GUEST WRITER: Dr. Joel Plaag
Scripture: Isaiah 2:4
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Thought for the Day: I’d been practicing for a while – months – on the arrangement of Lasst Uns Erfreuen, which we know as “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” in the 11:00 service. Page one says “PLAY in Eb,” though written in another key. Page two is handwritten. I can do this, I think to myself. I’ve played the organ in church before – many times, in fact – but this is different. Ann is depending on me, and I can’t let her down. The voice in my head is bereft of assurance. I play as best I can. No one notices the terror that has been in my mind for weeks about these thirty seconds of the worship service. Nor should they. This was a personal struggle, played out in a melodrama meant for one.
Learning to overcome my own doubts shadows my existence – most of all when playing at a keyboard instrument. The fear strikes me breathless, powerless, and – in my mind – useless. As the weeks went on this month, the world didn’t come apart when I missed a note or two (or twelve). My love for music eventually stopped my fear of playing.
I’m sure, at this point, I could make a comical reference on trying to fill Ann’s organ shoes, but my feet are too big and too clumsy, and the reference too trite. But I did notice that my comfort level with the pedals improved and I could find notes that used to be a mystery. I never would have sat down at the organ, day after day, working towards Sunday morning. Today I enjoy a renewed appreciation for Ann’s quiet reassuring presence, week in and week out, leading worship and engaging us to be singers.
Growth is a primal factor in our lives. It only begins though when we show up, even if full of fear and self-doubt. It’s not just playing a musical instrument or singing – it’s ignoring those voices: will my rehearsal be engaging? can I find the right words to say without sounding foolish? what if everyone hates the Christmas music? When I woke up this morning – as every morning – I ask God to be my conductor; that He does His part as leader, and I do mine as chorister – even if that means just showing up.
When I ask for the Source of Peace to grant peace, it isn’t just the peace resulting from beating swords into plowshares, but also quieting the nagging self-doubt of my ego so that I can get my job done, that I can best serve Him by leaving my own internal battle out of the equation.
Scripture: Galatians 6:10
So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.
Thought for the Day: Two nights ago, we went to bed a bit later than usual because we needed to pick-up Zach from the church. He and the other youth had just returned quite late from their Mission Trip, and as we finally got ready for bed, Donna turned on the TV. We have free movie channels for a couple of months right now, and a movie started that we both had been wanting to see. It was late. I was exhausted. I should have just recorded it and gone to bed, but I did not. We watched the entire thing, and it was well past 2:00am when we turned off the TV. The movie was a true story about a troubling time in history, and the acting was really quite good. As we finally closed our eyes, I lay there for a few moments and thought to myself: Why is it that we will lose sleep over a movie that depicts troubling and unjust happenings in history, but we rarely will lose sleep when troubling and unjust happenings are occurring in our current reality? It was easy to be appalled and shocked at how one group of human beings treated others years ago, but at the end of day it demanded nothing of me… except a few hours of needed sleep. I wonder what opportunities might have disclosed themselves had I experienced a night of good sleep – using those few hours a bit more wisely. What opportunities would have called to me if only my senses had been better rested? Just a question I must ask myself…
Prayer: Call us together, O Spirit of the Living God, so that we may do the good work set before us. Amen.
See You In Worship
Scripture: Mark 1:5
And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to John, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Thought for the Day: John the Baptist was a very interesting character, but there was something about him and his message that connected with the people. I picture people from all different background streaming to this bizarrely dressed individual with a very odd dietary yearning for insects. We learn in Luke’s Gospel that John came from a priestly family that had returned from the time of the Babylonian Exile. John’s family story is that of a God who called people to return, and that story includes a God who made a way for that return to happen. Baptism is not simply an event that happened one day when we were 12 years old or an infant or some other point in life. It is a retelling of God’s story that is embodied over and over and over again. Let us be mindful of how God might be telling that story again this day, a story by which God might be beckoning us to return through an acknowledgement of our sins and shortcomings.
Prayer: Whether it’s in the waters of baptism or simply the flow of life, let me feel your Spirit guiding me back to the life of faith. This is my request in your name, O Lord of the Journey. Amen.
Let’s Join Together Tomorrow For Worship
Bruce’s Sermon is on Baptism
Scripture: Mark 1:4
John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.
Thought for the Day: In some translations, the wording makes it sound as if the forgiveness of sin is entirely dependent upon the baptism. People read as if the Gospel writer was saying, “I will be baptized SO God will forgive me.” In the above translation (Common English Bible), baptism is more about us wanting to show God how we are changing and wish to be in right relationship. That is an interesting thought, but my less than scholar Greek would translate it more like: John the Baptist was in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of transformation that moves the people toward an acceptance of God’s forgiveness. As you will hear in Sunday’s sermon, our denominational founders believed baptism was the means by which we come to enjoy God’s grace and forgiveness. It was not a means by which we procured grace or earned forgiveness. These are God’s gifts, and anything that would suggest otherwise would reduce God’s work to something other than grace.
Prayer: With thankfulness for your grace that pours over us, O Lord, we seek to live the transformed life. Amen.
Scripture: Luke 2:21-24
When eight days had passed, Jesus’ parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus. This was the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived. When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. ( It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Thought for the Day: WARNING: This devotional might contain Too Much Information. Have you ever participated in a rite of passage? That’s a rhetorical question because each of us has done so at one time or another – baptism, graduation, wedding, driver’s license, confirmation, first apartment/house, first paycheck, etc. A rite of passage is the marking of a transition and usually there is some sort of ritual involved, along with symbols and celebrations. And though some people will scoff at rites of passage and the ceremony around them, I would suggest that such events are essential to a healthy life and healthy society. With that said, today I experience one such rite of passage. As most of you know, I turned 50 this year, and with the half century mark comes a certain procedure called a colonoscopy. It’s not what most people would call a rite of passage, but maybe we should view it in those terms. There are certain rituals that I will be doing today in preparation for tomorrow, and though it’s not something most folks wish to think about, I believe we should make it a bit more celebrative. Today, I am claiming my age and everything that comes with it. I am claiming it and encouraging others to do the same. When it is about our health as individuals and community, we need to make it a part of our cultural celebrations – rite of passage. I might even make a special t-shirt for just such an occasion.
Prayer: For good health, and even for odd procedures that help to keep us healthy, I am thankful to you, O Lord God. Amen.
Scripture: Colossians 2:12
…when you were buried with Christ in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
Thought for the Day: One of my favorite characters from our denominational history is a guy named “Raccoon” John Smith. From what I have read, I imagine him to be quite the character. Alexander Campbell said that Smith “is the only man that I ever knew who would have been spoiled by a college education.” Smith came on the scene about the time the Second Great Awakening was really gaining momentum. In the early 1800’s, only about 20-24% of the population attended church in the United States. By the end of this period, it had nearly doubled. As Smith joined Alexander Campbell and the Christian Church, he had an amazing ability to draw people to the faith. In 1827, Smith baptized 2000 people in Kentucky, and nearly that many the following year. When people in churches today complain and lament about dropping worship attendance, I point to Second Great Awakening. Could there be another “Raccoon” John Smith coming on the scene who will help start a Third Great Awakening?
Prayer: Where your church is feeling down, O God, provide them a vision of revival and renewal. Amen.
Scripture: Mark 10:45
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Thought for the Day: In recent weeks, I have seen a lot of pictures on Facebook that tell the stories of church youth mission trips. A lot of my friends are ministers, and they post pictures of groups packing up or doing work or having a fun day during their mission week. These pictures warm my spirit as mission trips can be so transformative for youth, but recently something else caught my attention. In all the pictures, I saw adults who I did not know. These adults were sponsors, and most of them were not on staff at the church. Most of these people, I’m guessing, were people who took a week of vacation (precious vacation) to help these youth. We often speak of the generosity of people in regard to a financial gift, but it made me appreciate the generosity of people’s time. I even had a youth sponsor years ago who did not get vacation where he worked, and so he took a week without pay to make sure the youth had the needed sponsors. I’m drawn to Mark’s language in the above scripture where the Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom. Those who sacrifice so much for our youth are paying a ransom – they are giving up so much to help unshackle young people from a me-centered life so they may learn what it means to be a servant. That’s a great payment to make, and I am thankful for all those who have given so much!
Prayer: For all those who pay it forward, I am thankful. O Lord, you have given us the example of the servant’s life in Jesus Christ, but it so helpful to have those who show us how to do so with their lives. Amen.