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April 1–2 | April 3–9 | April 10–16
April 17–23 | April 24–30

 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 Corinthians 15:51–58

Reflection

Recently I started making bean sprouts in my kitchen. I bought a special lid for a simple glass canning jar that has a sieve on top—to let air in and to allow me to pour excess water out. I put a few mung bean seeds in there and let them soak in water for a few hours. After swishing, I pour the water out and wait.

Every day I put fresh water on them, swish, and drain it off. After a day or two the casings on the seeds begin to crack as the seed swells. A tiny shoot pokes out the end. Water, swish, drain, and wait. After about four days I no longer have a jar of a few bare seeds but full of juicy bean sprouts for my salads.

Paul uses the analogy of seeds to talk about resurrection. He writes, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as God has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body” (1 Corinthians 15:36–38).

The hard dry seeds grow into something different, something transformed, a vibrant body, full of life. This is true of our bodies also. In a way it’s true of our daily lives and all the little deaths, failures, and successful transformations we go through. Things continue changing form because things continue to grow and take on new life.

When death leads to something greater than what existed before, death becomes less scary. Death loses its sting because we know it’s not a disappearance but a transformation into something more alive and beautiful than we can imagine. This is some of the most astonishing work that God does—helping things die and be reborn. At the end of this life God will do the same for us.

Prayer

Spirit of Life, help me to trust that you are changing me and preparing me for ever-more abundant life, from now to eternity. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 92

Reflection

Sometimes when reading scripture—especially familiar verses like this psalm—what you glean can be unexpected. That happened for me with today’s passage. Although I’ve read this psalm before, when reading it this time, two words jumped out at me for their harshness: “stupid” and “dullard.” In the midst of praising God for his provision and greatness, the author derides the foolish (the word used in other translations) for their inability to grasp the wonder of our Lord. This type of language is jarring, especially when placed with little context into the language we use today.

At first glance, what seems to be implied through omission is that only a fool could not comprehend God and understand his thoughts. But we all fall well short of comprehending God. I like to imagine that if that passage was expanded upon, it might say, “But the proud cannot know, the arrogant cannot understand.”

It’s easy to look down upon those we view as foolish or beneath us. But we are no closer to understanding God than those we think of as the lowest among us. It is only when we can temporarily cast aside our foolishness, vanity, pride, and other indulgences that we can begin to glimpse the righteousness of God.

Prayer

Lord, help me to cast aside my pride and arrogance and look down on none of your children. Give me glimpses of your unending glory. Amen.

Written by Jared Light, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 John 1:1–7

Reflection

The beginning of 1 John sounds like an evangelistic call that might have rung from tents during one of America’s revival periods, “declaring” an eternal message about the word of life.

But note that the testimony is not intended to lead to belief or salvation. It aims at fellowship and joy. Words that appear to us to be about intellectual and propositional coercion concerning the “word of life”—heard, seen, looked, touched—in the original Greek have deeper layers of meaning that are really about understanding mentally and spiritually perceiving, physically coming to and visiting.

Through my work as a pastor tasked with evangelism, I have become increasingly convinced that verbal and propositional messages are insufficient for connecting people with the God we Christians experience through Jesus Christ. Instead, I believe that building joyful relationships with others and faithfully supporting communities in addressing their real needs are the real ways to make the true “life” that we know in Jesus evident to non-Christians. And I believe that the sharing of this real life is no less authentic if it does not result in a “conversion.”

In a short video about the programs that are supported by our community when we contribute to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering of the PC(USA), Pak Yadi—speaking about the $400 seed grant our churches helped to provide—had this to say:

“When we gather, that is the heart of the village. Because, by getting together and helping each other rebuild, those feelings of trauma can be overcome. Over ten years, we invited each other to stand up on our own, and we have found a new life. All of this came from that first seed grant.”

Is this not the word of life that was revealed to us in Jesus?

Prayer

God of new life, in Jesus you showed us what it is to share your life, fully and joyfully, with the world. Give us the courage and strength to do the same with our own lives, so that your Word might be made known to all the earth. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 7:36–50  

Reflection

Simon the Pharisee has invited this itinerant preacher in for a meal, because he wants to hear what this interesting guy has to say. And because Simon is a person of place in the community, he is clearly reaching down the social ladder to this wandering Jesus fellow. A good deed, and done in the spirit of charity, no doubt.
There’s nothing wrong with charity, of course. It can make you feel good, a little act of charity toward those who don’t have much. Drop a dollar in a cup, buy someone a sandwich, and walk away feeling good about yourself. And that can be a problem.

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

So, there’s this woman—from even lower down the ladder, a woman with whom Simon usually wouldn’t be caught dead—and she follows the guest in and begins making a fuss over him. She’s so involved in the fuss she’s making over Jesus, she’s not even paying attention to Simon . . . and it’s his house! Jesus being Jesus can read Simon’s expression, and Jesus being Jesus has a dry and ironic way of putting things in perspective: “I’m a big deal to her because she’s a sinner and really needs forgiveness; but you, you’re so righteous you don’t need much, so I’m not that big a deal to you.” (You can almost hear the air quotes around “So Righteous.”)

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

Prayer

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

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 Peter 1:13–25         

Reflection

How does one live as a Christ follower in a culture that oscillates between indifference, derision, and outright hostility? The letter of 1 Peter, believed to have been written in the late stages of the first century, wrestles with that very question. The threat of persecution from Rome was palpable, even if it was not yet overt, and the author looks to speak to recent Christian converts who are facing this uncertainty.

“Prepare your minds for action,” the author exhorts, “Be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” Rather than give in to fear of one’s neighbors, Christians are asked to live out of reverent fear—seeking to be holy (literally “set apart”) and born anew as God’s people, held to a standard of mutual love that exceeded all expectation. By holding ourselves to this aspirational standard of love we can rightly claim to follow in Christ’s footsteps, no matter what the prevailing culture tries to impress upon us.

American Christianity may not wrestle with persecution in the same way as the audience of 1 Peter did (although there are certainly plenty of places in the world today that still do), but the idea of living according to an aspirational standard of love is vital no matter one’s context. We preach the good news at all times, using words only when necessary but always though our conduct with others—and in doing so we indeed know that our faith and hope are set on God.

Prayer

Holy God, continue to challenge me so that my life better reflects your holiness—set apart through aspirational love according to your Word. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 3:21–38

Reflection

The writings of 1 Peter were initially written for those who were aliens, or immigrants, in a strange place that is not their home of origin, and Peter is their motivational speaker. To those facing persecution as new minorities in a foreign land, Peter calls them to rid themselves of the negatives shouted at them and take up their place as a cornerstone, to become a spiritual house, a church.

But this writer also speaks to those of us who do not find ourselves as immigrants on a daily basis; it too is our job to serve as the cornerstone of God’s spiritual house. We hold a responsibility to create a spiritual house of welcome in God’s sight. We stumble on the cornerstones when we fail to hear God’s welcome and fail to offer welcome to others. By being a cornerstone, we help others become their cornerstones.

As you go throughout your day today, think of the ways in which you are part of the cornerstone that helps welcome those who find themselves as aliens in a new land. How can we invite others into our churches so that they can be their own cornerstones?

Prayer

Lord, help us to be your cornerstones. Help us to foster others so that they too might be your cornerstones. Remind us to welcome the stranger and to help one another up when we stumble and fall. Bathe us in your light and mercy. Remind us to be merciful. Amen.

Written by Shelley Donaldson, Senior High and Confirmation Youth Coordinator

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 Peter 3:8–11             

Reflection
A few comments about First Peter (excerpted or paraphrased from The Anchor Bible Commentary on the Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude):

The author’s desire is to prevent the believers from ruining the precious gift of the gospel by bitterness and strife.

The author admonishes the believers not to be disturbed by the ill will that often meets them.

Our current political climate, fueled and intensified by constant media sound bites and social media sharing sometimes threatens to overwhelm me with despair or puzzlement or bitterness or anger. The words from First Peter act as a great gift and instruction to me in this climate: “Finally, all of you, have . . . a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not pay evil for evil or abuse for abuse. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.”

It’s a good reminder to us—not to ruin the precious gift of the gospel by falling into our own bitterness or strife. Yes, we should care and have our strong opinions, but paying evil for evil and abuse for abuse or adopting the very behavior we hate isn’t our calling.

Our calling is to cherish the good news of the gospel, the gift of knowing God loves us and forgives us, the relief of knowing that we can’t do it all, and the hope that God is sovereign and cares for this world, even when we can’t see it.

Prayer

Great and wondrous God, help me to remember to cherish the gift you have given—the gift of the gospel, the knowledge of love, and assurance of your presence in my life and this world. Let me continue to “seek peace and pursue it.” Amen.

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

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 Peter 4:7–11

Reflection

Indeed, the end of things as we know them is near. It has always been approaching: we do not know now what our world will look like in five, ten, or even next year. And twenty years ago we could not have imagined what it looks like now.

The end is already happening, and people are afraid. The end of white power and privilege. The end of relationships, through death or distance or decision. The end of certainty in our weather, and hence our geography and ecology. The eventual end of our bodies’ abilities and of life’s opportunities. We all have our own particular ends in mind.

Some of these ends are to be heralded. Some are only feared. But we always live with uncertainty and the end of things. This is not new.

So what do we know? What does remain constant? That we are God’s children. That we are called to be Christ in the world and to each other. Whatever else happens, those remain true. Therefore, rather than approaching the world in fear, let us take the words of 1 Peter to heart and love one another. Be hospitable to each other. Serve one another. And be disciplined in our affairs, remembering we are here to be Christ to others, yet strengthened by the knowledge that we are God’s beloved children.

Prayer

Gracious God, strengthen us to serve in the world, living out the hope you have given us through Christ. May we be ever constant in our love for you and for your creation. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 99

Reflection

Psalm 99 describes God as a lover of justice. My father loved justice. He was a judge, and two of his four children became judges as well. I grew up surrounded by discussions of the interpretation of the law. I was very perplexed by this. I would try to contribute to the discussion by stating that someone was right or wrong, and the other people in my house would say, “Don’t get upset. We are simply talking about legal and illegal actions, not whether a person is good or bad!”

This was how I was raised. To drive over the speed limit was a choice. To disregard curfew was a choice. Choices had clear consequences, which were upheld and respected. It was always very clear to us kids that we were loved. Yet, it was also very clear that the consequences of our choices would be upheld. I never questioned this. I also never questioned the forgiving love that was shown to me by my parents. That is why at age sixteen I could call my dad at midnight, after having borrowed the family’s SUV three hours prior to take my friend home. I had to ask him to come and get me, as I had stranded the vehicle on the green of the eighteenth hole at the public golf course. Would I get in trouble? You bet. Would I be forgiven? You bet. Would it be many, many months before I drove the family car? You bet.

Moses, Aaron, and Samuel are recognized in scripture as having a very close relationship with God. They called on God. They knew God’s statutes, and when they chose not to follow them, they knew God would address their wrongdoing.

Prayer

Father God, thank you for your consistent and clear message of love—from the earliest decree, through the actions of those in the scripture, and as it is felt by a child from a loving parent. Amen.

Written by Katy Sinclair, Associate Director of Music for Children and Youth

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Today’s Reading | 1 John 2:7–14

Reflection

A few weeks back, a visiting presider at my usual Mass shared something so simple, yet so profound: “Church doesn’t start when we sing the processional hymn. Church starts after we’ve sung the recessional hymn, walk out those wooden doors, and our love for one another is really tested.” It’s easy for us to go to church each week, say our prayers, sing hymns, and listen to a sermon filled with scripture. It’s even easy to share peace with one another—shaking hands with strangers you’ve never met until that Sunday.

But being a Christian and a disciple of Christ isn’t meant to be easy. It’s meant to be messy, confusing, and very frustrating. In today’s reading, we are reminded that the highest commandment is more than just loving God and living in that light. It’s about sharing that same love with our sister and brothers, even when it’s so easy to identify feelings of frustration, annoyance, or judgment.

When we enter through the church doors each week, we find a place of solace and a way to ground ourselves again. We find a way to remind ourselves of how God is always gracing us with light and love but also always inviting us to follow Christ in loving our sisters and brothers despite our differences. If we cut ourselves off from loving those we find difficult or undesirable, we cut ourselves off from being true disciples who love without question or hesitation.

We must remember our ongoing call is to “live out church”—to take the words that we’ve heard, the songs we’ve sung, and the community we created and share that with every living being we encounter.

Prayer

God of love, help me to invite my sisters and brothers into the light I so easily recognize in you. Help me find that light in others’ lives and reciprocate with love. Amen.

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



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Monday, April 11, 2016

Today’s Reading | John 14:1–17 

Reflection

Those closest to me know that I’m a bit of a skeptic. Some might say I’m cynical. I prefer “discerning.” Like many people of faith, I believe yet I also have doubts. In this passage, Jesus says some outlandish things. I will do whatever you ask in my name. Really? I am in the Father and the Father is in me. What does that even mean? It’s hard to believe—hard to understand. How can I believe if I don’t even understand?

Like Philip and Thomas, my skepticism and my desire for certainty are two sides of the same coin. I like to be certain before I do anything, but waiting around for certainty can be paralyzing.

“If only I knew for sure,” “If only I had a sign,” if only, if only, if only.

Jesus’ disciples struggle to trust him, but in a way they also doubt themselves. How often do we fail to believe that our experience of God is enough? I know I always want more. I want proof from something or someone else to reassure me. My own experience of God couldn’t possibly be trustworthy, right?

But Jesus doesn’t let that fly with his disciples. “Come on,” Jesus says, “don’t sell yourself short. You already know me. You have been with me all this time and seen me at work. Trust what you have witnessed. Trust it so you can stop worrying and go do works as I have done. Don’t get bogged down in waiting for proof. Take ownership of what you already know and do something about it.”

Prayer
God, we thank you for the guidance of the Spirit of truth as we seek to follow you. Help us to trust in our experience and perception, so that we might trust in the ways you make yourself known to us, and—without waiting around for the perfect proof—do your work in response. Amen.

Written by Jeremy Pfaff, Editorial Assistant

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Today’s Reading | John 14:18–31

Reflection

In the midst of the final teachings that Jesus shares with his disciples, he promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit: “I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you.” Later he says, “It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

It is difficult to lose a loved one whose presence on earth we cherish. Yet Jesus gives us comfort and hope by promising that his Spirit comes, and that Jesus’ absence is even better for us. We are nurtured by our memory of him and by the indwelling of his Spirit.

Henri Nouwen wrote in The Living Reminder, “One of the mysteries of life is that memory can often bring us closer to each other than physical presence. . . . In memory we are able to be in touch with each other’s spirit, with that reality in each other which enables an always deepening communication. . . . Memory also clarifies, purifies, brings into focus, and calls to the foreground hidden gifts.”

The sustaining power of memory becomes most visible in God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Jesus revealed to his closest followers that only in memory will real intimacy with him be possible. Only in memory will they experience the full meaning of what they had witnessed. God entered into intimacy with us not only by Christ’s coming, but by his leaving. Nouwen wrote, “It is in Christ’s absence that our intimacy with him is so profound that we can say he dwells in us, call him our food and drink, and experience him as the center of our being.”

Prayer

Thank you, Jesus, for sending us your Spirit, so we may know and love you. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Today’s Reading | John 15:12–17  

Reflection

On first glance, this may seem like an easy command: “Love each other.” It is easy to love our friends. They have our values; there is good chemistry. Friendship opens us up to vulnerability and sharing not just the good in our lives but also our troubles. It means that we share when our faith journey is strong and when we falter. The fruit that we bear is that we show friends that even though we may have a good life, we often struggle and are not perfect.

The harder part is that Jesuscommands us, as his disciples, to love all people. This is willful love. Equally important is that we are open to and loving in listening, responding, and helping whenever we can to the struggles of others. We bear the fruit of opening our hearts and hands to all people. Let’s face it, there are some Christians we like, and there are some we don’t like. We need to love them even when we don’t like them, because love is God’s command to all members of his family.

This Bible passage begins and ends with the command of “Love one another.” This means it is not an option in our life. We need to make daily efforts to respond with love—regardless of how we feel—toward all people at all times.

Lastly, love means selfless service to others. How can we “wash the feet” of those around us? The extra time at Coffee Hour saying hello to the homeless men and women in Anderson Hall, helping an elderly person with their coat, and saying thank you to our Sunday School teachers are all expressions of love. Being disciples in service to others is love too.

Prayer

Lord, you have loved me with willful love. Now I pray that this same love would flow through me to others unconditionally and wholeheartedly. Amen.

Written by Lola Coke, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Today’s Reading | Colossians 1:1–14

Reflection

I am grateful that letters are a key component of the New Testament. As I read once again these opening lines to the early Christian community at Colossae, I felt drawn to the vital affirmations that ground the faith we continue to share. Specific names help that happen.

While Paul was the central character in the growth of the Christian movement, there were many others. We hear of his coworker Timothy. And then there was Epaphras, who was likely the founder of the Colossian congregation.

From the very beginning, the Christian church has been a collaborative effort. Jesus had the support of the disciples whom he recruited, as well as numerous women followers. The letters of Paul and others in the scriptures record the names of particular women and men.

This diversity of leadership and participation was anchored in an undivided loyalty to Christ as the Lord over all of life. When our brothers and sisters in the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa felt their deeply faithful loyalty to Christ threatened in the early 1980s under apartheid, these verses from Colossians were a source of inspiration. This is echoed in the Belhar Confession, scheduled to be adopted by our own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the General Assembly in June:

We believe that God’s life-giving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s life-giving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world . . .

Prayer

Life-giving Lord, I thank you for the witness to your Word in the scriptures and the confessions. Empower our continued collaboration in your service, in obedience to our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Written by Jeff Doane, Parish Associate

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Today’s Reading | Colossians 1:15–20

Reflection

Prepositions are my favorite part of speech. This may be because, as a freshman in high school, I had to memorize a long list of them. It may be because knowing that list served me very well in teaching hundreds of other high school freshmen many years later. It may be because prepositions are short, humble little words that do a world of work: they show the relationship of nouns and pronouns to other nouns and pronouns.

There are nineteen propositions in these six verses: “image of the invisible God,” “in him all fullness was pleased to dwell,” “make peace by the blood of his cross,” “all thing were revealed through him and for him.” You get the idea.

It’s fun to hold Jesus and prepositions together mentally. A preposition almost always precedes the word it’s helping us to place conceptually. Paul, most likely quoting a hymn in use in the early church, reminds us that Jesus is the “firstborn” both of creation and the dead. He is the “beginning” and “preeminent.” He has gone before us to show the way and gives us courage when that way is daunting. In establishing the associations between a sentence’s words, prepositions help us make meaning. Jesus, in the model of his words and actions and through his Spirit, orients us to what is most important: life with God and each other. We can come to find our place, realize our role, when we join the rest of the church in work and worship and contemplation of the divine plan.

Prayer

Jesus, center of all that is, it is only in, with, through, by, and for you that our being makes sense. Help us to use the grammar of our lives to proclaim your truth clearly. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 96

Reflection

Robert Plant once said, “I’m a reflection of what I sing.” Psalm 96’s “Sing to the Lord a new song!”—coming just a few weeks after Easter—is a reminder of the message of our Lenten journey. Lent is a time for new beginnings, a time to blossom and break out in new directions. It ends with the most miraculous new beginning—Jesus’ resurrection. In conquering death, Jesus showed us that we too have a chance for new beginnings—a chance for a new song.

But what song should we sing? Like Robert Plant, the psalmist tells us that our song should come from the heart. It should be one that glorifies, worships, and honors the Lord. One of my favorite parables is the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25). Its key message: God gave each of us a unique set of skills and talents and we need to put them to use instead of burying them deep inside. Using them is a chance to glorify God.

So what’s your song? Can you effectively manage projects, run a business, or care for others? Is it time to learn a new skill? A recent article I read highlighted the growth in lifelong learning and the increasing number of options to learn new skills to meet new challenges, grow our careers, or pick up a new hobby. We don’t have to look farther than the growth of online courses, boot camps, or career coaches to see that options abound. Maybe now is the time to take that class, go back to school, or take up a new hobby. Maybe it’s as simple as finding a new place to volunteer or a new cause to support.

Today’s psalm is yet another reminder that life is a journey, and God is continually pulling or pushing us in new directions. How will you respond? How will you glorify God with your new song?

Prayer

God of opportunity and new beginnings, help me to discern where you are calling me next. Help me to look deep inside and sing a song that brings joy to my life and to others and, in doing so, glorifies you. Amen.

Written by Mark Nelson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 136

Reflection

This entire psalm is framed as a one of thanksgiving and gratitude. Three times it states, “Let us give thanks to the Lord” and twenty-six times “for his loving-kindness endures forever.”

This psalm models a stance of gratitude, which we too can apply to our daily lives. Gratitude is a powerful tool we have to shift our state of being from one of fear, anxiety, depression, resentment, or anger--which usually involves cowering, contracting, striking out, an exaggerated negative outlook, pessimism, negativity, and judgment—to a state of gratitude, which invites in openness, receiving, embracing, expansion, and a positive outlook. Our brain is an amazingly capable organ, but it cannot be in a state of gratitude and anxiety or depression at the same time. This would be like expecting a glass to distinctly hold hot and cold water simultaneously.

When we intentionally notice and name moments in our lives that we are grateful for or appreciative of, a negative state is interrupted. It is interesting that the smaller the moment noticed and the more the moment involves our senses, the more effective it tends to be: I am grateful for the first swallow of coffee this morning; for the sound of birds singing; for the lighthearted exchange with my colleague; for the gentle touch of someone I love; for that moment of attention shown me by my cat or dog; for a felt sense of connection to Spirit when I watch the sunrise or sing in worship, etc.

Try this today and remember: God’s loving-kindness will always be there for you in tangible ways!

Prayer

Dear God, thank you, thank you, thank you for your loving-kindness. Help us to notice and be grateful each day for the ways your loving-kindness shows up in our lives. As your followers, may we every day find ways to be sources of your loving-kindness to this earth and all we encounter on it. Amen.

Written by Tom Schemper, Director, Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Today’s Reading | Colossians 2:6–8

Reflection

About once every two months, I find myself getting out of the habit of having reflective time for me, Ashley. After a busy day, sometimes it is nice to fall asleep watching a mindless episode of something on Netflix. The weekend comes and somehow my excuse for not going to church is sufficient. Something is missing, and I start to feel crummy.
 
I was having a conversation with someone recently about how her smartphone has taken away her time to be reflective during down time. For me, I check my phone first thing when I wake up, when I go to bed, when I am waiting for the bus or sitting on the bus. Any down time I have, the smartphone seems to fill. After doing this too much I begin to feel like a kid that has had too much candy--”junk” has entered my system and that quiet time with God, that conversation I have with God, becomes nonexistent.

In this passage, Paul is writing to the church in the small town of Colossae because he heard people were being taught the wrong message of Christ. Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition.” I view “hollow and deceptive philosophy” as an example of my having too much “candy.”

It is easy to get off track and not feel our Christ with us. The more we focus on our world, the more we will be deceived. To not feel this way, we must “be built up in Christ,” rooted in him each day. I envision myself as a tree that plants its feet in the ground ready to start the morning. My source of energy and life comes from a solid place and that “junk” goes out the window.

Prayer

Lord, this day you have given me is not meant to be faced without you. Help me to wake each day with a “good morning” and a prayer of thanksgiving, so that my day unfolds from your spring of boundless love and peace. In your name. Amen.

Written by Ashley Elskus, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Today’s Reading | Colossians 3:12–17

Reflection

I have done eight weddings in my time working at Fourth Church, and most—if not all—have included this passage. For most folks, it’s an alternative to the ubiquitous passage from 1 Corinthians 13. Like that passage, this one describes a Christian way of living in relationship: bearing with one another, forgiving, being patient, having compassion. Certainly these are great qualities to emphasize when two people are choosing to build a life together, however, I always remind couples of two things when I preach on this passage. First, this kind of perfect love can only be fully embodied by God. It is an ideal love that we strive for, though we often fall short. I also remind couples that this passage isn’t inherently about how to live as a couple but rather about how to live in community.

Read all at once, this list of qualities for good Christian living can feel pretty daunting. Despite my best efforts, I know that I am not always compassionate or forgiving or patient. Sometimes this description feels so impossible I’m inclined to give up entirely. But the purpose of this passage is to emphasize that in Christ we are made into one community even as we are different. These qualities the passage describes aren’t something we can achieve individually, but rather qualities we grow into together when we honor our common place in the community of God.

There is a concept in theology called “mutual indebtedness” that suggests that I can only be who God calls me to be by allowing you to be who God calls you to be and vice versa. When we encounter each other in this way, our love will naturally exhibit more patience, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom, and Godliness.

Prayer

God of grace, you have given us the gift of one another and the ability to embody your love. Help us to honor and love one another, even if only imperfectly, that we might always grow in our understanding of your love for us and this whole world. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 4:18–25

Reflection

I remember preparing to graduate college and dreading the inevitable question everyone asked: “So, what comes next for you?” Asked with the best intentions by people who truly cared about what I did with my life, there was still a lot pressure for the “right” answer. I tried to weigh my desires and calling with my friends and family’s expectations to decide what my future might hold. Would I go to grad school like my older siblings did? Would I find a job somewhere near home or branch out and move to a bigger city? It is hard enough to leave behind the known for something new and different, but to do so knowing that so many people are invested in what you do adds even more pressure.

Trying to hear my calling over everyone else’s advice was challenging. I can only imagine the challenge James and John must have felt, having been working alongside their father in the family business of fishing until one day this stranger calls out to them and they leave their safe, known existence—what everyone expected them to do—and instead follow this Jesus. How does Zebedee respond when his sons suddenly leave him for a greater purpose? What do we risk losing when we take a leap of faith? Will the inevitable gains outweigh the initial cost?

Prayer

God, guide me to your calling. Give me the strength to take a leap, to put aside my comfort and complacency to heed your guidance and plan for my life. Amen.

Written by Katie Patterson, Junior High and Youth Mission Coordinator

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 5:1–10

Reflection

My wife and I had the privilege of traveling with a group from Fourth Church to the Holy Land a few years ago. One highlight was the time we spent around the Sea of Galilee, including a visit to the location of the Sermon on the Mount.

Seeing the remote but beautiful location and realizing how difficult it was for a large crowd to have gathered there gave me an appreciation for the excitement, the anticipation, and the hunger the crowd felt for the hopeful message Jesus was delivering in words and actions.

In a sermon dating to the 1500s, John Calvin said, “It is as if Jesus were saying, ‘When I tell you that nothing will take away your blessedness, however oppressed and afflicted you are, I do not mean that you should dumbly resist regardless of feelings, or that you should be like senseless blocks of wood. No! You will weep, you will experience want, dishonor, illness, and other kinds of affliction in this world. These things you will suffer; they will wound you to the very core and make you weep. But nothing will take your blessedness from you.’”

What a comfort to know when the condition of our lives and our world makes us mourn and weep, makes us thirst for righteousness, calls for mercy and peacemaking that our faith and our personal relationship with Jesus assures us of God’s grace.

I’ll always treasure that trip to the mountain, but I’m not sure I would have followed Jesus into the wilderness. Will I now?

Prayer

O Lord and Father, help me to keep your promise before me and to claim your blessing in the midst of my own unworthiness. In a confused and suffering world, help me to accept your grace and follow your example as best I’m able. Amen.

Written by Ed Coke, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 5:11–16

Reflection

Talk of letting light shine always calls to mind Marianne Williamson’s observation that “it is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.” Some of us fear nothing more than to be called “proud” when we dare to raise our voice or use our gifts. Note well: the accusation “pride” typically says more about the one making it than the one against whom it is made.

Jesus calls upon men and women to let our God-given light shine, to season the world’s bland mediocrity with the salt of our vulnerability, and to do so without regard for the ridicule we will undoubtedly attract. In fact, Jesus says, that ridicule—reviling and cursing and all manner of trash talking—that’s where the blessing lives. As a technician tells President Bartlett’s assistant, Charlie, in a classic episode of The West Wing, “If they’re shooting at you, you know you’re doing something right.”

But let’s not mistake opposition for persecution. Inflaming peoples’ anger on purpose doesn’t make you a prophet. Instead, let’s ask ourselves on whose account we’re being opposed. On account of our own agenda? On account of The Cause?

Or are we being opposed, as Jesus so often was, on account of the poor? Are we making people mad with our speaking up for the voiceless and our shining a light on malice? Blessed are we if so. If not, then why not?

Prayer

May our light shine, O God, in the darkest of places, so that all your children may be blessed with joy and light. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 89

Reflection

Faithfulness.

Again and again in these verses for today the psalmist leads us in singing of faithfulness. Deep, abiding, everlasting faithfulness. We sometimes think of that word as defining our relationship with God, yet in these verses it is not our faithfulness that we celebrate but that of God.

We join the psalmist in singing of a God who again and again has demonstrated faithfulness to us. A God who makes, rather than extracts, promises—and then keeps them. We rejoice in a God who promises to love, forgive, and be with us always, not because of something we have agreed to do or be, but simply because God has promised to do so. Because God has called us and named us his children, bestowing on us unending love. Grace.

We lift our voices in marveling song that our God is a God who is steadfastly faithful and loving, is a God whose creation stretches from north to south, from deepest sea to highest mountain, from earth to the farthest reaches of heaven—and yet whose kingdom rests on a foundation not of created wonder but of justice and righteousness.

Ours is a God who calms the raging seas, bringing order out of chaos. Who blesses Abraham and Sarah with a child, bringing life out of barrenness, establishing unending generations, guiding them with a shepherd king. Who showers us with steadfast love and faithfulness, without condition. And we—how can we not let our very lives forever sing of justice and righteousness, of God’s never-ending love and faithfulness?

Prayer

Ground my life in the sure foundation of your justice and righteousness, O Lord, that the songs I sing and the life I live may be to your praise, today and always. Secure in your steadfast and certain love, O God, I pray. Amen.

Written by Ann Rehfeldt, Director of Communications

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Today’s Reading | Hebrews 12:1–2

Reflection

I have always been moved by this scripture. Growing up in the church, I knew many people of faith who have moved on from this earthly realm. Those are the people I picture when I read this passage: my grandparents, my mom, and those “church people” who were my guides and role models—those members of the church and the denomination I grew up in who have died, those Presbyterian leaders like Jack Stotts or Elam Davies or Dana Ferguson who influenced me here at Fourth Church.

I always envision my cloud of witnesses in the balconies overlooking the sanctuary at Fourth Church (even though many of them have never been to the church). I think of them particularly when I am facing a situation that challenges my faith. I imagine them up there cheering me on and encouraging me to follow in their footsteps. Not that they were always perfect, but they did their best to follow Jesus’ teachings and example. And now they have their reward.

When I picture them that way, it reminds me that I am just a part of a much larger story, one that will conclude long after I have followed in the footsteps of those who have gone before. That knowledge—that I am not the only one to have gone through these earthly struggles—gives me such great encouragement. It helps me focus on the fact that I am part of a story that God has been working on and will continue to work on long after I have moved on.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for my great cloud of witnesses and for providing me with earthly role models who have been my models in this life. Please lead me, as you did them, to contribute to your work in this world. Amen.

Written by Juli Crabtree, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18  

Reflection

“Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

I remember hearing that phrase for the first time in church and taking the word of God literally, as a young child often does. I stared at my chubby fists and wrinkled my nose. How was I supposed to worship God in this way? Do I tie my hand behind my back when I pray? I didn’t know how to do God’s work without letting myself—let alone other people—know about it.

In many ways, I am still like my younger self. I often find myself seeking acknowledgement or praise for doing good or making sacrifices, for doing volunteer work on a Saturday morning instead of sleeping late, for donating my old clothes instead of throwing them away. But I need to remind myself that, in exerting my efforts in this way, I am creating self-righteousness rather than receiving righteousness through God. God’s grace and forgiveness is quiet; it is unassuming; it is eternal—and we must accept God’s reward of unconditional love in the same way.

So let’s put away our trumpets. Resist the urge to blurt out our righteous accomplishments. Tie our right hands behind our backs. (OK, maybe not that last thing.) May we have the strength to quietly do that which allows us to fulfill our role as humble servants of God.

Prayer

God, fill our hearts with an unending supply of quiet grace and mercy so that we may serve you and do your work. Amen.

Written by Katie MacKendrick, Editorial Assistant

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:7–15

Reflection

Have you ever struggled to find the words to pray? Or wonder why it is important to pray? I had a fairly long season in life when I had no relationship with God. After many heartfelt discussions with a few close friends, I felt deep down in my gut that I needed that relationship in my life—and that terrified me. I never felt that I was very good at prayer. My words were always awkward and lacked the eloquence of prayers that I had heard on Sunday mornings for so many years. I had also believed for so long that my prayers from years before had gone unanswered. I felt that I had been deserted by God. Those hang-ups, coupled with the fear of opening up communication with God, weighed heavily on me.

One fall afternoon, while with a friend, I finally found the courage to say a prayer out loud to God. It was a very powerful moment, filled with all sorts of emotions, a lot of tears, and a huge sense of relief. I had broken down the wall that I had built to keep God out but needed a lot of guidance on how to pray.

In this passage, Jesus gives us a good pattern for our own prayer life. It reminds us to praise God, to pray for God’s work in our world, and to pray for our daily needs and strength during struggles. It gives me a good balance between praising God and placing requests before God. My conversations with God may still be clumsy, but I am comforted by the fact that God knows exactly what I need even before I ask.

Prayer

Gracious God, thank you for your gift of prayer. Help me to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks to you in all circumstances. Amen.

Written by Briana Belding-Peck, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:19–24

Reflection

On Saturday, July 13, 1991, my life changed in an instant. I was practicing the organ in Walnut Creek, California, when Kara came to visit the church. The sanctuary door was locked, but I let Kara in and we talked for three hours. The conversation never stopped after that. Kara and I had so much in common, and we enjoyed everything together—making music, going to concerts, hiking, and endless conversations. I couldn’t stop thinking about Kara. However, for a while Kara and I were separated, because she had already made plans to move to England and teach at a school near London for six months. I worked to continue the conversation with daily letters to her. I even decided to fly halfway around the world to visit her when I sensed that our relationship had cooled down a bit, and that visit brought us closer together. When Kara came back to America we decided to get married exactly one year to the day after we met in California.

Now read that paragraph again, but this time take out Kara’s name and insert the word “God.”

That is the relationship we should seek with God. Not a relationship that only lasts for one hour on Sunday morning, but one that is all consuming and endless; a relationship that is intentional and thoughtful, built on sharing and conversation. It is a relationship that may cool down at times, but it can always be revived, because there is a deep sense of knowing and being known by the other. In that knowledge of each other comes trust and faith. It takes effort every day, but every day the relationship becomes stronger, deeper, and more wonderful.

Prayer

God, lover of my soul, help me to love you with my whole being so that I may become one with you now and in eternity. Amen.

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

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:25–34

Reflection

Long before the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff was published in 1997, two thousand years ago, Matthew 6 is trying to teach us this same lesson. What good does worrying do? Not much. If you take the advice from the scripture and watch birds in the sky or flowers in the meadows, watch them in their natural beauty, they do not have a care in the world—yet their natural beauty shines without having to worry about how they look. What you are witnessing are the birds and the flowers living for God, not for vanity or status.

The saying “God has your back” comes to mind at the end of this selection. Trust in God, for God will take care of your necessities so you can enjoy the beauty he has created in the world around you. Stop and smell the flowers.

Prayer

Dear Lord, show us how to enjoy the beauties you’ve created and to trust in your wisdom that you have a grand life plan for all of us. Amen.

Written by Doug Whitmer, Director of Human Resources and Office Administration


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Friday, April 29, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 13:1–35

Reflection

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Really, who would give a Bible to the dog? Who (besides the Muppets) would drape a pig in pearls?

Dogs and swine, that’s how ignorant people are described, right? Don’t waste your time with them; they can’t possibly understand the wonderful things you have for them. Sounds like Jesus, right—always dividing people, always finding someone to exclude?

No? Well, if it’s not about exclusion or animal husbandry, what is going on here?

One thing we do pretty often is expect others to value the things we value in the same way we do, without regard for their circumstances. We are like the missionary who goes out among the starving people and says, “I am bringing you the good news!” And the starving people respond “Good news? Does that mean you have food?” And the missionary says “Oh, no, this is better than food! Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled!” And the starving people say, “That’s very nice, but what about those who hunger and thirst after food and water?” And the missionary goes home and laments having to cast his pearls before these swine who don’t appreciate him.

The flock needs to be fed. They need water. They need care. And a wise farmer knows to tend the needs of his stock. We do as much for our animals—why not for our fellow humans?

Is this talking down the gospel? Of course not. The word of God is a wondrous thing. People just need what they need, and Jesus is pretty consistent in telling us to take care of people’s needs. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, minister to the sick. That’s love, and if you don’t have love, it doesn’t matter how shiny and holy you think your words are.

Prayer

Lord, grant us empathy so that we may minister out of compassion. Help us to see the needs of others so that we can help meet them, as you have told us. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 92

Reflection

I’ve often heard, “in the morning pray the help-me prayer and at night pray the thank-you prayer.” In this psalm, subtitled “A Song for the Sabbath Day,” we are told it is good to give thanks and sing praises, to declare God’s steadfast love in the morning and faithfulness by night.

Isn’t it wonderful that we are free to sing praises every day and at all times? The author of this psalm goes on to exclaim joy for the works of God’s hands and marvels at the depth of God’s thoughts. The author is not a Pollyanna, however: he knows that the wicked and evildoers flourish, but they are doomed to destruction.

The final verses lift the righteous to the heights of tree tops—the palms and the cedars. If we are aligned with God we are planted and flourish in the courts of the Lord where we can produce much fruit. However, the fruit is not to show how good we are but to show that the Lord is upright with no unrighteousness in him.

Prayer

Upright and righteous God, help me each day to sing your praises and to thank you for the works of your hands. Amen.

Written by Roger Wilson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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