Devotions from MPLC Members. New author, new text, new devotions posted each Wednesday.
December 2, 2020 - Week 13
4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64: 4-8
The passage this week starts with a description of God as one “who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.” Unfortunately, we don’t; and in response, He gives us over to our sinful nature. That puts us in a dreadful state: unclean, filthy, shriveled up, and swept away. Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us there.
I love the words that follow: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter. We are all the work of your hand.”
As clay, my part is passive. It is the potter who does the work. He prepares the clay by mixing it with water and by putting the muddy liquid through a sieve to remove impurities. Then the sludge is drained and balled.
He decides what he will form—an object molded or an object thrown, a common object like a bowl or jar, or a special object like a vase or figurine. If the object is thrown, the potter’s foot works the pedal that spins the wheel while the potter’s moistened hands encourage the ball of clay to hollow out and grow taller and wider in response to the pressure of those hands. If the object is not perfect, the potter can begin again.
Once the object has been successfully shaped, the potter has other decisions to make: Should the object be inscribed or inlaid? What color glaze should be used? How hot should the kiln be? For how long should the object be fired?
The potter does all this to form—me! Why does God do the difficult work of the potter? According to Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good work which He prepared in advance for us to do.” My work as the clay is to cooperate with the potter. We are the work of our Father’s hand.
Questions for Reflection:
- Using this analogy, how would you describe yourself (thrown, molded, common, special)?
- How are you living out your purpose?
- Have you thanked God for the care He has taken to make you?
Prayer: Father, help me cooperate as the object of pottery you have made and willingly do the work you have prepared for me to do. Amen.
About the Author: Sharon says, “It was an adventure to write this. 2020 has itself been an adventure. I’m blessed to be part of this church family.”
November 25, 2020 - Week 12
11Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.”
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Wow! These are verses that we all need to hear. In this scary pandemic year God reminds us that He is here for us. He will look after us. He will find us and rescue us. He will judge those who are faithful, and the Lord will be our God. These verses give us so much comfort and hope. They remind me of the time in 2009 when I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. A friend gave me a magnet that said, "Nothing will happen today that you can't handle with God." I looked at that magnet every time I feared another chemo or radiation treatment, or another MRI or Pet scan. That magnet reassured me that I wasn't alone.
Why do we let frustration and worry consume us? We forget that our Father will shepherd us. He will find us and care for us. We need to remember that His will be done—not ours. We may not always agree with God's plan for our lives; but if we trust in His love, He will help us to understand it. God never promised that leading a Christian life would be easy. But He did promise that the reward would be worth it.
The beginning stanza of an aria from the oratorio ELIJAH by Felix Mendelssohn sums up God's promise:
“O rest in the Lord
Wait patiently for Him
And He shall give thee
Thy heart's desires.”
Questions for Reflection:
- Think of a time when God has brought you comfort and hope. How has it strengthened your commitment to God?
- How has “worshipping at home” affected your relationship with God?
Prayer: Help us, God, to trust in Your love. Amen.
About the Author: Sue Cawley has been a member of Mount Pleasant for 21 years. She has loved being the musician for the Saturday night service for 23 years. She feels that it has been a privilege to serve this church. Sue was a music teacher with RUSD for 35 years. She misses her MPLC family and eagerly awaits our return to in-person church.
November 18, 2020 - Week 11
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 3 You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. 5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. 7 For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance. 12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
Psalm 90:1-8, 12
Psalm 90 is all about Time—God’s time and man’s time—“from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” I went down to the Kenosha Public Museum recently. It’s been many months since I was there, and I’ve missed it. I have been a greeter there for about fifteen years. The Kenosha Public Museum is a natural history museum, starting with a diorama that shows what was here in Kenosha almost 400 million years ago. My opening statement to visitors is, “Well, there isn’t much to show here, just a lot of fossils.” As they walk the path it is up to them to try to figure this out, from the last Ice Age through to the wooly mammoth discovered out in a farmer’s field in Kenosha County about 30 years ago. The exhibits show man living here in Kenosha about 12,000 years ago, ending with the Potawatomi Indian village of 150 years ago. That was God’s time.
Man’s time in Psalm 90 is indicated in “Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another.” We are in a pandemic right now. I often wonder what it was like in my grandmother’s time when she lost her husband and one son in the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. She and her four other children were too sick to go to the funeral!
Now I am in the next generation. We have all of these high-tech devices. Do they make it any easier? “The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty.” I am in the middle of the 8th decade. How much time do I have left? We use this word many times a day: Time. “I don’t have time for that right now.”— “What time is that meeting?”—“Let’s do it some other time.”
Please read the last four verses again. There is hope in these verses. That is often the way psalms were written, with hope at the end.
“O God Our Help in Ages Past” is a familiar hymn based on Psalm 90. If you don’t have a hymnal, Google it, and also listen to the music on YouTube. I have found the hymn sung by some glorious choirs.
Everyone has had to change to a different time schedule the past several months. Did that schedule give you something positive that you would like to continue when you get back to “normal”? No matter what your age, any age can be the “time” of your life.
Prayer: Dear Creator God, we don’t know a lot about how this creation all began. We only know that right now we are a part of it. Keep us mindful of all the ways each of us is an important part in your plan. Amen
About the Author: Maxine has been a member of Mt. Pleasant Church for twenty years. During most of these years she has enjoyed singing in the senior choir. Before her retirement, her vocation was as a teacher of elementary music. She still likes to bike and cross-country ski (mainly in her condo yard).
November 10, 2020 - Week 10
I hate, I despise your religious festivals; Your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, Righteousness like a never-failing stream.
The holiday season is upon us. In our congregation, we’ve started our observation of Advent, the devotional lead-up to Christmas. The rest of the world is already festooned with their version of Christmas; and in some places Thanksgiving makes a gallant show of it, kind of the poor cousin of the holiday roundup.
But it’s not the same this year, is it? Covid-19, “the virus that never leaves,” is forcing us to scale back and rethink how we are going to celebrate this year. For the sake of our loved ones, we need to think seriously about those loud, boisterous family gatherings we cherish so much. Too many people in small places puts the ones we love at unnecessary risk. For the many who have been furloughed or who have lost their jobs, the full-out Christmases of the past may not be possible this year.
It will be different this year. But as always with God, every circumstance, no matter how grim, can become an opportunity for Faith to grow, should we choose it or look for it. Think about the words of scripture that are our focus for this week.
In these verses from the book Amos, the prophet puts forward a version of an angry God, a God who has had it. Worship has become meaningless. It’s all about the show. High holy days have become rituals with no soul. And God wants the prophet to let the people know, in no uncertain terms, what it is that God truly wants when we worship . . . not the brightest lights or biggest trees, the most brightly wrapped gifts piled high, or the largest feast set out on table after table.
God wants . . . us.
God wants us, desires us, loves us, and wants us to be focused on him—always, to be sure, but especially when we worship. Advent and Christmas are worship events. They are about remembering the greatest gift our loving God ever gave. And so it is that we have a unique opportunity this year. We are, out of necessity, forced to pare our celebrations to their most basic. How easy it will be then to focus ourselves on what is pleasing to God, on what it means to be God’s people, and to use our celebrations as a way to think about, assess, and figure out what God wants us to do and who God wants us to be.
Fortunately, in this message from Amos, we also get a gigantic clue: “let justice roll down like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.” God is very clear about the direction in which we are to point ourselves. It's a big task. A short look around tells us it's a very big task. But we don’t have to do it all in a day. It‘s a lifetime calling. And we don’t have to do it alone. We are all called to walk this way, as Christians, daily focused on walking the Way.
Questions for Reflection:
- One definition of Righteousness is “the quality of being right in the eye of God” and has the following attributes: goodness, virtue, decency integrity, worthiness, morality honesty, honor speaking the truth and from the heart refusing to gossip or backbite.
As you reflect on these attributes, do a check-up: how are you doing? Are you mostly honest in your daily interactions? Would others see you are someone who is decent and moral? Do you speak badly about other people, or pass on gossip? In what ways do you need to grow as a righteous person?
- “Western views of justice are primarily focused on how things should be done, laws, rules, and what should happen when laws are broken. In Hebrew thought, justice is focused on what life should be like. . . Justice in the Hebrew world was concerned with not just laws, but enhancing all human life. . . ’being just’ meant not only not doing wrong, but also actively doing right and restoring what was broken. God’s justice is satisfied when there is restoration.”
-Jessica Nicholas in God Loves Justice: A User Friendly Guide to Biblical Justice and Righteous
Matters of justice have been in the news a lot lately. Does the definition above change how you feel about the calls for justice and your responses to those calls?
- What kind of changes to your holiday observances can you make or incorporate that will reflect God’s desire for justice and righteousness?
About the Author: Judith Tisserand is a retired United Church of Christ pastor who lives in Kenosha with her husband Stephen Gifford. Her last call before retiring was working with an agency that provided housing for mentally ill homeless individuals in Canton, Ohio. Judith and Steve have four grandchildren in the Milwaukee area. She loves all things fiber and is spending her retirement weaving, spinning, and knitting. As soon as the world opens up again, she hopes to be back in the choir at Mt. Pleasant engaged in her other love, singing.
November 4, 2020 - Week 9
1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him, 2Beloved we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this; when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
1 John 3: 1-3
I read and reread these verses trying to hear what they had to say to me. I needed to write about these verses. But what did I have to say? What did they say to me? We are the children of God. What more is there to say?
I turned away from the verses in front of me and picked up Living Lutheran. There were many stories about people making a difference. There were people in this country and across the globe. The one that struck me most was a story of a pastor from the Congo immigrating to Baltimore, Maryland. He began providing services in Swahili to five families. Five families who could now not only understand but participate in the service.
From five families this has grown to many families and more languages. If these people did not know God before, they know Him now. And they are learning that they are the children of God, as are we all.
So many times we think we must make a grand gesture or do mighty works to make a difference. Because that seems so daunting, we end up doing nothing. But here we see one man reaching out to just five families, making a huge difference. He has brought the word of God to people in a language they understand. Those five families have grown into a community of many families living as God would want for his children.
We must take even those small opportunities to do things that may help one person. Then, like a pebble tossed into a pond, the ripples will go out further and further. Thus, others will know us and know we are children of God.
Questions for Reflection:
• What small thing have you overlooked that you can do to make something better?
• What small thing has made your life better?
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to see the small ways that I may help those around me. Remind me to act, and not to walk away from those little things in order to improve our world.
About the Author: Kathy Heyse has lived in Racine for many years, having grown up in Indiana. She is surviving the pandemic by reaching out to friends and family in as many ways as she can while still remaining home and safe.
October 28, 2020 - Week 8
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
God’s Buzz Words
Like many of you, I grew up memorizing the 10 commandments and their meanings as a 6th grader during confirmation. I admit to not fully understanding what some of them meant, but I felt very good about obeying others. However, these additional commands contain “Buzz Words” that don’t leave me any wiggle room to misunderstand or misinterpret how God expects me to behave. In all honesty, there isn’t any way I can read them without feeling embarrassed or ashamed of some of my thoughts or actions.
Have you ever rushed into a judgment about a person or situation? I have, and it was embarrassing. It has happened when I misunderstood some of the information relayed, when I was suspicious of the motivation of the person or action involved, and when I really wanted my own interpretation to be true. But most embarrassing was when I discovered I had only heard one side of the story.
Carrying a grudge can be a very heavy burden. Some hold grudges for a short time, others for generations. A friend of mine used to joke, “I never hold a grudge, I get even right away.” Then there are the legendary Hatfields and McCoys, the Arabs and Israelis, and the divisions of race and culture in our society. Both philosophies can produce devastating personal and/or property damage. Wasting time plotting how to get even always has the potential to put the other relationships in our life at risk; luckily I’ve never been a big risk taker.
Hate is another one of God’s Buzz Words. It is thrown around so loosely in today’s world that we have to work hard to avoid absorbing it into our own vocabulary and lives. I remember using it as a child; I hated eating peas, hated doing chores, and hated doing homework. As an adult, I struggle to avoid using it to describe people and ideas I fear or don’t understand.
God saves the most important Buzz Word for last … LOVE! The greatest of God’s commands. A simple four letter word … so easy to say, but often… so difficult to practice. Love is God’s solution to help us deal with all the other commands. “Live His Love” was the theme of an LCW convention many years ago. Like you, I’m still a work in progress with this one, but with God’s help, I’ll keep trying.
Questions for Reflection:
- Do you ever apologize if you have misjudged someone?
- Who really gets hurt when you carry a grudge?
- How often do you say the word hate each day? The word love?
Prayer: Gracious God, you know that I often fail to obey all of your commands. Remember I am a work in progress. Help me reflect your love for me in the lives I touch. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
About the Author: Ginny and Pastor Bob have been married for 61 years. They have 2 children and 2 grandchildren. They retired to WI and joined MPLC. Ginny has enjoyed careers in office/business management and as a musician, is an avid reader, crossword enthusiast, and quilter. For many years she served as a worship resource person for the Illinois Synod and the Lutheran Church in America.
October 21, 2020 - Week 7
1 (From) Paul, Silas, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We give thanks to God always for you all, mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patient hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of God and our Father. 4 For we know, beloved brothers, your election by God. 5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance, just as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. 6 You became followers of us and the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit. 7 Therefore you were examples to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-7 Modern English Version
These first words of the first chapter of the first epistle of Paul to the church in Thessalonica are considered to be in his earliest letter and thus the earliest writings in the New Testament. They are important for primacy if nothing else. But what strikes me is the very high praise he gives this new congregation. It makes me wonder if Paul, or a modern day apostle, were to write an epistle to “Racinians,” would there be such high praise?
In Paul’s day, transportation was slow – that of a donkey, camel or a person’s pace; and communication, except for imperial messages, was equally slow – no cell phones, Facebook, or emails. Yet the word about the Christians in Thessalonica apparently had traveled rapidly throughout much of Greece and “every place your faith in God has gone forth.” We have the advantage, or curse, of rapid transmission of whatever we do or say.
Like the Thessalonians, we now are “in much affliction” with a pandemic, racial injustice and turbulence, and rabid political, economic, and social division. Both of us have also received the gospel, the Holy Spirit and election by God. These verses and the rest of this short chapter are not clear to me what these new Christians were doing that was so noteworthy. But I can imagine that they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, took care of the sick and visited the imprisoned (Matthew 25). They loved the Lord with all their strength, heart, and soul, and they loved their neighbor as themselves.
To bring that last phrase up to our modern “afflictions,” I don’t see the wearing of face masks as a political statement but as a religious one, as well as a medical one. Covering your mouth with a mask shows love (and protection from your possibly virus-filled droplets) for your neighbor. Covering your nose with a mask shows love (and protection from other’s possibly virus-filled droplets) for yourself.
Questions for Reflection:
- Are those qualities of a Christian life in the next to last paragraph as applicable today as they were in the first century?
- What would a modern day apostle say of our congregation and others in Southeast Wisconsin?
- Is “affliction” (MEV) or “persecution” (NRSV) the better word for you to describe our current state? Why?
Prayer: Dear heavenly father, help your children live and enjoy a life more closely to that described and lived by your son and forgive us our failures to do so and our shortcomings. Amen.
About the Author: John Berge is a long-retired scientist and has been a member of MPLC for 30 years. He has been privileged to be a delegate to two church-wide assemblies and a consultant at another. The year 2020 was especially significant for him as he lost his wife Lila in April, passed 90 years in July, and became a great grandfather of twins in September
October 14, 2020 - Week 6
6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
A do-over! Starting with a major feast—I can’t wait! And the menu—for me, I think of a luau. All the stops are pulled. But this feast is unique—prepared by the Lord Almighty himself! I cannot even begin to imagine it (my mouth is watering)!
For me now, we can’t do Open Table. But I can participate in the first and third Wednesday food donation drive. For some, even a can of beans is a feast.
The do-over continues. We’re living in rough times right now. All the bad (disease, war, hatred, suffering, even death) ended! Gone! I cannot begin to imagine it. I do have an imagination, but this is epic—Biblical proportions epic!
For me, now, I do what I can—vote, wear a mask, stay at home, be a phone buddy, encourage someone even with just a smile or a wave. Bringing it one step lower, every day is a do-over! Truly a gift from God! Another opportunity to love, to encourage, to be kind, to try to make today even better than yesterday, even for one person or animal, to make the world a better place.
What am I to do knowing good times are coming? It does say, “the Lord has spoken.” This is encouragement for me to dig deeper to find out what else God is telling me to do. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.” Psalms 118:24 tells us, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I can do that!
Questions for Reflection:
- How are you contributing to the feast that we can have today? (“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” Matt 25: 35)
- What are you doing to bring a little gladness and rejoicing even to one person’s world?
Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, fill me with your love and spirit so I may be a light in the world. Show me how to light up someone’s world today. Amen!
About the author: Stew Nagao was baptized when he was 25 and became a member of MPLC late last year. He is a retired Navy veteran and a retired safety manager at Great Lakes Naval Station.
October 7, 2020 - Week 5
PRIVILEGE AND FOLLOWING JESUS
“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”
When Pastor Beth Ann invited me to share a devotional, I immediately knew I wanted to participate. However, as I started to read the Philippians scripture passage, and came to the word “circumcised” I thought, “Whoa, that lesson is not for me! Maybe I need to choose another reading.” But, the other scripture lessons were already taken. So, I read on.
Suddenly the verses really did speak to me personally and to the times we are currently experiencing. I thought of the privileges I have, and all the reasons I have to be “confident in the flesh." These are things that I take for granted. I was born white. I have always had food to eat and a place to live. I have gone to good schools. I have more than my share of material possessions. I can walk into a store without the fear of being followed because I might shoplift. I can drive my car anywhere I want without the fear of being stopped and asked to prove my citizenship. I can be stopped by a police officer without fear of being thrown to the ground and losing my life. Should I get COVID, I have health insurance to provide me with the best medical care available.
Being in a relationship with Jesus required that Paul put Jesus and his teachings first. Paul was filled with the love of Jesus, and this gave him the faith to reject his privilege and follow Jesus. As I pondered my white privilege, I thought about how all my advantages make it difficult for me to truly be in a loving relationship with Christ. That is, to see all the pain around me and to show empathy by following Christ’s example. I, like Paul, have been a zealot in accepting the status quo. Following Jesus challenges me to have the faith to love Jesus enough to dare to reject my comfort level and life of privilege, and embrace a world where black lives matter, no human is illegal, hate has no home, love is love, and kindness is always the answer.
Living my life in this way is no small task! I am certain to stumble and fall along the way. Thankfully, I know I am not alone in this pursuit, if I can put my faith in God, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me.
Questions for reflection:
- What interferes with my ability to put Jesus first in my life?
- Do my privileges make it difficult for me to follow Christ and have empathy for others?
- How can I have the faith needed to follow Christ?
Prayer: Lord God, help me to be filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ. Open my eyes to the suffering of those around me, and grant me the faith I need to follow your loving example. Amen.
About the Author: Linda Lehrmann is a retired School Social Worker. She and her husband of almost 47 years, Jim, are parents to two grown children (their spouses too), and grandparents to four amazing granddaughters. They have been members of MPLC for about the past 40 years. Their time is split between Racine and a farm in Rockford, Illinois.
September 30, 2020 - Week 4
[Paul writes:] Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:4-8 NRSV)
A young mom recently told me that I had "a servant's heart.” Well, actually, she told me that my daughter, who is her son's teacher, had a servant's heart. She implied that perhaps my daughter had acquired this trait from me, and I loved the compliment so much that I grabbed it and made it my own. I thought to myself, "This is the nicest thing anyone could ever think about me."
Then I thought about what I often say to my daughter when she shares her lesson plans with other teachers, or when she spends her own money on buying things for students in not only HER class but in other classes, or when she volunteers to spend hours of her time working on projects to be used by others. Sometimes I don't think she's getting the credit that I think she deserves. I'm ashamed to admit that I tell her, "Stop!"
Stop being so nice. Stop doing all the work. Stop looking out for everyone else's interests. Stop caring so much. Stop spending your own money. STOP FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS!
Jesus tells us, and shows us by example, that we should look out for the interests of others. Jesus cares about us. He cared so much that He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.
My daughter won't "run out" of goodness, kindness, and generosity. Jesus honors a servant's heart!
Questions for Reflection:
- How do you feel when it seems as though you shoulder more of the burden for a task than someone else? Do you resent it, or do you accept your role with a servant's heart?
Prayer: Dear Lord, fill me with humility and a desire to serve others. Create and strengthen within me a servant's heart so that I might be a blessing to all I meet. Amen
About the Author: Rita Lewis is the grateful mother of five and grandmother of nine wonderful gifts from God, who blesses her and impresses her every day.
September 23, 2020 - Week 3
10When God saw what [the people of Nineveh] did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4:1But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah 3:10–4:1-4
When I was young I preferred a definite yes or no answer to any situation that arose. Back then, it was a bit easier to get that answer!
As I matured, I came to realize that when God offered me an opportunity to do his work, I needed to accept the task and get the job done, or avoid it and ignore the task God had set before me! At this point I came to understand and accept my task rather than avoid or ignore it.
Somewhere during this time I developed a new perspective in my beliefs. I began to accept with more conviction that God has a way of resolving life issues with an answer. Sometimes it was tempting for me to wait for the answer I wanted rather than accept God’s resolve.
Now, a few more years later, I have come to recognize that God has a reason for most everything that happens in our lives. When I am tempted to judge the situation that God has set forth, I realize how essential it is for me to be patient and trust God. The closer I walk with God each day, the more confident and content I am that God will resolve my tribulations if I will allow Him. His wisdom is far greater than mine. Prayer is my greatest source of peace and comfort.
Life is not all about me and my judgments. Lamenting over problems that I am not in charge of consumes time that I could use to reach out to others and to rejoice in God always being by my side. God’s solution may not be what I think is right, but I could be wrong. Or I may need to adjust!
Questions for Reflection:
- Do you ever feel God’s resolution to an issue you worked on to be what you thought it should be?
- Do you ever feel it would be easier to avoid God’s will and second guess His call?
Prayer: Lord, teach me to trust your decisions. Bring me closer to you day by day so that I may have peace and understanding in the life you have given me.
About the Author: Carol Hogue has been a member of Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church for many years, and has been a survivor in life by God’s grace for many more years.
September 16, 2020 - Week 2
15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.
(Genesis 50:15-20 NRSV)
God not only calls us to love our neighbors as mentioned in last weeks devotional, but he also calls us to forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave us (Mark 11:25). I don’t know about you, but this a tough command to follow sometimes. Our verse above speaks about Joseph. The more I soak in his story, the more I am in awe of his Christ-like resemblance. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own jealous brothers and later falsely accused of adultery and thrown into prison, but through all these trials he continued to always put his faith in the Lord and speak kindly to those who had trespassed against him. In our verse above, Joseph’s brothers were yet again afraid of the revenge Joseph might seek on them after their fathers passing; they knew how wrong they were. So they created a factitious deathbed speech from their father to save themselves, Joseph responded by weeping at the fact that they thought he would ever try to harm them. Joseph said, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
There’s a verse I keep posted on my wall from Jeremiah 29:11 “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good.’” (NLT). When I say this with my 5 year old we throw our hands in the air like we just don’t care, at the end, “SO GOOD! SO GOOD!” Evil happens in our world and in our lives. I am not saying that this evil is done purposely by the hands of God, but rather what He does with that evil is always good. There are two choices we can make with the evil or wrong doing of others that pass through our lives; we can either try to make other people’s lives as miserable as we possibly can, or we can choose to forgive. Forgiving to me simply means I choose to do good rather than retaliating with more evil. It doesn’t mean I don’t still hurt from other’s actions, or that I condone what they may have done, but that I am choosing to move forward in Christ-like goodness rather than responding back with yet more wrongdoing.
God is challenging us, calling us, to forgive and love others as He does; especially those who may have offended us. This call is right in the Lord’s prayer: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” So, what kind of neighbor are you? A loving one? A forgiving one?
Questions for Reflection:
- How have you seen God work evil for good in your life?
- Who do you need to forgive? Or, who do you wish would forgive you? Pray for the strength of forgiveness.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for your grace, your goodness, and perfect plans. Help me become the loving and forgiving neighbor you have called me to be. Amen.
About the Author: Alex Dollar is a former teacher turned stay at home-homeschooling mama. She and her husband, Chris, teach 4-year-old Sunday school at MPLC and have 2 children: Christopher (5) and Abilene (1). Whenever she has a free moment (which is never…) Alex enjoys curling up with a good book.
September 9, 2020 - Week 1
Pastor Beth Ann L. Stone
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10 NRSV)
Somehow it feels like the Big Ten Commandments are easier to keep than this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” No adultery—check! Don’t murder—done! Don’t steal—yep! Don’t covet—mostly, yes (if I’m totally honest). But loving your neighbor as yourself? Not so simple.
First, it means loving yourself. That’s easier for me now than it’s ever been, I think…part of the benefit of growing older, wiser, and being less self-critical. But some of us never quite get there, and that gets in the way of us loving others well.
Second, it means recognizing others as complicated, unique persons, each with their own needs and experiences. There’s a voice inside us that screams, “Grab as much as you can for yourself!” “There’s a bear coming after you…trip that guy instead!” “Be afraid…they might take advantage of you!” Somehow, we have to ignore that voice and listen to the other one, the one that says, “That person looks sad/mad/scared…I wonder what they’re going through?” “I have more than I need…who else could use what I could share?” “I wonder what it’s like to be that person who is so different than me?” Being interested in our neighbors and learning about them is the first step toward loving them.
Third, “loving your neighbor as yourself” means more than just thinking kind thoughts. It means actively seeking the well-being of others as much as I do my own well-being, considering other people’s needs to be as important as my own. That’s the kind of ethic that drives some people to deliver Meals-on-Wheels, or pick up groceries for a neighbor, or protest the way people are being unfairly treated, or vote in the interests of the most powerless segment in our community, or choose a vocation that puts them in harm’s way for the sake of others. That’s the costly, risky work of loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Questions for Reflection:
- How well do you fare at “loving yourself”? How might you be more forgiving, accepting, gracious toward yourself, Child of God?
- Who’s a “neighbor” God has led into your life lately, someone whose well-being God is calling you to actively seek? What might you do about that?
Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see my neighbors right in front of me, and show me how I can help them live a more abundant life. Fill me with the love of Jesus, so I can share it with others. Amen.
About the Author: Beth Ann Lechtenberger Stone has been a pastor for nineteen years, and at MPLC since September 2018. She and her husband Karl-John are the parents of two teenage sons and a young, naughty dog. She is now the shortest in her family.