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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

A blessing and benediction for the year

 

A blessing for a year that didn’t turn out like we thought it should.

Blessed are you who look back in grief,

 you have lost so much.

 And no amount of perspective or gratitude will fix it.

 It was never supposed to be this way.

Blessed are you for whom this was all the time you had left

 and it was spent locked inside,

 fearful, disappointed, lonely.

 The hugs, you never gave the goodbyes you never said.

 The clock was not on your side.

Blessed are you oh tired one.

 The parenting, the caregiving, the worrying, it is too much. Teaching and doctoring, pastoring and nursing,

 you have no choice but to keep showing up.

Blessed are you who are anxious for what comes next,

 who wait for the other shoe to drop and toss and turn until sunup. Wondering where the next paycheck will come from,

 what the next scan will reveal,

 how you’ll keep it together for the ones you love.

And blessed are you who hope still.

 Despite all you’ve seen and all you’ve gone through,

 you cling to an audacious belief

 that this is not all there is.

 You trust that the dawn is coming.

No, 2020 has not been the year we needed,

 we grieve collectively, let alone in our homes,

 and long for the day where we can be together again

 when hope isn’t just another four letter word,

 but something tangible,

 something we can taste and see, feel and touch.

In the meantime, we wait.

 During this long stretch of [Winter],

 may our grief remind us of our capacity to love,

 may our courage be contagious,

 may we find tiny pockets of joy,

 and may we continue to be people of hard won hope

 who know how to live amidst uncertainty,

 inside of the limits of our bodies and minds and homes

 and choose to build beautiful lives here still.

We are the people who know

 that beauty and love and truth can still

 grow out of the hard cold ground.

 And sometimes that can feel like just enough to cling to,

 just enough to carry us through.

(from Kate Bowler, Everything Happens podcast, season 5, episode 32:)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

God is a Refuge for Us

 


Truly my soul finds rest in God;

    my salvation comes from him.

 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;

    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

  Yes, my soul, find rest in God;

    my hope comes from him.

 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;

    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

 My salvation and my honor depend on God;

    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

 Trust in him at all times, you people;

    pour out your hearts to him,

    for God is our refuge. Psalm 62: 1-2; 5-8

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Come to the Light

 


Get out of bed, Jerusalem!

    Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.

    God’s bright glory has risen for you.

The whole earth is wrapped in darkness,

    all people sunk in deep darkness,

But God rises on you,

    his sunrise glory breaks over you.

Nations will come to your light,

    kings to your sunburst brightness.

Look up! Look around!

    Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you:

Your sons coming from great distances,

    your daughters carried by their nannies.

When you see them coming you’ll smile—big smiles!

    Your heart will swell and, yes, burst!

All those people returning by sea for the reunion,

    a rich harvest of exiles gathered in from the nations!

And then streams of camel caravans as far as the eye can see,

    young camels of nomads in Midian and Ephah,

Pouring in from the south from Sheba,

    loaded with gold and frankincense,

    preaching the praises of God. Isaiah 60:1-6 The Message

Monday, December 28, 2020

Yes, I Believe in Santa Claus

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

My great niece and nephews were here for our annual gingerbread man baking day.  My nephew says “Do you believe in Santa Claus?”  I responded with yes I do.  Content with that answer, he responded I do too but sometimes I have doubts.

Through the years we all have doubts or probably more accurate we question “why?” I believe in Jesus Christ our Savior!  If honest with myself I at times of trouble have prayed for answers why and for strength to face the day. I may not always get the answers but I trust He is always beside me.

I believe in the spirit of giving and helping others.  I believe that the best gift of all is the gift of love. 

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for your love. Help me to extend your love and generosity to those in need. Help me feel the Holy Spirit in my daily life.  Help me to accept what I may not understand and forgive me for my moments of doubt. Show me the way to give to others. Amen

Lori Hood

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Day


In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:1-20

 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve

                                    

   For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

  Of the greatness of his government and peace

    there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

    and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

    with justice and righteousness

    from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

    will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7


 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Sharing the Light

PEACE LIGHT PRAYER

May the kindly spirit of Christmas spread its radiance far and wide,

So all the world may feel the glow, of this Holy Christmastide.

So may this light of peace today that has travelled many miles,

Bring joy and hope to many and fill each face with smiles.

So may every heart and home continue through the year,

To feel the warmth and wonder of this season of good cheer.

And may it bring us closer to God and to each other,

With every stranger known as friend, whether Sister or a Brother.


THE 2020 PEACE LIGHT

The Peace Light from Bethlehem campaign was originally organized by the Austrian Broadcasting Company – ORF (Linz) – and was part of a large charitable relief mission – Light into Darkness, for children in need in Austria and abroad.

Since 1986 there has been co-operation between Scouts and Guides in many countries which has allowed the light to travel throughout Europe, such that the light is passed on to 30 European Countries and for the past few years, on to North America, Mexico and Canada.

Each year, a child, the “Peace Child,” from Upper Austria kindles a flame from the “Eternal Flame” from the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem. The light is then flown to Austria and distributed at a Service of Dedication to delegations from across Europe who carry it, with a message of Peace, to their own countries for use at ecumenical services.

Scouts and Guides then carry the light to other churches, hospitals and places of public, cultural and political importance – to anybody or group that appreciates the significance of the “gift.”  In past years the light has been presented to Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, Mikhail Gorbachov, the former King Hussain of Jordan, European Union President Romano Prodi and other members of the European parliament in Strasbourg, the United Nations Troops in Kosovo and Ground Zero, New York USA.

Eastridge Presbyterian Church has taken part in sharing the light in our state, community, and congregation since 2015.  Throughout the year, we tend the flame in the kitchen stove, as the pilot light.  This year, due to the pandemic, the flame we are sharing with you is the same flame that we received last year at this time.  May it be a reminder for us of the flame of the Holy Spirit that unites us all, even when we are physically distant.  We pray this flame will be a meaningful reminder that the God made manifest in Jesus Christ remains with us today by the power of the Holy Spirit, in our hearts, homes, and world. 



Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Live in His Glorious Peace

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philipians 4:6 & 7 KJVR

As we remember the time of awaiting the birth of the Christ Child, I feel the waiting and anticipation of His second coming also.

The news is full of reports of disease, fires, floods, storms, earth quakes, wars, racial strife, political rhetoric and anger, and mindless mass murders. 

Only as I lift all these things up to God, can I remember they will all be gone when Christ returns. Thank you, God for this promise. Through this blessed season, may we think only of the good, the truth, the blessings we have and may we live in His Glorious peace today. 

Prayer: Father, we thank you for loving us enough to send your Son to become one with us, to die and defeat death for us.  Help us walk daily with Him and grant us your peace that passes our understanding. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

Carolyn Fetterley (reprinted from the Eastridge Advent Devotional, 2016)

Monday, December 21, 2020

Advent Week #4 Readjusting to the Dark


(During Advent we will share the corresponding Illustrated Ministry devotion for that week)

Read Luke 2:15-20

If you live in the northern hemisphere, Christmas means winter, cooler temperatures, shorter days, and longer nights. The shortest day and longest night of the year—the winter solstice— falls just a few days before we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We are eager and ready to connect Jesus’ birth to the return of light and warmth!

But in the southern hemisphere, Christmas falls during summer, just a few days after the longest day and shortest night of the year. In Australia, some people have pool parties on Christmas day! Though Christmas is full of light, it also starts a season of shorter days and longer nights. Jesus’ coming is still good news, no matter where you are! The Gospel is about inclusive, unconditional love.

After the shepherds encountered the angels in bright light, they were suddenly left in darkness again. To find the newborn baby, Jesus, they readjusted from the sudden bright light to begin their journey in the dark. Of course, they’re not the same shepherds as they were before the angels came to them. Now they know about Jesus, and they are on a journey toward him. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s dark, but it does change what they do in that darkness and how they travel through it: with hope and wonder.

Our world doesn’t always feel hopeful or love-filled. On Christmas, we celebrate the hope and love Jesus continues to bring to our hurt and pain. Still, even as we adjust to the world again after the celebrations of Christmas, following Jesus changes how we live and the way we move through the world. Because of Jesus, we try to show love and have hope in a world needing both. 

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

             How would you celebrate Christmas if it was during the summer instead?

             What happens when you first go from a well lit place into darkness?  What happens to your eyes so you can see even without a light?

             What are some hard things about the world today?  How does Jesus teach us to respond to those hard things?

Activity:

All over the world, people are participating in the season of Advent, looking forward to Christmas Day. As we learned in the reflection today, some places celebrate Christmas with sunshine and hot weather. Some places celebrate Christmas with snow and cooler temperatures.

For example, Costa Rica is in a tropical region where Christmas occurs during the rainy season. It is warm and wet! Costa Ricans love to eat apples at Christmas time—they are a special treat!

In cold subarctic Finland, people often light up cemeteries with Christmas lights and decorations. The Finnish spend Christmas remembering their loved ones who have died.

Now, take a moment and pray for the people of all regions that they might be safe, well- nourished, and joyful this Christmas season.

Prayer: God, thank you for the people of ___________. You love them very much, and you care about their needs. Today we pray they might be safe, have the food and supplies they need, and find joy during this Advent season. And if there is a way for us to bless the people of ___________ , please help us find it and we will get to work. Thank you for our siblings in all the countries of the world. Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2020

In the Pause Comes Peace

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3 (NIV) 

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and your minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Trying to keep my focus on the One who's the “reason for the season” is difficult-He often gets shoved aside by the demands of a daunting to-do list.  How can I possibly pause to reflect on the birth of Jesus, when there's SO much to do...and so little time to do it?!  Besides, I can just wait until the Advent services, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to do all my reflecting...right?  Wrong. This is the very reason the Christmas season has always been so stressful for me. To find the peace I so badly need, reflecting on-and conversing with-Jesus needs to happen daily!

In her devotion, “The Treasure of Thrown-Away Food”, Lysa TerKeurst says we can find “a powerful peace centered in the awareness of God's presence.” She suggests we start by “noticing something for which to be thankful-no matter the circumstance.” If we remember to keep our eyes open, we can always find something. Also, she says we must “pause to acknowledge this something as a reminder of God's presence”.  (Yes, pause!  The to-do list can wait.)  In this pause, we then “choose to focus on God's presence until his powerful peace is unleashed.” Notice that the outcome of proclaiming thanksgiving is peace-just as the scripture from Philippians (above) reminds us. 

I believe when we “choose to focus on God's presence”, we willingly give Him our complete attention, patiently keep our eyes and ears open, and trust him with all our hearts.  If we are “those whose minds are steadfast” (Isaiah 26:3), it's then that, in the midst of all the chaos and to-do lists, we can find His “perfect peace”.  A powerful peace that “exceeds anything we can understand”. A peace that will “guard our hearts and minds” this Christmas season. 

Prayer: Prince of Peace, forgive us for being too busy and distracted to keep our focus on you. Help us to remember each and every day to pause and approach you with thankful hearts and steadfast minds. And thank you so much for the “powerful peace you unleash” in our hearts when we do. Amen. 

Sharon Irvin (reprinted from the Eastridge Advent Devotional, 2016)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Dove- Peace

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors." Luke 2:13-14 

The scripture is from Luke and from the story of the birth of Jesus. I found a children's book in the library titled, "Only a Star" by Margery Facklam. The book is about the first Christmas morning. The light of the star welcomed Jesus and the creatures in the stable. One of those creatures were doves. Doves watched above Jesus as well as other creatures. Long before the birth of Christ, people domesticated wild rock doves and raised then for food and to carry messages. Doves have been symbols of peace and love in the Bible. Doves symbolized peace in Genesis in the story of Noah, and the dove symbolized peace in the Baptism of Jesus. Jesus brought us peace like a dove that first Christmas morning.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for bringing us "peace" the first Christmas and we can celebrate that "Peace" each Christmas. Amen.

Susan Taylor (reprinted from the Eastridge Advent Devotional, 2016)

A scene from the book is shown below, which can be found in the EPC library.



Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Greatest Gift

Receiving a gift is like getting a rare gemstone; any way you look at it, you see beauty refracted. Proverbs  17:8 (The Message)

Christmas has become a huge gift-giving holiday. In some ways, shopping and buying gifts for Christmas has taken center stage ahead of the true reason for the season. We pore over the advertisements in the newspaper and plot out our route for the sales on Black Friday. Or we spend hours online checking for the best prices on Amazon and "googling" for the latest and greatest new toy. 

Exchanging Christmas presents is a wonderful tradition that gives us an opportunity to show others we care for them. Some say the tradition helps remind us of the gifts given to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And others suggest the tradition arises from winter celebrations of the Pagans.

No matter the origin of the gift-giving tradition, it's important that we do not let it take over. What if we spent just as much time reflecting on the greatest gift we ever received: the baby Jesus. Christmas gives us the opportunity to consider the beginning of Jesus' ministry on earth. And to thank God for sending Jesus as an infant to show us the way. 

Prayer: Dear Lord, We thank you for sending your son Jesus as a baby and for the chance to reflect on that gift during the Christmas season. The gift of that rare gemstone is the greatest gift we have ever received. Help us to appreciate the true meaning of that gift. Amen. 

Robin Hadfield (reprinted from the Eastridge Advent Devotional, 2016)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Price of Our Peace

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53: 5-6

The prophet Isaiah addressed the Jewish people around 700 B.C., during the time that they were in captivity in Babylonia. They were displaced and miserable. Isaiah was reminding them that they needed to turn away from their sinful ways and back to God, who had promised to send a messiah to save them. Isaiah seemed to know more about the future savior than anyone, and he accurately foretold the suffering that Jesus would endure in order to save God’s people.  But while the Jewish people had to wait hundreds of years for their messiah, and many did not recognize Him when he appeared, we have the advantage of knowing “the rest of the story,” as told in the New Testament. By sending His son to earth, God proved how much He loves even His sinful people, and we have only to believe His promise that our faith in Jesus Christ will lead us to “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, as we prepare to celebrate His birth, we thank You for the mercy You have shown Your sinful people by sending Jesus to live among us. We thank You for the peace that comes with our faith in the Trinity, and we pray that others will find such peace as well. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done. Amen.

Judith Keller (reprinted from the Eastridge Advent Devotional, 2016)

Monday, December 14, 2020

Advent Week #3 Overwhelming Light


(During Advent we will share the corresponding Illustrated Ministry devotion for that week)

Read Luke 2:2-14

Have you ever stepped out of a dark place, like a movie theater, into the sunshine? Were you overwhelmed by the light? In the darkness, our eyes adjust, so sudden bright light can momentarily hurt. Between our phones, tablets, night lights, and city lights, we don’t spend much time in darkness. Sometimes we spend so much time looking at lit-up screens it can harm us.

In Jesus’ time, there were no screens or even electricity. The night was very dark and not always safe. But the shepherds who watched over their sheep at night learned to see and be comfortable in the dark. Imagine how overwhelming it was for them when a very bright heavenly light suddenly appeared! At first, the shepherds are terrified. But like many other divine encounters, the angel says, “Don’t be afraid.” They bring news of great joy – a Savior has been born!

Jesus’ message of love and hope is sometimes very different from the messages of our world. Choosing to act boldly with kindness and grace can be uncomfortable, even as we know Jesus calls us to love. It can also feel hard and take some adjusting, just like suddenly seeing in bright light. But this is what brings true joy.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

             Do you think you would be overwhelmed and afraid if you were suddenly encountered with a heavenly light like these shepherds? Why or why not?

             What does it feel like when you’re suddenly faced with a very intense, bright light?  How do you respond?

             Tell of a time when you chose to act with kindness and grace, even though it felt uncomfortable or even a little bit scary.

Activity:

“Do not be afraid!”

Angels like to say that. But it isn’t very easy to be brave, is it? Sometimes it helps to think about your fears in a silly way.

Take some playdough and mold it into the shape of something of which you are afraid. Is it a shark? A monster? A worm?

Now, let’s get a little bit silly.

Place your playdough fear in front of you and talk to it. That’s right. Talk to it. Tell your fear what you think of it. You might say, “Shark, you are a very important sea creature, and I am glad you exist. I know you probably won’t hurt me. Especially when I’m on land.”

How does that feel? What might your fear say back? Maybe a shark would say, “I don’t want to hurt you! I am more interested in yummy fish.”

Look around at the other creations your family made. What else is your family afraid of? Are your grown-ups fearful of anything? How do you talk together about your fears? How does it feel to talk to and listen to your fear? Do you think differently about your fear now? How so?

Prayer: Dear God, You are with us when we are afraid. And you are with us when we feel brave. Thank you for giving us strength and courage to face new challenges and fears together. And thank you for giving us each other. Help us to love and protect one another when we feel afraid. Amen.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Wisdom

“Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding.” Proverbs 3:13 

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.” Proverbs 4:7 

“How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” Proverbs 126:16 

The Bible is full of wisdom if we take time to read and understand. How can we use this wisdom in our daily lives? 

Children share wisdom also. Recently the Family Circus cartoon showed Billy leaning against a tree and his parents observing him. His father said to his mother, “See, Billy has no cares in the world”. In reality, he was thinking of worries. It reminded me of our son at age four after he went to bed he would call out, for example, “Did you remember to close the garage door?” I thought four-year-olds should not be worrying about things like that. My observation is that most children think only of the present. They don’t worry about what happened in the past or think about the future, except perhaps, when Santa will come or when their birthday is coming. We could learn from children some things on worrying too much about the past and the future. 

Fred Rogers, also known as “Mister Rogers”, starred in the highly popular and educational children’s series, “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood”. 

Here are some of Fred Roger’s most inspiring quotes. 

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts, and to be sure that our questions are just as important as our answers”. 

“Real strength has to do with helping others”. 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me “Look for the helpers, you will always find people who are helping”. 

“How great it is when we come to know that times of disappointment can be followed by joy.” 

Prayer: May the God of hope fill you with all the joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”. – Romans 15:13 

Lois Poppe

 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Be Still

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. Habakkuk 2:20 NIV

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 1 John 4:9  NLT

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8 NIV

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT 

Over the past several months, my anxiety levels have been gradually increasing.  It helps my anxiety when I draw closer to Jesus, but unfortunately, my efforts so far have been rather inconsistent.  Now, with the start of the Christmas season, I'm motivated to seek Him more earnestly.  And in this seeking, I've been inspired by a few Christmas hymns.

I've always been drawn to Christmas hymns that are quiet and flowing...that speak of silence, stillness, awe, reverence.  Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem have long been among my favorites.  And this year, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence also speaks to me, especially the first verse: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence / and with fear and trembling stand / ponder nothing earthly minded / for with blessing in his hand / Christ our God to earth descendeth / our full homage to demand.”  

As I close my eyes and really listen to this verse, I hear God asking me to make a more consistent effort to be still before Him...clearing my mind of all earthly distractions.  He wants me, in that stillness, to ponder the birth of the Christ Child.  I must stand silently in that stable, gazing upon Jesus in awe, wonder and reverence.  I must focus on the love...what an amazing gift it is.  I must try to understand “how wide, how long, how high and how deep” that love is. Though I know I will never fully comprehend it, I must keep trying. For it's in that effort that I can draw closer to Jesus...and let my anxieties fade away. 

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, forgive us for letting our anxieties keep us from a close relationship with you. Help us remember to be still and ponder your amazing love--not just during Advent, but every day.  And thank you so much for your loving support during the anxious moments of our lives.   Amen.

Sharon Irvin

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Blessed are the Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9 

This is a very divisive time in our country, and we are looking for peace.  Rev. CeCe, in her sermon on November 22nd, talked of patience and joy that we celebrate together, rejoicing in God’s steadfast love. We can recognize communities of diverse people, every race, religion, and gender embracing each other’s differences and living as Jesus taught us to live. We can become peacemakers within our community.     

The Anti-Racism Task Force has recommended several tests to see what our feelings really are about race, and articles to help us begin the dialogue with others about race and differences of opinion. Rev. CeCe talked about “Black Lives Matter” and suggested reading the next few verses in the scripture reading she chose. Verses 8 and 9 in Philippians 4, Paul states that “whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things which you have both learned, and received and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”

With the pandemic infecting more and more people each day, it is difficult to find ways to show God’s peace to others. Sometimes it is little things we can do to show our acceptance, like providing gift cards through the Angel Tree. Or it may be by wearing masks and keeping distant from others, even in stores. That affects all our community, and is something we can all do. In spite of all that is going on, a focus on rejoicing will help to give us peace.   

Prayer: Dear Lord, let us be peacemakers in our community and beyond. Guide us to rejoice in your love for all of us, no matter our race, religion or gender, and celebrate our lives with joy and thanksgiving. Amen.

Carolyn Brandle

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

God’s Message

I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11

Like many of us, I am concerned about what the COVID virus will bring to our hospitals, doctors, nurses, and our community. I am concerned about the financial impacts and the struggles it causes. I am tired of staying at home, unable to do my own shopping, not eating in restaurants, and the many changes in the past 9 months.

I believe that when God is sending me a message, he will keep sending it in different ways until I get it.

Several weeks ago I studied about the sisters in Midian who were shepherds and how hard they had to work (Exodus 2:15-17). When Moses was fleeing Egypt, he stopped at a well at Midian only to find that the sisters were being bullied by the male shepherds and were unable to water their sheep. Moses intervened, chasing the bullies away and helping the sisters water and care for their sheep. A few days later, I heard a “Jews for Jesus” speaker on TV talking about Ezekiel 34 and the prophecy regarding the Good Shepherd. Shortly thereafter I read a devotion using Ezekiel 34 about God’s caring for us as the Good Shepard. Finally , another devotion used Psalm 23 and then I remembered Jesus  saying “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep”.

I get it. The Good Shepherd will take care of us no matter what the problem. He will comfort us, protect us, relieve the stress, and call to us to trust him. God opens the Gate so that Christ can lead us to safety and rest. He will sustain us and calm our fears. Even in death, he is there for us.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for your reassurance that you are always there. You love us and we are to keep our eyes on you. Help me remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and I have nothing to fear by following Him. Amen 

Nancy Hall

Monday, December 7, 2020

Advent Week #2 Vision in the Night


(During Advent we will share the corresponding Illustrated Ministry devotion for that week)

Read Matthew 1:18b-24a, Luke 1:26b-38

Did you know that long ago, before there were phones, computers, or even compasses, sailors used stars at night to find their way? The stars, of course, were made of light, but the night enabled the sailors to see stars clearly enough to navigate their path. Light and dark worked together to illuminate the way.

This week’s scriptures include two essential Advent stories leading up to Jesus’ birth. In these stories, darkness plays a significant role. Night tells our bodies it’s time to sleep, and sometimes, we can even have dreams.

In these stories, both Joseph and Mary have visions of angels who bring good news: Mary will give birth to God’s own Son. This miraculous news was scary for Mary and Joseph. They couldn’t see how everything would work out. Though we don’t know when the angel visited Mary, scripture says the angel came to Joseph at night. Perhaps darkness can feel scary because we can’t see what’s there. However, darkness doesn’t stop the angel from visiting, nor does it make the news any less good.

In both visits, the angels say not to be afraid. Their message offers peace, even as Mary and Joseph face an unexpected future. Like the night sky for ancient sailors, these holy visits to Mary and Joseph point the way when they don’t know what to do. And we know, of course, their message is very good news.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

             Why do you think the angels told Mary and Joseph not to be afraid?

             Have you ever gotten big news that was scary and exciting at the same time?  What was it?

             Have you ever had a dream that brought you comfort? What made it comforting?

Activity:

The angels delivered important messages to Mary and Joseph. Another word for angel is “messenger,” and we can all be messengers of hope. How can your family deliver a message of good news today? Take a moment to think of someone who could use a message of love. Then write a note, send a photo, draw a picture, or send a text to that person or family. Each person in your family can do it!

Grown-ups, take an extra moment and write a special message of encouragement to your child(ren). 

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the messages of hope we see in our world every day. You send us messages of love in the daytime when it is sunny, and in the nighttime when it is dark, and sometimes even in our dreams. Help us be messengers of hope to our neighbors and friends and family, especially for those who feel lonely or discouraged. Bless those who will receive our letters and texts and pictures, that they might know that they are loved. Amen

Friday, December 4, 2020

Pay it Forward

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James:3:13

The other day we drove up for coffee. When it was our time to pay, the barista  said, "the car in front of you has already paid, so you don't owe us at all."

We did not recognize the car or the driver. In fact, we don't believe we had ever seen that car before. 

This is not the first time we have been honored by the gift of someone paying it forward. A small boy offered me $2 once when the cashier wouldn't take either my check or credit card. Complete strangers asked us to share their table in a crowded restaurant and then paid our bill. The Runza drive up window also informed us, "the car in front of you has prepaid". 

These happenings have been in different places and even in different countries. The warmth we feel can only be compared to how one feels when a small child grins at you or a quiet teenager suddenly laughs in happiness or perhaps when a test comes back negative.

"Happiness is, different things to different people, that's what happiness is". An old song completes the feelings we have. This is the season for Thanksgiving and very soon, Advent. What better time to pay it forward than now. A smile, a phone call, a letter, a card, or even a free coffee. Who knows what that will do for the car behind you or the person in front of you or far away.

Prayer: Help us to see clearly and do as you would have us do. In your son's name, we pray. Amen

Carolyn Olsen

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Advent Week #1 The Darkness did not Overcome


(During Advent we will share the Illustrated Ministry devotion for that corresponding week)

Read John 1:1-5

John begins his gospel with metaphors of “word” and “light” to describe Jesus. Jesus is the “Word of God” and the “light of all people,” which the darkness cannot overcome. A metaphor describes one thing by comparing it to another. John isn’t saying Jesus is literal light, but he uses light to describe the impact Jesus has. People often thought that meant Jesus banishes the darkness. But actually, the darkness is still present. Jesus works in the midst of them both. Dark and light coexist together.

Long before Jesus was born, the Hebrew prophets also used light as the symbol for God-given hope. The prophet Isaiah says, “The people who walk in darkness shall see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” Verses like these use light to mean hope and goodness.

But such verses have led to the belief that darkness is bad, evil, and the cause of some painful and unholy things. Too often, people live with the assumption that people with lighter skin are better than those with darker skin—an untrue and damaging belief. Another misconception is that seeing clearly is equal to understanding, and darkness means not knowing or understanding.

We know, though, God works through all things, and everything God created, both the bright light of day and the darkness of night, are called “good.” All people are equally beloved, equally created for good, and equally made in the image of God. Jesus himself was not light-skinned! And light is not necessary for blind or visually impaired people to understand and know things.

When we assume light is good and darkness is bad, we miss the good gifts of darkness. Think about the beginning of life. It almost always begins in darkness. Life needs that safe, dark, closed space to grow—a baby in the womb, like baby Jesus. A seed buried deep in the ground. This Advent, let’s prepare for Jesus’ coming by seeking out the goodness in light and darkness.

Now take a moment and turn off any electric lighting. Darken the room with blinds or curtains. What do you see now? What do you notice about the candlelight? Do you see shadows now? How does the darkness help you appreciate the candles differently? In what ways does the darkness feel pleasant or gentle?

In what ways can darkness help us understand our world better?

Prayer: Loving God, Your spirit surrounds us in both light and darkness. Like sunlight, you help us find our way and explore our world. Like a dark night sky, you give us rest from all the worries of the day. May we be light for people who need to see hope in this world. May we be cozy darkness for those who need a safe place to rest. Thank you for the season of Advent and for bringing us together. Amen.

 

 

 

 .

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Hope

"Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good, his love endures forever." Jeremiah 33:11

Sunday morning dawned, the last Sunday in November, but also the first Sunday of Advent. Recently our church has known the death of several of our oldest members. Women and men who gave their lives to others, either in libraries, fighting for our freedom, nursing our ill or leading us to see more of our world. But this Sunday was the Sunday of hope and what greater hope than two little ones following their parents as the first candle was lit.

Pastor Thomas followed with the words of Jeremiah who spoke of hope from his jail cell. The promise we are given by God that all will be well, have faith. We have the promise coming during the Advent Season. The hope brought to us by a babe born in a manger. The hope of modern society that a vaccine will indeed come and soon. A hope of joy followed by singing and hugs. HOPE!

Prayer: Dear God, let us not lose hope in the middle of diversity, being lonely, being afraid, missing others, but look to the future. Amen

Carolyn Olsen

 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Peace Came

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. Psalm 29:11

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.  Micah 5:4-5

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Every birth is a miracle, and every child is a gift from God. But nearly 20 centuries ago, there was the miracle of miracles. A baby was born, but he was the Son of God. The Gospels tell of this birth but Dr. Luke provides most of the details surrounding this awesome occasion. With divine Father and human mother, Jesus entered history - God in the flesh. The angel appeared to Mary. And Mary would conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear Jesus, the Son of God.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angels of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Luke 2:8-14

Peace - and we can have and accept this peace. It can be ours, and it is our choice. What a blessing for us. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the peace you brought to us.  Let us accept it and live in your peace. Amen

Marilyn (Jones) Albin (reprinted from the Eastridge Advent Devotional, 2016)


Monday, November 30, 2020

The Good News

 


The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way”—

“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8 NIV

Friday, November 27, 2020

Words from Jeremiah



"Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you. Jeremiah 1:5a The Message 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

 


  

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High. Psalm 7:17 

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. Psalm 9:1

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! 1 Chronicles 16:34–35


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Our Shelter and Refuge

“My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,” Psalm 91:1-2

In the book Gracelaced by Ruth Chou Simons, Ruth shares how her busy home (she is mom to six boys!) makes it a struggle to keep things tidy. She continues with something that was eye-opening to me (someone who loves to stay home and considers her home a peaceful sanctuary): our perfect home can be “an idol of the heart that can neither sustain nor deliver”.

In essence, she’s saying that we should find comfort in God, not our surroundings. I don’t think that means we can’t enjoy a peaceful home environment, but when we place our trust in that for our happiness, we’ll be disappointed. When things are chaotic, we will find ourselves unbalanced instead of harmonious, struggling instead of tranquil.

Of course, a restful home isn't the only thing that can take God's place as our shelter. As an exercise, she suggests filling in the blanks to find the “false shelters” in our lives. Like this:

_______________________ is not my shelter. 

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to place my trust and faith in you as my refuge from the storms of life. I know that there will be times that I’ll want a shelter free from adversity and hardship. I know to put my trust in you, and to find peace within you and your word, not within those idols of our world. Amen.

Donna Gustafson

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Care a Lot and Pray a Lot

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Hebrews 10: 22 – 25

A friend of mine told me, “My worst sin is that I’m a procrastinator.  It gets in my way and it keeps me from doing all that God created me to do.”  I would have to say that I’m the opposite.  My worst sin may be that I’m an “urgent-inator”.  I want everything to happen right away, as in “Never put off til tomorrow what you can do today” – even if it means losing sleep and missing other good things in order to get it done. I like to write things on my to-do list and check them off at the same time.  If an email is in my in-box, I feel I need to respond to it. 

In my advancing age, though, I have learned that some things are better off if they’re left to sit for awhile – chili soup, angry words, home decorating, and God’s work.  Scripture tells us that it is through challenges that we grow in our faith and our dependence on God. Paul writes this in nearly every letter – Hebrews, Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Timothy. It was true for them then and it’s true for us now. 

Right now, there are a lot of things that make us afraid. And fixers, like me, would like to fix things up right away.  A nice easy solution would be very nice!  But God sees things with eternal eyes. The Apostle Paul talks to all the early churches about the need  for struggles and perseverance in order to grow faith.  As the writer Anne Lamont says, “It’s good to be afraid, when it mobilizes us to fight tooth and nail for what is right, when it pricks the balloon of our complacency, when it gets us back on our feet.  A lot of us are both afraid and devoutly faithful at the same time… courage is fear that has said its prayers.” 

We can respond to the things that make us afraid with fear.  Or we can care a lot and pray a lot.  We can stick together and share and listen and draw nearer to God knowing that we are loved and chosen and safe.  We know the ending of the story, and it is this.  In the end, God wins.  Jesus came to tell us that.

Today I will pray to the God that loves us, and be at peace.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, It seems like there are so many things to be afraid of, but I know that you tell us over and over again in Scripture to, “Be not afraid”, and to trust You.  Protect me from my urgent-inator ways.  I pray for peace in my soul as You slow me down and help me to remember to pray and to trust You while You work out Your way in the world.  Amen

Lori Snyder-Sloan (reprinted from the Eastridge Advent Devotional, 2016)

Monday, November 23, 2020

Keep Doing

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. Hebrews 12:1

About a year ago, one of our neighbors told us his philosophy on aging and his belief that whatever you can keep doing…. You can keep doing. If this sounds complicated or like word play say it out loud a few times. He was referencing activity. If you mow your lawn every week, you can probably keep mowing it year after year (even with a break for winter) because you are training and conditioning your body. If you took 2-3 years off from mowing and outsourced it to a child or grandchild, or neighbor kid, or even a mowing service it might be hard for you to get back to doing that chore. Our neighbor makes sure that when the weather is nice he rides his bike once every week, so that he can keep riding his bike. Before he retired he walked to and from work 3 or more days a week. 

My grandmother would have turned 100 this year. I have been thinking about this idea, of doing what you can do. My grandmother lived with us most of my life.  She had a stroke when I was 2 and returned home, with a walker. Our house had a LOT of stairs, and her bedroom was on the second floor, and the laundry was in the basement, and we had a huge clawfoot tub but no shower. This seems like a physical therapy return to home nightmare. But my grandmother survived the Great Depression, and World War II serving as a WAVE, and the turbulence of the 1960s, and the uncertain economic structure of the 1980s, and the early instances of domestic terrorism and she was certainly going to come home, and do everything that she did before her stroke. She was able to keep doing, what she was able to keep doing.

In 2020, we have struggled mightily against a virus that we cannot see. Through a political campaign that has divided friends and families and neighbors. Through changes to virtually every normal experience in our lives. As we approach the holidays, it is hard to endure the loneliness, to remain separated, to let go of our anger about differences in polity, to plan for a celebration with only those who we regularly interact with, and to keep our numbers small and exclusive. To wear a mask indoors when visiting others and to hold our hugs and kisses for the future. It is hard to not feel angry for these losses and limitations. But if we want to continue to celebrate with those we love in the future, we must push past this challenge and throw off everything that hinders us. We must be creative.  We must protect those we love by assuring that we are distant from them. We might have to explain that we know this will result in hurt feelings, but saved lives. We have to keep doing what we can keep doing.

Prayer: God who knows all about the race course ahead, please be with us during this time of sadness and uncertainty. Help us to manage our feelings of loss and anger.  Help us to remember that our sacrifices today, will be of benefit for all humanity in the future. Shower us with your love and compassion and give us strength to endure.  Amen. 

Christi Moock

Friday, November 20, 2020

Holy Spirit

And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2

The strong winds of the south came blowing into our area. It was gusting up to 40 MPH and it was 73 degrees outside. I took the dogs outside and standing on my porch I felt the strong winds pressing against me. For some reason, I don’t really know why, it reminded me of every time I have heard of the Holy Spirit with the breath of God embracing the body. I stood there and felt the need to pray for the Holy Spirit to encompass me. The last 8 months have been such as over pouring of negativity, anger, sorrow, fear and hate in the world.  Every time I have felt overwhelmed I take the time to talk to God and pray for strength and refresh my soul. At this moment it was a feeling of a warm wind with the sun that began to feel like arms wrapping around me. I closed my eyes to fully enjoy the moment of God’s nature sending the message that all is good. I opened my eyes and began to again see the beauty of nature before and count my blessings.

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, I pray that the mighty power of the Holy Spirit will cover the world and heal your creation. I pray that all find the strength to work together and comfort each other in their hour of need. I pray that we learn to count our blessings, even the small ones that we so take for granted. I pray that all those in turmoil will find it in themselves to kneel down, pray and ask for your forgiveness and guidance. In Jesus name, Amen. 

And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22

Lori Hood