Views

The views expressed here are those of each individual devotion writer. Thank you to our writers for their contributions to this ministry!

Friday, August 19, 2022

Unchanging

For I am the Lord, I change not. Malachi 3:6a

I worked for a while with a group of mentally ill women. The room in which we spent the most time was windowless and dark, very dreary, I thought. In an effort to bring some light into the room, I covered the dark, old tables with white paper. Just as I was finishing and congratulating myself on the new brightness, one of the women came in and said, “You put paper on the tables.” I said, “Yes, do you like it?” “No!” she said, “Take it off.” I was mystified. “Why?” I asked. “Well, she said, it’s change and I don’t like change.”

I began to understand that day how very much we are all alike. In our world filled with confusion and turmoil, we long for something to remain constant—something unchangeable. We need look only as far as the Bible. “I am the Lord, I change not.”

He was in the beginning, and he is today, and He will be at the end. If we can but make Him the stable center of our lives, we don’t need to fear “paper on our tables.”

Prayer: Dear and Changeless Father, increase our trust in your constant love and use us as you will.  Amen 

Deb Kilian (reprinted from Eastridge Devotion book, 2008)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Create is Different than Made

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and all the creatures that move along the ground. So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing, so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:2-3

“Days of Praise” written by Henry M. Morris, Ph.D. of the Institute of Creation Research said, “God is, therefore, both Creator and Maker of all things, including the image of God in man. These two terms are not synonymous, though they sometimes seem to be used interchangeably. ‘Creation’ is calling into existence entities that previously had no existence. No one except God is ever the subject of the verb ‘create.’ The work of making, on the other hand, is that of organizing created entities into complex systems. It is interesting that God is called ‘Creator’ five times in the Bible, whereas He is called ‘Maker’ 16 times.”

After I developed my family Christian game “Ladder of Wisdom,” I made the mistake of saying yes to people who said, “You created this game?” Well, I made a mistake. I was the Maker of the game as I took items that God had created and put them together to make the game. All 120 verses used in the section boxes of “Ladder of Wisdom” came from the Bible. All I did was copy them into the Wisdom, Foolishness or Second Chance boxes. I didn’t create the material to make the box the game comes in or the tees. The wood of the tees that show the progress of the players and the cardboard box were created by God when He created the trees. All I did was use what the trees produced.

The good news is that I have been able to now say, “I didn’t create it because only God can create something out of nothing, but I developed or made it from items already created.” This brings an understanding look from people. God also created the people that took the game to from Nebraska and HobbyTown stores where people can buy them.

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, thank you for giving us so many tools so man can make items that are useful to us. Please keep us from mistakenly saying, “We created something.” You are an impressive, awesome God who created all things. Amen.

Sandra Hilsabeck


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12: 13-21 

I was amused and somewhat daydream-y when I saw that the Lotto/Powerball was over one billion dollars! Oh, what could I imagine doing with all that money, even if shared with other likely winners. Yes, I can imagine it, but have not given into the temptation to buy such a ticket. Odds are astronomically beyond imagination of winning – 300,000,000 to one! 

Now just suppose one did win? How would they respond? Would they be like the rich fool in the parable Jesus shares? This rich fool saw how much bounty he had! He would tear down his old barns and build bigger ones to store his abundant harvest.

Some observations: I notice the personal pronouns in the passage… “I, my, I will, myself…” I also notice just how self-centered the rich fool is with no care of those around him. Next, reality hits when God confronts the rich fool and says, “You fool, didn’t you know this night your soul was required of you?” (The Message says it more directly –“You are going to die!”)  

Now to be fair to the farmer, there are some positives for him – he is a planner, a thinker, and able to bring about a huge harvest. Great! But then all that is a waste. Jesus’ challenge in the parable is: Whose bounty will this harvest be with the farmer gone?

Hence, the challenge is in the caveat that Jesus advises one to watch out – Be on guard against all kind of greed, regardless of one’s possessions, even if they have accumulated a lot. The accumulation is not evil, but the fixation and focus on any kind of greed is what can derail anyone. We are stewards of not only possessions, but also time, relationship, and life.

One way to be vigilant is to keep perspective on the so-called ‘prosperity gospel.’ It would suggest that all one has to do is simply have the faith of a mustard seed and it would result in a bounty of material blessing. Maybe, but then is it a faith that is rich toward God?

Hence, the ultimate value of whatever one has or needs is how rich one is toward God.  

Look at Luke 12: 22 – 34. Essentially there is no need to worry. If God can adorn the lilies of the valley, could not God provide for you or me with an abundant need? For wherever one’s treasure is, there will be their heart also. It is with God!

Prayer: O God, remove all obstacles that block us from the abundance of Your grace and mercy. Help us to see our needs and rely on Your provision through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Rev. Dr. John J. Duling

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Faith

A week later his disciples were again in the room, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them, saying, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here; see my hands.  Reach your hand here and put it into my side. Be unbelieving no longer but believe.” Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Because you have seen me you have found faith. Happy are they who never saw me and yet have found faith.” John 20: 26-30

“Happy are they who never saw me and yet have found faith.” If I had been one of the disciples, I would probably have been Thomas. I would have been the one who would have wanted “hard evidence” when confronted with a miraculous situation. With evidence in hand, I would have accepted and believed. But I also would have wished that I could have been among those happy people who could believe with confidence without demanding proof. Many times in my life, faced with much less critical situations, I have wanted that simple, unswerving faith that some other people seemed to have. Thomas was reprimanded only lightly by Jesus, and he was not removed from the group of disciples, so his experiences give me personal hope. Maybe those of us who find doubts eating into our faith can still be counted as followers of Christ. Perhaps expressing our doubts, as Thomas did, is better than claiming a faith and belief that is not clear in our minds. Christ knew that to fulfill the purposes for which he came to this earth he would have to make the supreme sacrifice, giving his life. His Resurrection is a central part of Christian beliefs. Each of us knows that we will not have to give as much as Christ did, but we need to always realize that giving of ourselves without concern about reward is the way we demonstrate our faith.

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, we believe much, help us in our unbelief. Amen

Franklin Eldridge (reprinted from 2008 Eastridge Devotion book)

Monday, August 15, 2022

Empathy

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 1 Peter 3:8

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

I recall reading an essay in National Geographic magazine for the year 2020: “Embracing a history with photograph”. Ruddy Roye’s first assignment as a photographer for Nat Geo was to photograph people who donated artifacts to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. He recalls the difficulty of the assignment, as many of these artifacts came with “painful stories, and the items’ faithful guardians were now aged and infirm”. There was also a gratitude that he felt, being entrusted to tell the stories of those who have a part of a heartbreaking history for African Americans.

I’m currently reading a novel set pre-Civil War era. The author’s characterizations are so fantastic that I find myself anxiously turning the pages to find out how it all plays out…and to remind myself it's "just" fiction (albeit depicting events that could have happened)*. I have heard many times that reading fiction cultivates empathy, and I believe that's true!

When we lose ourselves in others' stories, we increase our capacity for empathy and compassion. Empathy, defined by Merriam-Webster, is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

Empathy isn't only something we may struggle to experience when interacting with those who have different life experiences than we do...sometimes it's hard to relate to those close to us or similar to us. Often our own egos get in the way. Perhaps a frequent prayer that God opens our eyes, ears, and hearts to those around us.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to put myself in other people’s shoes by trying to understand where they come from. Help me to not make judgements based on how I feel, but rather what they have chosen to share with me. Help me to look for truth and exhibit humanity in this world. Amen.

Donna Gustafson

*(Horse by Geraldine Brooks)

Friday, August 12, 2022

Over-Achieving Love (sermon from 7-24-22)

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”  John 20:19-20

We began our sermon series, "Hymns that make you go hmmmm," with a contemporary (mid-19th century) re-writing of Psalm 103. This week, we move to an older hymn - around 100 years older, written by another prolific hymn-writer, with a different method - Charles Wesley. Yes, we turn today to our good friends the Methodists.

I want to put this in perspective a little bit - for us worshipping in this Presbyterian church today. The Presbyterian movement - John Calvin and John Knox - had been around in Switzerland, Scotland, and France, for almost two hundred years when the Wesley brothers started riding around the countryside preaching. They were largely influenced by the Moravian movement - a part of the counter-reformation in Europe that emphasized simple, common language that could be easily understood in worship - no big books of prayers and liturgies needed! The Moravians also believed in living simply - simple speech and a simple lifestyle - also as a way to connect with others, mostly with those who are "not", who do not "have." Yes, the Wesleyan brothers and the Methodist movement were highly influenced by a desire to share Christ, their lives, and their livelihood with those who did not believe.   

I'm assuming you've all at least heard the Wesley name. We have, here in our own community, a Wesleyan University. I don't know about you, but when I think of the name. Wesley, what I think of is Methodists, and John Wesley. He's the brother I think of, with all his writings on theology and the church. Charles, however, whether we know it or not, is the brother we "sing." Charles did not like public speaking and was often thought to be the more "emotional" of the brothers. I'm not sure if that's true, as it seems a fairly objective insight. Maybe he was shy, maybe even, yes, more emotional than John; he really didn't like preaching as an expression of his faith. Instead, he turned to music, writing more than 6,000 hymns, including some you probably know by heart; like Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Christ the Lord is Ris'n Today, and Rejoice the Lord is King.

I really like Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. I know for some it is a favorite hymn, chosen to be sung at weddings, at funerals, at baptisms, and every occasion in between. Unlike last week's hymn, it's not based on one scripture, on one Psalm. If we were to go through and reference ever bit of scripture in these words, I could preach all day. Which I won't. But it does make it a good camp song. The Wesleyan brothers were dubbed, "Methodists" for the way in which they shared the gospel, training preachers to ride horses from town to village to countryside, set up a tent, and hold a revival. In order to do this, preachers needed to be able to preach to the people they met, sharing the gospel in meaningful ways that often involved leaving a script behind in order to speak "correctly" about faith. Songs then, were sung around the campfire, in a tent, and led by various musical instruments - sometimes with the voice as the only instrument. Like camp songs today, they needed to be easy to sing, easy to remember, and a strong connection to the Christian faith of the people, focusing on Jesus, sin, and salvation.

So, let's talk about love. Overall, the hymn follows a nice pattern, each verse sharing a different, important, foundation of faith. Perhaps one of the reasons I like the hymn so much is that this first verse finds love as the way to explain the relationship between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It's my favorite way to talk about the trinity - that the love between God the Creator and God the Redeemer is so strong that it becomes a person, or the being of the Holy Spirit.  I like this theory of relationships, that every time we are in relationship with someone else - no matter what that relationship is - that the relationship itself becomes a life to be nurtured, cared for, and supported. It's beautiful, then, to think about this love between the one Jesus called Abba, Father; and the son; as so strong it is the powerful presence, being, and person of the Holy Spirit that we carry in our hearts and lives today. God is made known to us by the strong and mighty power of love, a love divine, a love that is shared with all of creation. 

For Wesley, just as for many of us, that strong love is most known to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the son. While the main scriptural reference here is Philippians 2, where Paul quotes one of the oldest Christian hymns, we also think of John 3:16. Charles gets right to the point here in this camp song - the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ and the giving of the son so that we might have eternal life, tells us even more about this love divine, this love excelling. 

But how is this love made known to each one of us - as individuals? Once again, as in the hymn from last week, there is an individual reality that Charles brings forward. Once again, this makes some of us uncomfortable, as we know faith is not about the I, but about the "us". It's a discussion that we still have today among believers, about how we come to faith. Is it an individual act, made in the individual freedom to accept or deny the faith? Is it an act of God, the revelation of who God is, when we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are able to see things more clearly? Both find lots of references in scripture, leading this preacher to hold her hands up and say, "yes!" to both. That it is a magical interplay between revelation of God's presence in the world, and the acknowledgement and acceptance of that presence into our hearts and lives. Yes, it is individual, and yes it brings us into community. The scriptural reference here to the divine ruach, the divine breath first breathed into the 'adam' and shared with 'eve', this divine breath that Jesus breathes into to the disciples when he appears among them in that enclosed upper room in Jerusalem, that divine breath gives life and life everlasting. Scholar Karoline Lewis here notes that this breath is breathed into the disciples, just like that first breath shared with 'adam. It is the breath of God exhaled into the disciples who have seen and believed, and the ones who need to see to believe, to those who doubt, and all those who are afraid and uncertain.  It is the breath of God inhaled by the disciples who have seen and believed, and the ones who need to see to believe, to those who doubt, and all those who are afraid and uncertain. It is shared with all of them who are gathered, waiting, wondering, searching, learning. And while I think there is much for us to learn from our faith today, I think this is the one thing I want us to come away with this morning - that you are loved with an amazing and divine, excelling love that will be shared and shared and shared until everyone is breathing in the love of God and breathing out the love of God, until we have peace with each other, and peace in the world. It's an individual breath, and something that brings us together. It is our life, and our peace. 

It is with this breath that we continue on in the faith - finding the strength and hope to pray for deliverance from the things in our lives (including sin) that we struggle with, and that leads us to look to THAT day of a new heaven and a new earth, when we will be made finally perfect in Christ, at one with God. Walter Brueggeman summarizes the hymn this way, "That is where we are headed when we are fully caught up in divine love. The ultimate goal and outcome of human life is that our “selves” of fear, anxiety, and responsibility are caught up in a complete yielding to wonder, love, and praise: • Wonder at the unimaginable splendor of God’s person • Love that arrives back at love divine that was our beginning • Praise, glad ceding of life over to God in ways that enhance God’s awesomeness.[1]

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, a hymn written by a man who believed preaching wasn't the only way to share the gospel. How will you share it this week? Amen.

Rev. Dr. Melodie Jones Pointon            

           



[1] Brueggemann, Walter. A Glad Obedience (pp. 118-119). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.

 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

God's Love

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

What a wonderful, reassuring message this gives us. No matter what is going on around us, God’s love is always present. I am reminded of Paul’s time that he spent in prison. He was in poor health, physically hurting, cold, and could easily be depressed knowing his future was uncertain. However, instead he rejoiced in the Lord, Jesus’s death and resurrection, and his saving grace. He encouraged the new churches begun on his journeys and recognized the spread of the gospel through his Christian friends. He embraced the ministry to the Gentiles and how this was part of God’s plan.

There are times when we can be easily overwhelmed with what is going on around us but knowing that God’s love is always present, and that God is in charge can give us the reassurance that we can make it through another day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your love, for your son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, so that we can overcome all obstacles and grow in our faith in you.

Nancy Hall