Friday, March 16, 2018

Devotional 3-16-17

I will be their dog, and they shall be my people.

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33b)

One evening, as usual, Mary showed me a picture of a dog she had helped earlier that day as part of her volunteer work at the animal shelter. The little boxer mix with blue eyes had been rescued from a neglect situation, and Mary had taken him to be neutered so he could be adopted by a loving family. We thought we would probably not get another male dog. And we definitely didn’t want a puppy. We weren’t quite settled in our new home. We hadn’t yet fenced the yard. But, when I saw that picture it was all over. Cooper came home on March 16, 2017.

Cooper turned out to be a couple months younger than we had thought, and he quickly grew a little bigger than we anticipated. He torments Rufus the Cat. He jumps when he gets excited. He’s chewed a few pieces of furniture. He digs holes in the yard and leaves very large muddy paw prints. Cooper is not perfect. But, he’s perfectly Cooper. He is our dog and we are his people.

Part of my Saturday morning routine this past summer was to take Cooper for a walk at Valley Park where the farmer’s market is set up. We would make a few laps around the path, and on the last leg, I would pick up some fresh produce. People—especially kids—are drawn to Cooper, just like we were. One morning, we met a woman with four toddlers. One of the little girls asked politely if she could pet my dog. I held his harness while all four kids petted and hugged Cooper and giggled as he kissed them.

“Why do you have a dog?” she asked me.

I searched for the right words and was a little surprised by what came out. “We needed a dog, and Cooper needed some people. So we adopted him, and he adopted us.” The mom clutched her heart as she whispered to me, “Thank you so much for explaining it that way! We adopted all four of these children!” She is their mom, and they are her children.

In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, the prophet Jeremiah offers hope to the people of Israel who were suffering. Victims of exile whose cherished theologies and nationalism had failed them, the Israelites are promised a new covenant with God. They needed rescued from a neglect situation. “I will be their God, and they will be my people,” God promises (v.34). Under the new covenant promised by God through Jeremiah, each of us can live in hope because we are all God’s people.

I am not perfect, far from it. Against my list of transgressions, Cooper comes out looking pretty pious. But I am perfectly Jeff. God is my God, and I am God’s people.

Happy  Gotcha Day, Cooper!

We give thanks, O God, for your promise of presence with us, your people. Thank you for mothers and dogs to serve as tangible reminders of unconditional love. Amen.

Jeff Taylor

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Devotional 11-19-17

As the breeze blows by
and the drying leaves,
Dying leaves,
Rustle with the footsteps
of the gardener,
The creator comes near.
Colors are so brilliant
that they hurt your eyes.
Yellow into orange into red.
Brown, foreshadowing death.
All against a blue, blue sky.
Free of snow, but ready.
The creator comes near.
The gardener trims the dead roses,
thorns bringing blood
that is wiped against the undergrowth.
Stained, like the sin in his life.
Dead growth is pruned away,
Weeds are ripped out
as the ground is prepared for emptiness.
Emptiness that will bring new life.
The creator comes near.
Finally in the house,
standing at the sink,
looking out over the garden,
the man washes away the dirt.
He feels the presence of the creator,
and he sends out a prayer.
For the hot water cleaning his hands,
warming his soul from the chill.
For the soup bubbling on the stove,
and the bread baking in the oven.
For the setting of the sun
on the golden splendor outside his window.
He offers up his gratitude
to the creator
who has come near.

Kim Matthews

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Devotional 11-11-17

Acts  7: 51-60    Galatians  1: 11-17

Earlier this spring when I looked at the Lectionary passages provided to me for the devotional ministry, I read among others the verses in Acts referenced above.  It is the story of events that led to the stoning of Stephen.  At the time I thought there might be a devotional here but I could not see it.  It was a scene difficult to contemplate, let alone write about and certainly not bedtime reading.  Over the summer I felt a prodding to revisit the passage and read on in the next chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

As you may recall, Stephen was an apostle who witnessed to his faith in Jesus Christ.  His words put him in direct conflict with the hierarchy of the Jewish leaders.  He was considered out of the mainstream, dangerous, and he was quickly put to death.  His last words were: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  His death marked the beginning of a time of persecution of Christians.

There was a young Jewish man named Saul present at Stephen’s execution who approved of the stoning.  Years later following his conversion and name change to Paul, he wrote in a letter to the church of Galatia:  “You may have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.   I advanced in Judaism beyond many Jews of my age for I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.”  Paul also wrote in this same letter:  “I want you to know that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”   So a question arises for us:  How might we experience a revelation from Christ?  Certainly there are countless ways but several thoughts come to mind.

Looking Back:  This is not to imply that we live in the past but rather to suggest that there are times when we are so close to a situation that any revelation eludes us.  This was certainly true of the disciples who did not grasp all that Jesus was telling them.  It was later, in light of the resurrection, they began to remember, understand and see with clarity what He had said.  Reflection can be illuminating to us as well.   This summer I enjoyed an organized tour of several National Parks which concluded near the home of a friend whom I had not seen in years.  I knew that she had multiple health issues but on the afternoon of our visit she was dressed, seated and awaiting my arrival.  She talked about the death of her sister and I listened and then shared some thoughts.   Later when her husband joined us, I said:  “I have just seen the majestic Yellowstone Park.  Take me back to the summer you met there years ago.”  It was a happy time in their lives and the expression of their voices reflected it.  Upon returning home I learned that she died one week after our visit.  Had I realized that her death was imminent? No, but in looking back I could see some signs that I had over looked.  I could also see that events which enabled our visit to occur were not by mere happenstance.

Looking from Another Perspective:  Sometimes we become so entrenched in our view of things that it helps to look from another angle.  Recently our pastor had a fine sermon in which she spoke about “looking through different lenses.”  What might it be like to walk in someone else’s shoes? To whom do we identify in a story and how would the same story feel from another point of view?  We might find a revelation or nugget of truth from a different perspective. 

Looking to Scripture: The study of scripture with others can be beneficial in discerning God’s word. Daily devotions make a difference in our spiritual journey as well.  One helpful thing for me is to read a chapter of the Bible rather than just the verses provided in a daily devotional.  The context of what comes before and what follows can provide an insight.  Perhaps few have experienced the intense revelation that Paul did but God seeks to be in communion with each of us.  Did Paul ever reflect on the scene of Stephen’s death?  While he probably did not dwell on it, certainly Paul knew that Christ who had chosen him and called him to proclaim the Gospel was the Lord and Savior to whom Stephen gave witness and offered forgiveness years before.

Open my eyes that I might see glimpses of truth Thou has for me.
Place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee; Ready my God Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.    Amen.

Sue Woods

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Devotional 11-2-17


Watch out or you will catch it too. What am I talking about? A bad cold or the 'flu? No, I'm talking about GLOOM AND DOOM, a sneaky destructive state of mind that you can either succumb to or fight it with everything you have.

Yes, I know the news, whether national or international or even local  can bring anyone down with a case of GLOOM AND DOOM.   A sick friend, a personal problem, a feeling of malaise  not easy to identify.  We have all experienced this type of thing from time to time especially at the holiday season. Do we expect too much and then feel let down?

So what is the answer? It's not found in a prescription bottle nor in an OTC package. It's not in a glass or even a hot cuppa, though these can help in moderation. The best solution to Gloom and Doom is found between the covers, the covers of your bible. Its sixty-six  books will help you to find the answer to your personal Gloom and Doom attack.  Try the Book of Psalms or Proverbs next time you feel Gloom and Doom coming on.You will be surprised!

As the old hymn chorus says,

Count your blessings, count them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Jean Dean

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Devotional 10-27-17

Please read Luke 24:13-35


This past weekend, I participated in the Ashland Area Emmaus Women’s Walk #46. My own Walk #35 was in the spring of 2012, and since that time, I have occasionally participated in subsequent walks as a member of the Emmaus Team—those community members asked to help direct attendees through their 72-hour retreat. I shall never forget my own Walk, because it changed my life from someone who just automatically attended church, to one who acknowledges Christ as my Lord and Savior, and who has been filled with God’s grace. I have never felt such joy in my life, nor have I ever felt such a close relationship with God.

The purpose of The Walk to Emmaus is to “… raise up Christian leaders to renew their own church as the Body of Christ in action”—all people of God who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, seek to continue Christ’s life and ministry wherever they are. There are two walks for men, and two walks for women, held in the spring and in the fall every year at South Ashland United Methodist Church.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions of this wonderful retreat which make people somewhat hesitant to give it a try. I’ve heard some joke that the Walk is a cult, or a club, or a secret organization to be avoided. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth! The Walk can be a time of spiritual renewal; it can be a time to learn more about being a good Christian; it is a time of making new Christian friends—some of whom remain friends long after their Walk has been completed. It’s a time of learning, worshipping, singing, sharing, joy, laughter, and yes—sometimes tears. But always, it is a time of nurturing and support.

Each Walk to Emmaus becomes a Christian Community all its own, similar to that of the early churches formed after Christ’s resurrection—made up of men and women, young and “old,” of every denomination, every race, every class and background. By the end of their Walk, they have become part of the church’s witness at its best—that in Christ, all natural differences that normally separate us from others, are overcome. When people who might otherwise be divided become united in Christian love, working for the common good, the church is truly an expression of the Body of Christ. One’s commitment doesn’t end when their Walk ends. It continues in the work of his/her own church, supported by others who have completed their Walk, as well as all members in the Ashland Area Emmaus Community who gather monthly for supper, worship and participation.

Between now and March, or later in the fall of October, please think about taking your own Walk to Emmaus. If you have questions, seek out other church members who have already taken their own Walk to Emmaus. I guarantee you will never regret it. And the experience may change your life, just as it has changed mine! 

Diane Feaganes    

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Devotional 10-21-17

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
Matthew 22:15-22

Okay, so I told Kim I would write a devotion.  Hmmmm, that was 2 months ago and now the time is here. What to write about in this devotion.  Let me start with reading the scripture. What speaks to me?

Matthew 22:21---“Give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s.”

In Sunday church service, that ‘bad’ word ‘stewardship’ is being mentioned.  Let’s see, what does the dictionary say stewardship is.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states, 1. The office, duties, and obligations of a steward. 2. The conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care, stewardship of natural resources.

Oh, I get it; we are to give to God what is God’s.  We are the stewards of what is God’s.  So, by not littering, by recycling, by giving an offering to the church, I am being a good steward. I am taking care of God’s kingdom. I am keeping the physical workings of Johnson Memorial UMC going, permitting the staff to do their tasks, keeping the ministries/programs going, being a good steward. So, even though I am retired and on a fixed income, I give to the church what money I can. Not what I can spare, but what will be pleasing to me to give to God. I LIKE BEING A GOOD STEWARD!

Prayer:  Our gracious and loving Father, I thank you for all you have blessed me with in my life.  Bless me to give back to You.    Amen

Kay Lewis

Friday, October 13, 2017

Devotional 10-13-17

Lectionary Readings:  Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; Matthew 22: 15-22; 1 Thessalonians 1:  1-10.
Every time we think of you, we thank God for you.  Day and night, you’re in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith; your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father.  1 Thessalonians 1: 2-3 (The Message)

This devotion is not a typical one for me, but I hope you will indulge me and read it anyway. In the passage highlighted above, Paul, Silas and Timothy were writing to the church in Thessalonica and were praising their faithfulness and their acts of love and patience in following Christ. The whole passage speaks to the faithful servants living in this city, just like my friend, Al. I have been preoccupied with my memories of JMUMC’s past Minister of Music, Albert J. Zabel, III, since learning of his death last week.  He was a talented organist and a prolific composer/arranger of sacred music for the organ, hand-bells, other instruments and choral works for adults, teens and children.  I didn’t know that he had even written a book on how to move from employing piano skills to playing the organ (Practically Perfect Pedaling).

 As talented and gifted as he was, the qualities I most admired were his perseverance in serving God by using those talents and his steadfast faith in God.  He was a very humble person who did not seek the limelight.  He never called attention to the works that we performed that were his creations or arrangements.  Someone in the choir (Handbell or Sanctuary) would notice his name, sometimes only after we had practiced the work several times, but he never made that announcement.  His individual performances on the organ were primarily preludes/postludes and the occasional concert which was usually in coordination with other performers.  He willingly accompanied a host of choirs and singers throughout his life, always focusing on the performer and the music, and not himself.  He was dedicated to the rich tapestry of music that honored and glorified God.

I got to know Al “up close and personal” on the Summer Players Youth Tours between 1984 and 1991.  The first musical drama that I toured with was the newly written “Uniquely Yours”, a collaboration between Al and Trilby Jordan.  It was full of humor and real life about how teens can remain close to God and still express their unique qualities and gifts.  His musical score included a violin, flute, clarinet, French horn and hand bells, as well as some “special effects”.  The musical drama was so appropriate for the youth in our group, but Al’s talent seemed so effortless, we didn’t realize the depth of his gifts.

The message from this drama to all of us, was that God uses us as we are.  We don’t need to be anything other than who we already are. We are enough! God calls each of us and asks us to be faithful in following His guidance and to put His plan into action.  We all have a history of struggles and heartache; joys and mountain-top experiences also. But, we are never alone.  God is With Us throughout every struggle and rejoices with us in every joy.   God blessed our congregation and community with the talents of Al Zabel and we are all better for it.  He created, taught, served and cared for all those around him.  He inspired us through his music and through his entire life. He was faithful to God’s plan for him and did not seek adulation for his efforts.  May we all go and do likewise with the gifts God gives us. God asks us to spread the gospel, to sow the seeds…and He will take care of the rest.  Al was faithful to God’s direction in willingly sharing his God-given gifts with students, choirs, congregations and even those who have purchased his music who do not even know him.

Dear Almighty and Wonderful God: We thank you for the life and service of Al Zabel.  We know that his gifts came from you and he was faithful to use them to glorify your name.  Thank you for all that you have taught us through our association with him.  You bless us every day with angels and saints who appear in our lives as ordinary people, but have been sent by you to show us more clearly how we should live and care for one another.  We thank you for this glimpse of the eternal through the extraordinary life and music of Al Zabel.  AMEN                                                                                                                                                                  

Chyrl Budd