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

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Aunt Pauline

Therefore, since we are encompassed with such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.  Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. John 13:15

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:35

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16   

When Pastor Melodie called something “Pauline” in a sermon earlier this year (referring to something Paul had said in one of the letters of the New Testament), I immediately thought of the only Pauline I know, my grandfather’s sister: a lovely, vibrant woman.

The next “rabbit hole” of thought: Those ancestors who have gone before. Those Christians who have gone before.

Again, from Hebrews: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Who is within that “cloud of witnesses”? Some commentary on this verse suggests those who have “gone before” us, ancestors, those of the Christian faith, anyone who precedes us. Employing my computer browser’s version of AI, it says: “The context of this verse comes from the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. It encourages believers to persevere in their faith, drawing inspiration from the examples of those who have gone before them. The “cloud of witnesses” refers to the faithful individuals who have lived out their faith and serve as an inspiration to others. The passage emphasizes the need to focus on Jesus, who endured suffering and shame for the sake of our salvation. By fixing our eyes on Him, we can find strength to overcome challenges and run the race of faith with endurance.” I also like this portion of The Message paraphrasing: “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God.”

I also think about those with whom we share this space in time. Sometimes when I think of who our “neighbor” is, I think of those with whom we are spending this time in history. Not just the city of Lincoln, not just Nebraska, not just the United States, but everyone in this particular time in history. It gives me a sense of connection to humanity in general! There are so many from whom we can draw inspiration and strength in faith, past and present.

I am blessed to call those family members who have gone before, like Pauline, Christians from whom I can draw inspiration, faith, and hope.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for those in our lives who were/are within our “cloud of witnesses”, examples and encouragers in the faith. Help us to remember that we can serve as examples in the Christian faith to those who follow us. Amen.

Donna Gustafson

(photos below: Pauline as a child in early 1900s; Pauline (on far left) with her husband, Lloyd (far right), along with my parents, brothers, our dog Lucky. I was taking the photo! Chicken coop and old GMC pickup in the background. Click on photos to view larger.)

Friday, May 24, 2024

Is It Happiness or Is It Joy?

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  (Proverbs 22:6 ESV)

Forty pounds of “Plaster of Paris” and two sets of molds. That’s what Shirley Gerding and I purchased 50 years ago so that we could prepare a 6-figure nativity set for each of our twenty-eight-4th grade Sunday school students. We wanted to help them remember the real meaning of Christmas. 

Wow! Twenty-eight children times 6 figurines (28 x 6 =168). That meant that Shirley and I each had to pour 84 figurines as we each prepared for 14 of our students to make their nativity sets. The imperfect figurines would need a “do over.” At one point in the preparation, we both became a bit frustrated and maybe a bit discouraged. We seriously wondered if it was worth all this time and effort. 

When each of the nativity sets had been foiled and antiqued with black paint, the children were so proud and couldn’t wait to take them home. They really had done an excellent job. You might think that was that - the end of a successful 4th grade Sunday school craft project.

However, 50 years later, a few of those 9- and 10-year-olds who are now 59 and 60 years old came to a funeral here at Eastridge last week in support of one of their fellow classmates whose mother had just passed away. What did those former students say to me? Each one of them said, “I still have my nativity set.”  Then I heard some heart-warming stories of the journeys of their nativity sets being lost then found or broken and repaired after a move. One story was quite hilarious. It was a story of a heartbroken former student bemoaning the fact that her cat had bitten off the head of one of the wisemen, but later all was well when a “glued on” head repair was successful. 

I’m not at all good at explaining the difference between happiness and joy, but I know it when I feel it. I was sad as I had known the friendship of that deceased mother. She had been a member of the women’s exercise class that I taught here at the church in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. She was one of the first people who came to see me after my husband died. Memories of those special times with both the mother and the daughter filled me with pure joy. 

Fifty years ago, we had no idea, Shirley and I, that our forty pounds of “Plaster of Paris” would travel such long and beautiful journeys. It is truly a blessing to know that the members of our fourth grade Sunday school class have been living such loving and caring Christian lives. That they continue supporting one another after so long a time is truly and wonderfully amazing.   

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, we praise You for showing us that there is both happiness and joy to be found in teaching children about Your Son. We thank you that those fourth-grade students have become true disciples of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is in His holy name that we pray. Amen.    

Judy Welch 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Prayer for Today

Living water, please quench my soul today with your truth, wisdom, comfort, love. Amen. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Words from the book of Mark

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

A Better Life

 Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Colossians 4:1-3 (The Message) 

It's criminal to ignore a neighbor in need, but compassion for the poor-what a blessing! Proverbs 14:21 (The Message)
And then take on an entirely new way of life-a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. Ephesians 4:19-21 (The Message)
In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. Ephesians 4:24 (The Message)
I recently heard a speaker who suggested four components that can help each of us live a better life. First, live with gratitude. Second, live with compassion. Third, try to do something in a new or novel way. And fourth, connect deeply.
All of these concepts are included in the Bible, as noted above. And they're all ideas that can help make us better Christians. If we live with gratitude, we become more aware of all the blessings we have received from God. And if we focus on the things we can be grateful for, maybe we can turn away from some of the negative thinking we often carry with us.
Living with compassion means caring for others around us. Just as Jesus did. There are a number of ways we can demonstrate compassion--by donating money to charities or by volunteering to help those in need. But we can also show concern in our everyday interactions with those around us. It only requires that we stop to listen to a friend's problem or that we say hello to a stranger on the street.
Taking action in a new way can also be simple. Read a nonfiction book rather than a mystery. Attend a documentary instead of a violent action movie. Talk to someone new at church. Or it can be more involved: like learning to speak a different language.
The most important, but also the most difficult, of the suggestions for how to live a better life may be the final one: connect deeply. We need human interaction, but it needs to be more than just saying "How are you?" Friendships are vital to good mental and physical health. And faith can help us develop deeper connections with others. Sharing our faith with friends builds stronger friendships. And as stated in 2 Corinthians 5:20 of The Message, we should become friends with God because he's already a friend with us. We can lead better lives with God's help.
Prayer: Dear God, we're often looking for ways to make our lives better. These four notions may help us. But we know, Lord, that our lives will definitely be improved if we strive to be your friend, as you are our friend. Please be with us as we try to be grateful, compassionate, brave enough to try new things, and connected. Amen.

Robin Hadfield (reprinted from 2016)

Monday, May 20, 2024

The Month of May

The month of May is a long one. It stretches 31 days but oh how wonderful it is. The sun shines, the rains come and the world we have been given wakes to late spring and the coming of warmth and beauty. Birthdays, graduations, marathons, and at the end of the month memories of the past for Memorial Day. Yes, it does stretch out and we get very busy in our own happy way. We plant flowers, pull rhubarb, greet neighbors and give up monthly meetings until fall. 

But as I write this, I am reminded of a hymn we sang when I was young that had a stanza that went “In the rustling grass, I hear him pass, he speaks to me everywhere”. The ground on which we walk, the water that we carelessly use but also so badly need for sustaining life, the trees that blow in the wind, the birds that sing are all a gift from God. Even the storms remind us that we are not really in charge. His land we must tend, and while tending, make time to stop and listen so we can hear him pass and hear him speak.  Amen. 

Carolyn F Olsen