Devotional by Clarence Eden

CHANGES

Everything would be so much simpler if things did not change so much. Even those who cling to the status quo discover that changes can always intrude. Consider Adam and Eve who found themselves evicted and burdened with the problems that all the world has come to know. Consider Isaac who had one son disinherited while the other fled for his life for stealing the family treasure from his brother. Consider Job who lost everything in spite of his assurance that he had done his best as a servant of God. Consider David who was a triumphant hero, and then fell victim of his own weakness bringing on the judgment of God.

Then there is Jesus, the Son of God, who meets every task given to Him and finds himself pleading that the ‘cup” be removed from him. And He was saddened by the treachery of Judas, and the disloyalty of Peter. Consider Mary who lost a son in a horrible way, only to find Him three days later. Consider Paul who was an amazing missionary after his change on the Damascus road but died in a Roman prison. And note all of those over the centuries who died for their faith,

You remember Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. whose lives were changed in an instant. Remember Lucille Daniel Clarke, my grandmother, who taught Japanese women and won them to Christ, who labored to begin a school for girls in Japan that they might become learned and be brought to faith in Christ, whose plan was subverted by religious politics and someone else was given credit for her faith and diligence

We are aware of a group of people who built a church at Fifth and Hawthorn, and the changes that have occurred in the passing years. Remember where this church was three years ago and the changes in the intervening years, some of them hard to endure while others have brought us to a new sense of who we are. In the last 32 years, people have come and gone, grown up and moved on, lost mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and children, and others have seen a marriage crumble and jobs lost.

Why then, in the waning years of my own life, do I see such promise and hope in this fellowship called St. John’s. I have had many turns in my life, and I am sure that they have strengthened me for the way ahead. God is in the changes as he is in the calm times. And so we not only survive the years, we find joy in them. May we find joy in every circumstance of life with Your help, O God. Amen.

Devotional by Lydia Farnsworth

Some time ago, during a time of asking some hard questions in my life, and as a result of a sermon I heard, my spiritual imagination went into a bit of overdrive. Lots of questions came to mind, like: What if there were more traveling with Jesus on a more or less day to day basis than just the twelve apostles? What if there were women following too? What if the gospel writers just told us about the closest twelve, but neglected to mention that there were others who “saw” and “heard?” What if I had been there? What would I have seen and heard? Out of those questions came the following: (Note: read the entire left column before the right.)

Anonymous Disciple

A waving hand said “follow me;”
I lept as eye met eye.
He saw what I could really be
And gave me strength to try.

I ran with haste His words to hear
Without a backward look
I gave myself, without a fear
My life, an open book.

Though I had only fished for food,
He said we’d fish for men.
My life seemed bare, and cruel and rude
‘Til he bought Life without end.

He often spoke of perfect peace
Of Love for fellowman.
His look brought health and peace, release.
In Him, we saw God’s plan.

I saw Him stop, the sick to heal,
To bear another’s load.
I felt His Love, sincere and real;
On rich and poor bestowed.

I saw Him raise the dead to Life;
I saw Him still the storm;
I saw Him touch demonic life
And make it calm and warm.
I saw Him teach; I heard Him pray
For peace and love and light.
His love and grace reach out today
With hope of life and sight.

In deep despair, I felt each nail;
My Lord, He died for me.
He paid a price for all who fail.
He died to set us free.

I thought with death, His life would end
But Love has conquered sin
Amen! Amen! New life begins!
With Him, I’ll live again!

With joy and hope, each day I kneel
My God, My Life, My Lord!
His presence very close, I feel
My life has been restored!

He sent us out–to teach and give
As by His work and word.
Always He’s here; He’ll help us live;
His voice can still be heard.

Though trials and hardships never cease,
He’s here with us to stay
He left with words of hope and peace.
“And lo, I’m [here] always.”

Lydia Eden Farnsworth

Devotional by Linda Finger

We are deep into summer; hard to believe that July is almost gone. We have enjoyed the fun that summer brings. We have celebrated many things: family reunions at the beach, birthdays, weddings, our nation’s birthday! Yes, we have much to be thankful for, and it is kind of sad to see the time slipping away so quickly.
Only four weeks ago, I sat with friends around the table as we enjoyed big bowls of homemade ice cream and shared some of our memories of past Fourth of July celebrations. The stories were fun to listen to, of Independence Day parades, the fire works displays, and of waiting impatiently, as children, for Dad to finish cranking that old churn of ice cream. Oh, the deliciousness of that creamy treat! There’s just nothing like it on a sizzling July day.
We also recalled some of the differences between those long-ago memories and how things are today. We mostly buy store-bought ice cream now. And I’ll bet you’d look all over town and never find fresh fig or Nutella flavors in the super market! As we talked, we all felt rather smug having eaten both of those ice creams that warm Fourth of July evening. These days, we figured, kids would hardly know what the words “dasher” or “churn” meant (except for those lucky few who’d helped their parents concoct those batches that day). Our busy pace of life has pulled us away from the pleasures of sitting on the front porch after supper. It has taken away the adventure of pedaling your bike down a two-lane dirt road and taking a dip in the quarry lake with your buddies. And we hardly, if ever, make time to stand on the sidewalk uptown and hear the bands march by, blaring out those patriotic tunes, and put our hand over our heart as the Stars and Stripes is held high, waving in the breeze.
Oh, I am reminded daily that we do live in a world with a lot of turmoil going on in it. A lot of that turmoil is hitting us personally, full in the face. Woven through life’s fabric are those dark tones of grief, illness, uncertainty, and sorrow. Alongside the brilliant colors of joyful days are the bands of rough, difficult experiences that many of us are called to face and live through, and – God willing – come out of on the other side.
Some verses from the Psalms have come to mind during these past days, some I am sure you’ve heard before: “The lines fall for me in pleasant places, indeed, I am well content with my inheritance (or heritage)” , and also “Thou will show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy”. — Ps. 16:6 and 11. I feel sure many of us would certainly agree that we have been deeply blessed in numerous ways when we look back over our journeys of Life. God indeed is good!
So now, as I finish writing this tonight, ironically, I am interrupted by my daughter-in-law.
“Hurry”, she says. “Come and look at the sky tonight! Isn’t it beautiful? And she and I put down our chores and go out to stand under an amazing palette of pale orange , pink, and pearl light from the setting sun. Standing with her, in the pale glow, I am reminded once again of the changeless, yet ever evolving love of God, and God’s mercies to us, his children, to create such beauty for us to enjoy.
So don’t forget to take a few minutes today to sit on the porch, or catch the evening sky show at dusk, or rock a baby in your lap. See what God has for you to behold. You really shouldn’t miss it!

— Linda Finger, July 29, 2012

Devotional by Clarence Eden

ANYONE
Clarence Eden

Unexpected encounters
with surprising people
bring experiences
never imagined, some
great, some grave.
We are left to wonder
how they came to be,
how we find joy, love,
or grief and betrayal.

We meet and know
dozens or thousands,
and our interactions
with them bring us
delight, elation,
or perhaps despair
and contention.

Why, we ponder,
can we never solve
with certainty
the vagaries
of those who are
our neighbors.

The answer may rest
within ourselves.
Anyone may be
a friend if we see
no one as an enemy –
even when we disagree.

Devotional by Tom Peacock

DEVOTIONAL
Tom Peacock

Most devotionals, I think, have their basis in personal experiences and this surely follows that pattern. Just a year ago last week, my Marie was in the midst of something common to most ladies—she was getting her nails done. Suddenly she collapsed, was rushed to the hospital, and we learned that it was a stroke, followed quickly by a diagnosis of irreversible dementia. Since that time she has been a patient at the special care unit of our retirement home, and there is no expectation that that will change. She remains pleasant, still has that smile that lights up the room, and no longer talks to me about going home. She enjoys the bird feeder the kids bought her, and we spend hours holding hands and watching the charming little goldfinch. Together we have celebrated her birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and our seventieth wedding anniversary, there in that blessed facility.
But what, you say, does any of this have to do with a devotional? Well, in the aftermath of an event like this, there are the inevitable questions, including some that implied that God might have been dozing that day. I don’t happen to think God had anything to do with it. In the human condition, things occur, bad things happen to good people, and as I have lain there in the night grieving for a lost time and a love who isn’t coming home again, I have from the first day believed my Lord was grieving with me, and that he welcomed my prayers.
And in the meantime, we won’t be asking “why me?” You know, I flew high performance military aircraft for quite a while, had many friends who were lost and when I made it home safely, I don’t recall ever asking “why me?”
Does this imply that things are easy? No way. The hardest thing I ever do is enter the apartment door each evening. But, I am trying to master the art of a day at a time, I trust in the mercy, the faith, the hope and the love of our Lord, Jesus the Christ, and if the lens to the future seems a bit murky, well—-

In 1939, World War II was just beginning and there was a real danger that Britain, woefully unprepared, would be invaded. There was a tradition that the king would deliver, by radio, a New Year’s speech to the nation. King George VI was a quiet, shy man who had a terrible stutter and he was terrified at the thought of his malady. But when he broadcast that night, and I heard him, his voice was strong, there was no stammer as he told his people of the dangers, privation, heartache and suffering they faced in an uncertain future and at the close of the talk he quoted —-

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown—And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God—that shall be for you better than a light and safer than a known way.” Amen.

Devotional by Lydia Farnsworth

Be still and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10)
I have plans to give you a hope and future. (Jer. 29:11)
In all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths. (Prov. 3:6)
I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth. (Mt. 28:20)

My husband and I recently returned from a 7 day cruise on the Carnival Dream to the Eastern Caribbean. This was our third cruise, but our first 7 day cruise.

I have to confess that I left home with heavy feelings of frustration, exhaustion, stress, anxiety, and worry. I was pretty spent, physically, spiritually and emotionally. I had tied myself in knots the weeks before over getting ready for the trip and some other things going on in my life. We call it a vacation, and I wanted desperately, at least for a week, to vacate, to retreat, even to run away from all that was life at home. I was in the proverbial “I’ve had it up to here” mindset. From the moment we finally took our seats on the bus that took us from the airport in Orlando to the port, the heavy weight of — just life– the pressure cooker that sometimes is my life, began, slowly, to recede.

After boarding the ship in Florida and briefly checking into our cabin, we went to the highest point on deck, our favorite place to be when the motors turn on and “sail away” begins. At the same rate the shores of Florida faded into the distance, my cares began to recede as well and the relaxation began. Without consciously realizing it, I remember now a sense, more than audible words, but that sweet presence inside me, saying “It’s okay, take some time off, rest, relax, chill-lax, enjoy, laugh, revel, even celebrate; stop thinking so much and just be; find that place of real inner peace, a place where you don’t have to remind yourself to take that deep breath.” When I get myself in that bad place, the healing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process, but being on ship is one of the most peace-full and restorative experiences I’ve ever had. As the week went by, that voice that pulled me toward peace and hope got ever louder and the voices that tell me to worry and be anxious were left behind, progressively dropped in the wake stretching behind our boat.

As each day passed, the rest, the happy people, the good food, and fun and exciting activities took me ever towards a place of physical, spiritual and emotional peace and relaxation. There’s something magically restorative about being unable to see land, gazing at the vastness of the sea, watching the skies full of twinkling stars at night, seeing the horizon in every direction, realizing the power of the God of the universe who could care so much for me, that does wonders for my well-being. The movement of the ship under my feet, and especially the nights at sea, are like being rocked in a perpetual cradle.

Two mornings at the beach on two separate islands, standing in green waters that were so clear, I could see my feet in shoulder deep water; floating on the waters of a bay so calm, its rhythms were more those of a fresh water lake; gazing at royal palms and stark white sands; reveling in a tropical paradise too beautiful for words to describe, all added to the experience, the healing and the memories I will carry. Hopefully, when the stress starts to take over, I can go back to that white sandy beach.

There were so many times when God let us know he was present in a very real way. Twice when we were shopping in downtown on an island, we hailed a taxi to go back to the ship and discovered contemporary Christian music playing on the taxi’s stereo.

One night we were dining in the ship’s dining room and I heard a familiar tune playing on the background music. The tune was a popular Christian praise song called Majesty, and the lyrics, in part, although this was instrumental only music, are “Majesty, Worship His Majesty. Unto Jesus be all glory, honor and praise.” I dismissed it the first night we heard it, assuming that perhaps the tune had been used for another secular song. But the next night, in the dining room, that song played again, along with instrumental versions of two other contemporary Christian praise choruses. There was no mistaking that someone on that ship, with the myriad of nationalities and religions present both in passengers and crew, in what was basically a very secular setting, had deliberately chosen that music. The non-Christians were being treated to Christian music without knowing it. I’m sure the Christians who recognized it were blessed. It was as if the Lord himself said, “See, even here, I’m with you. I’m with you everywhere and always.”

It’s my prayer that even if cruising is not for you, that you know and have already found your favorite place of vacation and retreat, where the world recedes, and you find rest and rejuvenation; that you also know a place in your heart where you can go, even when you cannot physically leave home, to find a sense of rest and inner peace without worry or anxiety. And that if you do not already know that sense, that you will have the courage to seek until you find your own place of peace, rejuvenation, restoration and His presence.

Devotional by Phil Vavra

Where’s Jesus?

Art Linkletter was right. Kids do say the “darndest” things. But it’s not always what they say, as much as it is when they say it that garners the guffaws. We were sitting in another church’s worship service one Sunday morning in 2006. The minister had concluded a prayer, the congregation punctuated it with a solemn “Amen,” and we observed a brief moment of silence. Very brief. It was during this interlude of calm meditation that my younger son, Nicholas, chose to stand up on the pew and shout at the top of his two-year-old lungs, “WHERE’S JESUS!?!” At that moment, I perfected the full-body cringe.

Much to my relief, Nick got a big laugh, despite – or perhaps because of – his questionable timing. That’s the great thing about being a toddler. Even Presbyterians will almost always be amused by your antics. If I had inquired as to the whereabouts of the Son of God in the same manner, I probably would have been escorted to the parking lot by the largest available deacon and told not to come back without a second pledge card.

This episode in our family history has stayed with me for a reason other than the comedic. Nick’s tone of voice didn’t sound like he was merely asking about Jesus’ physical location. Rather, it sounded like a demand to see Jesus. “Where’s Jesus!?! Why isn’t he here? You people keep talking about him and saying his name but I don’t see him.” Was my son a skeptic at two? He won’t say. But thinking about his outburst serves to remind me that there have been times in my adult life when I’ve asked the same question in the same tone.

We’re all familiar with the classic cries of woe. “Why me?” “How could this happen?” And the ever-popular, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Most of us have wrestled with frustrations like these, often regarding dilemmas or gaps in our own lives. And we’ve been taught, probably since toddlerhood, that we’re never truly alone in our times of trouble. Yet no matter how many postings of “Footprints in the Sand” we’ve read on Facebook, the question still has a way of creeping up. Where’s Jesus?

I have wondered and doubted and questioned and pondered. Then I tried praying. Concentrated or intentional prayer is still fairly new for me but it’s already helping to build a bridge from uncertainty to assurance. Oh, I’ll have more questions. You can’t help it when you’re human. But I believe we can all find our answers. Where’s Jesus? I picture Him two arms’ lengths away and it’s up to us to reach out, close the gap and complete the bridge.

Phil Vavra
5.10.2012

Devotional by Clarence Eden

MIRACLE

I find it interesting that “miracle” is not a biblical word, yet the Bible is replete with events that take on the nature of miracle, such as Jesus turning water into wine at Cana. The restoration of Lazarus from the dead was, to those who were around him, clearly supernatural. The chief example was the resurrection of Jesus at the site of Joseph’s of Arimathea’s tomb. For those who discovered Him, it was both fearful and wondrous. And they marveled at it when He walked among them.

This word today has become almost common-place as we ascribe so many things to the status of a miracle. It is a “miracle” when an underdog team pulls out a victory in the closing seconds of a sports competition. Usually the one who makes the winning play has practiced that very move countless times to ready himself for just such a moment. He expected to make it without any help. He expects to it do several times in his playing career. Not quite a “miracle.”

There are many times when the issue is not so clear. A friend wrote of her husband’s adventure when he turned his car around on a mountain road. As he backed up, his rear wheels went off the side of the road and the SUV slid down the hill about 18 feet and lodged itself in a creek between the bank and a large rock (which he was fortunate not to have hit) and the front doors could not open. He climbed into the back and got out of the door, climbed up and walked until someone came by and picked him up. The tow-truck driver that pulled the SUV out said, “You are a lucky man.” My friend replied, “The Lord was with him. He saved him!”

I understand, inasmuch as I was “T-boned” on the passenger side of my van and the right side rose up, As I looked out my window the pavement seemed to be rushing up to meet me, when at the critical moment the right side flew down
so hard it bent the front wheel. I was unhurt. I think it was just the vagaries of gravity at work, but I said “Thank God.”

It seems a miracle every time a baby is born. It is always a world-changing event and should be celebrated every day. When a church in turmoil is found by the right people, who, like Moses, lead us out of great tensions, and enable us to follow a Spirit of adventure into the future, we sense that the Divine is at work and we are called anew to be church for each other and for the world. Seems like a miracle indeed to me. Let us listen for the Word and words already spoken. And let us follow in faith. Life is wonderful, surprising, mysterious, and, often unexplainable. Even in our dark moments, there may be miracles on the way. Lord, help us open our eyes and minds to see You at work in us and our world. Amen

Devotional by Judy Biber

Ben Zoma says:
Who is rich?
The one who appreciates what he has…
(Talmud—Avot 4:1)

A Lesson from My Dad

Once my brother and I were adults with families of our own, at almost every gathering of our family, my dad would say, “I’m a rich man!”. Sometimes he would whisper it into the ear of one of several grandchildren on his lap, and wait for them to ask what he meant. He would carefully explain that having this wonderful family made him a rich man.

I know that family was Dad’s greatest treasure, but I believe his “richness” went further. I believe he was happy with his lot in life.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression. My dad’s father died when my dad was seven, leaving my grandmother with five small children ages nine down to eighteen months. Dad and his two brothers, the three oldest kids, were shifted around the family from their grandmother to aunts and uncles. My dad’s dreams and hopes for his life were modest, and he more than fulfilled his dreams. He graduated from high school, despite the challenges of moving among several school systems, all with different requirements and standards. And he graduated from the most difficult school! He married the love of his life, raised a family, owned a home, started a business, educated his children, lived to enjoy his grandchildren, and to travel to the places he had dreamed about!

I was reared to dream big. I believed that by getting a college education, I could do whatever I dreamed. I had so many dreams! What I really wanted, however, was to have babies and be a full-time mom. I was very fortunate to be able to live that dream.

My own children got the big dream message even more. Not long after our first child was born, the Marlo Thomas record, “Free to Be” came out. We proudly played that record over the years that we had small children. “It’s Alright to Cry”, “William Wants a Doll”, a story of the princess who could run faster than her prince, etc. Our kids had so many choices to face, it was overwhelming!

I wanted to title this devotional “A Lesson Learned from My Dad”, but I’m not sure I have really learned it. I find myself thinking “if only” a lot. If only we had …if only we could…

I have more than I need. I enjoy so many of life’s greatest joys. My life is blessed, truly blessed. Yet, I don’t think I have ever told anyone that I’m rich.

It was always a pleasure to hear my dad say that he was rich. It indicated his own satisfaction, but those words also carried a message that I had pleased him with what I did with my life. My brother had pleased him. My mother had pleased him.

If we recognize that we are rich, will God be pleased with what we have done?

Devotional by Sally Young

I lift up my eyes to the hills-
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Pslam 121:1-2

One of the joys of my life is my membership in the commenting community of Achenblog, Joel Achenbach’s blog on washingtonpost.com. It’s comprised of smart people from all over the globe whose first connection was their interest in Joel’s writing, but many of us have become friends IRL (in real life). Joel’s blog items (a.k.a. the kit) start us off on a topic, but the comments (a.k.a. the boodle) often veer in fun and fascinating ways. I have learned much and laughed often, from things these folks post. It’s an amazingly civil and pleasant corner of the Internet.

Recently, the Indian biology professor who is one of our regular commenters posted a link to a story by Eric Weiner in the New York Times Travel Section, titled Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer. He talks about thin places, “…locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent….” Thin places can be anywhere, although, he says, we normally don’t find them when we’re looking for them. They can be churches and bookstores, monasteries and mountaintops. Or not.

That got me thinking about the thin places I’ve experienced. Mine tend to be situational, rather than places I’ve visited. Chapter 40 of Little Women, The Valley of the Shadow, always moves me to tears. Alcott’s account of the death of Beth March is incredibly honest and moving. I wept when I first read it at age 11, and I just pulled it out and wept again. Being in the room with my older brother the night he died, now that was a very thin time and place. Childbirth is a thin time too; I cherish the memory of watching Beth’s dad hold her for the first time. This was a man who would not voluntarily hold any other child, but his baby, that was different and wonderful.

If heaven and earth are only three feet apart, as Mr. Weiner quotes the Celtic proverb, can we learn to discern God in all things? Surely all good times and places are thin, we just don’t see them. The busyness of life intervenes, we don’t know how to experience the wonder, we refuse to open our eyes and hearts. We miss much of what God would share with us. Our blindness can rise to sinfulness, if we don’t watch out.

A Family Night series on how to discern transcendence would be helpful, wouldn’t it? But maybe, all we need to do is to quiet our souls, see, and listen. The beauty of spring’s first rose, an Easter anthem, a convivial dinner with family, a grandchild’s hug, a book that brings illumination, a happy chat with friends across the Internet, all these point to God. Let’s look for the thin places and appreciate them.

Here’s the link to the story: http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html?pagewanted=1&hpw

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