Know that I AM St. Stephen’s Lenten Devotional Booklet

Know that I AM
St. Stephen’s Lenten Devotional Booklet
March 5 – April 20, 2014
Know that I AM
“Be still and know that I am God,” says Psalm 46, verse 10, and herein lies the title of
this devotional booklet: Know That I AM. As you read through the reflections for each
day, you will note that a many of the verses focus on the sayings of Jesus as recorded in
the book of John: I am the bread of life, I am the gate, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the
vine. These common images from everyday life mingle with other more mysterious
images, such as, I am the way and the truth, I am the resurrection and the life.
Yet, in each instance, the words “I am” evoke a remembrance of the powerful God
encountered by Moses in the burning bush. The God so majestic that to look upon his
face meant death. The God who thundered when Moses asked his name: I AM WHO I
I AM. Present tense. Always. Because this mighty God is always and ever present. God,
Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been present since the dawn of time. They are present now
and will be until the end of the ages. May the devotions in these pages remind you of
God’s constant presence, of Jesus’ closeness and of the Spirit’s delightful creativity.
As you begin each devotion, we invite you to use Psalm 46:10 as a starting point. Breathe
deeply and repeat each line as written here:
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
When you sit down each day to take some time apart for these devotions, you may want
to read the day’s scripture passage several times, both out loud and to yourself. Then read
the devotion and take a moment to sit in silence to ponder what you have read. Then end
with prayer, including a word of thanks for, and blessing upon, the day’s writer and for
all who are reading and pondering these words on this day.
May God bless our journey together as a congregation of readers and with our everpresent God, as we travel toward the cross, the empty tomb and a joyous Easter.
Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone the glory)
Meg Nielsen, AIM
Lenten Devotion Booklet Editor
Page 1
Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014
He indeed sustains us
In this passage, one of the seven “I am” passages in
the Gospel of John, Jesus declares that he is the
source of all sustenance, the basic things that keep us
alive. In this affluent society, even considering the
current tight economy, it is easy to forget about the
Lord’s role in our daily lives. For those of us who
live from paycheck-to-paycheck or on disability or
pensions and social security, there may be some
greater cognizance of the Lord’s role in our daily lives, but even then it is easy to forget
about God when things go smoothly.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the
bread of life. Whoever comes to
me will never go hungry, and
whoever believes in me will
never be thirsty.” John 6: 35
Since my mother died, I have kept a journal. My family and I have had a lot of ups and
downs over the last many years. One thing I have noticed, though, in looking back at that
journal, is that at the lowest times something has somehow suddenly gotten us past
difficult problems, gotten us past those lows and kept us going and onto somewhat better
times. To me it seems that the hand of my Lord Jesus Christ, is in all of that – he indeed
sustained us, fed us and kept us going despite everything that had gone wrong.
That idea has supported me for a long time. I keep coming back to it when I grow weary
of the world and things start to get hard again. It has strengthened my faith, because what
is easily ignored has been made clear to me in concrete ways. It makes me eternally
grateful that our Lord is the kind of friend who is with us through thick and thin, a friend
we can lean upon. Jesus is truly the “Bread of Life,” the provider of all sustenance!
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for sustaining us, for your ever-loving presence in our lives.
You are truly the Bread of Life. Keep us in your hands, and help us to see your love and
presence in everything we do. Amen!
Phil Kober has been a member of St. Stephen’s for almost 13 years and has been
involved in a number of aspects of the music program. He keeps busy by following
various sports teams and by becoming involved in discussions and commentary on a
variety of issues.
Page 2
Thursday, March 6, 2014
The word “fear” is used interchangeably
throughout the scriptures; and, this Psalm is I sought (asked) the Lord for help, and he
a prime example. Sometimes “fear” is saved me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4
negative. For instance, when it refers to
one’s anxiety
or panic. Sometimes “fear is positive, as when it means inspiring awe or expressing
I share from a personal experience how I encountered both: Last November and
December, my wife, Lorraine, suffered from a fall resulting in a compression fracture of
the ninth vertebrae. Nothing appeared to be wrong at the time, but ten days later anxiety
unleashed itself mercilessly, causing her extreme pain in the abdomen and around the
lower center back. Severe constipation also set in. In spite of several ER trips, a five-day
hospital stay and my home care, pain and discomfort prevailed. We were told that the
keys to recovery were to be found in medications, patience and prayer.
During those low days, I “sought” (prayed to) the Lord and experienced deliverance.
Good neighbors and saints from the church became present to help. They brought
encouragement, food and escort service. Nothing was more comforting than the presence
of those friends who gave hugs and their time. Indeed, I would have fallen prey to fear
(anxiety) had it not been for the goodness of the Lord among the living.
My anxieties were calmed. In retrospect, I was awed by the many incarnate experiences
of God’s presence helping us through those difficult days. Today, Lorraine’s pain and
medications have ceased. Life goes on.
Thanks be to God for bringing us this far!
Prayer: Thank you God for seeing us through difficult times; thank you for your presence
in the lives of others around us – ever comforting, challenging and leading us into the
future. Amen
Edward Johnson is Senior Visitations Ministries Pastor at St. Stephen’s and a retired
United Methodist pastor who is thankful for a church home among the Lutherans.
Page 3
Friday, March 7, 2014
The best buy
[Jesus said] “Let anyone who is
thirsty come to me, and let the one
who believes in me drink.” John 7:
37b- 38a
We are coming off “commercial” season. I had to
remind myself during the Super Bowl to take my
bathroom break during the game and NOT during
the commercials. Which kind of car should I pick
next? A Kia? The all-new Toyota Highlander? A
Maserati?! Now THAT’s what I need, Brent!
It occurs to me that the book of John is like a commercial convincing us to pick Jesus. “I
am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in
me will never be thirsty.” But, we doubt. Really? You’ll be there for me even if I have
been awful to “_________?” YES!
Even if I’ve ________? YES!
Even if I get cancer? YES! PERIOD. (No fine print.)
Granted it may be easier to believe once we’ve lived through a few accidents, some flat
tires, maybe a ‘stalled engine’ and have many miles on our bodies. It’s ok to doubt our
faith and to ask questions as we discussed at our last Bold Café gathering. We also
learned that it’s amazing how some people, whose faith we most think might be doubting
in the face of horrible circumstances, are not. We learn from them how Jesus really does
do what he says and stays with us through our hardest times.
I firmly endorse Jesus! I honestly believe HE is the best ‘thing’ I have ever ‘bought!’
Prayer: Dear God, help us to share our endorsement of you with others. We pray that
through our stories and through their own ‘test drives’ others will come to believe that
you are the best buy. Amen
Jill Ruffridge is the mother of two teenage girls who have fairly low mileage. She is
married to Brent – who has more miles on him than her! She is thankful for pastors and
friends at St. Stephen’s – many of whom are also ‘older models.’ One pastor has
considerably less miles on him but seems to be ‘wise beyond his miles.’ Maybe it’s the
fresh air quality of his miles?!
Page 4
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Tell a friend, bring a friend
The Temple Police were the “gatekeepers,” foot
soldiers monitoring and enforcing behavior. They
were in charge of the ordinary maintenance of
Jewish law. They were the “first call” when a
disturbance, disruption or inconsistency was
reported. Sounds to me like the Temple Police
were sent by the Pharisees to arrest Jesus.
The Temple Police went back to
the chief priests and Pharisees,
who said to them, “Why did you
not bring him?” The officers
answered, “No one ever spoke
like this man!” John 7:45-46
Imagine the Temple Police as they showed up to
arrest Jesus among a crowd. I suspect Jesus was pretty persuasive. Articulate. Speaking
and sounding as though he was God-sent. Convincing. Full of wisdom. Clear and
powerful. I imagine as the Police listened they became more impressed and had trouble
believing Jesus had committed any crime.
Having been raised Catholic by an Engineer Father and a German Mother I was used to a
certain regimen – a very linear path that I rarely diverted from in faith and in life’s
journey. A long time ago I started to attend worship at Bethel Lutheran Church in
Madison with Teri. I went to Bethel like the Temple Police, certain that something was
out of order and wondering who are these non-Catholic Christians? This cannot be right!
But the more I listened the more convinced I became. Pastor Borgwardt was an
extraordinary teacher. The more I listened, the more I wanted to know. Each week I
would return. Each week I would take home the printed copy of the previous week’s
sermon to engage again. This was all very different from what I had known of the
Christian faith. All of my subsequent reports to Catholic friends and family were the
same. “This guy, these folks, have a message worth listening to. Lighten up a little. Take
notice. Have a listen.” But the message I returned with, much like the Temple Police, was
met with disappointment. It was not what was expected.
Prayer: Lord guide us as we take the Christian message to the world. Give us the
strength to never give up even in the face of doubt and detraction. Amen
You can usually find Jim O’Connor in Agape on Sundays around 11 a.m. at Emerging
Worship. He encourages you to join him sometime soon: Tell a friend, bring a friend.
Page 5
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Part of the big picture
Have you ever gone online and looked at
The Lord counts the number of the images generated by the Hubble Telescope?
stars and calls them all by their The photographs of distant galaxies and
nebulas are both amazingly beautiful and mind
names.” Psalm 147:4
bogglingly vast. The sum of our human
imagination (and there are some big
imaginations writing sci-fi out there) haven’t been able to accurately or adequately
prepare us for what a tin can full of mirrors and a camera launched into orbit has actually
shown us. Several writers within the framework of the Bible have looked into the night
sky and said, “Wow! There are too many stars, they are uncountable.” They were right!
The Hubble Telescope has exponentially increased the number of stars we even knew
existed. When I think about that, it freaks me out, and makes me feel infinitesimally
small. I wonder: How do I fit into this vastness of being? How will anything I do make a
difference in the grand scheme of things? Why should I try to do good in the world? No
one will notice.
There is a lot in the world to make us feel insignificant. In the 11 verses of Psalm 147,
God tells us what matters and how we fit into it. When viewed in terms of human
accomplishment, it sounds like we ought to feel like it doesn’t matter. God is telling us
(in v.10) that it doesn’t matter who wins our race. Our race is unimportant to God. How
many blades of grass are on the side of that hill over there, well, that God knows, because
those blades of grass are part of God, part of this universal being that is Creation. Most
importantly, God reassures us to not worry. We are noticed by God and provided for. We
too, are part of this vastness of Being.
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, please don’t forget to include me in the big picture. I’m
not too worried about standing out in the crowd, I know it’s a big frame. Just let me be in
it, and not get lost. In Jesus’ name, and by the Spirit that moves upon the waters and the
cosmic rays, Amen
Stephen Redmann has read and watched lots of science fiction in his lifetime. Images of
God causing galaxies to come into existence at the dawn of Creation can be found at
Page 6
Monday, March 10, 2014
God’s steadfast (Woohoo!) love
Isn’t “fearing” God an outdated idea from an But the Lord finds pleasure in
outdated time? The God I know and love would not those that fear the Lord, in
find pleasure in anyone’s fear. Martin Luther was those who await God’s steadfast
obsessed with fearing (and loving) God. Most likely love. Psalm 147:11
“fear” is a word whose meaning has changed or can
be understood to mean respect or honor or revere or
trust. That’s better. I could understand God finding pleasure in our feeling that way.
Psalm 147 speaks of God building us up, gathering the outcasts, healing the
brokenhearted, lifting the downtrodden, and having understanding beyond measure. It
tells how God created the stars and named them, prepares the rain for the earth, brings
about life, nurtures and cares for it. This Psalm even says God causes the wind, the cold,
the hail and the snow. It says God will strengthen us, bless our children and grant us
peace. This is a “Praise the Lord” psalm!
And, what about “await”? What are we waiting for? God loves us now. Always has,
always will. No matter what. We may not deserve or understand it, but it’s ours. Await?
Maybe anticipate or yearn for. Other translations use the word “hope.” Hope is good.
Steadfast – constant, loyal, faithful, unchanging. Woohoo! Good words to describe God’s
love. And God absolutely, continuously overflows with love. Love overcomes fear.
God finds pleasure in those who yearn for God’s love, with all its wonderful and terrible
implications. How different everything would be if we truly comprehended the
implications of God’s love. God who created planets and stars and universes loves us, we
who are tiny insignificant beings existing for only a blip in time. All creation receives
God’s steadfast love. Praise the Lord indeed!
Prayer: Lord, thank you for overcoming fear and blessing us with your steadfast
(Woohoo!) love. Amen
Erik Nielsen has been at this church his whole life. He is married to Ann, with a
daughter, Juniper Hope. He makes noise at Emerging Worship with the band Steadfast.
Whenever he hears, reads or says the word “steadfast,” he says woohoo! He thinks you
should too. Steadfast rocks!
Page 7
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Reminded of rescue
He has rescued us from the power
of darkness and transferred us into
the kingdom of his beloved Son, in
whom we have redemption, the
forgiveness of sins. Colossians
“[God] has rescued us from the power of
darkness” (v.1:13). These are very powerful
words and often so hard to believe. It is so easy
to be in the power of darkness and think that
there is no way out, or no other way. We have
hurt people in our lives and hurt ourselves.
Sometimes we are so ashamed.
Today’s verse continues: “[God has] transferred
us into the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of
But God has already rescued us. We just need to be reminded again and again and again.
It is so healing and essential and awesome to know that God forgives our sins. And when
we reach out to forgive others, we are truly living in God’s kingdom.
Prayer: Dear God, please help us to live in your kingdom with mercy and generosity and
forgiveness. Help us to understand the true peace we receive when we are forgiven and to
share that peace by also forgiving others. Amen
Teri O’Connor and her husband Jim have been active in St Stephen’s worship and
ministries since 1990. They raised their two sons in this church and are still very excited
that this is their church home.
Page 8
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Consciousness of Christ
Can our mortal mind perceive of what we
might think of as a consciousness of the
universe or of all things seen or unseen,
material or ethereal? Try to do this by
thinking of something that can’t not-be.
This something would be far beyond any
useless mortal consideration of nonexistence. It would simply exist in the
He [Christ] is the image of the invisible
God, the firstborn of all creation; for in
him all things in heaven and on earth
were created, things visible and
invisible… Colossians 1:15-16a
I’ve wrestled with this concept of who and what God is over and over again with my tiny
bit of organized stardust brain. And I realize it may be as a friend of mine once said, “It’s
like an audio recorder trying to record light.”
We live in the shadow of the valley of death, which leaves us only to have faith because
of what we cannot know. Some claim to know, but regardless of how much we do know,
there is infinitely more that we do not know. And, even though we are made of small bits
of stardust, we are given consciousness with our program of life. So how, in all the
wonders of the universe, can there not be its own consciousness?
A consciousness of the universe? Now that’s believable!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, please keep us conscious with you as well as we are capable – at
least aware that we need not ask you to hear our prayer, because certainly, with your allencompassing consciousness, you surely must always hear us. Amen
Monty Clifcorn says he lives in the grace of God with friends and family despite his
rebellious attitude. He is married to Kathryn. They have two sons, Javier and Dakota.
Page 9
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Peace through the cross
It was indeed a joy to read Colossians 1:1-20. As so
often happens, our challenges and questions don't seem
too far removed from those of the original recipients of
this letter. The author praises them for their faith and
love. He encourages them by recognizing the fruit they
are bearing. (We would benefit from such praise
ourselves.) The writer assures them he is praying for
them to continue to be filled with the knowledge of
God's will, spiritual wisdom and understanding. He
prays that they will be strong and endure with patience. (That’s a big one for me!) He
claims that they (and he) have been transferred into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It seems
to me that we are doing the same, trying to live within God's kingdom by living lives that
are worthy of the effort.
And through him God was
pleased to reconcile to himself
all things, whether on earth or
in heaven, by making peace
through the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:20
Verses 19 and 20 are quite a theological statement: “All the fullness of God” dwells in
Jesus and through him all things on earth and in heaven are reconciled. That seems pretty
straightforward, if a bit challenging to understand and accept. To me it seems a good
explanation of the trinity to say, “the fullness of God dwelt in him.” You figure it out?!
How do we deal with the idea that Christ's sacrifice on the cross reconciled all things to
God? How do we become exclusionary with a statement like that? (I could credit pastor
Nick in Bible study repeatedly mentioning that it is all things, not just all people.) I think
I’ll go back to verse 10 where I am challenged to lead a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing
to him and bearing fruit through good work. That should keep me busy!
Prayer: Lord, help us be a people who are joyful in the Lord, known by our faith and love
and leading lives worthy of the Lord. Keep us searching for the knowledge of God and
enduring with patience. Amen
Nancy Morris and her husband Roger have been members of St. Stephen's for three
years. They both enjoy singing in the choir, attending Soup Group and going to
Wednesday morning Bible study. Nancy practices prayer with a group of women on the
second Monday of the month. She loves to read theology and finds Pastor Nick is a good
sport about arguing with her about it.
Page 10
Friday, March 14, 2014
Not obstacle, but entry point
If we honestly acknowledge it, most of our lives
are filled with “gates” that block our passage to the So, Jesus said to them, “Very
things we want most in life. When I was young truly, I tell you, I am the gate for
and a single parent, my life started falling apart. I the sheep.” John 10:7
found out that the company that I worked for was
moving out of state and so my job (which I dearly loved) would be terminated in about a
Prior to learning about my job loss, I had purchased my first house and wanted to adopt a
child. Both journeys were filled with doors slamming shut. I was told there was a
shortage of Caucasian babies and only married couples could apply. In the meantime I
continued sending out resumes for employment. I was either overqualified, made too
much money, or didn’t meet their requirements. The gates that blocked my progress
seemed to get higher and thicker as time went by. And yet, my problems were minor
compared to the obstacles that other people have to overcome.
But here’s the difference with our Lord: He is both Gate and Shepherd. As the Gate he
keeps his sheep (you and me) safe and within the sheepfold. As Shepherd, we hear his
voice and follow him. Not only that, as our shepherd he hears our cries and willingly
enters our pain. He walks the journey with us. As both the gate and the shepherd, Jesus is
not an obstacle, but an entry point, if we are willing to believe.
It is not easy to open the doors of life by ourselves, but with Jesus, all things are possible.
He is the shepherd who willingly lays down his life for us. Next time you have a locked
gate, talk to Jesus, for he is the open gate of life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Help us to acknowledge you as both shepherd and gate. Help us to
trust your guidance, internalize your love and follow you as sheep. Amen
Barb Kepler is “Nana GG” to one of her six grandchildren, a volunteer at Bethel
Homeless Ministries and a loyal Packer fan. In her spare time she loves to read novels,
listen to music, travel and graze.
Page 11
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Grateful for the Shepherd’s care
[Jesus said] “I am the good
shepherd. The good shepherd
lays down his life for the
sheep.” John 10:11
I have sometimes been a shepherd at St. Stephen’s
having often brought a sheep to church for services
on Christmas Eve. The Jacob’s sheep was met with
enthusiasm by the children as well as the adults.
One year, when returning the sheep, a relief stop
had to be made. The car window was left open too
far and the animal escaped into the deep snow that
had recently fallen. With help, I was eventually
able to recapture the confused sheep and return it safely to its home.
I am thankful that no one – especially the borrowed animal – was injured. I was
especially concerned when it crossed Highway 14. Fortunately the Christmas Eve traffic
was light.
I talked with the owner afterwards and she was grateful for my care.
As it says in Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Prayer: Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd who gave his life for us all. Thank you. Amen
Sometimes shepherd Tom Moran has been a member of St. Stephen’s since 1997 and is
happy to be here. He is retired from the Carpenters Union and likes to play cards.
Page 12
Sunday, March 16, 2014
I AM: God’s presence
It’s always about fear, isn’t it? Fear of prison,
fear of death, fear of change, fear of the
‘other,’ fear of failure, fear of freedom, fear
of being who we really are, fear of the
enemy. There’s a lot to be afraid of.
Even tho’ I walk through the darkest
valley, I fear no evil; for you are with
me: your rod and your staff they
comfort me. Psalm 23:4
Psalm 23 is like the little song we whistle
when we are on a dark street in an unfamiliar part of a strange city. We say the
words not because we always believe them but because we want to believe them.
We say these comforting words to hear these comforting words, God’s comforting
words. Especially when we are afraid.
The presence of God is not the absence of enemies. Just now, I have two dear friends
afflicted with late stage cancer. The Lord is my shepherd...
My physician of 30 years, a fit and vigorous man, died suddenly of a massive heart
attack just weeks ago. I will fear no evil...
Bombings occur, children go hungry in Syria. Tho’ I walk through the darkest valley…
People are without access to health care, even here. Your rod and your staff…
The earth’s balance is being damaged. He restores my soul…
God’s presence, as our knees tremble.
God’s presence, when we are not sure.
God’s presence, in the hospital waiting room.
God’s presence, in the earthquake, the hurricane, the sudden reversal.
God’s presence.
Prayer: Lord, we walk through so many dark valleys. Guide us, instruct our hearts and
comfort our terrors. Give us your grace and courage as we face of our fears. Amen
Connie Kilmark has been a member of St. Stephen’s since 1994. In her occupation
as a counselor, she often reassures others but is not without her own fears.
Page 13
Monday, March 17, 2014
Praying a new mantra
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be
in want. Psalm 23:1
Of the 150 psalms written, probably the
most familiar and the most popular one is
the 23rd Psalm. It begins: The Lord is my
shepherd, I shall not want.”
The Psalms were written in the time of ancient Israel, so the image of a shepherd is
one who feeds, protects and loves the sheep. If one sheep were to stray, the
shepherd would find it and return it to the flock.
God is like that. God loves us, keeps us safe and provides everything we need, we
“shall not want.” Psalm 23:1 says in essence: Believe that God provides everything
we need.
As a volunteer at Agrace HospiceCare, I often hear the 23rd Psalm prayed and we
often hear or speak it at funerals. I’ve always associated it with difficult times and
After doing some deep thinking about Psalm 23:1, I believe it should also be used as
a prayer of thanksgiving. I plan to start using it as my mantra: The Lord is my
shepherd, I shall not want.
Thanks be to God!
Prayer: O Lord, my shepherd, thank you for your loving care. Forgive us when we want
more and forget that you provide all our needs. Help us to grow in faith. In your name
we pray. Amen
Jo Hanson and her husband Gene joined St. Stephen’s in 1956. Jo volunteers in the
Food Pantry and plays in Gosbells, the Bell Choir.
Page 14
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
What’s the score?
People like to know how things stack up. Sports
fans fixate on win/loss records and medal counts.
Students and parents anxiously await report
cards. I’ll admit it; I keep a small notebook
where, over the years, I have logged Academy
Award winners. But too often, we use record
keeping to help us determine merit.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence,
serve you. Psalm 130: 3-4
How often are we guilty of keeping score when it comes to our faith? It’s easy to award
ourselves our “Christian grade” based on how often we attend church, how much we give
or how frequently we volunteer. I know too many times I’ve been motivated by a sense
of obligation rather than a real desire to worship or serve. Too often we let “should” get
in the way of genuinely wanting to joyfully serve God and others.
Luckily, God doesn’t keep score and doesn’t judge us by our stats. That’s good news! As
the psalmist writes, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord who could stand?” The
answer is no one could stand. We’d each be crushed by the weight of our own sins.
But God and Jesus are there to lift our sins off of us. No matter what we do, or think we
should do, God is always there to forgive us and renew us. Time and time again, God
forgives us and continues to love us. That forgiveness lifts our soul and empowers us to
serve God and care for each other. When we embrace that forgiveness, we feel the joy of
God’s love for us and we want to share that joyful love with others.
God says: I AM forgiveness, I AM unfailing love, I AM redemption.
God’s forgiveness gives us the strength and joy to reply – I AM a blessed child of God.
Prayer: Holy Lord, thank you for your freeing forgiveness. Amen
Julie Buss loves being a part of the St. Stephen’s family. She is active in Ministry Board,
Gosbells, Sanctuary Choir and Bold Café.
Page 15
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Keep sharing your stories
My Grandma Jenny died when I was less than a
year old so I have no memory of her holding
me or loving me. But, throughout my growing
years, my mom often told me Grandma Jenny
stories. From those stories I learned that her
faith in God never faltered, that she was gentle
and loved God’s creatures, that she was a wise
mother and a loving wife, and that she kept her
sense of humor even in light of Depression Era challenges and almost yearly moves from
one rented farmstead to another.
As you therefore have received Christ
Jesus the Lord, continue to live your
lives in him, rooted and built up in
him and established in the faith, just
as you were taught, abounding in
thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6
Throughout my life Grandma Jenny has been an example for me – one whose life taught
me to try to act with faith and thanksgiving. It seems that before I was even able to
understand about Jesus or God or Spirit, I was grafted into the faith that lived first in my
Dutch great-grandparents, then in Grandma Jenny, then in my mother.
Being well-rooted is important, as anyone who’s ever tried to pull up a burdock or a
thistle or even a dandelion will tell you. Roots go deep. Roots also bring nourishment.
Roots hold you firmly when life’s troubles threaten to tear you away from all you hold
Stories of faithful people can help us to stay rooted in Christ Jesus. When we are in
danger of losing our grounding, we return to those stories. That’s why it’s so vital that we
continue to share our faith stories with each other, through this booklet and in any way
we can.
Prayer: God of stories, we thank for a rich heritage of faith that keeps us rooted and
continues to build us up. We give you thanks today for those who taught us and for every
story shared in the pages of this booklet. Amen
Meg Nielsen is thankful to be part Czech and part Dutch. She is especially grateful for
the witness of Grandma Jenny and for the stories – always for the stories – that keep us
rooted and grounded and built up.
Page 16
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Saved by Grace through Faith
Saint Paul wrote Colossians, a letter to a Christian
church in Colossae a small town near Ephesus,
which is currently in Turkey, because he saw this
church moving away from what he thought were
Christ’s teachings, the teachings on which the
Christian church is based. The Colossae church
was using strict dietary requirements, special
rituals and circumcision as their way of practicing
Christianity instead of emphasizing Jesus’
teachings and death on the cross.
For when you were baptized you
were buried with Christ, and in
baptism you were also raised with
Christ through your faith in the
active power of God who raised
him from death. Colossians 2:12
In verse 2:12 Paul tells the Christians in Colossae that when you were baptized and in
your faith you are saved by Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection. The church in
Colossae’s focus was on how to worship rather than who to worship.
Paul’s words still speak to you and me, telling us that we need to remember that we are
saved by Christ’s death on the cross and by faith not, by anything we do. That is the focus
of Easter!
Prayer: God help us to stay focused on being saved by Christ’s death on the cross and to
be thankful. Amen
John Esser has been a member of St. Stephen’s since its inception. After college he
traveled for a while. Then he and his wife Joann returned to Madison in 1973. They
raised their children Kim and Steve here. Their granddaughter Samantha comes to
Sunday School now and also considers St. Stephen’s her home church.
Page 17
Friday, March 21, 2014
A promise with meaning
In our Wednesday morning Bible studies
here at St. Stephen’s we have been studying
the Gospel of John. Pastor Nick pointed out
the seven “I am” passages. Among these is “I
am the resurrection and the life.” This
passage has seemed to have the most meaning to me. I remember our three
daughters coming home from a week at Lake Shetek Bible Camp singing at the top of
their lungs: “I am the resurrection**** and the life****.” Can’t you just hear it?
I am the resurrection and the life. He
who believes in me will live, even
though he dies. John 11:25
And, among my favorite arias from “Messiah” is the soprano singing this fervent
message, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth. Yes, this is most certainly true. So this
story has had meaning for me for many years, but especially so after I suffered a
stroke in 2009. I know my Lord has an eternal home waiting for me.
This brings to mind the adage, “God may be slow, but He is never late.” Mary,
beloved sister of Lazarus, tells Jesus that if he had come to the aid of her brother
sooner (Jesus waited two days), he could have healed him. Instead, Jesus raises
Lazarus from the dead, making more of a statement than performing just one more
instance of a healing.
Jesus has his own particular timing to the events in our lives. “Why, oh why, does
this have to take so long,” says a friend as she keeps death watch over her beloved
father. We don’t know now; maybe it will be revealed to us someday. But by then we
won’t care, because we believed. And we will be living in perfect eternity.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Prayer: Glorious God, my Abba Father, I ask to believe more strongly in the words of
Jesus. Let me live vibrantly, always knowing that my future is secure in your hands.
Cheryl Mahaffay and Les, her husband of 50 years, are three-year members of this
church home. Soup Group, Wednesday Bible study and regular attendance at
worship are very important parts of their growth in faith.
Page 18
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Jesus’ life-giving commands
No magic spell. No potions or talismans. No
bargaining. Just an order: Come out!
The dead man came out, his
hands and feet bound with strips
of cloth, and his face wrapped in
a cloth. Jesus said to them,
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11:44
And so the dead man came out, still wearing his
shroud. John doesn't preserve the reaction of the
onlookers when the mummy-like Lazarus made his
way from the tomb into their midst, but one
expects that they were surprised to say the least.
Surprised enough that it took prompting from
Jesus for them even to take the reasonable action of providing assistance to the not-sorecently deceased and to help him out of the linen wrapping that bound him to the grave.
How often do we feel in the grip of something we cannot escape? Perhaps we suffer from
an addiction or at the hands of an abuser. Sometimes it is less outwardly dramatic: we can
be bound by fears and worries over the state of the economy, or by the condition of the
environment. Maybe illness – our own, or that of a loved one – distracts and redirects our
attentions. All these things can bind us as tightly as the linen cloths worn by Lazarus, and
like Lazarus, we cannot extricate ourselves. In fact, like Lazarus, we may be so tightly
bound that we are unable even to call for assistance.
But Jesus knows.
Without our asking or lifting a finger, he comes to our rescue. Not with a magic potion,
or a charm, but with life giving commands: Come out! Unbind him! Let him go!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for knowing our needs and for removing all that binds us
to the death of worry, fear and insecurity. Amen
Rebecca Redmann is the Director of Music Ministries, as well as the director of the
Sanctuary Choir and GosBells.
Page 19
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Graced to connect faith and daily life
All of them look to you to give
them their food in due season . . .
Psalm 104:27
If we believe that God can provide in due season,
why isn’t there enough for everyone? Well,
apparently there is.
“Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not
scarcity,” says Eric Holt Gimenez of Food First in
a Huffington Post article, We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People – and
Still Can't End Hunger. Gimenez gives practical solutions to hunger that are related to
What about in our own state? Is there enough here for everyone to go to bed with a full
stomach? If so why do some seniors struggle deciding between whether to purchase food
or medication? Why are there children with hunger pangs and people of all ages worried
about keeping their homes? Those are big questions. And, I am pleased we have studies
that guide us through some of the complexities of the problem of poverty in Wisconsin.
They show how we could diminish hunger by giving tax credits to those most vulnerable,
increasing job-training programs for people severely impoverished and raising the
minimum wage.
Moving to a personal level we may also ask if we have enough? The question can be a
spiritual exercise during meditation and prayer. If we recently lost a job we’ll reflect
differently than when we were fully employed. But we can be honest about what we lack
in general – silence, rest, activity, friendship or health. The exercise can lead us to
uncovering pain, but also to realizing all which we possess that is good.
Exploring what it means to have enough we also engage our church’s calling to be a
public church. While nurturing our spiritual growth, we look for ways to make
connections between our faith and daily lives. As we remain faithful in the work within
our own situations, we are sometimes graced to offer actions or to have a public voice
that bolsters our brothers and sisters who are most disenfranchised.
Prayer: God, help us to know your abundant gifts in your creation and to be wise
stewards who advocate as instruments of your peace. Amen
Reverend Cindy Crane is Director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in
Wisconsin (LOPPW). To learn more, go to
Page 20
Monday, March 24, 2014
Tickled all the way to renewal
I was surprised to be asked to contribute this You send forth your spirit, and they
devotional booklet; after all, I’ve been a bit of a are created; and so you renew the
stranger to St. Stephen’s lately. But then again, face of the earth. Psalm 104:30
I’m not surprised, because the booklet is just one
of many beautiful caring outreach ministries St.
Stephen’s brings to our community. It’s not that I don’t want to be there. On the contrary, my
absence has been due to a whole bundle of mixed up circumstances. I truly miss everyone –
the spirit that lives in everything about St. Stephen’s, and the fellowship that creates a sense
of renewal with every “peace be with you” handshake.
Renew. We all do it from time to time. Renewing can be as simple as redecorating or
organizing, although either may lead to overwhelming challenges when trying to decide on
color or placement. We take vacations to renew and recharge our internal batteries; we renew
ourselves in our favorite music or book. These are tangible renewals meant to lift our spirits.
But where is the elusive renewal that can bring forth our spirit to create and renew our face
on this earth? How does a weary spirit create breath that is in concert with the Spirit Jesus so
graciously bestows on us? These are questions I’ve faced on my quest to renew myself in
faith, exploration, decisions, creation, and surrender. I’m almost there.
Sometimes the spirit of renewal comes when we least expect it. For instance, during one of
our “sleepovers” my granddaughter Elena and I were taking a rest from tickling – one of our
favorite things – Elena’s because it lets her silliness out, mine because her little girl laughter
is delightfully contagious. There’s really no end to Elena wanting more tickle laughter, but to
keep an element of surprise in the mix, I told Elena it’s when she least expects it that the
laughs are the best. She sat quietly for about 30 seconds then turned to me and said,
“Gramma, I’m least expecting it.” What a gratifying renewal of spirit that was!
Prayer: Dear God, I pray for a renewed spirit. I pray for great creations of love, direction,
peace and joy. I pray that your Spirit rises up in all of us as we create a blessed and spiritual
time upon this earth. Amen
Cheryl Schiltz serves on the Board of Directors for Movin’ Out and Access to Independence
and is actively involved in several disability advocacy and support efforts. She is a Group 15
Fellow of Leadership Wisconsin and will be leaving March 3 rd for a Seminar in Tanzania,
Africa. Cheryl is also intensely occupied working on her book, “Subject Zero,” and her blog,
“Silencing the Noise of Disability.”
Page 21
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Creating true Grace moments
I was drawn to this verse because to me it
represents the message of the Gospel. I love the
image of God’s world full of the diversity of
the peoples and cultures on this planet. We can
call to mind so many cute or trite or profound
representations of people of every nation and
tribe and culture all as part of God’s family.
Yet we also live in a world of tribal and
religious and political conflict that so deeply and painfully divides us and fills us with
distrust, animosity and even hatred.
In that renewal, there is no longer
Greek and Jew, circumcised and
uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian,
slave and free, but Christ is all and in
all! Colossians 3:11
I have always felt so alive and my spirit sings in contexts of multicultural gatherings
where one just knows this is the world God created and about which God said, “It is
good!” I love being part of a motley crew of people gathered because all of us have been
renewed in Christ, each in our own journey of faith. Celebrating the Seder in the Cross
Lutheran Church basement in Milwaukee with African-American, Latino and EuropeanAmericans is a “stuck in the bones” memory of God’s grace.
I also love having travelled and been with people of deep Muslim faith and of faithful
Hindu traditions and knowing we are all God’s children! Sitting outside on a warm night
last January with our daughter, her host mother and 10-year-old daughter in
Thimbindallah, Senegal, and sharing stories and laughter is one of those memories that
will live in my heart as a true grace moment.
Those are the true “highs” of life. Yet, living in the grace of God’s love and Christ’s
renewal, which, in this passage, seems to be about living with compassion and in
community is more often really challenging. We also have to authentically address those
real differences in our understandings of politics, religion and how to live together on this
Prayer: Loving God, thank you for the wonderful diversity of peoples and cultures in this
world. Give us open hearts to love and open minds to listen to one another. Amen
Mary Nervig and husband Rolfe have been members of St. Stephen’s for about three
years and are very thankful that they were able to travel to Senegal last year.
Page 22
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
I AM ~ God as a VERB!
The Big Reveal. The Grand Unveiling. The
Important Announcement. God is about to tell
Moses His True Name: I Am? Hmm, not very
masculine. Or godlike for that matter. Thor, now
there’s a powerful sounding name, manly too. How
about Apollo? Or Marduk? Osiris maybe?
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I
AM.” He said further, “Thus you
shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has
sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14
I Am. Well, I am too, for that matter. Wait, is that blasphemous? Well for a long time, yes,
that could have gotten me executed. People believed there was magical power in the uttering
of the four letters in God’s name sequentially. Qabbalists and alchemists tried to distill the
essence of that power using numerology and other occult methods. Rules were developed
about God’s name, how it could be used, what was to be avoided, how this I Am could be
depicted, what was punishable by death. All of that, simply because it makes very little sense
to us, that the most powerful thing that ever existed, simply, Is.
The confusion lies in the fact that we humans have always been really big on naming things,
first names, last names, place names, you-name-it names. We also want God to be really,
really big, incredibly HUGE. But no, the most powerful being in existence, just Is.
No, it’s not Is, it’s I Am. Yes, God Am. “Oh, that’s just bad grammar now,” you say. Yes, it
is, and that convoluted twisting of words is also where we ought to look to find God’s true
meaning, not just his True Name.
God is so powerful, that there is no need to impress us with a flashy display. “Who shall I say
sent me?” Moses asks. “I Am sent you,” is the response – that which simply Is. Existence.
The verb is (in English) to be! God is not a proper noun, God is a verb. God Is. It Is present
tense, and God Is, present. Within everything, yet not apart from, or a part of. Simply Is.
Prayer: Dear God, I won’t ever be able to “get” you. Please let me stop trying, and just
accept that you Are. Banish my notions that you are like the Wizard of Oz, behind some kind
of heavenly curtain, or that you’re a cranky old guy who lives on the ceiling and shoots
lightning bolts from your finger. Let me Be, with you. Create in me a new heart, oh God. Cast
me into your Presence, and renew your Spirit as all that Is, within, around, and through me.
Stephen Redmann is just trying to be. That can get a little out of sorts with a toddler in the
house, though.
Page 23
Thursday, March 27, 2013
Cultivating stillness
Be still and know that I am
God! Psalm 46:10
Stillness can be hard for me. I find it hard to sit still
so I fidget, always tapping a foot or jiggling a leg.
When I was little my mom would have me sit next
to my Dad in church with the hope that my
fidgeting would keep him from nodding off.
My brain fidgets too. I am constantly thinking about work and home, family and friends,
things I need to do, things I should’ve done, replaying the past and planning the future
and worrying more than I probably should about all of it. And, now that I think about it,
I’m worrying about why God didn’t make that list.
Psalm 46 is one of my favorite passages to read when I am worried or stressed. I think it
was written especially for us worriers. It presents all sorts of worst-case scenarios
(mountains shaking, nations in an uproar) but we are reminded throughout that even in
the most dire circumstances, God is present, God is our refuge and strength.
But to me, verse 10, the command to “Be still, and know that I am God,” is the most
comforting verse of Psalm 46. It reminds me that I am human and I am not in control,
God is, and that I need to take time to ‘be still’ so I can hear God and recognize his
The season of Lent is good time to cultivate stillness. As we reflect on Jesus’ journey to
the cross, this verse reminds us that God was there then and God is here now with us.
Prayer: Lord, help us to find time to be still in our busy everyday lives so we are able to
recognize your presence in our lives and hear your word. Amen
Carla Schubert is married to Glen and they have been members of St. Stephen’s for
seven years. Carla enjoys Bold Café and participating in the monthly Bold Fit activities.
Page 24
Friday, March 28, 2014
Finding the way home
Christ here tells us that he is the “be all” and
“end all” to our relationship with God and
the world. If we want to be in eternal
relationship to God, we must follow him and
he will provide for us. His disciples don’t
seem to understand.
“I am the way, the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except
through me.” John 14:6
After Jesus talks about going to prepare a place for us in his kingdom, Thomas asks,
“How are we supposed to get there? We don’t know the way.” Jesus answers that he is
the way; we are to follow him. Thomas is probably still unsure what that means.
Then Philip tries to muddle his way through: Well just “show us the Father” and we will
know the way, he says. We can sense Jesus’ consternation when he tries to explain that
he has been showing them the way – that if they paid attention to his example, they
would know the Father because they are one and the same.
When we know Jesus and follow him, we will find the way to the place he is preparing
for us. This is a hard concept to grasp and often we go astray or become as confused as
Thomas and Philip. We are told in John 3:60 (See Ash Wednesday.) that many who were
following Jesus gave up because they thought his teachings were too hard.
Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, through his grace and love, to be our guide, helper
and advocate. We are not alone on our journey! Giving up is easy – I know because I
have fallen off the way many times. I have been through so much in life that all I can do
is cling to Jesus and hang on for dear life, knowing that the Holy Spirit will hold on to
me, guide me and bring me home! Yes, the Lord is truly “the way, the truth, and the
Prayer: Lord, help us by your Spirit to follow in your footsteps, to follow your example.
Help us to know your truths and to lead the exemplary life you have taught us. And when
life is done, bring us home to the mansion with many rooms that you have prepared for
us. Amen!
Phil Kober, a member of St. Stephen’s since 2001, sings in the choir, has done a number
of solos and is currently a member of the Worship and Music Ministry team.
Page 25
Saturday, March 29, 2014
We walk by faith and not by sight
I have many times thought how wonderful it
would be if I could physically see God. All of my
doubts and fears would be gone if I knew God by
sight. It’s helpful to know that Jesus was seen by
both his early followers and opponents, but I
know that’s not going to happen in the here and
now. So, I have found other ways to see him that
have more meaning and power than a physical manifestation.
“If you love me, you will keep my
commandments. And I will ask the
Father and he will give you another
Advocate, to be with you forever.”
John 14:15-16
Using my intellect, I try to see what Jesus has to say in my life. Reading the Bible is
important because it tells me how to lead my life. The most important kind of sight,
though, is one that comes through faith. Jesus says, “Believe me when I say that I am in
the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles
themselves.” (John 14:11)
Faith and love unite the disciples with God and integrate them into God's work, but there
are "greater things" that will require God's own resources. So Jesus promises, “I will ask
the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” Having Jesus
walk among us helped illuminate the path to righteousness, but God gives us another
helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us in our spiritual journey.
Sometimes we think we have all the answers, but other times we realize that we can’t do
it on our own. We start feeling alone and helpless and it is difficult to find comfort.
Confiding in friends and loved ones can bring answers and understanding. But there are
times when even that fails to help us see the right path and we’ve thought about it so
much that our brain hurts. That’s when we need to know the divine presence of the Holy
Spirit will be with us to strengthen our faith in God. This faith gives us a greater
understanding of God and how he works in our lives.
Prayer: Come Holy Spirit. Amen
Glenn Nielsen and his wife Meg have been members of St. Stephen’s for three years. He
sings in the choir and was recently elected to the Ministry Board.
Page 26
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Joining words and music
Know That I Am is our Lenten theme. So, I ask
myself, “Where is the ‘I Am’ here?” I will praise the Lord as long as I
Commentaries start by pointing out that these live; I will sing praises to my God
last five psalms in our Bible are all about all my life long. Psalm 146:2
praise. No requests, no pleading, no
lamentations, some observations but PRAISE writ large. And, no I Am’s! Go figure?
It’s also noted that these psalms tell us the when, why and how to praise God, resulting
in: 1) Taking our mind off our problems; 2) Moving us from individual to corporate
worship; 3) Helping us consider and appreciate God’s character; and 4) Lifting our eyes
from earth to heaven/kingdom/God land.
Try repeating the verse mantra-like. Go ahead, do it right now.
Did the reality of “I AM” enter your mind, your worship, your appreciation of God’s
character or lift your eyes from earth? Maybe yes, maybe no – this time. It’s the same for
me. I do know God’s hearing me every time – even when I’m not tuning in the response
so well.
But, it does happen every time with me when doing as the psalmist says – joining word
and music. Having a daughter in Nordic Choir under the direction of Weston Noble,
lifting up Tschesnokoff’s O, Lord God, or listening to F. Melius Christiansen’s Beautiful
Savior with ascending women’s voices and descending men’s voices coupled with great
progressing chords. There you have it! Wham, I AM!
Yes! Every time I experience this, my problems are overwhelmed by the soaring,
inclusive voices of worship and kingdom-pointed eyes to see the chilling, thrilling
character of God with us. I AM! I AM! I AM! – for you!
Prayer: O, Lord God, help me sing even with my limited range. All thanks to you for the
voices surrounding and carrying me. So be it! Amen
You can take the Scotch/Irish kid out of Luther College but you can’t ever take the
Luther out of a family that has five alumni. (But I did give a little shout-out to St. Olaf.)
Peace, Les Mahaffay
Page 27
Monday, March 31, 2014
God can set us free
Long before Jesus, the goodness of God was
evident in the Old Covenant scriptures. Concern
was expressed for those in prison, those who could
not see, those who fell. Likewise the stranger, the
widow and orphan were to invoke our benevolence.
Prisons, historically, have been places where
people were locked up for indefinite periods of
time; cut off from family and friends, to suffer ridicule, abuse and isolation. Does not the
command to love our neighbor relate here also? Thankfully, the Church and humanitarians
have, and continue to initiate, acts of love and mercy by bringing about prison reform,
restorative justice and prisoner review.
The Lord cares for the stranger; the
Lord sustains the orphan and
widow, but frustrates the way of the
wicked. Psalm 146:8
But, the imprisoned are all around us and among us – not always behind iron bars or cement
blocks. They are prisoners needing to be set free from additions: to drugs, alcohol or sex,
hoarders who cannot say when enough is enough, folk with habits too difficult to kick alone.
They need help so they may be at peace with God, themselves and their community.
While our boys were growing up, we enjoyed developing a family retreat in the Kickapoo
Hills of Wisconsin. It was wonderful to have a place truly our own. Every day off and every
week of vacation we quickly packed up and drove to our cottage in the wooded hills. There
we beheld the glory of nature, being family, playing and working together. We thought this
was our “paradise,” until we realized to justify having it, we had to be there. We had made an
investment in property that enslaved us, held us prisoner.
Today the boys live far away and while great memories abound, they have no intention of
returning to the place once called paradise. Lorraine and I are held prisoner to what we
created and to the stuff accumulated over the years. Now the question is: How will God set us
free? And: Do we want to be set free?
Prayer: Lord, free me from that which I find burdensome and distracting to serving you;
from my enslavement to stuff, from my prison – not made with iron bars and cement blocks.
Help me love others who need release from their prisons. In Jesus’ Name, Amen
Edward Johnson is Senior Visitations Ministries Pastor, husband of Lorraine and father of
two sons, Kenton of Auckland, New Zealand, and Erik of Seattle, Washington.
Page 28
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Loving one another – one day at a time
These words from Colossians remind me of how
grateful I am that my wife Kimberly and our
sons Aidan (8) and Daniel (6) never, ever have
any “complaints against each other.” APRIL
FOOL! Of course, like all families we have
plenty of conflict to go around, and plenty of
times when we have to “bear with” one another.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and
beloved, clothe yourselves with
compassion, kindness, humility,
meekness, and patience. Bear with
one another and, if anyone has a
complaint against another, forgive
each other; just as the Lord has
forgiven you. Col. 3:11-13
Sometimes kids are like mirrors: when they do or
say something I don’t like, or when they try my
patience by NOT doing something they are supposed to do (or by doing it v-e-r-y
slowly!), I can usually trace it back to something I did or said or didn’t do, which they are
reflecting back to me. So if I need to forgive anyone, it’s usually myself.
At other times, Aidan and Daniel show me how to be “clothed” with “compassion,
kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” They “skype” with their cousin Oliver in
New Jersey, and in the middle of playing together on a computer game I hear Daniel say,
“Oliver! I love you!” Aidan shows patience and compassion at school as a “learning
buddy,” helping younger students with reading and math. Both of them treat our puppy
dog Lincoln with more kindness and patience and love than I often do. These qualities
seem to flow naturally from them. They are a basic part of who they are, not something
they have to put on like clothes.
Paul’s advice to “clothe” myself with these qualities doesn’t mean hiding my “sinful self”
behind a veneer of goodness. Rather, I take it as encouragement – to get out of my own
way, so that the compassion and kindness and all those other qualities of my original sixor eight-year-old self can come to fruition.
Prayer: God, thank you for the love you show us through family relationships, and for
your encouragement to keep doing our best to love one another, one day at a time. Amen
Tim Mueller is organist/pianist on the staff at St. Stephens, and he operates a piano
studio. His wife Kimberly is a researcher with the Wisconsin Alzheimers Institute.
Page 29
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
We keep on singing
Stuff happens we can't control. Blood sugar drops
way too low, the car smashes into a school bus,
Roger is diagnosed as clinically dead. Baby
Andrew has a rare sarcoma and goes from being a
happy two-year-old to gone. Jobs are revoked way
before we can afford to give them up. Stuff
happens. Colossians 3:16 says to be thankful. But,
we get old. Our memory doesn't work very well,
our joints ache, we're tired. Be thankful. It's really cold, it's dark. Be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in
you richly; teach and admonish
one another in all wisdom; and
with gratitude in your hearts sing
psalms, hymns, and spiritual
songs to God. Colossians 3:16
If we wallow in the stuff we can't control, life can be miserable. But we can control being
thankful. Colossians calls us to sing songs of joy with gratitude in our hearts. This I can
understand and do. When we sing songs of joy with gratitude in our hearts, life is better.
Roger and I have been singing in a church choir since we were in third grade. In high
school, we sang in the choir. When our kids were little, I let Roger go because they
needed basses more than altos. One of the first things Roger could do after his accident –
before he could talk intelligently, or walk – was sing songs. For 30 years Roger has sung
with a Norwegian Men's chorus. Often he would feel too tired to go, but when he went,
he always come back refreshed and happy. “Sing songs with gratitude in your hearts.”
If singing isn’t your thing, listening with gratitude and joy also works. We’ve all heard
wonderful concerts: choirs, orchestras, bands. Maybe those fifth grade band concerts
weren't fun, but we were grateful. (When it was over, if nothing else.)
Stuff happens we can't control, but let's check out check out Colossians 3. Put on
compassion and kindness. Love and forgive each other. Be patient. Sing songs of joy
with gratitude in our hearts. That should keep us busy!
Prayer: Creator God, you ask a lot: Patience, love, endurance, joy and gratitude. But we
know we will be happier if we live this way. Help us live up to the kind of community you
want for us. Thank you for the joy you offer. Amen
Roger and Nancy Morris keep busy caring for each other, helping with their
grandchildren and singing. They feel there is a great community at St. Stephens and
encourage you to join in the singing. (The choir could use a few more altos.)
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Thursday, April 3, 2014
Let your light shine through
There is a particular U.S. Postal worker at
the downtown branch in Madison, a man I Whatever your task, put yourselves
encounter only every so often. If he’s into it, as done for the Lord and not
there, you sense the glow almost as soon for your masters. Colossians 3:23
as you enter the post office. He makes a
gift of himself to everyone he serves, doing
the job, but adding a light touch of personality that makes me feel expected and
welcomed. The posting of a letter or package becomes the ephemeral scaffolding for
a wonderful brief encounter, a lovely little something extra that in Louisiana would
be called a lagniappe.
The light of his delight takes people by surprise and momentarily melts our
Neither the US Postal Service nor any other human employer can purchase this sort
of grace in an employee. It is a gift of the Spirit and completely transcends the job
An employer, a prison cell or an illness may have claims on my body and attention,
but I have a say about my soul. Any job I have can be a vocation. Any job that has me
is a form of servitude.
As a person alive in Christ and rising daily, will I impede the grace? Or will I let the
light shine through?
Prayer: Lord, teach me the joy of letting your light shine through! Amen
Imagine Connie Kilmark’s surprise when she found this liberating sentence smack
dab in the middle of a text that was used to justify slavery for centuries. You never
know how scripture is going to surprise you. Oh, yes. She is 65 and has two old kids,
Kristin (30) and Jeffrey (27).
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Friday, April 4, 2014
Strength to grow on
“I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them
bear much fruit, because apart from me
you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Today’s verse, “I AM the true vine . . . you,
my branches, will bear much fruit,” and
the verses around it remind me that I, as
one of Jesus’ branches, bear fruit.
I think about all the help I received 30
years ago when I was badly injured in a
car accident. A man stopped the car.
People lifted the car off me. A brain surgeon was waiting in the hospital when I
arrived. A policeman guided my parents to the hospital. A nun gave me a crucifix to
hang onto. Family, friends and strangers gave me strength; all these branches
provided what I needed to go on.
I need to remember that we all make good fruit. We may not recognize the goodness
of our fruit, but it can make a wonderful difference to someone else.
Prayer: Dear Lord, Please help us make good fruit on our “branches” to do your work
in making this a better world. Forgive those who make big mistakes, and all of us. Let
us know we are not forgotten. Amen
Connie Newman is married to Jack. They have three crazy cats. After her accident,
Connie retired from nursing. She volunteers at the St. Stephen’s Food Pantry and
Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison’s jewel on the East Side. She also sings in the
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Saturday, April 5, 2014
The importance of charity
Jesus’ central theme was Love and Charity. His “This is my commandment, that
"State of Union" message (or, more appropriately, you love one another as I have
State of the Universe) was the message he
loved you.” John 15:12
delivered in the Sermon of the Mount. Those
words sum up love and charity better than anything
else he said. He intended this message to last throughout the ages – not for 5,000 or
10,000 years, but for eternity. The Beatitudes are a summary of what love and charity
really mean. Here they are: The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven.
Years ago while attending the University of Wisconsin, I joined a student chapel. A
priest, who was in graduate school, talked to us. I remember now clearly, some 60-plus
years later, the essence of what he said:
"As students you are concerned about sins against Purity in thoughts and
actions. Let me say that Christ is/was much more concerned with sins against
Charity and Love. If you speak unkindly of others or hurt someone's feelings, it is
more grievous in God's eyes."
Yes, love and charity toward others is central to how Jesus wants us to live our lives.
Prayer: Lord, fill our hearts with love and let us live with charity towards others. Amen
Bill Waldbillig was born and raised in Niagara, WI. He is co-founder of Waldbillig &
Besteman Advertising, Inc. and is married to Joan Collins of Joan Collins Publicity, Inc.
Bill is VP at Joan Collins Publicity, Inc. They recently became members at St. Stephen’s.
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Sunday, April 6, 2014
Providing a ministry of presence
To them God chose to make known
how great among the Gentiles are the
riches of the glory of this mystery,
which is Christ in you, the hope of
glory.” Colossians 1:27
There are times in life when we feel
unconnected to what is important and vital. Our
media saturated culture delivers plenty of trivia
and kitsch. These times are in contrast to when
we feel we are living with a purpose and enjoy
giving our contribution to life’s banquet.
A young man in his 20s got the news in jail that
his father died. His mother had died 10 years earlier so he felt completely alone. In times
like these the simple presence of someone who will listen makes a difference. We are
created to be in relationship. Seeing Christ in the grieving one enables us to reflect the
love that created and unites us all.
Paul sought to make it clear that God’s loving plan is for ALL people. “In him all things
were created,” (Colossians 1:16) including YOU, and we find our fulfillment in Christ
“the hope of glory.”
We see evidence each day that chaos and destruction appear to dominate the news and
sometimes our neighborhoods. Eighty percent of the reasons people come to jail is related
to addiction. Jail also becomes the default “treatment” center for many mentally ill.
I thank God that you at St. Stephen’s join with other congregations to support our
ministry of presence there. It is one way you help “make known how great among the
Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery.” We don’t know the mind of God or
the reasons for so much chaos in our world. What we do know is that in Christ “the
fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Colossians 1:19) Jesus saw people for who they
were created to be and brought healing where there was brokenness. In Christ you and I
are reflections of that Good News of mercy today.
Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Amen
Rev. John Mix is a full time chaplain at the Dane County jail. He also paints landscapes
and portraits in oil and pastel. To learn more visit:
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Monday, April 7, 2014
Our souls wait in hope
The writer of this psalm cries for mercy to
a God who is known to be merciful, and in
that mercy there is hope. The psalmist is
not consumed by total desperation; rather
the cry arises from the recognition that we
mess up repeatedly in our daily lives, so we
need forgiveness.
I wait for you, O Lord; my soul waits;
in your word is my hope. Psalm 130:5
It requires vulnerability for us to prostrate ourselves before the mercy of the Lord and call
out, “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.” Vulnerability is
difficult for me, whether in private prayer or with family members. Asking for
forgiveness requires submission of ego and admission of failure. Does this resonate with
And so we wait for the Lord, our souls wait.
Years ago my relationship with our son had disintegrated because I was disappointed
with his irresponsible and immature actions. My reaction was to write him off and not
have much to do with him. Fortunately, he did not give up on the relationship. My wife
urged me to reach out to him and I finally responded to his desire to re-establish the bond.
Today we have a strong relationship of love and respect. We wait, our souls wait. And we
have hope.
Prayer: While our souls wait, dear Lord, we look to you for mercy. We wait – God’s
response is not instantaneous, but it does provide hope. We wait on the Lord. Amen
Rolfe Nervig lives in McFarland with his wife, Mary. Their daughter Sarah and
granddaughter Ava also live in McFarland. He and Mary have been members of St.
Stephen’s for two years.
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Prayer goes beyond words
This verse is a joyful reminder to stay
mindful moment-to-moment of God’s loving
presence and all that God provides. Prayer is
how we relate to God, how we communicate
with God. Through prayer we express our
grief and sorrows seeking contact with God when we need help. We express delight when
the world offers us a special event.
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping
alert in it with thanksgiving. Colossians
One of my favorite quotes (I have it on my refrigerator – the keeper of all wisdom!) is
“God gave us a body, why aren’t we praying with it?” I was reminded of this quote and
our Colossians verse today as we read Psalm 139:13-14, “for You formed my inward
parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am lovingly
and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.”
Let’s praise God for our very being! Given the wonderful gift God gave us in our bodies I
believe prayer goes beyond words. Prayer may be a smile as we look up at a multicolored sunset or a sigh as we set down a heavy load. Prayer may be a song, a dance, a
painting that we create or that we collectively experience. Prayer may be an act of
helping another – a mother calming a fidgety young child, giving food to the food bank,
offering your time and energy to any of the world’s boundless needs as a volunteer,
reaching out to a friend who is sick or “down,” or simply giving a smile and hello to
someone you pass.
Every act of kindness is a prayer. So, as you go throughout your day be awake to the
constant presence of our God – and communicate that to God through your words, your
heart, your body, your life.
Prayer: Dear God, Thank you for the countless precious ways we can pray to you! Amen
Ann Nielsen has been involved with St. Stephen’s ever since she met up with that wacky
drummer Erik Nielsen who now is in Steadfast; they have an amazing daughter, Juniper.
Ann is a dance/movement therapist at a local non-profit organization where she works
with children and families with trauma backgrounds and developmental challenges.
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Seasoned with Grace
One definition of grace is “the freely given,
unmerited favor and love of God. The influence Let your speech always be
or spirit of God operating in humans. A virtue or gracious, seasoned with salt, so that
excellence of divine origin. The condition of you may know how you ought to
being in God's favor or one of the elect.” Grace answer everyone. Colossians 4:6
means giving something that is not deserved. It’s
the love that God has towards us through Christ.
We do not deserve it, but he gives it to us freely. To speak graciously means to be
pleasant, courteous and kind. Sounds easy enough – I can usually get through a day
feeling like I used my words in a pleasant way.
But how do we season our words with salt? When food is seasoned with salt, it can taste
better. Speech that “tastes” better is more pleasant to listen to and can mean that
conversation is flavored with attractive ideas so that listeners are stimulated, their
curiosity aroused. Our words can also be used as a preservative (as salt has been used to
preserve food) – to build strong relationships among us. Our words can even help to point
others toward Christ. This can be a little more challenging and makes me think.
Even if my words are pleasant, are they flavored with salt? Do they build up the people
around me? Do they reflect that Jesus is present in my heart?
Our words not only convey a message, but also can reveal the attitude of our hearts. Since
our words can be a true measure of our spiritual self (they tell what is inside), what is in
our heart will inevitably flavor our speech. Our conversation can be filled with grace if
we are filled with grace.
Prayer: Dear God, please help me when I open my mouth. Please help me to be positive
and to spread encouragement with conversation that is filled with grace AND salt. Amen
Becky McConnell lives in Monona with her family, Nate, Abby, and Carson. She works
as a Physical Therapist with Fort Healthcare in Fort Atkinson. Becky thinks a little salt
can help with encouraging both her family and the patients she works with every day!
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Thursday, April 10, 2014
Grace at the very end
Have you ever received a hand-written note? With the
advent of computers, email, Facebook and Smart
phones, the hand-written note is becoming increasingly
rare. But there is something special about a handwritten note or letter. I have saved many over the
years. Most express thanks. Others are notes of
encouragement. Some espouse feelings of friendship and support. When my mom died,
my sister and I found boxes of old letters, cards and notes – some were from us. What fun
to read the letters that described the day-to-day activities of our family when the children
were small, before computers and back when long distance phone bills were prohibitive.
I, Paul, write this greeting
with my own hand. Remember
my chains. Grace be with you.
Colossians 4:18
I have a friend who is saving those special hand-written notes in a box she says she plans
to take with her when she goes to “The Home,” the idea being that these notes will
sustain her during the last days of her life. And maybe that’s the beauty of something
hand-written – you can physically hold it in your hand, it doesn’t evaporate into
cyberspace. The note is present, a concrete reminder of what you can no longer see.
Like when the writer of Colossians ends his letter writing with his own hand – it lends
credibility. The bulk of the Colossians letter was probably dictated to a scribe, but to
those receiving the epistle, the last few verses would have appeared in a different script –
a personal note, a benediction, a blessing – grace at very end.
Whether or not the letter was written by the Apostle Paul or by one of his followers is
really immaterial. Imprisonment is implied: “Remember my chains.” But, grace has the
last word. Wishes of Grace come from one under pressure, one imprisoned, but one who
cares enough to add a greeting with “his own hand.”
Prayer: O God, your word brings the promise of your incredible Grace. Help us to share
that Grace with others through our own actions and in our own hand. Amen
Meg Nielsen is an Associate in Ministry. She retired from her call as Director of Children
and Family Ministry at McFarland Lutheran in 2010. She and her husband Glenn have
been members at St. Stephen’s ever since. She is a member of the Green Team and sings
in the choir.
Page 38
Friday, April 11, 2014
Sticking to the path ahead
Their expectations were not his, he thought, as
the crowds waved their palms, wildly
screaming “Hosanna.” Their expectations: to
save them from oppressors and become their
earthly king. His expectations: to save their
spirits. Why did they choose not to hear?
So they took branches of palm trees
and went out to meet him, shouting:
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who
comes in the name of the Lord – the
King of Israel.” John 12:13
Yet, as soon as he had posed the question he
knew the answer. They had no context for capturing the concept of a dying Savior of the
Spirit. Their minds had been shaped by stories of warlords and earthly kings. His way
was new to them and would involve a rethinking process – gradual, evolving. Perhaps
they would not fully understand until he was gone.
His mind wandered back to the day before – a day of conflicting emotions and
unexpected events: supper in Bethany with his friends Martha, Mary, and the risen
Lazarus, members of his family, and the disciples; then Mary honoring him with precious
oil and Judas chastising Mary for wasting the oil; the chief priests plotting to kill Lazarus
because of the attention he had drawn to Jesus; the Jews arriving to see Lazarus, jealous
of the Lazarus miracle. Conflict and confusion.
The cheers rose in his ears. He refocused and grounded himself in silent prayer, fighting
against their expectations, distractions, disturbances, and confusion. With clarity, he
knew what he must do. His path had been chosen, he had accepted it and he would not
deviate. As the cheers rose again, he savored them for only a moment, then sighed,
refocused, and returned to silent prayer and his path ahead.
Prayer: As we move through the expectations, conflicting emotions, distractions, and
disturbances in our lives, Lord, help us find grounding and focus for our path. Help us
clearly see your expectations for our lives and grant us strength to realize these
expectations. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
Rosemary Lehman is a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She is an
author, Distance Learning Consultant and Partner in eInterface – focusing on creating
human presence in online learning.
Page 39
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Come, live in the light
Jesus said to them, “The light is
with you for a little longer. Walk
while you have the light, so that
the darkness may not overtake
you. If you walk in the darkness,
you do not know where you are
going.” John 12:35
Gardening is a pleasure of mine, one that requires
light. And I've seen some days that seem to end too
soon, as I can no longer see to pull the weeds.
Jesus promised us light, and asks us to walk while
we have light. I have found that if I keep busy
during the time of light, my accomplishments will
be plenty.
But, it helps to pay attention to scripture to not just
talk but walk. This is such a reality of life, knowing
that light will sometimes turn to darkness as we plod along trying to always solve our
own problems or someone else’s. It's all too easy to miss the light as we stumble along.
That's when things really get clouded over and the light begins to fade.
But if we plan our days and lives with God's help, as carefully as possible, we will be
able to capture enough light so that we aren’t devastated at the end.
We can choose whether or not to do it “My Way,” as the Frank Sinatra song says, or
instead to follow Jesus who says, “not my way, but Thine.” This is how we will learn to
live in the light.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for guiding us in our life if we just ask. Sometimes
we need to be refreshed and reminded of your presence. You are our light when the dark
times seem to overwhelm us. Help us remember that you are willing to guide us back to
the light. Please help us to let our light shine. Amen
Phyllis Seiler is the mother of two, grandmother of three, and wife to her husband Bob.
As they approach their 10th anniversary, they enjoy the morning “Light” in their condo
sunroom, especially on cold winter mornings. Phyllis is retired, but enjoys volunteering,
especially in the Food Pantry.
Page 40
Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014
Enter, King of Glory!
I am always struck by those who try to
employ Jesus as a locked gate through Lift up your heads, O gates; and be
which only selected individuals may pass. lifted up, O everlasting doors, that the
And, when Jesus says, "I am the way, and King of glory may come in. Psalm. 24:7
the truth and the life. No one comes to the
Father except through me" (John 14:6), it is
tempting to create an image of him as a gatekeeper, or even a gate.
Doors. Gates. We bar them, we lock them, and we close them. We feel secure behind
solid doors with sturdy brass latches – safe from those who might wish to do us harm.
Smooth wooden gates latch behind us to keep unpracticed walkers from tumbling down
the stairs, giving us peace of mind when our hands are full or our attention divided. Doors
and gates may protect us, and those we love, from danger, but when locked, they also
prevent us from being free: we imprison ourselves in an effort to achieve safety.
This is all the more true when we consider the gates and doors of our hearts. Sometimes
we lock them so securely, for such a long time, that we forget they are gates and doors at
all. We mistake them for walls – walls that seem insurmountable, walls that seem even to
separate us from each other and from God.
But how wonderful when we remember that we needn't scale those walls! Throw open
the doors and unbar the gates! Enter, King of Glory, and usher me through safely as well.
Prayer: Throw open the doors and unbar the gates! Enter, King of Glory, and usher me
through safely as well. Amen
Rebecca Redmann is the Director of Music Ministries. She is also the proud mom of
Ned, who can clamber over, squeeze under, or topple almost any baby gate in less than
60 seconds.
Page 41
Monday, April 14, 2014
Offering thanks for creation
I think everyone knows that God made the
The earth is the Lord’s and all that world and everything in it. But, how often do
is in it, the world, and those who we actually see God’s creation and give thanks
for it? When I read this verse from Psalms, I
dwell therein, Psalm 24:1
instantly thought of all the amazing sights from
our family trip to India and Nepal last fall – the
sunrise on a Himalayan mountain peak, a wild
black rhino lumbering off into the forest, the beautiful dark-eyed children in the refugee
camps, colorful Tibetan prayer flags against a vivid blue sky. We would just stop and
look in awe at the sheer beauty so different from what is a part of our life in Wisconsin.
While it’s easy to admire what is unfamiliar to us, sometimes we ignore the beauty of
God’s creation in our daily and sometimes mundane lives. We become so focused on
what we need to do and where we need to go that we miss creation around us.
As I pulled out of the driveway on my way to work this morning, I was busy thinking
about what I needed to get done today, how cold it was in my car and how bad the traffic
on the beltline would be. When I turned onto the highway, the frosty trees around Lake
Waubesa took my breath away. Low-lying clouds hovered above the open water at the
boat landing. The frozen lake sparkled in the sun. At times like these, we need to pause,
take it all in, and offer a simple “thank you” to God for his creation.
Try it!
Prayer: Dear God, Open our eyes. Help us to see your beauty around us. We give you
thanks. Amen
Lisa Hansen is married to Pastor Tim. She’s the mom of three adventure loving kids and
loves seeing the beauty in the moms and babies she works with each day as a lactation
consultant for Group Health Cooperative. When she’s not working, she spends as much
time outside as she can.
Page 42
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Sharing acts of kindness
When Jesus spoke these words after washing
his disciples’ feet, he knew he would die very
soon. There is an urgency in his words, a
desperate wish that people would understand
the meaning of his actions.
“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have
washed your feet, you also ought to
wash one another’s feet. For I have
set you an example, that you also
should do as I have done to you.”
John 13:14-15
Jesus’ foot washing is central to our Christian
values. It is the message to love our neighbor
as ourselves that Jesus wants us to internalize as he literally stoops down to wash his
disciples’ feet. Jesus wants us to do the same: to serve others. Not once in a while to
check off an item from a to do list, to make ourselves feel better, but as a way of life.
This is a hard command, as in our culture we are led from an early age to realize our own
dreams and needs, and that we can be and do whatever we want. It took me well into
middle age to recognize that only loneliness and desperation comes from such a claim.
Recently I went to visit my parents in Germany. Since my mother’s diagnosis of
Parkinson’s, their lives have undergone many changes. Not being able to travel far
distances is just one of them. Now my father does indeed wash my mother’s feet. He also
cuts her nails and puts on her socks and shoes. He helps her with eating her meals, getting
in and out of the car, driving her places, and this goes on and on and on.
You would have to know my father to appreciate these acts of kindness – he could be
described as the macho type, a working class man who still enjoys playing cards and
drinking with his buddies. But he internalized Jesus’ command of serving, and he does so
with patience and joy. On New Year’s Eve, as a new year was rung in and we gathered
on our street with the neighbors to shout “Prost Neujahr!” (Cheers to the New Year!), he
hugged my mother close and said he hoped they would have a few more good years
together. And so do I.
Prayer: Jesus, show us how we can love each other. Show us the joy we can experience
in caring for each other. Amen
Angela Heyworth and her family have been members at St Stephen’s for 15 years. Now
that her children are (nearly) grown, she hopes to use her German/ English language
skills in translation and writing.
Page 43
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
I AM even in the darkest night
Prior to their last meal together, Jesus washed his
disciples’ feet, performing an act of servanthood
and inviting them into a life of humility and
service. Then, Jesus gave Judas a piece of bread
dipped in a dish, identifying him as the traitor.
Judas went out. And it was night. In John’s gospel, the darkness that follows becomes the
setting for the farewell discourses in which Jesus agonizes over leaving his disciples, all
of whom “he loved to the end.” (John 13:1) It was the night in which he was betrayed by
Judas and denied by Peter, beaten and mocked. Seemingly abandoned.
So after receiving the piece of
bread, he [Judas] immediately went
out. And it was night. John 13:30
A few years ago, we lived through a difficult time. While it cannot be compared to what
Jesus endured, it was the worst we had ever encountered. My mother got sick and was
dying by inches, we had to move both my parents to a care center leaving the farm
empty, the call to serve a congregation I loved came to an end, a dear brother-in-law died
of melanoma, during the winter the pipes froze and broke out a the farmhouse – causing
great damage, and through it all I limped painfully, postponing needed hip replacement
surgery. Every month brought new sadness. We felt lost and abandoned, like we were
sailing on an endless ocean without chart or map. And, it was night.
Everyone who lives upon the earth goes through a dark night at some time or another. At
those times it can seem like God is silent, absent, and yes, even non-existent. But even
when the night is at its darkest and when we feel the most alone, even then God goes with
us. We might not know it, but Jesus loves us to the end. The Spirit brings comfort.
Jesus washed his disciples feet. He didn’t stop when he came to Judas. Judas betrayed
him. Peter denied him. So do we all, and yet Jesus loves us to the end. He goes to prepare
a place for us. He sends the gift of the Holy Spirit. He promises that eventually our
sorrow will turn to joy. And so, through our deepest misery, we can live as people of
hope. And when we forget even to hope, the Spirit intercedes. Jesus loves us to the end.
Even, and especially, when it is night.
Prayer: Good shepherd, help us to trust in your presence at all times. Amen
As editor of this devotional booklet, Meg Nielsen has read all of these great devotions.
She is thankful to everyone for sharing their personal experiences of faith.
Page 44
Maundy Thursday, April 17, 2014
Love: the verb that keeps on giving
We Lutherans tend to be rather stoic about
religion … a nice way of saying we don’t talk
about it much or try to tell others what they
should believe. We don’t do a lot of overt
evangelism or personal testifying. So how will
“everyone know” we are Disciples of Christ? By
example. By the way we love one another and
those around us.
[Jesus said] “I give you a new
commandment, that you love one
another. Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know you are
my disciples, if you have love for
one another.” John 13:34-35
We often think of love as a feeling, an emotion. But the truth is, love is a verb. CS Lewis
defined love as extending yourself for the benefit of someone else. Here are some other
things love is: Love is Kevin and Tristan crawling underneath a house in Arabi, LA to
pry out an old gas heater that was ruined by Katrina’s flood waters. Love is Kristin
befriending a lonely little girl in Branchland, West Virginia. Love is Greg teaching other
teens and adults how to install siding on a new church building in Dungannon, VA. Love
is Laura organizing activities for Bible School children in Bayou La Batre, AL. Love is a
crew of teens salvaging window screening from a burned out house to repair a screen
door on an elderly woman’s porch in Johns Town, MS. Love is Seth on a very tall ladder
painting the eves of a house in Heart Butte, MT.
Love is you offering your hands in service, extending yourself for the benefit of someone
Prayer: Loving God, guide our hands in service to others that they will know we are your
disciples by the love we share through our actions. Amen
Chris Gantz is married to Dewey, has two children and three grandchildren and has been
a member of St. Stephen’s for 18 years. She is an Associate in Ministry called by our
synod to Communications Ministry serving multiple ELCA congregations.
Page 45
Good Friday, April 18, 2014
An epitaph to remember
The summer after ninth grade, my dad and I
When Jesus had received the wine, he built our family’s cabin. We’re both pretty
said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his handy and enjoy projects. But we’re not the
ideal guys to undertake such an endeavor;
head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30
my dad has a frequent proverb: “Better
done than perfect.” Dropping a fishing line
in the water in the evening was more important than yet again measuring to 1/16 th
inch. Despite minor imperfections, the cabin is still standing and serving us well as a
getaway. Another of my dad’s frequent proverbs came from an art teacher who told him,
“George, when you’re done… quit.” Doing too much not only affects the piece of art, but
also gets in the way of much of life.
So today we have a beautiful reading from the Gospel of John, telling of this important
event in his own understanding. Only in John does Jesus say these last words from the
cross. Certainly we put extra weight on anybody’s last words; they are an epitaph we
continue to ponder.
“It is finished.”
We may not expect that Jesus was claiming imperfection or that he decided to quit. He is
certainly saying his life is over, is finished. But it’s not just the end, it’s also a
completion. He could’ve taught more and healed more, but he didn’t need to keep adding
to his life. He did what he came to do.
This statement is also a mark of totality, of completeness. Here, finally, Jesus reveals for
us the fullness of God. He has not only reached the end of his mission, but the crucifixion
also sums up his mission. (I continue to be challenged that he says the finish and goal is
the cross, and doesn’t wait to say it until the resurrection. But I don’t get to choose.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, somehow you reveal perfection in brokenness and God’s fullness by
emptying yourself of life. In the imperfections and incompleteness that we face, show us
your glory. Amen
Pastor Nick Utphall’s family cabin is on Otter Lake by Stanley, WI. To woo Acacia, he
made a t-shirt that said, “I’m a carpenter.”
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Holy Saturday, April 19, 2014
Bearing a powerful witness!
I love this passage from the Gospel of John. It is a
powerful post-resurrection story about God’s
kingdom breaking in on the reality of the world in
a new way that is shockingly loving and powerful.
Mary Magdalene went and
announced to the disciples, "I
have seen the Lord!" and she told
them that he had said these things
to her. John 20:18
Mary’s world was rocked by the events of the past
week and she simply knew what she experienced –
the suffering and death of her friend Jesus. It happened so fast and she was reeling from
just the horror of these events. Her visit to the tomb in John’s Gospel seems to be one of
needing to be close to Jesus, even in his death. Maybe she needed to really be sure of his
death, or wanting to believe that this was all a dream. What she discovered in the events
of that Easter morning was just as shocking as the preceding events. People don’t simply
rise from the dead. It is not a part of our reality. Yet, here she was, confronted by angels
and ultimately, by Jesus himself asking: “Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”
One can’t put too much emphasis on the wonder of that moment when Jesus calls to her,
“Mary!” Hearing her name shocked her into the reality of Jesus’ resurrection life. She
runs back to tell the other, and as she busts into the room with this excitable declarative,
“I have seen the Lord!” Mary bears a powerful witness.
I have often thought about those moments when I saw, or felt the presence of the Risen
One in our midst: In the middle of a noisy worship with kids running in and out, or
squealing sound systems, or a shaky hand holding out the cup of blessing to others in the
community, in the middle of a gathered people of faith who come to worship with all of
their own pre-conceived notions about what is real and what is not about faith in their
lives. In all these situations, Christ shows up, because Christ is the host. Christ is present
because he has promised to be with us, wherever we are in our understanding. That is the
beauty of this story. Thanks be to God!
Prayer: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief! Amen
Tim Hansen is one of the pastors at St. Stephen’s. He enjoys basketball, golf, camping,
making music and reading. Tim is married to Lisa. They have three children, Kai, Karin
and Anders and two dogs.
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Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014
Christ is risen! Expect the unexpected!
I give thanks to you for you have
answered me and you have become
my salvation, Psalm 118:21
What do you expect when you go to church on
Easter Sunday? Brass? Music? The same old
familiar story of the empty tomb?
What was Mary expecting that morning?
Certainly not what she found. She came in deep
grief. The one she loved was dead and she was there to prepare his body. She expected to
find that body – dead people stay where you put them. She came in fear. It was dangerous
to be associated with Jesus. She was expecting trouble. She came with a sense of despair.
She had hoped that he would be the one.
These were her expectations that morning. She found something else. As Mary stood
weeping outside of the tomb, she encountered the unexpected. She heard Jesus speak her
name. In that instant, Mary’s grief was replaced by amazement and joy. Her fear was
replaced by peace and her despair turned to hope as she went and announced, “I have
seen the Lord!”
There is so much in our own lives that can lead us to grief, fear and despair. We need to
hear again and again the old familiar Easter story, a story of unexpected life – not death –
a story of joy and peace and hope. Jesus meets us in our grief and fear and despair. Jesus
asks us, “Why are you weeping?” Jesus calls us by name, and when we hear our name we
recognize him: the living one who loves us, who knows us intimately and sends us to
announce that he is alive. In that recognition we find joy. In that naming we find peace.
In that sending we find hope.
Today expect the unexpected! Christ is risen!
Prayer: Gracious God, surprise us today and every day with the presence of your risen
son Jesus who calls us by name and sends us out in joy and peace and hope. Amen
Rev. Mary Stumme Froiland is the Bishop of the South Central Synod of Wisconsin,
ELCA. To learn more about our synod, go to:
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Opportunities in Lent
Besides this prayer guide, we encourage you to take advantage of the many ways to
enrich your faith during this season.
Midweek Gatherings
Wednesday: March 5 – April 9
 Worship at noon and 6:45 p.m.
 Soup Suppers from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
 Heretics for Armchair Theologians book discussion group at 5:30 p.m.
Also, mark your calendars and set aside time to participate in all of these unique worship
experiences of Holy Week. Watch for more information.
Palm Sunday ~ April 13 – 9:30 a.m.
Maundy Thursday ~ April 17 – 7:00 p.m.
Good Friday ~ April 18 – 1:00 p.m.
Easter Vigil ~ April 19 @ sunset
Easter Sunday ~ April 20 @ sunrise, 8:00/10:00/11:00
St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, ELCA
5700 Pheasant Hill Rd. • Monona, WI 53716
222-1241 •