Devotions from MPLC Members. New author, new text, new devotions posted each Wednesday.
February 24, 2021 - Week 25
1To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 2My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 3Let none who look to you be put to shame; rather let those be put to shame who are treacherous. 4Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. 5Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. 6Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. 7Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord. 8You are gracious and upright, O Lord; therefore you teach sinners in your way. 9You lead the lowly in justice and teach the lowly your way. 10All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast love and faithfulness to those who keep your covenant and your testimonies. --Psalm 25:1-10
What a time we are living in! We are in the midst of a pandemic with people getting sick and many dying every day. Racial strife is all around us. And politics have often become volatile. Many people are showing signs of anxiety because of all the troubles around us as well as having to face an uncertain future. It often seems there is nowhere to go for help. Who can we trust? Trust, along with truth, are huge issues.
As a principal I would have to speak with wayward students on a regular basis. I would tell them they had to tell the truth no matter what. If they told the truth they may get disciplined for bad behavior, but it would not be as bad as it would be if later I found out they lied to me. And if they lied to me I would never be able to trust them again.
Then we would talk about what it meant not to be trusted, not to be believed. Truth leads to trust, and trust is something that once lost is almost impossible to get back. For that moment at least I usually got the truth. And for that moment the child seemed to understand the importance of truth and why trust is so important.
And why is it so important to us today? We can trust that if we put our faith and, yes, trust in God, He will see us through all the difficulties we are experiencing. There is hope. We just need to have faith that whatever God’s plan is, it is the way of hope for our future.
As a teenager I read in a daily devotional book the line, “The only answer to fear is faith.” One summer evening while walking my dog after dark, a sense of great fear came over me. I hurried my steps, but could not shed that sense of fear. Then that line came into my head. The only answer to fear is faith. An immediate sense of peace and calm came over me and my fear was gone. I will never forget that bright starry evening when God let me know that by putting my faith and trust in Him I would be fine.
In this selection from Psalms we are given all we need to cope with the times. We put our trust in God, ask for his forgiveness and know that He will be there for us. We may not be able to see or understand His plan, but we know that He is always there for us as long as we have faith and trust in Him. Just knowing this helps in facing these difficult times.
Questions for Reflection:
- Is there a time when putting your faith and trust in God gave you a complete sense of peace and calm?
- Where and how do you find hope for a future that is pandemic-free?
Prayer: Dear Father, thank you for always being there for us. Thank you for giving us your truth which lets us know trusting in you is the way to hope. Amen
About the Author: Kathy Heyse is a former teacher and elementary school principal who loved working with those wayward children and hopefully making a difference in their lives.
February 17, 2021 - Week 24
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. 2Wash me through and through from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin. 3For I know my offenses, and my sin is ever before me. 4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment. 5Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness, a sinner from my mother’s womb. 6Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me, and would have me know wisdom deep within. 7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be purer than snow. 8Let me hear joy and gladness; that the body you have broken may rejoice. 9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my wickedness. 10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
I love a clean slate. Even as an adult, new school supplies bring me joy and a fresh calendar is one of my favorite things. Unfortunately, a fresh start isn’t always easy to attain. Damaged relationships, bad choices, lost opportunities, and life circumstances can make us feel stuck and alone. We wonder, “Who would ever take a chance on us?”
The answer is simple…God. God will take a chance on us. There is nothing we can say, think, feel or do that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. As much as I love a new calendar, I feel most filled with hope and possibility with ashes on my head. On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that God’s love for us is beyond our control. God’s love is greater than our actions, doubt, or wrongdoings. God’s love and grace makes us new over and over again.
In years past, after Ash Wednesday services I’d run errands and see other people with remnants of ashes on their heads, too. I’d be reminded that God’s forgiving love is not just for me, but for everyone. I found myself smiling at people, God’s people, covered in ash. This year, there won’t be ashes on our heads. While this could feel like a loss, I like to think of those clean foreheads as the ultimate reminder that in God, everyone is continually made clean. God’s grace isn’t an annual thing; it’s an always thing, and it’s not just for those who wear ashes proudly on their heads one Wednesday a year. God’s grace is for the addict struggling to maintain sobriety and faced with starting over, and over, and over. God’s grace is for the caretaker, struggling to show care and compassion in times of stress and uncertainty. God’s grace is for the prisoner yearning for freedom but no longer sure of how to navigate the outside world. God's grace is for anyone who has questioned their value or doubted their faith. God's grace is for anyone who's ever been led to believe they are outside the scope of God's love. God’s grace is for the veteran struggling to reconcile who they are with what they were asked to do. God’s grace is for the teacher trying to stay creative while exhausted. God’s grace is for the unhoused, the unloved, and the unsure. More importantly, God’s grace isn’t just offered to us, it is extended through us. As you make your way through this Ash Wednesday week, try to see each person through the loving, forgiving lens of Jesus. Grace is ours to receive and to share, ashes or not.
Questions for Reflection:
- How has the promise of God’s grace shaped your life?
- How can you extend God’s grace to others this week?
- Do you wrestle with the idea that God’s grace is for everyone? Why can this be hard for us to accept? How can embracing that change our lives?
Prayer: Forgiving God, I ask your forgiveness and absolution of my sins. I ask also that you would guide me to live boldly into your grace, sharing love and acceptance with the people around me. Amen.
About the Author: Holly Hess is the Director of Serving Ministries at MPLC. This week she tried making her Grandma’s donuts and failed miserably. She might have even said a bad word when the grease splattered. Luckily, she’s a big believer in God’s grace.
February 10, 2021 - Week 23
28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
It never ceases to amaze me that I have four children who are all runners, three of whom have completed multiple marathons, and I can’t even muster the energy to run to the mailbox. I’m not sure how that all happened, but I do know that during the times of running and training and competitions, verse 31 of this passage from Isaiah was always an inspiration: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” In fact, one of my children used this as her confirmation verse. For runners, this passage promises fortitude and a renewal of strength.
But what about the rest of us? After a year of enduring a pandemic, political division, racial unrest, isolation, and separation from those we love, we can’t help but be weary. However, it’s important to know that if we are weary, we’re not alone; and we will be lifted up and renewed by the Lord who “gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” The words, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” are like a newsboy standing on the corner yelling, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” The Lord is our everlasting God, beyond our comprehension, infinite, and unchangeable. To those who believe and have faith, we have the promise that God will be with us to help us persevere.
After being held down and held back, we will be set free to soar as with wings like eagles. We may not return to “normal” as it was before, but I hope and pray that we can live into a new future, one where we take the experiences, learning, and relationships from this past year and utilize all we have gained to form our new tomorrow, together. Yes, there is still much that is unknown, and yes, 2020 was a really, really hard year. We may be frustrated that healing and freedom are not coming as quickly as we’d like. But we can be secure in the knowledge that healing will happen in God’s time, and that God is always on time. We can also hold on to the knowledge that God was, is, and will be with us in our past, present, and future. What a beautiful vision—to be renewed. . . to soar . . . to be strengthened and to be weary no longer. We are believers, and with God’s help, we will keep on running. On our own, we may faint. But with God, we will fly!
Questions for Reflection:
- Where or when do you find yourself weary and in need of extra strength?
- Who do you reach out to as your support system when you’re weary?
- What “new normal” do you envision for yourself in your future?
Prayer: Gracious Lord, thank you for being with us throughout all the times in our lives, both the good and the challenging. Help us to trust that you will keep us from fainting and will help us to soar like eagles as we approach the “new normal” of our future. Amen.
About the Author: Karen Magee has been a member of MPLC for 30 years. Since retiring from her career as an elementary school teacher (which she loved), she’s been “living the dream” by traveling abroad and visiting her four children and four grandchildren, by being busy both on stage and backstage at the Racine Theatre Guild, by pursuing her hobbies of scrapbooking, music, and reading, and by spending time with wonderful friends. During this year of the pandemic, Karen has been especially grateful for her group of friends and for the technologies that keep everyone close.
February 3, 2021 - Week 22
1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
My uncle Marshall was a successful high school basketball coach who took many teams to Madison to compete in state tournaments. I was a young girl at that time and I asked my mom, "Why doesn't Uncle Marsh drink beer?" Mom said, "He's setting an example for the players on his team." (who, no doubt, were too young to drink beer legally, but in Wisconsin in the 1950's, it happened.) He made a personal sacrifice for the good of his impressionable young players, encouraging them to strive to be their very best. He didn't want his actions to be a stumbling block for them.
In I Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul says that as Christians, through the strength of Divine Grace, we can show concern for the peace and welfare of others by foregoing our own rights so that we don't lead anyone astray. Paul's letter to the people in Corinth concerned a question regarding the eating of meat which had been used as a sacrifice for idols. Paul told the people of Corinth that even though the eating of the meat was not a sin, if a person new to the Christian faith perceived it as a sin, it could result in confusion and doubts. Therefore, for the sake of brotherly/sisterly love, it would be better to give up their own personal liberty rather than to risk offending and hurting others.
Currently, a task force in our church is pondering the question, ”Two years from now, what does God want to see in our children because of their experience in Sunday School?" I imagine there are many good answers to that question. One answer might be that our children take to heart this passage from Matthew 22:37-39: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Or, as Peter Scholtes wrote,
"We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love.
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love.
- Do you ever feel you must be “right,” even if it's hurtful to someone? How do you react to someone who has an opinion that is different than your own?
- Would you be willing to make a sacrifice for the good of someone you don't know?
- What should the young people in our church be taught?
Prayer: Dear God, let me be an example of Christian charity and love. Help me to choose my words carefully and to always be aware of my actions so that I hurt no one, even unintentionally. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen
About the Author: Rita Lewis is the grateful mother of five and grandmother of nine who are wonderful gifts from God, and all of whom BLESS her and IMPRESS her every day. Rita doesn’t eat meat. . . Just saying!
January 27, 2021 - Week 21
Pastor Nancy Eggert
1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 10When God saw what they 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.
Jonah 3.1-5, 10
There’s a ship on fire--call the Coast Guard!
On a beautiful summer evening I sit with my binoculars on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. I spot a tiny orange light on the horizon. It grows bigger and brighter. The setting sun often throws a quick glint off the windshield of a fishing boat. But this fire on the horizon blazes for several minutes. Then it fades and disappears. So I don’t call the Coast Guard.
The next evening the orange glow reappears—in the same spot. Hmmm … two days in a row? Is it really a flaming ship?
I do a little research. Nothing in the news about a fire. Marinetraffic.com follows ship positions. Google Maps shows me that downtown Chicago is over the horizon in that direction. I gather information on Chicago skyscrapers. The National Weather Service reports a high barometric pressure. I consult a textbook on meteorology.
It turns out that if you stand on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Racine County on a clear day with high barometric pressure, and look about 20 degrees east of south, you can see part of the Chicago skyline “over the horizon.” The setting sun bounces off the tall buildings downtown. So I change my mind. I don’t believe in fiery ships on Lake Michigan anymore. It was just the sun reflecting off the Chicago skyline!
I changed my mind. The story of Jonah—so much more than a tale of a whale—includes several changed minds. Jonah doesn’t want to preach to the sinful people of distant Nineveh. But Jonah changes his mind after some reflection time in the big fish. The people of Nineveh change their minds and turn from their evil ways. Even God changes his mind and doesn’t bring calamity on the whole city of Nineveh!
It is not easy for us to change our minds. Our brains are built to be stubborn. We absorb information that supports what we already believe and repels input that goes against our convictions. But refusing to change our mind and sticking to our guns can sometimes have serious consequences—for us and for our world.
Sure, it was easy for me to change my mind about seeing a fiery ship on Lake Michigan. I was all by myself and did not tell anybody that I believed there was a ship on fire. I did not call the Coast Guard. My mother never taught me, “There are fiery ships on Lake Michigan!” I don’t visit any websites or read newspapers or listen to shows that routinely report supposed maritime conflagrations on our neighboring Great Lake. If I changed my mind about seeing ships on fire I would not damage my reputation, lose my friends, or even feel like a fool. I wasn’t risking anything by changing my mind about what I saw.
But sometimes changing our mind costs us dearly. It is hard. God always gives chances to change minds—to Jonah, to the Ninevites, and to us. Sometimes we just need more time--time to sit with the Holy One who loves us no matter what.
Questions for Reflection:
- What are you so very sure of that nobody can convince you otherwise? (How hard do you think it would be to get me to change my mind about seeing skyscrapers in Chicago?!)
- Where do you have a feeling you need to reconsider some of your firmly-held beliefs? Can you ask God for a second chance? For help?
- How might a new perspective make your life better? Make our world better?
Prayer: Loving God, I ask you to open my eyes and loosen my grip on my certainties. Let me see your love and your truth in all things. Help me to change my mind when I need to do so.
About the Author: Nancy is retired and lives on Lake Michigan, so she spends a lot of time sitting on the bluff with her binoculars. Her first call was to be an attorney for the federal government. She lived in Washington DC for over 30 years.
January 20, 2021 - Week 20
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. 5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. 23Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. 24See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, 23-24 (NRSV)
I grew up in northeastern Ohio. At the time, this was strictly Cleveland Browns country. Watching them play was an important part of male bonding between my father and two brothers, and for a long time I was proud to say that my blood ran Brown. Even after years of living in central Pennsylvania, long after temporarily adopting the Phillies as my favorite baseball team, I continued to root for the Browns. During their run as the Kardiac Kids, in the eighties, when they were repeatedly winning or losing in heart-stopping fashion, I would yell and scream at the TV. I was crushed when championships were lost due to the Drive and the Fumble. But I was also chagrined, to no small degree, by how out of control I had become. My family retreated from the family room when I behaved this way. My fandom had taken possession of me. Then something in me drew me to NFL heresy: I took a step back.
Psalm 139 has been highly appreciated over the centuries because of the beautiful and powerful way it describes the way God relates to us. God is praised for the depth of this divine intimacy: knowing our movements, our intentions, and even the words we are about to speak. Using the metaphor of God’s hand, the psalmist senses God “walling us off from danger.” (You hem me in behind and before.) The image of God’s hand is repeated as a potter’s hand to form us, and then the weaver’s craft to describe the artful way we have been created.
This level of divine intimacy may make you uncomfortable. God is seeing us and knowing us, not just in our Sunday best, but also in our moral and ethical failures. God is knowledgeable about our woundedness, our grieving, and our shallowness of faith. Are we safe under God’s discernment? What is God’s intent here? What is the poet saying? What is motivating this beautiful, fearsome depiction of God’s loving interest? Our reading does not include a jarring intrusion of hatred for unnamed wicked, bloodthirsty persons who speak maliciously about God. In fact, scholars suggest that the psalmist may have been accused of being one of their number. The poet pleads with God to search deeply to see if there is any heart-deep wickedness.
This is an awesome level of personal accountability. Pledges and vows have been taken on. The call to love God with the fullness of one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength has been issued and embraced, by the poet and by us. How ready are we to reveal all to this discerning God? How prepared are we to jettison the idols that undermine our best selves? How ready are we to present our political and social ideologies to the judgement of God and the shape of God’s intent for Creation and human society? How prepared are we to be perfectly honest with God about who we truly are?
The Psalm says that God already knows all this. There is no need to search for God. God has already found us. And there is no need for fear. God’s discernment is grace full. The key is for us to turn to this intimate, discerning, loving God and to yield to the Potter’s ongoing forming of our best and truest selves. We turn in prayer, in worship, reflection; we yield in our worldly allegiances and habits of living.
Seriously, I have taken a step back from the Browns. The fandom thing was an exercise of idolatry. I allowed my enthusiasm to claim a part of me to which it had no claim. I seldom watch them now, even when they are televised. It may seem a minor thing, but God’s grace and God’s hand hem me in and protect me from my worst excesses. The creative knitting-like process that was begun before my birth continues.
Prayer: O loving, gracious, and discerning God, draw us close to you as we make our way in this life. Reveal to us our inner truths, and turn us away from the distractions that cloud your will. Help us trust your regard and love for us so that we may “see you more clearly, love you more fully, and follow you more nearly.” In Christ’s Name. Amen
About the Author: Stephen Gifford is a retired minister of the United Church of Christ. He served congregations in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Southern Illinois, and Ohio in sole and senior pastor roles, and as an Interim Pastor and Closing Consultant in Wisconsin. He was a Minister of Evangelism for New Church Development and then for Church Renewal in the national setting of the United Church of Christ. He and his wife, Judith Tisserand have four adult children living in Wisconsin, California, and Pennsylvania. They have three grandchildren in the Milwaukee area which is why they moved here.
January 13, 2021 - Week 19
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
It was 9 pm and darkness was starting to creep in. I was putting together items needed for the night in my role as support team for my husband and his friend. Headlamps, water bottles, food to carry. They were competing in a mountain bike race as a two-man relay team.
The objective? Be the team that completes the most 5-mile laps on the wooded course in a 24-hour time period. You—Lap 1, your teammate—Lap 2, you—Lap 3, and so on. It was a difficult course in the daytime, made more difficult by riding through the woods at night. Your only light at night was a headlamp affixed to your bike helmet.
The team next to me was a group of four teenagers. I knew these boys, having spent many years watching and riding in the Wisconsin mountain biking circuit. They had been energetic all day as teenage boys are. But now here it was—nightfall. One boy couldn’t be found, and his turn was coming up. His father appeared. They had found him. He was coming. He was scared, but he was coming. He was scared of the dark.
I could relate. Fear of the dark was one of those fears I could remember. All fear is learned. I know there are many origins my fear of the dark. Growing up Lutheran and memorizing Bible verses for Sunday School, I wondered if this week’s reading from Genesis might have contributed. I was very familiar with the following line “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light and God saw that the light was good. . .” Light equals good. Did I assume that darkness equaled bad?
As I read this passage, I focused on the description of the darkness. And I was struck by the factual scientific beauty of the description.
“….the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters…”
“…God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night…”
“And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
There is no opinion on Night or darkness, just the beautiful fact of it.
The 24-hour period of our days has always been a balance between light and darkness, Day and Night. We need both to live. All living things need light and rest at the cellular level to thrive. God knew this. He created both. I need not continue to fear the darkness.
Over the past year as the pandemic has shrunk my world and changed the pattern of my days, I have discovered something oddly peaceful in the rhythm of daily life. The rhythm of resting and waking. Night and Day. Darkness and Light. I am learning how to welcome both. In my case I’m learning it with small daily prayers and other simple rituals, like evening and morning cups of tea.
In the beginning God recorded it, “There was evening and there was morning, the first day.” And here I am, a child of God, still recording it. There was evening and there was morning, another day. And it is all good.
Questions for Reflection:
- What simple daily rituals can help you greet both the evening and the morning?
- Have you ever re-read a familiar Bible passage and found a new meaning?
Morning Prayer: “God, good morning. Help guide me through the day.”
Evening Prayer: “God, good night. Help me to be still and rest”.
About the Author: Barb Daanen has been a member of MPLC for 20 years. Born and raised in Racine, she left home and traveled West in search of adventure (Iowa for college) and South in search of employment (Illinois for work) before settling back in Racine with her husband, where they raised their daughter. She enjoys reading, quilting, golfing with her husband, skiing with her family, and her latest endeavor—trying to train their Bernedoodle not to bark at delivery trucks.
January 6, 2021 - Week 18
Pastor Nancy Eggert
9 "When [the wise men from the east] had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
High in the Rocky Mountains, on a clear summer night, my nephew and backpacking buddy Tim and I lie in the grass at the edge of a small mountain lake and watch the sky in silence. You don’t see stars like this in the city! I almost can’t make out the familiar constellations like the Big Dipper because their simple forms are obscured by thousands of other stars. I know there are billions more stars out there that I can’t even see--so much more to the universe than we can ever imagine! We humans and the planet earth itself are so tiny and insignificant in comparison. Tim and I get lost in the wonder and awe, and we linger into the chilly night.
I know that the light coming from some of the stars we saw that night originated about 2000 years ago, the same time the wise men began their journey. When the men saw the star had stopped, they were filled with joy—for the same reason I am filled with joy today. The Mighty and Mysterious One who was revealed on that starry night in the Rocky Mountains did not remain in a distant galaxy, but took up residence in this world of pain and loss, of pandemics and division and unrest. The God who called the stars into existence took on the form of a fellow human being whom we can know and love, a human being who has a mom, who works, who struggles, who has friends, who is betrayed, who dies, but yet is not conquered by death. When super-fit hiker Tim died unexpectedly while still in his 40s, I and Tim’s family and friends were devastated. The Creator of this vast universe does not stay distant and mysterious, but makes a home in my heart and in my life and shares in my grief and pain. The pain does not disappear but is shared with this man Jesus who knows what it is to suffer. This Loving God longs for us, beckons us to come closer, and will not let us go, no matter what. This Mysterious yet Loving One invites me to fall in love, to surrender my life, and to make his will my own. The longing in my heart is Jesus’ longing for me. Yes, I know why the wise men from the east were filled with joy.
Questions to think about:
- Where do you experience awe and wonder?
- When have you had a deep longing for something more?
- What are your favorite names for God?
Prayer: O Loving One, who calls me by name and will never let me go, help me to notice your presence in all things, even in the lonely, painful, and wrenching experiences. Open my eyes and my heart, I pray. Amen.
About the Author: Pastor Nancy Eggert moved back to Wisconsin about 10 years ago to fulfill a family dream of living on the shores of Lake Michigan. Her home is a mini-retreat house where she offers hospitality. About three months after she moved in, a bald eagle couple built a nest outside her window and decided to stay and raise a family.
December 30, 2020 - Week 17
Pastor Bob Trendel
"When the fullness of time has come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God."
Galatians 4: 4-7
Remember Your Adoption
During the early 1940s, my family moved from Chicago to Glenview, a new northern suburb. Most of our relatives remained in Chicago, so we made frequent trips to visit them. Our route took us through Niles, past St. Hedwig Orphanage. We often saw children playing, supervised by nuns in long black habits. Those children were orphaned by circumstances out of their control: warfare, poverty, parental deaths, and abandonment. My brothers, sister, and I wondered what it felt like to be an orphan, waiting to hopefully be adopted by an unknown family.
Many years later, I served a Lutheran congregation in another suburb, Deerfield, where a surprising number of families had adopted children through Lutheran Social Services. Those children had received a new birth and new life. They were a joy to be around, full and active members of their new families, and the family of God called Zion. Many had biblical names--Paul, Andrew, Mark, Daniel, John, James, and Alethia, the New Testament Greek word for Truth.
Paul promised the Galatians that anyone who has pleasant or unpleasant circumstances in life can receive adoption as a child of God because of the Easter victory of God’s son, Jesus. We share in that victory through our Baptism, when we were received as sons and daughters of God for life . . . now and into eternity. Jesus promised believers before his ascension, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you,” a promise to be fulfilled in God’s time and in God’s way.
Martin Luther took God’s promises seriously as he faced great risks and disappointments. Scholars record that he began each day shouting at evil, or the devil, and reminding himself, “Remember your baptism.” Reportedly, he once even hurled his inkwell at the devil.
How empowering it might be for us, in this upside down world, to begin our day shouting, “Remember your baptism,” our divine adoption. Fortunately, I have help remembering my baptism through a multitude of pictures. I was baptized on my parent’s first wedding anniversary, June 27, 1937, on the front porch of an aunt and uncle’s home on the north side of Chicago, by my 99 year old great-uncle and Lutheran pastor, Dr. Thomas Dornblaser. (As a side note, he wrote a book about being in the Pennsylvania cavalry during the Civil War, as well as one about his 1920’s mission trip to Germany to convert the Germans from beer drinking--obviously, he failed.)
Someone suggested the true meaning of baptism is not “Who I am, but WHOSE I am.” We do not have to wait to hopefully be adopted. Our adoption by God and the gift of God’s grace cannot be taken away from us. This is certainly a blessing worth REMEMBERING, 24/7.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- When was the last time you remembered your baptismal relationship as a child of God? What was the situation, and was it helpful?
- How might a child and adult remember and celebrate their ADOPTION by God in an empowering and lasting way?
PRAYER: Thank you, Heavenly Father, for choosing me in my baptism, empowering me with your spirit, and walking with me through the joyful as well as difficult moments of my daily life. May I daily remember my Baptism and my saving relationship won by your Son, Jesus. Nurture me through your Holy Word and Holy Meal so I never forget WHOSE I am and willingly share that new birth and new life with others. Amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Trendel has been a pastor for 57 years in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. He and his wife Ginny met at Carthage College and are the parents of twins, Mark and Sheila, and grandparents of Blake and Nicole. He is also an historian, receiving a PhD in Historical Studies from Southern Illinois University. He has been a stamp collector, an avid reader, and a fan of sports teams he doesn’t dare mention in Wisconsin. The photo below is from Pastor Bob's baptism day, as referred to above.
December 23, 2020 - Week 16
“My soul magnifies the LORD and my spirit rejoices in GOD my savior, for He has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
(Luke 1: 46-55)
I have a rocky history with Mary. As a girl I dreamt of being cast as her in the church Christmas program. She was so beautiful peeking out from under her baby blue shawl. Then my sixth grade Sunday School teacher told us how Mary was barely older than us when she was approached by an angel, told she was having a baby, and everyone in the world would know. That sounded awful – the creepy angel, the baby, the notoriety! I decided to go home and do something bad – say a naughty word, sass my mom – anything to get off the list of potential future Marys. In the years between, I haven’t given Mary much thought, but this year, Mary resonates with me more than ever. Not because she’s perfect and holy and didn’t try to get herself crossed off God’s list – but because she’s not. I think of her as she likely was: young, vulnerable, and overwhelmed. I imagine she felt lonely and scared. She might have even wished things could go back to the way they used to be. Mary resonates with me because I’ve often felt the same way this year. Covid has made me feel vulnerable, has kept us apart, and has changed our plans. It has kept us from being physically connected to the community that supports us and holds us up. Like Mary, I, too, have wished things could go back to the way they used to be. When I look to young Mary and her response to her life-changing experience, I’m struck by her resilience and her ability to trust that God would see her through, even though she surely could have faced danger or death. In her uncertainty, she turned her heart to God.
During the last ten months, without knowing it, I’ve looked for the Marys among us, the people who have faced challenges with faith and courage, who’ve pushed forward, and lit the way. Like Mary, these people were regular people living regular lives. Nurses, grocery baggers, postal workers, small business owners, families facing incredible hardships. And I think of you, our MPLC congregation, who, when faced with a Christmas that no doubt looks different, responded not with bitterness, but with a spirit of service, giving generously to our special fund to ensure people in our community know kindness and love this Christmas season. Whether we are in an inn or an ICU, a manger or a supermarket, the Holy Land or the homeless shelter, there is no place where God is not with us. God finds us, not only when we are sure and ready, but when we are uncertain and vulnerable. God comes to us, calls to us, and uses us – lowly, lonely, disappointed us – to magnify the light of Christ in a dark world.
Questions for Reflection:
- Who has been a Mary in your life this year?
- How have you answered God’s call in your life?
Prayer: Dear God, You meet us where we are with a plan and a purpose for our lives. Be with us this Christmastime, and give us peace and certainty in your presence. Amen
About the Author: Holly Hess is the Director of Serving Ministries at MPLC. She is passionate about building relationships and sharing the lovingkindness of Jesus with ALL people, especially those who feel marginalized and overlooked in our communities. She is a wife and mother of four kids and a collie. Her favorite things are reading, walking along the lake, laughing, and watching sunsets.
December 16, 2020 - Week 15
16“Rejoice evermore; 17Pray without ceasing; 18In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you; 19Quench not the Spirit; 20Despise not prophesyings; 21Prove all things: hold fast that which is good; 22Abstain from all appearance of evil; 23And “the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit And soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; 24Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
(I THESSALONIANS 5:16-24 KJV)
That says it all in a nutshell, such profound verses. OK, God wants me to always praise Him; and to praise Him gives me happiness. That happiness is the core of my spirit, and if I’m always filled with the Spirit then I should always rejoice—rejoice regardless of my circumstances or feelings. He wants me to trust and know what He has done for me and will do for me no matter what.
I know this because of my frequent and persistent prayers. I pray in the morning; I pray during the day; and I pray at night. Prayer comforts me and I rejoice to know that I have God to take over those things that I can’t resolve. He takes care of my every need. I would quench the Spirit if I didn’t believe that God could do abundantly more than I ask or think.
When I read the Bible, I believe it was written by prophecies of God and that it is not just the word of God that is written, but rather a word from God. But I have to be careful and discerning when I read the scriptures to not take them out of their context or use them to my benefit. That is why I must study God’s word and ask Him to give me understanding and clarification of what the scriptures are saying.
I’ve been a true believer of God all my life as it was taught to me and my nine siblings and as my entire family are believers. However, I didn’t give my life to the Lord until I was 48 years old. I wanted my body and soul to be made new, sanctified, and made whole for the coming of the Lord. I love speaking about the Lord in every situation, and I realize that some people are uncomfortable when I speak of the Lord. However, as a Christian, I speak what my heart feels. I am a sinner and Jesus died for me. It is because of my love for Him that the least I can do is speak of Him and give Him praise when my heart desires.
I need to spend time getting to know and serve God, in order to have that relationship with the Lord. This relationship pushes me to strive to live my life righteously before Him. And by doing so, I may be sanctified spiritually and naturally. My spirit, soul and body, will be ready when the Lord Jesus Christ calls me.
Questions for Reflection:
- So, as a believer should you remain in the attitude of prayer though not always praying when life is calm?
- As a Christian can we maintain gratitude in the face of adversity when the events in our lives are unpleasant?
Prayer: Dear Lord, give me the wisdom to understand your word and the strength to live my life according to your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
About the Author: Marilyn Wikner has been married to Steven Wikner for 25 glorious years. They have been members of Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church since 1995. She is a member of the Internship Committee, participates in the church choir (alto), and is a member of Parkside Community Band (clarinetist). Marilyn is a graduate of Gateway Technical College and Carthage College; she has been employed at Gateway for 23 years and is an Administrative Assistant to the Vice President of Student Services & Enrollment Management. She enjoys working out and running, and is an avid walker, cyclist, and swimmer. Marilyn relaxes by reading the Bible and playing games on her Kindle Fire.
December 9, 2020 - Week 14
1“Comfort my people,” says our God. “Comfort them! 2 Encourage the people of Jerusalem. Tell them they have suffered long enough and their sins are now forgiven.[a] I have punished them in full for all their sins.” 3 A voice cries out, “Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the desert for our God! 4 Fill every valley; level every mountain. The hills will become a plain, and the rough country will be made smooth. 5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it. The Lord himself has promised this."
Isiah 40:1-5 GNT
Words of Hope
As I considered these verses, I thought of how appropriate they are for this 2020 Advent season. They foretell the coming of Christ and give the reassurance of HOPE at a time of great world turmoil and challenge.
Isaiah, referred to as a “prince of prophets,” was writing at a time of great turmoil and challenge, likely far greater than what we are experiencing today. Judah was under attack and destined to be led into captivity. Isaiah brought hope to his people through the promise that God had forgiven their sins, their debts had been settled, and salvation was destined.
He commissions his followers to avoid the distraction of their current situation and prepare for what is to come. This Advent season brings John the Baptist’s promise of the coming Messiah. It also speaks to us, as it did to the Judeans of old, that there is a call to action. “PREPARE… CLEAR... FILL…. LEVEL...” We are able to rest assured that GOD has done his part; and now, with his inspiration, we are called to action. “Comfort my people,” says our God. “Comfort them!” How will you bring comfort to yourself, your family, your friends, your community, this country, and this world? AMEN.
Have a blessed holiday season.
Questions for Reflection:
- How have you responded to God’s call for service recently? What was your motivation? Have you moved out of your personal “comfort zone?"
- What are your greatest daily concerns, challenges, and pains? How do these compare to those around you: the homeless, the faithless, those with chronic illness, and the world's poor?
- What is one small action you can do TODAY to comfort someone?
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your graceful gift of forgiveness to me, an undeserving sinner. Help and guide me, today, to show COMFORT to someone so that the “glory of the Lord will be revealed.” Amen.
About the Author: Paul Pruessing has been a member at MPLC for over 15 years by transfer. The church was a great source of support after the loss of his beloved wife due to pancreatic cancer. He is a recently retired Physician’s Assistant with 40 years of experience and a recent puppy “dad.” He enjoys music, the outdoors, woodworking, and being there in support of his children. Paul has been church-active lifelong.
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.