to know what is going on around the world, to know just how we are connected—through our personal relationships certainly but also our corporate ones, our commercial ones, our political ones—and to care for all parties in these relationships.

And sometimes it is also brings sadness, thinking about people I love being so far away. At times like this, the hymn is a balm to my spirit. Though my loved ones may seem far from me, in truth we are closer together than we can even imagine.

Christ, gather us all together in your love and open our hearts and our eyes, that we may treat all this great earth’s inhabitants as our beloved family and that we may know there is no separation between us in you. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Let earth’s wide circle round
in joyful notes resound:
may Jesus Christ be praised!
Let air and sea and sky
from depth to height reply:
may Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this, while life is mine,
my canticle divine:
may Jesus Christ be praised!
Be this the eternal song
through all the ages long:
may Jesus Christ be praised!

The German hymn “When Morning Gilds the Skies” c. 1800
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

This beautiful hymn was written more than 200 years ago, yet its message rings relevant. Our hope as Christians is that praising the name of Jesus Christ is an eternal song, sung through all the ages by the whole creation. Moreover, we pray that such praise is also the song of our days for as long as we live.

Many aspects of God’s creation—snow-covered mountains, colorful canyons, fields of sunflowers, dense forests, deep blue lakes and oceans, cool air, and voluminous clouds—lift our hearts to praise God as their beauty, power, and wonder draw forth our awe and adoration.

Even on days when our own lives are bowed down, creation displays the handiwork of God. We find comfort as the whole cosmos glorifies God, even when we personally find it hard to be joyful. It is also important to recognize that praising Jesus Christ is not the same as feeling happy.

To praise Jesus Christ, even in the midst of pain, is a choice of faith we make to declare that Jesus Christ reigns supreme and extends everlasting love to the whole universe.

“From you is born all ruling will, the power and life to do, the song that beautifies all—from age to age renews. To you belongs each fertile function: ideals, energy, glorious harmony—during every cosmic cycle. . . . Out of you, the vital force producing and sustaining all life, every virtue. . . . Out of you the astonishing fire, the birthing glory, returning light and sound to the cosmos. . . . Again and again, from each universal gathering—of creatures, nations, planets, time, and space—to the next. Truly—power to these statements—may they be the ground from which all my actions grow: sealed in trust and faith.” Amen. 
Prayer from “A Celebration of Cosmic Renewal” by Neil Douglas-Klotz

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

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

All thy works with joy surround thee;
earth and heaven reflect thy rays;
stars and angels sing around thee,
center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
flowery meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain,
call us to rejoice in thee.

Henry van Dyke’s “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore thee”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Described by Henry van Dyke as “a hymn of trust and joy and hope,” “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” has been one of the most popular hymns within our tradition since the text was written in 1907. Its words are reminiscent of the beginning of Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” It is a hymn in which God’s creation stands as a witness to God’s love and care—that everywhere we look, we see God’s hand involved in its shaping.

While I could never be described as the outdoorsy type, the arrival of this long-awaited summer has given me a renewed appreciation for the weather and the way in which it impacts the moods and rhythms of daily life. It’s certainly easier to sing God’s praises on these warm summer nights than during those bitterly cold ones! And yet, true as that may be, this hymn challenges us to see God in “all thy works” rather than just the works we are comfortable in. Van Dyke uses beautiful and evocative imagery through the text, but the listed locales are almost entirely opposites to one another. There is beauty in the summer, yes, but so too in the fall, winter, and spring.

May we trust that God is indeed there no matter what season of life we are in, even if we are unable to hear any shouts of joy around us. All of God’s creation indeed sings of God’s glory—and we are invited to join that chorus.

Creator God, help me to recognize you in all that I encounter on this day, celebrating you and your works with my voice full and joyful. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
and he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
my ransomed soul he leadeth,
and where the verdant pastures grow,
with food celestial feedeth.

Henry Williams Baker’s “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

There are few hymns more beautiful than “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” If you are like me, as soon as you read the words of this beautiful hymn, you hear the melodious, slightly melancholy tune playing in your head.

Shepherds do not evoke for us today the powerful symbolism that they did for early Jews and Christians. We find images throughout the Bible of God as our shepherd, and so although those of us who are city dwellers may have only seen sheep at the farm in the zoo, we now associate caring for this animal with our loving, nurturing God’s care for us.

“The King of love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never; I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.” The book of 1 John reminds us that God is love and those who love know God.

So remember this day where love comes from. An amazing love, an abundant love, a love that reaches out to you, no matter who you are or what you have done. God’s goodness faileth never. Thanks be to God!

Everlasting God, you nurture, sustain, and feed us. Open us up to feel your presence and power. Transform us to care for each other the way you love and care for us. In the name of Jesus, our good shepherd, we pray. Amen.

Written by Liz Nickerson, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me,
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
with thee, dear Lord, beside me;
thy rod and staff my comfort still,
thy cross before to guide me.

Henry Williams Baker’s “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

This hymn had me at “Oft I strayed.” It rings true even when we want to believe we have it all together, all calculated with five-year plans and vision statements. We’re more confused than we even seem, and if we’re honest, often we have strayed. Even when we think we’re doing so much good and have the best of intentions, we can stray, betraying our hearts and our loved ones, forgetting our call, and selling out our dreams. We begin to believe the lies we’ve heard about ourselves, we settle for less, we choose the safe option over the right path, or we think, finally, that we are in fact abandoned.

But this hymn tenderly reminds us that like a missing sheep, we will stray, but we have not been left to our own devices or abandoned: God comes to us and brings us home. The gospel means that we are far more flawed than we thought and far more loved than we ever imagined.

As I write my final devotion at Fourth Church, I want you to know that I prayed each time I wrote, for you and your faith walk, for God to show up in a meaningful way, in a mystical and other times ordinary way. I hope you pray for my faith walk, too.

For our shared walk in the way of Jesus, I want to remind you of what this hymn states so beautifully, hoping for it to become a song of your heart. God draws near, God pursues us. Even when we stray from the way, we are brought back home; even in death's dark vale, we just can’t seem to get rid of this God—shake, run, and hide as we do. No matter the idols we make of money, power, people, places, and even “God,” no matter the images we paint of a distant and uninterested or angry arbiter of justice God, and no matter how unforgivable we think our sin or how lost our way or how ugly our soul, this God is beside us. God is walking with us. Emmanuel, God with us. In the beginning and at the end.

Even when we lost our way or turned away, God of love, you did not abandon us. Remind us of your radical forgiveness and your steadfast love. Amen.

Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
and O what transport of delight
from thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
within thy house forever.

Henry Williams Baker’s “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Sometimes it is interesting to look at the words of a hymn without the music. Sometimes what you find is wonderful and poetic. Sometimes, well, it’s really not.

Let me say, I love Psalm 23. It’s simple, direct, and elegant. It’s about trust. Translating that into this ornamented Victorian idiom . . . well, it’s like wearing a tuxedo to a barn raising, without irony.

Really? “Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over” becomes “Thy unction grace bestoweth; and O what transport of delight from thy pure chalice floweth.” Is that an improvement? Is there a churchier jargon word than “unction?” When was the last time you used it in conversation? “Excuse me, could you please pass the unguent for my unction?” “Am I not clever?” that lyric seems to say. It fairly reeks of authorial self-satisfaction.

So does that last paragraph I wrote, by the way.

We dress our faith in garments we think are becoming to us. We dress up to look good, and we’re always kind of pleased when someone takes note of it. Of all the virtues, humility is often the most overlooked.

The word of God is simple, direct, and elegant. It’s about love, and it’s about trust. If our telling of the tale illuminates that simple, direct, and elegant message, we’re doing our job of spreading the good news. If our telling of the tale draws attention to ourselves as the messengers, we have lost the truth behind the ostentation.

Lord, remind us that the truth is simple and that unadorned truth is more beautiful than anything we can do to decorate it. Help us to remember that our work is to live into your truth and not to make it our ornament. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator for Fine Arts

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Join hands, disciples of the faith,
Whate’er your race may be.
All children of the living God
Are surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both east and west;
In him meet south and north.
All Christly souls are one in him
throughout the whole wide earth.

John Oxenham’s “In Christ There Is No East or West”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

As I write this reflection, I am making final preparations for our Senior High work camp. Thirty-two youth and ten adults will travel to the town of Les Cayes on the southern coast of Haiti for a week of service, building benches for a local school and perhaps visiting with children in one of Haiti’s many orphanages.

While I’m sure the service we will provide will help the people of Haiti in some ways, I’m more interested in what our youth and adults will experience on this trip. Even before the devastating earthquake of 2010, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. We will soon find ourselves in a context far removed from our lives in Chicago, yet very close to us in our global neighborhood. In my thirteen years of professional ministry, I have been on mission trips in some of the most poverty-stricken places of the United States, but I know full well that I’ve never seen with my own eyes the kind of conditions that await us in Haiti.

Yet the church in Haiti is thriving, and I anticipate that what we will learn from our Haitian hosts will far outweigh whatever service we provide for them. We often talk about this as “mission in reverse.”

I very much look forward to the ways in which the words of this hymn will come to life for our group in Haiti. As north and south meet in Les Cayes, I pray that we will recognize each other as siblings in Christ and grow together as a demonstration of God’s kingdom breaking into our world.

Thank you, God, for gifting us with siblings around the world in whom we recognize your image and learn more of your love. Help us to come together as the body of Christ and care for each other as one world family. Amen.

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

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mortals, join the happy chorus
which the morning stars began.
Love divine is reigning o’er us,
joining all in heaven’s plan.
Ever singing, march we onward,
victors in the midst of strife.
Joyful music leads us sunward
in the triumph song of life.

Henry van Dyke’s “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore thee”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Every fourth Friday of the month, many people gather at Fourth Church for the Taizé service in Buchanan Chapel. It is always a beautiful and spiritually renewing time filled with singing, prayer, and quiet meditation. This past month, one member was sitting alone before the service when a woman came and sat next to her, and then later a man sat on the other side of her. Nothing out of the ordinary at all, but as the service progressed, this member noticed that neither of them was singing.

After the service, she said hello and introduced herself to each of them, realizing only then that the worshipers on either side of her were married. She apologized for sitting between them, but they said that was all right. She also said she noticed that neither of them sang during the service, and the woman said that their child had recently died and neither of them could sing, but they were glad that she had. They thanked her and said she had sung for them.  

We never know what issues or concerns our neighbor brings to church—some people filled with thanksgiving, others grieving significant loss. But together we gather in our worship services to praise and adore God, to ask for help, to give thanks, and to be renewed to go out, loving and serving all we encounter. We gather in worship to praise God, but we are also there to care for each other every time we gather as a community in worship.

Lord, help me to love you more fully so that in loving you, I may more fully love all I encounter this day. Amen.    

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

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